Top Things to Do in Kirkby Lonsdale:
Coffee, Cake, Views, Vaults and Malts
In their rush to get to the honeypot towns of the Lake District, many people overlook the charms of Kirkby Lonsdale. Located thirteen miles from Kendal, within easy reach of the Dales and the Lakes, it’s an unsung part of Cumbria. But locals know that come rain or shine, this Cumbrian market town is a characterful, eclectic place with a relaxed vibe. It has a view revered by famous artists, the shops are almost all chain free, and its doors and alleyways cry out to be photograped. It also has stories, legends, friendly locals and more bars than you can crawl in a week. Luckily I live on the doorstep, so let me show you around and give you my itinerary of the best things to do in Kirkby Lonsdale…
20 of the best things to do in Kirkby Lonsdale
1 View Turner’s landscape
Few will argue about Ruskin’s View being one of the best landscapes in Cumbria. The view changes according to the weather; on a sunny day the river sparkles in the heat and on a winter’s evening the Lune Valley seems to be painted every shade of purple. The scene was captured by the British artist Turner in 1822, and artist and poet John Ruskin was so taken with Turner’s interpretation that he wrote: “I do not know in all my country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine.”’ Later he described it as “one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world.” It’s also worth heading off down the Radical Steps (not named by accident, getting back up them is a challenge for the unfit or out of breath) and taking a riverside walk.
2 Visit the vault
The Vault Story Bank is Kirkby’s latest attraction. You can find it in the former bank on Main Street, now the Visitor Information Centre. This interactive exhibit at the back of the shop is free and quite intimate; the volunteer on duty tells me this time last year the bank’s old vault was being used as their stationary cupboard, and required a hasty clear out, “But it’s interesting, for the locals as well.” The Vault is open seven days a week, from 10.30-4pm. You simply choose an object and scan it on the desk to trigger one of seven short films, where local actors pop up to tell their stories, fill you in on past history, or in the case of Turner and Ruskin, have a bit of a tussle about another attraction.
“They don’t call it Turner’s View no more.”
“What do they call it?”
3 Eat posh gelato in a milking parlour
Don’t be put off by the queues on a hot day; The Milking Parlour is worth the wait. Owners Sarah and Ed Beattie make their ‘artisan ice cream’ from an authentic Italian recipe, sourcing the milk from the family farm down the road in Burrow. The flavours are seasonal and a mix of what you might expect and what you might not. Sea salt caramel is their best seller but the Kendal Mint Cake goes well too. You can have it with warm waffles or in an ice cream milk shake and there’s some space to eat in if its raining; it’s particularly popular with people staying in the local caravan parks who pop by for a week’s supply in a takeaway tub. Ed comes out from behind the industrial machine in the back to tell me the idea came about after a family meeting at a time when the milk price dropped.
“It was absolutely diabolical. We came away and thought what can we do?”
Sarah says the good whether for the last two years has been a real bonus.
“We opened in one of the hottest summer in years and that saw us through the winter.” When I spoke to them the couple were doing up a cattle trailer to take their gelato on the road, so you may well find it in a town near you soon.
4 Relax with a butty at Devil’s Bridge
The legend of Devil’s Bridge is a very tall tale involving a cow, a dog, an old lady, a bun and a not very happy ending involving brimstone. Can I suggest you head down there on a Sunday morning, grab a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich from the green striped butty van, and either Google it or find a local to recount the tale? The bridge spans the River Lune to the south and east of Kirkby Lonsdale and is a three arched beauty thought to date from the 12th or 13th century. If you want a good photograph, follow the gentle path down to the river from the gateway on the left of the bridge (as you approach it from the town) and get a shot looking back through the bridges. There’s free parking although this is a popular picnic spot so in the summer you’ll need to get here early to park up. Local photographer Robin Ree says he regularly does the circuit. “We love the River Lune walk. Start from the Devils Bridge heading upstream to climb Radical steps ( known locally as 99 steps) leading up to Ruskins view. Alternatively head up Mill Brow past The Manor House, Kirkby’s oldest building.”
5 Enjoy a sweet treat
Chocaholics do not worry. You will not need to pack a ton of it in your suitcase. Kirkby Lonsdale attractions feature a specialist chocolate shop, Chocolat, with its own enchanted chocolate mine downstairs. There’s also a traditional sweet shop packed with jars. If you are a big family then maybe split and do half each. The sweet shop is too full of bon-bons to squeeze in more than about three or four customers and there’s strict ban on the number of school kids. But make sure to send at least one adult to the chocolate shop as there’s a large selection of chocolate and fudge infused liquors.
6 Stroll Salt Pie Lane
Who wouldn’t want to live in a Pepper Pot Cottage on a Salt Pie Lane? Sadly only one person can do this. The rest of us just wander it and dream. For your information the alley is named after a woman who sold salted pies. Hopefully there was something else inside them as well!
7 Get sporty
Kirkby has a clutch of rugby teams and you can see them in action at the club just out of town. On a Sunday morning the juniors practice and you can pop in for a bacon butty and to support. Alternatively you could try and catch some cricket practice at the pitch near the river. I’m also told the local golf club is worth a visit and has been mentioned in several magazines.
8 Taste real ale at the Royal Barn
One of the more enterprising projects in Kirkby Lonsdale is focussed on beer. The start of a new craft beer company was followed by the Royal Barn; a place to meet other enthusiasts and try a few ales. The first beer produced was ‘Ruskins’ and many have a local theme. The Barn has 12 hand pulls and 8 keg taps as well as over 60 different craft beers. They also do a good value occasional cinema night.
9 Lunch local and well at The Crossing Point
If you need a reminder that Kirkby Lonsdale does good cake, check out the sign below. The artistic Renata Strange owns and runs The Crossing Point Cafe with her husband John. The food is sourced locally and Renata cooks and bakes fresh every day. But their mission extends well beyond cake; the couple have a history of producing good food. John managed restaurants for chefs such as Simon Rogan before opening his own place. He believes in pairing good food with good wine; ask for his help when ordering lunch or choosing a bottle to take home.
10 Lounge with a book
The book lounge is a new feature of the Kirkby Lonsdale high street. You can browse the shelves of this second hand bookshop, or order coffee and cake and bag a sofa in front of the fire. “The idea is it’s a nice relaxed place to be and you can take your time and there’s no rush,” says the owner Valerie Laycock as she makes me a brew. The shop has some fun features; check out the counter made out of books, the huge clocks, made out of er…books, and the staircase. “Please enjoy looking at the staircase, but be aware it leads nowhere,” says the sign in case you get overexcited.
11 Shop for local produce at the market
On Thursdays the square in the centre of Kirkby becomes car free for the Charter Market. Regular street stalls feature hog roast, fruit, Italin wine, plants, socks, jewellery and handknitted crafts. There’s also a Country Market in Lunsedale Hall at the same time.
12 Take a selfie or catch a movie set
Kirkby Lonsdale is so charming it can feel like a movie set and when film companies roll in, it actually becomes one. The most popular location for filming is the market square which has been dressed as Jamaica Inn amongst other things. Not so long ago Universal Pictures used the town as the backdrop for the new Voyage of Dr Doolittle film. Here’s some of the cast and crew waiting for their call to action outside Plato’s. Sadly the star Robert Downey Jr failed to appear, despite much wishful thinking.
13 Have coffee in Plato’s
Talking of Plato’s, it’s a great spot for morning coffee. Kids and dogs are welcome in this friendly bistro. There are usually fresh scones too, and we recently tasted one of the best Bakewell tarts around.
14 Grab a burger at The Orange Tree
A few doors down, the Orange Tree pub does great burgers and fries at a great price. That’s all you need to know.
15 Party at a festival
All year round Kirkby comes alive with brass band concerts, music festivals, an Irish festival and much more. Find out more by picking up a copy of the magazine Around Kirkby Lonsdale or pop into tourist information to see what’s going on.
16 See Santa
One of the biggest and best festivals in Kirkby Lonsdale is the Christmas Fair weekend. It twinkles for three days with indoor and outdoor stalls, a parade, and of course the big man himself. For 2019 the bookshop will have a Harry Potter theme and may just magic up a wizard.
17 Stay at The Royal
The Royal Hotel is an institution in Kirkby; a restored Georgian town house hotel in the main square. Relax in the snug with the papers or have a chilled G and T and plan your stay.
18 Visit St Mary’s
St Mary’s Church is a town landmark and a walk through the church yard will take you to the famous Ruskin’s View. The church itself is also worth a visit. Built mostly between the 11th and 12th centuries on the sit of an old Saxon church, the building has a range of architectural styles. Check out the three Norman columns in the north aisle, which have been compared to columns in Durham Cathedral. The tower has six bells, and they can often be heard ringing.
19 Stop for a chat at Lunesdale Bakery
While Kirkby Lonsdale is so weighted in history it was named in the Doomsday Book, it has more of a village feel. Many locals drop in for fresh bread and a chat at Lunesdale Bakery on the Main Street. In the winter the fire in the cafe is a gathering point. I highly recommend the wild boar sausage sandwich and drink deal on a cold Sunday morning.
20 Join the bikers at the bridge
Staying with Sunday mornings, if you are a motorbike enthusiast, you’ll enjoy the atmosphere of the assembled bikers at Devil’s Bridge. They are quite the spectacle. Or you could bring your horse like the travellers that pass through on their way to the Appleby Fair every year.
Get out and about
Whether you have a car or a bike, why not make it a road trip and visit some nearby attractions and do some hiking and biking. Local options range from walking up Ingleborough to White Scar Caves. And with Kendal only a short hop away, it’s an ideal base for a Lakeland holiday. Do you have an attraction to add to this list? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Fancy a Lake District scenic drive on one of Cumbria’s hairiest passes? We did!
How about an overnight camp on Skiddaw?
Alternatively take a yellow line cruise with Windermere Lake Cruises