Almost 15 miles south-east of Kendal, across a green, rolling landscape, is the attractive market town of Kirkby Lonsdale. Although the town is within the county of Cumbria, it sits on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and is superbly situated, being effectively the south-western gateway to 'The Dales'.
The town is home to a range of high-quality independent shops. Kirkby Lonsdale also boasts an excellent tourist information centre on Main Street; besides helping visitors with inquiries there are also interactive displays which bring to life the town’s history.
Kirkby Lonsdale has been on the tourist map for over 150 years, and is most famous for its view over the River Lune from the churchyard. The view was originally painted by J.M.W. Turner around 1817, which was then published a few years later as an engraving in a guidebook. However, the view only really became famous in the 1870s when the painting was praised by Turner’s great admirer, the artist and art critic, John Ruskin. The view has since been known (perhaps a little unfairly) as Ruskin’s View.
Kirkby Lonsdale was granted its market charter in 1227 but arguably the town’s early success was due to its bridge, which spans the River Lune just to the east. The bridge was built in the late 14th Century, at a time when reliable river-crossings were few and far-between, so turning Kirkby Lonsdale into a natural meeting place. The bridge was probably built by Benedictine monks from York, a huge irony as it is known as Devil’s Bridge and is reputed to have been built by the devil. The popular legend dates to about 1780, and tells of the devil offering to build the bridge for an old woman in exchange for the first soul to cross it. The woman agrees and the devil spends the night building the bridge but the following morning he is outwitted as the woman sends her dog over first. There is proof of a sort for the satanic origins of the bridge; grooves in the bridge’s southern parapet are said to be his claw-marks.
Heading upstream from Kirkby Lonsdale, the River Lune runs almost due north, forming a natural boundary between The Lakes and The Dales. After about 10 miles, the river passes close to Sedbergh, England’s official Book Town. Sedbergh stands on one of the main routes into the Yorkshire Dales, and amongst its many independent retailers there is an excellent choice of bookshops and book-cafes.
North of Sedbergh the valley narrows to become the Lune Gorge; this is the best natural north-south gateway through the hills this side of the Pennines, and consequently both the M6 and West Coast Main Line pass this way, as well as a Roman road in earlier times.
The gorge is also the location of Cumbria’s most intriguing prophesy. In the late 18th Century the nearby village of Tebay was home to Mary Baynes who gained the reputation for being a witch following an unfortunate incident with her cat. Mary predicted that there would one day be 'fiery carriages without horses' rushing through the valley. These fiery carriages are understood to be steam trains, but the railway did not arrive in the Lune Valley until more than 30 years after her death! However it is just about possible that Mary had heard something of the development of steam locomotives. At the time of her death in 1811, steam-powered transport was in its infancy but one place where steam locomotives were being developed was not so far away, at the collieries of Newcastle and County Durham. However, to have heard a little news of these new inventions is one thing, but to then imagine a busy railway is quite another.