|Businesses in Kirkby Stephen||Towns and Villages of Cumbria|
(See also Kirkby Stephen Parish Church)
The town of Kirby Stephen lies at the head of the Eden Valley. At 600ft, the highest town on the River Eden is strung out along its Market Street. Sandwiched between the river and low fell pastures near the border with Scotland, it was prey to border raiders. Evidence of the defensive nature of the town still exists in its high walled and narrow passages, squares in which to herd cattle, and even a secret hiding place-a tunnel below Stoneshot Alley, off the market square. A 17th century footbridge crosses the River Eden. Buildings display a mix of architectural styles, including Georgian. Many are built of a type of local stone known as breccia-fragments of limestone in a cement of red sandstone.
King Edward III granted Kirkby Stephen a market charter in 1361. King James I, in 1606, granted to George, Earl of Cumberland one market on Monday and two fairs yearly. Sheep, cattle, and horses were featured. The markets grew in importance over the years. A Dr. Burn wrote, in 1777, “Kirkby-Stephen is a considerable market town, noted for the sale of a great number of stockings knit there and in the neighbourhood.” The market is still held today. The bloody sport of bull baiting was carried out in the market square, where cobblestones marked off the bullring. The baiting continued right up to 1820 when a bull sought revenge on the inhabitants by running amok.
The town once boasted a woolen hat and a shoe manufactory and a cotton mill. A mile south of Kirkby Stephen is a rail station, a stop along the scenic Settle to Carlisle railway line.
The town's name, Kirkby, comes from two Saxon words, kirk, a church, and by, a town. Stephen came from the name of the saint to whom the church was dedicated. Evidence of the town's Danish past is found in the metre high “Loki Stone” (AD850), a carving of the Norse god complete with horns. Loki, an important figure in Scandinavian mythology, was, at first, portrayed as a mischief-maker. Then he caused the death of the god Odin's son, whereupon he was imprisoned underground in chains.
Strangely, the stone rests in the Christian parish church of Kirkby Stephen. The church, known as the Cathedral of the Dales, dates from 1175 and traces of both Saxon and Norman work can be found. The church was added to and altered beginning in the 14th century and carrying through the 19th century. It has a number of stained glass windows, and its long nave has 13th century arcades. In 1315 the vicarage was valued at £5. The 16th century church tower once rang a curfew bell. The church's entrance from the market square is through cloisters built in 1810 as shelter from the weather and for use as a butter market. The upper part of the cloisters rests on eight stone pillars.
Croglam Castle, pre-historic earthworks consisting of an oval enclosure with a ditch and external bank, sit on the southern edge of the town.
Another set of ruins, those of Pendragon Castle, four miles south of Kirkby Stephen, were said to be built in the time of Vortigern by Uther Pendragon, youngest son of Constantius, King of Britain. He was supposedly named Pendragon by the wizard, Merlin. He served as king after the death of his brother, Aurelius Ambrosius, in AD500 and was father to the legendary King Arthur. Another tradition states that Uther unsuccessfully attempted to change the course of the River Eden.
A popular headquarters for walkers of the Pennines and the eastern Lake District, Kirkby Stephen is also on the Cumbria Cycle Way and is the central point on Alfred Wainwright's Coast to Coast walk-190 miles from St Bee's Head to Robin Hood's Bay. Countryside footpaths and common land provide trails and walks of all descriptions. Each May Kirkby Stephen presents a walking and countryside festival. Graded and guided walks that include castles, nature reserves and more take place. In August a 1-½ mile long garden trail starts in the town centre. The nearby limestone landscape of Mallerstang, the Howgills, and the Westmorland Fells await exploration, and Kirkby Stephen is ideally situated as a base for walking this rugged country.
Kirkby Stephen is on the A658 B6259 9 miles (14km) SE of Appleby-In-Westmorland.
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