Kirkby Stephen lies at the head of the River Eden which meanders along its Market Street, and is the highest town on this particular waterway. Distant from large towns and population centres the town of Kirkby Stephen prides itself on a strong identity of self-sufficiency and rural vibrancy.
Being a border town it was victim to Scottish raiders on numerous occasions, and the high walled narrow streets perfectly illustrate a town built with defence in mind. A archetypal market town, there is still a market today and the local cotton mill once meant that the Kirkby was famed 'for the sale of a great number of stockings knit there and in the neighborhood'. The cloisters and quaint courtyards reveal a myriad of historic buildings many of which are built from the redstone and limestone which surrounds the area.
As with many of the towns in this part of the country there is a Norse influence which is perfectly illustrated by the Loki Stone situated in the Church of St Stephen. The church is known as 'the Cathedral of the Dales' and only Kendal can boast a larger place of worship. Arthurian legend is there for all to see in the form of the ruins of Pendragon Castle, situated to the south, and said to be home to Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur. Indeed, myth has it that Uther once tried to change the course of the River Eden. The surrounding countryside has a plethora of other archaeological curiosities from the Neolithic stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters to the flooded village of Mardale. This only emerges in dry summers – not ideal for a British summer then!
Situated centrally on Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk the town is popular with walkers and this is reflected in the annual walking and countryside festival held each May. Those feeling more gregarious may wish to participate in the Mallerstang Horseshoe and Nine Standards Yomp which takes place every June.