Eden Valley MotorBike Tour Adventure
‘Episode 1’

We start this voyage of discovery at the stunning Bongate House Guest House located within Appleby In Westmorland (This is the posh title as Appleby is the ancient capital of Westmorland). To most people, the town is known more simply as Appleby. You can find out more about Bongate House on the motorbike friendly places page.

What you are about to witness is breathtaking, what you are about to learn is mind-altering, what you are about to discover in my stunning Eden Valley might just make your toes curl. One thing is for certain after you have been introduced to this region……….you might never want to leave.

Eden Valley MotorBike Tour Adventure Stage One

Shall we begin:

Heading from Bongate House towards the centre of the town you will be riding over an area that in December 2015 was devastated by floods from Storm Desmond. The storm was literally biblical in its ferocity, destroying livelihoods and business all around. The depth of water was just out of this world, however, Appleby and her residents have recovered and unless you knew about it, you would never know.

Appleby

The town of Appleby-in-Westmorland lies within the Eden Valley. While visitors flock to the Lake District further west, the Eden Valley remains relatively undiscovered, making it simply wonderful to explore.

The history of Appleby goes back to at least the 9th century when the area was settled by Viking newcomers. The first Viking dwelling appears to have been built near what is now Bongate. They called the new settlement Appleby, from the Norse words for ‘place of the apples’.

Until 1974 Appleby was the capital of the county of Westmorland, and the town name was simply ‘Appleby’. The county of Westmorland disappeared in the government reorganisation of that year, merging with Cumberland to create the modern ‘Cumbria’. To preserve a connection with the old county of Westmorland the town was renamed as Appleby in Westmorland, although still known to many as simply, Appleby.

From Bongate House we head towards the centre of the town, crossing over the bridge and find ourselves smack in the middle of the marketplace. Surrounded by white buildings, one of which houses the Tourist information centre and reported to be one of the oldest buildings within the whole of Cumbria still occupied and work in.

Appleby is also famous for a horse fair, known, would you believe, as Appleby horse fair.

appleby horse fair

The horse fair, also known as Appleby New Fair, is held each year in early June, usually the first weekend. It attracts about 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers, about 1000 caravans, several hundred horse-drawn vehicles, and about 30,000 visitors. Rather than an organised event with a set programme, it’s billed as the biggest traditional Gypsy Fair in Europe, one that’s like a big family get together. The horses are washed and trotted up and down the flashing lane most main days. There is a market on Jimmy Winter’s Field selling a variety of goods – some traditional to the Gypsy traveling community – and a range other horse-related products. The Gypsy and Traveller attendees include British Romanichal, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy and Traveller groups, Kale (Welsh Romanies), and more.

The fair is held outside the town of Appleby where the Roman Road crosses Long Marton Road, not far from Gallows Hill, named after the public hangings that were once carried out there. In the mid 20th century the story developed that the fair originated with a royal charter to the borough of Appleby from King James II of England in 1685. However, it has shown that the 1685 charter, which was canceled before it was enrolled, is of no relevance. Appleby’s medieval borough fair, held at Whitsuntide, ceased in 1885. The ‘New Fair’, held in early June on Gallows Hill, which was then unenclosed land outside the borough boundary, began in 1775 for sheep and cattle drovers and horse dealers to sell their stock; by the 1900s it had evolved into a major Gypsy/Traveller occasion. No-one bestowed the New Fair, no-one ever owned it, no-one was ever charged to attend it: it was and remains a true people’s fair.

The fair is a sight to behold, that is for sure.

On entering the market square you will see the road rises up. This rise leads us towards Appleby Castle. A Castle of immense importance with a history running through its very walls. Appleby Castle is also connected to Brougham Castle, Pendragon Castle, and Brough Castle. More on those later on our travels, but just wait until we reach Pendragon, oh my goodness.

Appleby Castle

The castle was founded by Ranulf le Meschin at the beginning of the 12th century. In about 1170 the square stone keep known as Caesar’s Tower was built. The castle was in royal hands when the Scottish king, William the Lion, invaded the Eden Valley in 1174. The constable of the castle surrendered without a fight.

In 1203 the castle was granted to Robert I de Vipont by King John. In 1264 it came into the possession of Roger de Clifford, through his marriage to Isabel de Vipont, one of the two daughters and co-heiress of Robert II de Vipont. 

Appleby Castle remained for nearly 400 years in the ownership of the Clifford family, who were responsible for much restoration of the castle. Roger’s son, Robert de Clifford, inherited the castle in 1282.

The north wall of the house and the west part of the north wing with the round tower date from the 13th century. The eastern part of the house was built in 1454.

In the mid-17th century, Lady Anne Clifford made the castle her home. The castle was partly dismantled following a siege by Roundhead forces in 1648, during the Second English Civil War. However, it was restored by Lady Anne Clifford in 1651–53. On her death, the castle passed to the Earls of Thanet. They were responsible for converting the hall block into a classical mansion house. The upper parts of Caesar’s Tower were altered in the 17th and 18th centuries. The house was largely rebuilt in 1686 and the northwest wing was added in 1695. In the 19th century, it was again restored and sash windows were inserted.

In 1972 the castle was purchased by Ferguson Industrial Holdings (FIH PLC) and became the primary residence of Denis Vernon, the CEO of the company, and his family. The Vernons lived at Appleby Castle until 1990. Vernon, a passionate conservationist, established a rare breeds survival centre. Considerable improvements were made to the fabric of all the buildings, not least the 12th-century keep. During this period, the castle was the headquarters and training centre of FIH PLC and for those running the conservation centre. Documentary and movie director Susannah White featured Denis Vernon and Appleby Castle in her 1998 BBC documentary The Gypsies Are Coming on Appleby Horse Fair.

Appleby Castle is now the private residence of the Nightingale family. Parts of the castle were opened to the public for small private tours, tickets can be booked online or bought at the Grounds Hut on the Gate. 

You will discover more about Appleby Castle within the film of this adventure, OH, did I mention it is ‘HAUNTED’

We leave the Castle (along with its ghosts) and head back down the hill, through the town and back over the bridge when we turn left and head into the countryside. Passing under the A66 as we do so.

Shortly after passing under the A66 bridge the North Pennines come into view providing a fabulous introductory view of Englands ‘Spine’. Standing there so proud as if holding the two halves of England together preventing her from splitting into two. Should luck be on your side when the Pennines stand underneath a sparkling blue sky. The sky provides a backdrop canvass upon which this stunning natural beauty has been painted. This view will stay with you forever. To cap it all we are going to ride up the seconds highest section of the Pennines, Dun Fell. So, what are we waiting for?.

Traveling through the low fields underneath the Pennines is just so full of peace and tranquillity. Each Village welcoming you with open arms and each having its own character. Mainly occupied by farms tending their fields and animals going about their daily tasks. 

You may ride during the harvest times to see tractors in the fields cutting their crops. That in itself is a sight to behold, a farmer reaping what he has sown, with the sounds of the machinery churning away, leaving straight lines of goodness lying on the ground like platoons of soldiers on parade. Above the tractors there are the white fighter aircraft of seagulls, screaming in flight their calls of doom. Divebombing the ground to catch whatever has been left lying there or the insect ‘enemy’ taking flight. 

The North Pennines

Lying before your very eyes are the stunning Pennines, the colorful tractors, the white seagulls, the golden fields having their ‘haircut’ and the blue skies above. Is there any better sight to behold anywhere in the world.

After we have left the village of Knock, be alert because we turn right up towards Great Dun Fell and, the turning can be missed if you are not on your game!. This road leads us up to the second highest point on the Pennines with a view over the Eden Valley that is just stunning. Climbing up it is during this climb you must take your time to soak in everything this area has to offer. Going too fast will have you missing the surrounding scenery and that will be a travesty. You will also be riding on the highest surfaced road in Britain. 

On top of Great Dun Fell (height 2782 ft (848 m), in the North Pennines part of East Cumbria, is home to the Civil Aviation Authority’s air traffic control radar. (the white ‘golf ball’) The summit radomes are visible for a good forty miles around and many see them as a visual intrusion, but of course, installations like this have to be built somewhere.

The abandoned Silverband mines worked originally for lead and later for barite, lie at an altitude of about 2,300 ft. on the west side of the ridge of Great Dun Fell, overlooking the Eden Valley. They were worked by the London Lead Mining Company during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Great Dun Fell. You can see the remains of the mining activities scattered across the fell sides.

FACT: At a height of 848 meters (2,782 feet), Great Dun Fell is the second-highest mountain in England’s Pennines, lying two miles south along the watershed from Cross Fell, its higher neighbour. Together with its smaller twin, Little Dun Fell, which reaches 842 metres (2762 feet), it forms a stepping-stone for the Pennine Way on its long climb up from Dufton.

The views as we ride back down the hill can have you stopping a while and soaking it all in. You may also be lucky to have one of the many fighter jets flying below you as they scream through the valley below. The view is a sight to behold, that’s for sure and, not one to be missed.

Dun Fell

At the end of the road, we turn right and head towards Penrith. The countryside we will be riding through is open farmland, with a road that you need to be careful about, because, believe it or not, you can come across tractors rattling towards you, or a sheep in the middle of the road just after a bend. What I am saying is take your time, there is NO rush whatsoever.

Following the edge of the Pennines, we eventually arrive in the beautiful village of Melmerby. This village is home to two great eating places, the bets of which, in my humble opinion is The Old Village Bakery. This cafe has food to die for and most certainly should be a place to stop and enjoy.

From Melmerby we follow the main road towards Penrith and there is not a lot to say about it really because it is the main road, through countryside……..however, we arrive in the village of Langworthy. What a great name that is isn’t it ‘Langwathby’. Langwathby, just to say it again, is home to one of the Air Ambulances, those angles of the sky. but it is also home to a very important location for a film.

The film was ‘Brief Encounter” filmed party at the railway station here in little beautiful Langwathby.

Not only that but one of the loveliest little bridges we will cross as we exit this village as we continue.

Continue we must…….

Just as we get closer to Penrith we are going to turn right onto Beacon Edge. The reason is plain and simple. It offers a simply stunning view over Penrith and onwards to the hills and mountains that surround Ullswater and Haweswater and, should you be lucky to have a sunny day the view is fab you luss darling!

View Over Penrith

If you can drag yourself away from this view we wind our way down into Penrith itself that offers everything you can imagine, however, what you may not know is it houses Penrith Castle and the start of our discovery about the Castles of Eden Valley.

Penrith Castle: there is parking at the side of the road just after you see the Castle and opposite the railway station.

For me when I see such a ruin, it is no longer a ruin, but a fully built Castle, with people walking around. The walls tell a story. The surrounding buildings fade away and trees take their place and I am transported back hundreds of years. Imagine if you could do just that, be transported back to see what life was really like. The sounds, smells (no deodorant back then you know, or flushing toilets and, not even any bum wipes), the food, and whatever they drank. It would be tremendous.

Penrith Castle

Penrith Castle was built at the end of the 14th century by Ralph Neville, who played a key role in the defence of the Scottish border.

Ralph Neville (about 1364–1425) was granted the manor of Penrith in 1396 and built the castle soon afterward. As warden of the West March, he was responsible for the defence of this area against the Scots.

Contrary to what might be expected, the castle was not built at the highest point of the hill, which lies 170 metres away. Its location was chosen because it was probably the site of an old Roman fort, the banks, and ditches of which could be conveniently re-used for their defensive function.

The castle demonstrated Ralph’s powerful position and his dominance over this area of Cumbria. His son Richard, 5th Earl of Salisbury (1400–60), made it his headquarters, probably building the ‘Red Tower’ and improving the entrance defences. It has long been thought that Penrith Castle was built by William Strickland, later Bishop of Carlisle, but there is no direct evidence for this. The licences granted to him in 1379 and 1399 to build a fortified tower may have referred instead to Hutton Hall, a 14th-century tower near the church.

Following the death of Richard Neville (‘the Kingmaker’), 16th Earl of Warwick and 6th Earl of Salisbury, in 1471, the castle was granted to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1452–85), who later became King Richard III.

The future king resided at the castle for periods between 1471 and 1485, as he held the position of sheriff of Cumberland. His role was to secure the county against the Scots and keep rival local families under control.

Richard carried out alterations at the castle, transforming it into a suitable residence. Large windows, probably to light private apartments, were inserted in a raised external wall. A new gatehouse and a tower were also constructed at this time.

After Richard became king, the castle remained Crown property, but it was not used again as a permanent residence. Surveys from the mid-16th century describe the castle as partly decayed.

After brief use during the Civil War in 1648 as the headquarters for the Parliamentarian general John Lambert, the castle was further dismantled.

Various farm buildings and a house were cleared from the site before Castle Park was laid out in 1920.

We continue just a bit further along the same road and soon discover, on our right, the Rooster Cafe. a superb place to end Stage one of our Eden Valley Adventure.

Kevin J. Lear

Kevin J. Lear MotorBike Adventures

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