Surrounded by excellent hiking country, the small market town of Kirkby Stephen in the Upper Eden Valley made the perfect base for a five-night hill-walking break. Our group of 21 from the CLOG (Central London Outdoor Group) stayed at Kirkby Stephen hostel, a converted Methodist chapel, in March 2016 . We found it comfortable and full of character, with the original pews, oak paneling and stained-glass windows in the lounge.
On Good Friday it seemed our prayers had been answered when we woke to bright sunshine and a blue sky. So we decided to hit the high spots, with two members volunteering to lead groups up Wild Boar Fell and Nine Standards Rigg. The latter is named after the row of imposing cairns near the summit, which offers views of the surrounding fells and the Howgills. At the top an icy wind blew and the wild moorland and peat bog were scattered with patches of snow, so we descended to a more sheltered area before stopping to eat our sandwiches.
The sunshine was not to last. On a wet Saturday a popular alternative to walking was a visit to the Bowes Museum, half an hour’s drive away at Barnard Castle. Its amazing building, in the style of a French château, was designed as a museum in the late 19th century by local aristocrat John Bowes and his Parisian wife Joséphine, who were avid collectors of fine art, furniture and other decorative items.
The next day some of us followed a pleasant route along a disused railway line to Smardale Gill viaduct, walking through tree-lined cuttings and along steep-sided embankments. We enjoyed fine views from the 90ft-high viaduct into the pretty valley of Scandal Beck far below, before suffering a battering from wind and rain on the return journey.
Easter Monday was cloudy but dry, and while those who had not done it the previous day tackled the Smardale Gill walk, others hiked along the Vale of Mallerstang. The Eden river meanders through this beautiful, remote valley, which is home to three castles. The first, Wharton Hall, a fortified manor house dating from 1436, is now part of a farm. The others, Lammerside and Pendragon, are crumbling 12th-century ruins built as defences against Scottish raiders.
Our evenings were spent relaxing in Kirkby Stephen’s cosy pubs, which were rather busy over the weekend, partly because the town was hosting a rally of vintage commercial vehicles. But this only added to its charm as we were able to admire the old buses, cars and tractors lined up along the main street.
Central London Outdoor Group (CLOG) is a friendly activity group for people living in and around London. The club is run on a voluntary basis and all members may organise events, which include country walks and cycle rides, plus other outdoor activities such as zipwiring and water sports. There are also monthly social events. Trips away are a popular part of the programme, a chance to visit areas of the UK that offer more challenging walking than the home counties, as well as scenic regions of Europe. Members of all ages are welcome and newcomers can try three events before joining. To find out more see CLOG’s website , Facebook page or follow us on Twitter @clogtweets