It may pose as Cumbria (or worse, now, ‘Westmorland and Furness’) but Sedbergh and environs was in Yorkshire up to 1974. So the 2016 extension of the Yorkshire Dales to include it was only righting a historical wrong.
Anyway, I spent three days of fieldwork around Sedbergh for the Yorkshire Dales Slow Travel guidebook that I’m updating, and all delightful stuff it was.
In short, most of the area’s cafes and pubs seems to have survived lockdown/ cost of living/ general business challenges, but it seems most of them are up for sale too, if you fancy making a small fortune. Obviously you’ll have to start with a large one.
At least we can report that the selection of local cask ales, options for dietary requirements, accessibility, are better than ever.
And if the café in Barbon is anything to go by, more and more facilities are being offered: it boasts not only barista coffee and locally-sourced ingredients, but also cakes made of cheese, a bike wash, a guitar and a piano.
There was some awesome riding, most notably the narrow lane on the east side of the Lune Valley going north from Sedbergh to Tebay. The glorious Howgills on one side, the less glorious M6 on the other.
On said lane I met a cycle-touring couple from France, who told me they were riding home from Finland. In which case they must have taken a wrong turn somewhere around Helsinki.
Tebay is, of course, the site of the best motorway services in the country. It rejoices in having a farm shop, butcher, deli, duck pond, picnic tables with views over the mountains, and a free shower. Take that, Leicester Forest East!
Sedbergh styles itself as a book town, and there is certainly a grand bookshop in the centre, with sofas and a coffee machine and toilets as well as two floors of books of all types.
The other four proudly listed on brochures are rather smaller, parts of shops doing other things – some little bigger than an Ikea-size bookcase – but the bus shelter has shelves of volumes for takeaway or browsing too.
It’s not the only bus-stop-library in the area: Orton, a few miles north, has one too, as well as a jolly seasons-themed mural. Fine for sitting out a rain shower, or even awaiting your next rural bus service, which might be tomorrow.
The way back to Sedbergh from Orton took me via Ravenstonedale, outside of which I saw a red squirrel crossing the road in a very uncertain manner, involving several changes of mind, in a way Tufty would never have approved of back in the 1960s. Then they were a road safety model for children. Now we have road signs telling drivers to beware of them.
The A683 that I took went past Cautley Spout, one of several candidates for England’s biggest waterfall (‘biggest’ – volume? single-drop height? cumulative multiple-cascade height? Instagram footprint?). The road was quieter than I expected and, more significantly, downhill all the way into Sedbergh.
I was camping there, at Holme Farm, a lovely and sizeable place right on the River Rawthey, where I could cool off from the baking weather with luscious dips.
I also managed to get to Kirkby Lonsdale, where I was disappointed to discover that Ruskin’s View, a picturesque vista over the valley from the back of the chuch, was cordoned off because of a landslip.
At least I had the consolation of a peek at the famous fairy chocolate mines of the town, in the basement of posh-choc shop Chocolat.
Midweek was work, but the coming weekend was definitely extra-curricular, joining several good friends for a camping weekend that involved cycling, walking, campfire songs, and locally produced products. Especially ones that come on plates or in pint glasses.