The Eden Valley
The best kept secret of Cumbria is the Eden Valley. It is no exaggeration to call it the gem of the county. The Lake District may be the first destination that springs to mind in connection with Cumbria, but the Eden Valley holds a quieter beauty and a real feel of having finally got off the beaten track, especially in the height of the holiday season when the Lake District can become unpleasantly busy.
The course of the Eden River
The source of the Eden is in a place called Mallerstang in the north Yorkshire dales, approximately 100 miles from the Solway Firth on the border with Scotland, where the river finally meets the sea.
Close to the source of the River Eden are the ruins of the Pendragon Castle, built built on the same site as the castle built 600 years earlier by Uther Pendragon , said to have been the legendary King Arthur's father (or one of them, since there are three contenders). According to legend, Uther tried to re-route the River Eden to create a moat for the castle. The castle visible now was built in the 1100's by Hugh de Morville - one of the knights who killed Thomas of Canterbury.
Not far away is one of the largest neolithic stone circles in England: Long Meg and her Daughters near the market town of Little Salkeld. Also in the area, not far from Penrith is Eamont Bridge, where you can visit Mayburgh Henge and King Arthur's Round Table.
Along the course of the fertile valley with its gently rolling fields and hills there are numerous picturesque villages such as Melmerby, Great Salkeld, Glassonby, Kirkoswald, Temple Sowerby, Milburn, Kings Meaburn, Crosby Ravensworth and Orton. A walk along the banks of the river at Wetheral, Armathwaite or Lacy's Caves near Little Salkeld is particularly recommended.
The Eden flows through Carlisle - Cumbria's capital city, a city rich in history, and one with numerous attractions including the Cathedral and Castle, Tullie House Museum, the Millenium Gallery, the Carlisle Bird of Prey Centre, Carlisle Race Course, the Stanwix Art Gallery and the Hadrian's Wall Walk in addition to the parks, sports centres and shops you would expect from Cumbria's capital. The city centre has been completely pedestrianised to make moving around on foot a pleasure.
A visit to Hadrian's wall is a must, this being the impressive wall built by the Romans across the entire width of the country to keep out invading hordes from the north. The wall can be seen in Carlisle but a visit to the main museum at the Roman fort of Vindolanda is highly recommended. There you can see an Eagle's Eye film giving a virtual tour of the Wall.
Another testament to the rich history of the region is the numerous castles. As well as the castles at Carlisle and Pendraggon it is also worth visiting Hutton in the Forest. This is the legendary Green Knight's Castle in the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It is now a beautiful historic house set in magnificent grounds and situated close to Penrith.
For a more detailed description of the course of the river and some wonderful photos by Simon Ledingham see visitcumbria.com
The quiet paths and lanes of the verdant Eden Valley are ideal for walkers and cyclists who know how to enjoy the best of the English countryside. The opportunities are endless. For some suggested cylcling routes, you could visit the official Keswick site. http://www.keswick.org/cycling.asp
For walkers there is everything from a casual stroll to the ambitious 130km Eden Way walk, created by Charlie Emett, which follows the Eden river to its source in wild Mallerstang. Unfortunately Charlie Emett's fascinating guide to the walk and the areas it passes through is now out of print.
Anglers will also be delighted with the fine salmon and trout fishing that is possible along the river.
They will also welcome the fact that this is a river less frequented by fishermen than more famous rivers of the south of England.
Other attractions and things to do in the area:
Rheged Activity Centre http://www.rheged.com An award-winning centre housed in an unusual grass-covered building offers a wide range of activities for all the family. Five different films are shown on large screens throughout the day, and as well as a restaurant, shops and a children's play area there is a national mountaineering exhibition and a multi-media look through the eyes of the native Celts at the invading Romans. There is also a helpful tourist information centre for more info about the Lakes and Cumbria. It's on the A66 close to the junction with the M6 at Penrith.
Carlisle racecourse http://www.carlisle-races.co.uk/ The racecourse at Carlisle boasts the state of the art Jubilee Grandstand with private boxes for race goers to enjoy superb horse racing. Alternatively, the racing can also be enjoyed from the luxury of the Swifts Restaurant.
Rookin House Farm Equestrian Centre http://www.rookinhouse.co.uk/ Why not experience the beauty of the Eden Valley on horseback? Rookin House organises a wide range of treks and lessons. Other activities organised include: archery, rock climbing, ghyll scrambling, canoeing, clay pigeon shooting, go-karting, quad-biking, team-building activities and paintballing.
High Head sculpture valley and spa http://highheadsculpturevalley.co.uk/index.htm Life-size sculptures imaginatively arranged in a natural woodland valley alongside an attractive walkway only a stone's throw from Hall Hills. High Head offers not only an art exhibition, tea room and farm shop, but also a spa and sauna with a wide range of massages, therapies and beauty treatments to pamper yourself.
Other places of interest include:
The World of Beatrix Potter at Windermere, http://www.hop-skip-jump.com/
Dalemain House - a stately home by Ullswater,
Eden Ostrich World - an award-winning attraction on a 500-acre farm near Penrith, http://www.ostrich-world.com/
Honister Slate Mine in Borrowdale at the south end of Derwentwater with escorted trips into a preserved mine deep underground, http://www.honister-slate-mine.co.uk/
Whetheriggs Pottery near Penrith where you can try your hand at pottery and a range of other crafts, (http://www.wetheriggs-pottery.co.uk/)
Abbott Lodge Farm - a working dairy farm near Penrith secialising in ice cream with a cafe and play area, (http://www.abbottlodgejerseyicecream.co.uk/)
Lakeland Sheep and Wool Centre near Cockermouth - a chance to really get to know 19 breeds of sheep that mean so much to Cumbria and see sheep shearing (http://www.ukattraction.com/cumbria%2Blake-district/lakeland-sheep-and-wool-centre.htm)
Whinlatter Visitor Centre to the west of Derwentwater - choose from waymarked forest trails for walkers or cyclists, or try orienteering and let the kids enjoy the outdoor adventure play area,
Llama trekking (believe it or not) at Foxgloves near Penrith http://www.lakelandllamatreks.co.uk
The area abounds with wonderful holiday cottages. Hall Hills deserves a special mention. It has a cluster of five luxury self-catering cottages near the little village of Raughtonhead, overlooking the river Roe, one of the tributaries of the Eden. This stylish holiday accommodation has recently been developed by the loving conversion of some 17th century stone barns - all transformed into well-equipped holiday cottages in a way that preserves the rustic atmosphere of the place. See the cottages at
For other accommodation options a good list can be found at the official cumbria tourism site that describes the hidden treasures of the Eden Valley (http://www.hiddentreasurescumbria.com/index.html)