On the high west bank of the River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale is a dinky market town graced with one of England’s greatest views.
Ruskin’s View, as it’s known, was painted by J. M. W. Turner in 1822 and later eulogised by John Ruskin, a cultural giant of Victorian Britain.
The view is part of a neat ensemble counting the partially Norman St Mary’s Church, a scenic stairway winding down to the riverside and the Medieval Devil’s Bridge with three ribbed arches.
On the cusp of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Kirkby Lonsdale is ideally situated for trips to stone-built villages, waterfalls, soaring hills, caves and strange expanses of limestone pavement.
1. Ruskin’s View
Around the back of St Mary’s Churchyard is a famous viewpoint on the high west bank of the River Lune.
In 1875 the esteemed writer and artist John Ruskin, whose ideas would later influence the Arts and Crafts movement, described this as “one of the loveliest views in England”. Long before Ruskin came here this panorama of the Lune Valley was painted by J. M. W. Turner.
The view takes in a bend in the Lune, the mature oaks on the opposite bank and the first hills of the Yorkshire Dales beyond.
You can also see the Jacobean Revival House, Underley Hall, built in the 1820s and operating as a school until 2012.
2. Devil’s Bridge
Parallel to the A65, this three-span gritsone ashlar bridge over the River Lune was built around 1370 and at that time was the only crossing for many miles.
It is on the old Skipton to Kendal road and was most likely commissioned by the monks of St Mary’s Abbey, York.
According to a local legend, the bridge was constructed by the devil as a promise to a woman, provided the devil could claim the first soul that made the crossing.
When the bridge was finished the woman threw a loaf of bread for her dog to chase, and so confounding the devil.
The dent in the stone at the bridge’s apex is supposedly the devil’s handprint.
Under the bridge are rockpools up to five metres deep, and occasionally explored by scuba divers.
3. St Mary’s Church
Raised on the site of an Anglo Saxon Church, St Mary’s went up from the end of the 11th century.
That first building was reworked up to the 16th century, and then again during alterations in the 18th and 19th centuries.
But exciting Norman Romanesque stonework is still in place in the three rounded arches on the north side of the nave.
These are 12th-century and have columns with a lozenge pattern that can also be seen at the famous Durham Cathedral.
In the first column you’ll find a Green Man, with foliage emerging from its mouth.
The tower’s portal is also Romanesque, while the rounded doorways on the church’s south porch are actually neo-Romanesque from the 19th century.
The atmospheric churchyard has a total of ten listed monuments, among which is a fine table tomb to a Rowland Tarham from 1716.
4. Radical Steps
In the northeast corner of the churchyard there are 86 steps leading down to the Lune riverside.
Many people will encounter them walking along the river from the Devil’s Bridge, before making the climb to Ruskin’s View.
The steps were built in 1819 and get their name from Francis Pearson.
He was a local political firebrand, which explains the “radical” part, and petitioned to redirect a public path to the river that had previously run through his own garden.
5. Market Square
At Kirkby Lonsdale’s historic Market Square you can look east towards the first hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
The square is lined with local shops for antiques, gifts and confectionery, while at the east and west end are handsome Georgian buildings.
The townhouse to the west is the Royal Hotel, visited by Queen Adelaide in 1840, while on the east frontage is the old town hall, which has kept its clock and belfry.
In the centre of the Market Square your eye will be drawn to the Tudor Gothic market cross, erected in 1905, with eight Tudor arches, buttresses, an embattled parapet and pinnacles.
6. Ingleton Waterfalls Trail
The village of Ingleton, six miles along the A65, has some heart-lifting scenery in its backyard, to be enjoyed on the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail.
This five-mile walk begins and ends in the village, and takes you off into oak woodland protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The trail winds up into a craggy, geologically landscape on the North and South Craven Fault, leading you past no fewer than seven waterfalls including Thornton Force (a highlight), and the stunning triple spout of Beezley Falls.
The trail, first opened in 1885, is on private land with an entry fee of £7. Ingleton is also in the shadow of Ingleborough, the second-highest mountain in the Yorkshire Dales at 723 metres.
Along with Whernside and Pen-y-ghent, this is one of the famed Three Peaks.
Seasoned walkers can combine all three on the Three Peaks Walk, while the famed Three Peaks Race starts and ends in Horton, Ribblesdale on the last weekend of April.
The sweet village of Barbon is no more than ten minutes by car from Kirkby Lonsdale, and is within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with views of high rounded hills like Calf top and Gragareth to the north and east.
The Barbon Inn in the village is a former coaching in dating back to the 1600s, while Kirkby Lonsdale Golf Club, which we’ll cover later, is on the village’s west flank.
In May, June and July you can visit for the Barbon Manor Speed Hillclimb, an uphill motorsport event against the clock using a driveway in Barbon Manor Park.
In June there are regional championships here, while the British Hillclimb Championship events take place in July.
8. White Scar Cave
At Ingleton you’re just a couple of minutes from the longest show cave in the UK, burrowing under Ingleborough.
Discovered by amateur geologists in 1923, White Scar Cave is 3.7 miles long, through Carboniferous limestone hollowed out down the ages by mildly acidic water.
You’ll put on a hardhat for the tour, which leads you through this strange subterranean world for a mile and takes around 80 minutes.
The adventure begins with the First Waterfall, with a discharge of 55 tons a minute in full flow, while people suffering from claustrophobia may need to prepare themselves for The Squeeze, where the trail narrows to less than half a metre between two bulging walls of flowstone.
As you go you’ll see weird concretions like the Arum Lily stalagmatic column, and the Carrots, small stalactites with a bright orange hue caused by their iron content.
Come off the A65 at Cowan Bridge and head long to the secluded lane to Leck Fell House, where you can hike to the highest point in Lancashire at 627 metres.
The circular walk to the summit of Gragareth and back is 10.5 miles, across steeply graded open moorland walled with limestone crags and bluffs, and should take just over four hours.
The trail up the west side of the hill will lead you past the Three Men of Gragareth, a group of three large stone cairns.
Gragareth is permeated with caves, including the impressive 50-metre-wide chamber of Yordas Cave.
At the top of Gragareth you can rest up for a moment and marvel at a panorama taking in the Lake District Fells, Ingleborough, the Forest of Bowland to the south and Morecambe Bay to the west.
10. Hutton Roof National Nature Reserve
One of the country’s best examples of limestone pavement can be found just five miles away outside the village of Hutton Roof.
The creased limestone surface at Hutton Roof Crags supports a host of rare specialist flowering plants and ferns surviving in the thin soil.
In spring the dark-red helleborine, early purple orchids and fly orchids are spectacular.
From April there’s a dazzling display of butterflies, beginning with green hairstreaks, brimstones and small tortoiseshells.
In mid-summer you’ll hear the calls of nuthatches, skylarks, willow warblers, woodcocks and great-spotted woodpeckers.
The strange landscape continues to the north at Heysham Limestone Pavement/Newbiggin Crags, which is a fun place to go bouldering.
You could set off from Kirkby Lonsdale on foot for the village of Whittington, passing along peaceful lanes and through farmland on green hillsides by the River Lune.
On a sharp hillock in Whittington is St Mary the Archangel Church, which has a history going back to the early 13th century and is thought to have been built on the motte of a former Norman castle.
The tower is from the early 1500s, while the rest of the building was reconstructed in 1875. In the churchyard look for the sundial, dating to 1641. You can loop back to Kirkby via the River Lune, or carry on walking to Hutton Roof and Farleton where you’ll encounter those large sweeps of limestone pavement.
12. Salt Pie Lane
There an endearing piece of local history at this alley between Main Street and Horse Market.
Salt Pie Lane was previously known as “Cattle Market Yard”, where cattle would be kept to be sold at the old Horse Market.
The name changed at the start of the 20th century as a woman opened a business selling salted mutton pies to the market traders.
To quench their thirst the traders would then drop by the Snooty Fox round the corner on Main Street (then The Green Dragon). The landlord here just happened to be a relative of the woman who baked those thirst-making pies!
13. Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery
Opened in 2009, the Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery has been a rousing success and in December 2016 unveiled a cavernous tap house at The Royal Barn.
The brewery makes a range of ales, wheat beers, IPAs, stouts, fruit beers and best bitters.
The flagship is “Ruskins”, an ale brewed with high quality Maris Otter malted barley, and Brewers Gold and Magnum hops for a dry finish with spicy and fruit notes.
Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery makes six regular beers, as well as five seasonal specials, like the autumnal brown ale Devil’s Bridge.
At the tap house, open every day of the week, you can sample the brewery’s range, and choose from more than 60 craft beers from around the world.
14. Kirkby Lonsdale Golf Club
While Kirkby Lonsdale Golf Club was founded in 1906, the current 18-hole course was only landscaped in the 1990s and is now coming into maturity.
The course is in 160 acres of parkland, first down the side of the Lune valley on the front nine and then up again on the back nine.
The course’s highest point is at the 15th green where there are views to cherish of the Howgill Fells to the north, before you have to battle against the prevailing south-westerly breeze on the final three holes.
At the time of writing in early 2019 green fees were £20 for 18 holes, or £36 for a day ticket.
Even closer to the town is Casterton Golf Club, with a par 68 main course, a nine-hole par 3, a driving range and a “footgolf” course, played using a football and your feet!
15. Kirkby Lonsdale Street Market
Kirkby Lonsdale was granted a market charter way back in 1227, and this continues to trade every Thursday on the elegant Market Square where the car park would normally be.
From 08:00 to 16:00 you can come shopping for all sorts of local produce, as well as handmade souvenirs from the region, jewellery, flowers and plants.
On the same day between 10:00 and 12:00 there’s a Country Market in the Lunesdale Hall just along New Road.
Here you’ll find an enticing range of bread, pastries, cakes, preserves and jams, as well as a selection of homewares.