A little sandstone town in Cumbria’s Eden Valley, Appleby centres on the historic Boroughgate, a street bursting with monuments.
One name that will keep popping up here is Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676). She was the daughter of one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids of honour, and rebuilt Appleby after the English Civil War before founding St Anne’s Hospital, a set of almshouses on Boroughgate.
The surrounding Eden Valley is gorgeous and much less frequented than the Lake District, which is music to the ears of walkers who want spellbinding landscapes and perfect solitude.
You can journey to waterfalls, cute old villages and spellbinding natural wonders like High Cup Nick, an epic U-shaped valley.
1. Eden Valley
Between the fells of the Lake District and the hardy moorland of the Pennines, the peaceful Eden Valley is all lush farmland and quaint sandstone villages.
The River Eden is one of the only in the country to flow northwards and for much of its route through the valley is tracked by the world-famous Settle-Carlisle Railway.
Many of the settlements in Eden have Viking origins, and in Medieval times the valley was embroiled in the Border Wars between Scotland and England.
There are holdovers to this violent past in the valley’s many pele towers and castles, one of which still stands in Appleby.
The prettiest and most historic street in Appleby runs parallel to the Eden, sloping down from the south to the solemn gateway to St Lawrence’s Church.
At the start and end of Boroughgate are the High Cross atop the hill and the Low Cross at the bottom.
The High Cross is 17th-century, with a sundial and the inscription, “Retain your loyalty, preserve your rights”, while the Low Cross by the church gates is an 18th-century copy of the High Cross.
Near the top is St Anne’s Hospital and Chapel, founded by Lady Anne Clifford in the mid-17th century.
There are 18th and 19th-century buildings all the way down Boroughgate.
But pay special attention to the Moot Hall, the Red House from 1717 at No. 30, the old 17th-century Black Bull Inn at No. 36, the Courtyard Gallery in a 17th-century building at No. 32 and No. 11 with twin gables, one of the oldest buildings in Appleby and dating from the late 16th century.
3. Appleby Castle
The exquisite Appleby Castle is a 12th-century keep and a younger mansion enclosed within curtain walls.
The keep, known as Caesar’s Tower, has made it to the 21st century despite centuries of bitter conflict in the region between England and Scotland, and then the English Civil War in the 17th century.
The castle was slighted after the war, but quickly rebuilt by Lady Anne Clifford who lived here from 1649 to 1676. Although the castle is now occupied by a hotel, it does raise its mighty portcullis for tours in the summer.
You’ll step inside the 15th-century Great Hall, which has a suit of armour worn by Queen Elizabeth I’s champion jouster George Clifford.
Touring the grounds where you can inspect the Norman ramparts and 12th-century portcullis door, and walk a dignified yew tree corridor.
4. Pennine Way
Appleby is close to the course of a 268-mile National Trail, which passes by on its way from Middleton-in-Teesdale to nearby Dufton.
The Pennine Way starts in Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, weaving through the Pennines to Kirk Yetholm, just inside Scotland.
Now, the sections of the Pennine Way near Appleby are not a challenge to take lightly.
The leg from Dufton to Alston is the toughest on the entire trail, drawing you into gruelling moorland where England’s strongest winds and coldest temperatures have been recorded.
The trail from Middelton-in-Teesdale is not much easier, but presents you with a series of natural wonders, including three waterfalls and the staggering High Cup Nick, which we’ll describe in more detail next.
5. High Cup Nick
The village of Dufton is under ten minutes from Appleby and can be the starting point for an adventure into the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
From there you can trek to the High Cup, a stirring U-shaped valley hollowed out by glaciation and rimmed with the forbidding dolerite escarpments of High Cup Scar.
High Cup is the greatest formation of its kind in Northern England, and following rain there’s a waterfall at the upper end.
The Pennine Way has published details of a nine-mile circular walk from Dufton.
This follows old miners’ paths, which can become treacherous in poor weather.
6. Moot Hall
On an island in the middle of Boroughgate, the Moot Hall bears the date 1596 on a plaque above the doorway.
This two-storey building is in stuccoed stone, with rows of shops and the Tourist Information Centre on its ground floor and large, 18th-century sash windows above.
On the south side there’s a quatrefoil plaque inscribed with 1179, to commemorate Appleby’ first written charter, and above this is a pretty bellcote on the gable.
The panelled council chamber survives inside and can be seen by prior appointment, while at the north end you can drop by the Tourist Information Centre, which is a great resource for Appleby and the Eden Valley.
7. St Anne’s Hospital
At the high end of Boroughgate is a set of almshouses established for local widows by Lady Anne Clifford in the middle of the 17th century.
The group is built on four sides around a snug cobblestone courtyard with central flowerbed and fountain.
The 17th-century brass plate bearing the Clifford coat of arms tells how the alms houses were competed in 1653 and intended for “a Mother, a Reader and twelve sisters”. St Anne’s Hospital still fills its intended purpose, but you can go through to enjoy the hushed courtyard and visit the little chapel during the day.
In the chapel are original 17th-century benches and reading desk, as well as the 10 Commandments, Beatitudes and Creed mounted on the wall.
You can pick up a leaflet inside for more on the history of the alms houses, Lady Anne Clifford and Appleby in general.
8. St Lawrence’s Church
The parish church is Grade I listed and deserves a peek for its mix of Medieval architecture from different periods.
St Lawrence’s was damaged repeatedly in the Anglo-Scottish Wars, and the nave and chancel had to be rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Older elements survive, like the base of the tower from around 1150 and the south porch, from the 13th-century, with an arch decorated with Early English dogtooth mouldings.
In the west end under the tower arch, St Lawrence’s organ was built in 1661, but using parts going back to the 1500s.
Also see the northeast chapel, which holds fine 17th-century monuments to Lady Margaret Clifford, maid of honour to Elizabeth I, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford, remembered for shaping Appleby in the 1600s.
9. Courtyard Gallery
The 17th-century building at No. 32 on Boroughgate is the Courtyard Galley, which is essentially a tasteful and unpretentious gift shop on a hidden courtyard filled with flowers and climbing plants.
You can call in to peruse locally made paintings, etchings, ceramics, glass, jewellery, handmade cards and ceramics, while there are temporary exhibitions every few months.
In March 2019 this was a display of spring themed prints.
As well as the friendly and laid back atmosphere, what sets the Courtyard Gallery apart is the history of the venue, and that you can enjoy a cup of tea and slice of homemade cake while you pore over the range.
10. Acorn Bank
The National Trust’s largest collection of medicinal and culinary herbs awaits at this garden encased in 17th-century walls.
There are more than 250 varieties growing here, as well as vegetable patches, hot beds and an orchard with a host of historic English apple varieties.
Hiding among ancient oaks is Acorn Bank’s watermill, first mentioned in the 14th century, though the present building is from the start of the 19th century.
Initially built for corn, the mill was adapted to power the site’s gypsum mines before falling into ruin after the 1940s.
The mill was restored in 1995 and since 2011 has started milling flour again.
The mill works on weekends in summer and its flour, like much of the produce grown in the garden, goes into the menu at the cosy tearoom.
11. Settle-Carlisle Line
The elegant Appleby Railway Station, posted high above the town, opened in 1876 on the fabled Settle to Carlisle Line.
Still operated by Network Rail as a Main Line, the Settle to Carlisle Line was a titanic undertaking, constructed in the 1870s through some of England’s most difficult terrain, requiring 22 viaducts and 14 tunnels on its 72-mile route.
Arriving at Appleby Station you may notice that the platforms are unusually long, at 182 metres to accommodate the old Anglo-Scottish express trains.
The best bet would be to catch a train south towards Settle and then get comfortable as the dreamy scenery scrolls by.
At Ribblehead you’ll cross the namesake viaduct, 400 metres long and 30 metres high.
12. Rutter Force
A brief drive into the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve will bring you to a romantic waterfall on Hoff Beck.
Rutter Force is shrouded by mature woodland, and rounding off the scene is a watermill and ford.
As well as the beauty of the falls, what takes many visitors by surprise is the abundance of red squirrels, which are rarely sighted in many parts of England.
The mill is rented out as holiday accommodation and used to generate electricity for the nearby village of Great Asby.
Rutter Force is at its best after a spell of rain, and if you cross the ford, take care as the surface can be slippery.
13. Dufton Pike
If you can’t get enough of the North Pennines you can tackle this 480-metre hill not far from High Cup Nick.
Dufton Pike is hard to miss, rising over the Eden Valley from the north, and as with High Cup Nick the easiest trail begins in Dufton.
The five-mile walk up and down the grassy slopes will take just over three hours at a brisk pace.
And here at the upper lip of the valley the vistas are glorious: Dufton Pike is classed as a “Marilyn” for its prominence of more than 150 metres, which means it’s relatively isolated from the rest of the northern Pennines so the views are even better.
True to form in Eden, Dufton Pike is also rather untravelled, so you may not see more than a handful of people on your ascent and descent.
14. Appleby Horse Fair
At the start of June Appleby is the venue for a gathering of the UK’s Gypsies and Travellers to buy and sell horses.
Over four days some 10,000 members of these communities arrive in caravans and traditional vardoes, which are brightly ornamented horse-drawn wagons.
The fair takes place just outside the town, at the crossing of Long Marton Road and the Roman Road.
Among the attendees are Welsh Romanies (Kale), Scottish Gypsy and Traveller Groups, Irish Travellers and British Romanichal.
For visitors the reason to come is for the vardoes, to see the ponies and draft horses being washed in the Eden, and to browse the market on Jimmy Winter’s Field, mostly selling horse related goods.
Found on or near two long-distance routes, Appleby and the Eden Valley are well-suited to cycling.
Many of the unfrequented country lanes are on the National Cycle Network, while you can take pit stops at quaint old villages with welcoming pubs and local shops.
Appleby is one of the southern starting points for the Pennine Cycleway (North Pennines), 150 miles to Berwick-upon-Tweed, winding through the Eden Valley, the North Pennines and the Northumberland National Park.
The Sea-to-Sea Cycle Route (C2C) is 140 miles from the North West to the North East coast, and meanders along the Eden Valley via Penrith on the way to Alston in the North Pennines.