Colin Corlett from Northumbria Byways shares his insider knowledge on the best places to shop, eat, stay and visit in this gentle and charming valley.
The Eden Valley lies between the English Lake District and the North Pennines. Big neighbours and very popular they are useful for they take away the attention that would otherwise come to this gentle valley with so much history and charm.
Q: What do you like best about the Eden Valley?
A: The gentleness and intimacy of the wooded hills and the mist over the river. There is a sense of timelessness here and it isn’t hard to find views and corners where on a sleepy afternoon you would be hard pushed to say what century you were in.
Q: The smell, sights and sounds of the area.
A: Picture a chilly autumn afternoon. The oaks and sycamores have turned a golden colour and as you drive down into the village you can see the old pub is filling up with early evening customers. The smell of woodsmoke hangs in the air and you start to wonder if there is time to take the dogs out for a quick walk along the riverbank. In the distance you can here the familiar sound of the Settle to Carlisle railway, while the cattle are calling in the river field. This is England as we knew it many years ago. The cars might be more modern but the underlying reality is unchanged.
Q: Our favourite corner and what we love about it.
A: There is a circular walk around Little Salkeld which takes you along a path past an ancient marvel as well as a relatively modern folly to vanity and pleasure. The folly is a cave carved into the red sandstone above the River Eden. This is Lacy’s cave. Built by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Lacy in the 18th century in a time when romantic foibles like this were in fashion. It is also said that he hired a hermit to live here.
Shortly after this you pass the section where a whole village was washed away in the 10th century. Higher up the valley you come to the ancient marvel of Long Meg and her seven sisters (pictured). For here are the great standing stones which form a circle overlooking long views towards the Lake District and the stone circle at Castlerigg. When the equinoxs come around you can find small votive offerings in the trees overlooking the stones.
Q: A Perfect day?
A: The walk from Ainstable down the valley to Armathwaite and the woods. Pass through the medieval field systems and ponder the age of the old hedgerows. Walk beside the river at Armathwaite, explore the woods and the rock pools beside the waters edge. Watch the canoeists trying to shoot the rapids and then retire to the free house for a pint of real ale and some game pie.
Q: Your hidden gem?
A: The Little Salkeld Watermill, a working watermill, bakery, millshop and gallery. It still grinds its own flour, runs specialist bread-making courses, and serves excellent tea and scones in its tearoom. Well worth a visit, as can be seen in the video below.
Q: Best place to watch the world go by?
A: Acorn Bank at Temple Sowerby. Lose yourself in the herb garden, wander through the fruit orchards and think about life in the slow lane. Remember old friends over tea and cakes. This is how life would have been for the landed gentry until some 80 or so years ago.
Q: Best find for tea and cake?
A: The Village Bakery at Melmerby. Until 2009 this was where Andrew Whitley baked and wrote his defining work on bread-making and all things related, Bread Matters. For those who love bread making then this is universe central.
Q: Best place for history and culture.
A: Where the river leaves the valley and starts across the flat Solway plain just a few miles to the north is Lanercost Priory, the gateway to Hadrian’s Wall. Here Edward 1st stayed for 6 months on his way to the west coast and to fight the Scots. He was badly ill and couldn’t travel over the winter. Come the summer he died at Burgh by Sands beside the Solway sands. The priory continued to attract attention during the Border Wars and was raided by William Wallace of Braveheart fame. Next door to the Priory is the well known Lanercost Tea Room.
Q: Best find for lovers of great design.
A: Potfest in the Park. An annual collection of designer pottery and works from the small and affordable to the large and very expensive. Set in the grounds of Hutton-in-the-Forest, this annual exhibition brings together an eclectic mix of pottery and statues.
Also worth a visit is St Mary’s Church, Wreay to see Sarah Losh’s iconic designs. A Victorian Lady, she stamped her own imagination on the fabric of the local church and has since been celebrated in a new book by Jenny Uglow.
Q: What is your favourite place to eat out.
A: The Heather Glen country house hotel. When they have a band playing it makes a great night out.
Q: Best place to stay and why?
A: Temple Sowerby House Hotel. A gracious hotel with old fashioned hospitality and good food. This is the heart of Eden. The river has descended from Mallerstang and the high fells and is preparing to rush through the smaller valley section between Penrith and its exit onto the Solway plain above Carlisle.
Q: Best place to buy local food.
A: Cranston’s Food Hall. Cumberland sausage is world famous and you will find some of the best varieties here. There is much more on offer and a great variety to chose from.
Q: Best place to shop for yourself and your home?
A: Penrith. A small town on the edge of the valley and just before you get to the motorway and then the Lake District. It has many small independent shops such as the Penrith Toffee Shop which has been making their own toffee and fudge for over 100 years. Even Prince Charles has been here to sample their toffee.
Q: Best time of year to visit.
A: Spring or autumn are lovely. Spring brings the daffodils which so enchanted Wordsworth over in the Lakes. Autumn brings the fall colours and river mists.
Map of The Eden Valley