15 Things to Do in Appleby
The Lake District is far more than the sum of its honeypot towns. There are some overlooked towns and villages that punch way above their weight. One of these is the Cumbrian town of Appleby-in-Westmorland. This former county town, fourteen miles from Penrith, is a great landing point for outdoor adventures. And it still retains much of its original character. In fact, when you are wandering by the River Eden, or visiting the church, you feel not much has changed at all in a century. Oh, and unusually for a Lakeland town, you can park for free in the centre. Here are my top 15 things to do in Appleby…
1 Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle has one of the few preserved Norman Keeps in the UK. It was held by various Kings in its time and it’s most famous resident was Lady Anne Clifford, known as the Lady of Letters. In the summer the castle hosts events including re-enactments and gives daily history tours. You can stay there too; it’s conversion into a hotel and holiday cottages offers four poster beds and use of the Great Hall and grounds. In winter access to the castle is more limited but check out the website for afternoon tea on a Sunday or dinner in the evenings in the C15th dining room. Hotel staff can organise shooting parties and fishing for guests.
2 Appleby Horse Fair
It’s edgy. My Mum didn’t like it. My baby son slept through it. But this ‘annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland’ is one of the most unique things to do in the Lake District. Stories differ as to when the fair began, some say it goes back to the 1600’s while others cite the 1770’s, but it was definitely popular throughout the 1900’s. One of the curious things about the fair that’s thought to be the biggest in Europe is that no one officially owns or organizes it. The majority of the action at Appleby Horse Fair happens outside of the town near the spookily named Gallows Hill, but you can catch the owners washing their horses at ‘the Sands’, beside the River Eden in the town. This year’s fair starts June 6th but all the action for spectators happens at the weekend, when main roads are closed so the travellers can properly showcase their wares. If you are brave, another place to spectate is flashing lane where the horses and carriages flash past. It’s a bit hairy due to how fast the horses are travelling but there are barriers and I recommend you stand behind them.
3 The Appleby Hub
The Appleby Hub is the funkiest converted church in town. It was renovated after the floods in December 2015, and launched as a community project in 2016 by the Oaklea trust. It’s used by a variety of community groups and classes; we travel up the M6 to dance classes there regularly. There’s a climbing wall on the inside of the building with twice monthly open climbing sessions every other Saturday from 10-12. And on the last Saturday of every month you can visit the Hubcraft craft fair, with free entry. But the best thing is the community café, a busy little place with a great wholefood menu. There’s also a rotary second hand bookshop in the café.
4 Appleby Remote Cinema
Part of Eden Art’s rural touring cinema scheme and run by volunteers, Appleby Remote Cinema aims to show at least six films a year. Check their Twitter or Facebook page for the next showing or collect your tickets from the tourist info or Courtyard Gallery.
5 Courtyard Gallery
Appleby clearly has a talent for turning old into gold. Housed in a C17th granary, the Courtyard Gallery is a shopping experience and coffee shop rolled into one. If you stop off for coffee and cake, I recommend the tiffin but the mocha cake looks great too. It’s the kind of place where people strike up a conversation and conversations I have with the next door table range from the state of the economy to things to do in Yorkshire. When you are full of cake and chat, you can browse the work of around 40 artists. Co-owner Rosie Bellwood is an artist herself and can talk you through the provenance of the gifts and art on display.
6 Town Walk
There’s loads of walking in the area. The Tourist information at Moot Hall is stocked with leaflets and maps and the people who run it are happy to make suggestions for your level of fitness. They give me a map and directions for four short walks starting at Boroughgate, recommending I take walk four, a short, easy stroll that takes me up, round the castle walls, past the manor hotel and the field where the Horse Fair is sited in the summer. I am later told if I’d hung a right at the bridge after the leisure centre, it would have led to a woodland walk teeming with red deer. Route one is suitable for wheelchairs and scooters which you can hire from the town’s Health Centre.
It’s worth a visit to some of the independent shops on your return through the town. Appleby has managed to avoid almost all chain stores and there is a heated conversation in one of the cafes while I am there about a certain prolific coffee chain trying to muscle in. The farmers market is apparently always busy on a Saturday with people coming in from surrounding villages. In Sugar and Spice sweet shop I buy a pound’s worth of bonbon’s as a little girl tells owner Charlie it’s her dream to work in a sweet shop. “Owning a shop was my dream too!” she replies, rattling lemon sweets into the tray. If you are after souvenirs, check out the artisan shop just outside the church.
7 Settle-Carlisle Railway
Described as one of the most spectacular rail journeys in the world, the Settle to Carlisle Railway is a treat for all the family and one of the best things to do near Appleby. Running through the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian Fells, the Settle to Carlisle railway is known for its Victorian architecture, gob smacking stone viaducts, huge tunnels and very Instagramable station buildings and huts. Best of all it is part of the UK rail network so the regular trains can bring you into Appleby or take you off on a day trip. Look out for the special steam train excursions that occasionally ply the route.
For avid bikers there’s a wide range of loops around Appleby. The Pennine Cycleway and National 7 routes pass through the town, and the C2C comes fairly close -at Penrith and Kirkby Stephen. The Exploring Eden leaflet has five circular ‘do in a day’ routes from the town and the TIC has a Cycling from Appleby and Kirkby Stephen leaflet. Check out Eden Valley CTC for opportunities to join road and MTB rides. “Some routes can be quite hilly (and difficult!)” Mo from The Barn at Well Green at Great Asby explains to me in a Tweet. “But also there are some good flat expanses up on Great Asby car and Orton Scar. Best of all there’s very little car traffic! We have maps and can plot routes if you have a Garmin.” Their b and b offers cheap bunkhouse accommodation to cyclists In Great Asby, 11 minutes drive or half an hour’s cycle from Appleby. There’s secure cycle storage along with a bike workshop and tools.
9 Lowther Castle
Spring is a great time to visit Lowther Castle when you can do a garden tour of the daffodils with Martin Ogle, the head gardener. Entrance fee includes entry, the tour, the exhibition and coffee and tray bake in the café. Through history the gardens were famous across the north, but the castle itself has always been a draw; at one time boasting a room for every day of the year. These days you’ll find some impressive ruins, gardens you can get lost in, and a huge adventure playground. You can hire bikes and cycle round the wider park and hear tales from the past in the exhibition The Story of Lowther.
10 Acorn Bank
Acorn Bank is a National Trust house and gardens just north of Temple Sowerby, situated seven miles from Appleby. You can tour the woodlands, view the house and visit the old corn mill. In spring the snowdrops are glorious. The reward for all that woodland walking is the cafe. The scones come highly recommended and there’s a lovely courtyard to sit in.
11 High Cup Nick Hill Walk
This testing 11 mile hill walk begins at Dufton, about three miles from Appleby-in-Westmorland. High Cup Nick can take a fit person six hours or more and you’ll gain 350 metres. But the views of this glacial valley in the North Pennines area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are worth the occasional scrambling and howling wind. After you’ve descended, the Stag Inn in Dufton is a good place to recoup your energy.
12 Appleby Manor Garden and Spa Hotel
Appleby Manor Country House Hotel is offers four star spa luxury. You can find deals on short breaks, either via voucher sites or on the hotel’s website. As an example you can do a Girls Time Spa Day with treatment, champagne and strawberries and private hot tub. If you have less time you can rock up for a champagne afternoon tea or a simple cream tea with home made scones.
13 Apple Day
It’s hardly surprising that a town with the name of Appleby has an apple day really is it? You can help celebrate with the ‘Apples in Appleby Apple Day’ in October. Bring your apples to put through the presses and take home juice. Experts stay on hand to give advice on orchards and apple growing in Cumbria. There’s a cider fest and apple pie judging. Basically if it looks or tastes like an apple it’ll be there.
14 Orton chocolate factory
Not enough sugar consumption? The village of Orton lies just under ten miles from Appleby and there one main reason to visit; Kennedy’s Fine Chocolates, a chocolate factory and tea room that’s been making luxury Belgian style chocolates for 28 years. Order a coffee and then pick your own chocolates to go with it. I did!
15 St Lawrence’s Church
For some peace and quiet, St Lawrence’s Church is worth a short stop. Go late on in the day as the sun gets low to see it in the prettiest light. But the main draw, for musician and historians, at least is the oldest working English organ in existence. It’s thought the oldest parts of it date back to 1542. The church also contains the coffin of Lady Anne Clifford.
More Cumbrian Adventures
Hope you enjoyed my brief guide to Appleby. If you are in the Lake District for a few days, you might also like to have a Cumbrian microadventure, take a scenic drive of the West Coast or bike in a heart shape. If you have ideas for more things to do in Appleby that I’ve overlooked, do let me know in the comments.