Here are some lovely things to do in Kirkby Lonsdale, a beautiful market town in Cumbria, UK. If you like cute cobbled streets, pretty scenery and consuming your own bodyweight in food and beer, read on.
I’ve been going to Kirkby Lonsdale since I was a child so I’d like to say I know it pretty well. I enjoy returning there as an adult too, and my other half Chris is now in love with it as well. So I’ve compiled this list of things to do in Kirkby Lonsdale based on some nice photos and memories from our last summer trip there but also on many years of holidays when I was growing up that were based around eating, drinking and exploring there.
A quick intro to this hidden gem in Cumbria
Kirkby Lonsdale is in Cumbria, but often overlooked for the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales because it’s on the edge of both. This means there are fewer tourists, which is of course a good thing. That’s not to say it’s entirely unknown: there’s a good atmosphere in the pubs and a bustling market full of shoppers. But it hasn’t got the annoying crowds you find in Bowness or the Dales or the tacky tourist tat in the shops. Also, it’s absolutely picture-perfect, with lots of things to do/eat/drink. I think you could combine it with a trip to the Dales or the Lakes but it’s 100% worth going to in its own right and ideal for a scenic weekend away.
It’s also easy to get to. We did this particular trip without a car, which seemed to confuse many people, but it wasn’t difficult at all. Straight after leaving work in Manchester, we hopped on the direct train to Oxenholme Lake District for a bargain £18 between us. Then got an easy 15-minute taxi to Kirkby Lonsdale, although there’s also the local bus if you have the patience to do that without smashing your suitcase up.
On arrival, this ridiculously cute cottage with amazing view behind it was there to greet us. And breathe. Kirkby Lonsdale is a good place for forgetting about work and real life for a bit.
Where to stay: a beautiful B&B called the Horse Market
On this trip, we stayed in the centre of Kirkby Lonsdale at a new boutique B&B called Horse Market B&B. It’s on a little cobbled street called, unsurprisingly, Horse Market. Next to Swine Market. No prizes for guessing what used to be sold in these locations. As horse lovers, this was definitely fate.
After our royal messing up of our booking (ahem), we were lucky that they had a room, and we really enjoyed our night in this Farrow & Ball lovers’ dream house. The view from our window was equally glorious. We’ll definitely try to stay there again next time. But if it’s booked up, there are plenty of cottages you can hire and a few other B&Bs in the area that you can scout out on TripAdvisor.
Right, onto the detail of what to do/see/eat…
Things to do in Kirkby Lonsdale
1. Admire all the chocolate-box cottages and cobblestone streets
After checking in to our B&B, we went for a little mooch round the town. I started off with giving Chris a bit of a whistlestop tour of all my favourite childhood places. And the obvious starting point was to walk past Kirkby Lonsdale’s finest selection of cute cottages.
That included what I like to think is the ultimate chocolate-box cottage.
It has an incredible year-round floral display outside. You can find it on a little cobbled path that leads through to the grounds of St Mary’s Church from the B&B. This particular trip was in August, so it was really bright and vibrant with flowers. Straight out of a fairy tale.
2. Hunt out the cutest doorways
For those of you who follow the #Ihavethisthingwithdoors hashtag on Instagram (own up now), you’re going to enjoy Kirkby Lonsdale.
Every picture-perfect cottage and stunning townhouse has a lovely front door. This duck egg colour has to be my favourite of the lot… Makes me depressed thinking of my own PVC horror back home. I’m not ashamed to admit that we spent our first hour or so in Kirkby Lonsdale wandering round going ‘Ooh, this one’s good… hmm, no, the plant pots were better outside the last one’.
This is what my life has come to.
3. Visit The Sun Inn for incredible local food
Everything always comes back to gorging on food on this blog. Well, Kirkby Lonsdale is a good place to indulge in this activity. When on holiday…
We did loads of walking on our first day so felt like we deserved a feast.
The Sun Inn has both pub dining and posher dining, and we went for the latter on this particular trip. The posher dining has the slightly fancier name of Carter at The Sun Inn and was superb. I’ve also had the pub dining in the past and that’s delicious too. Everything is locally sourced. We had roast quail and monkfish to start, followed by duck breast with granola and a hogget croquette. We generally live off salad and stir fries so rich food pretty much killed us for the night but it was so, so worth it.
4. Sample the local beer from the Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery
What to do when you’ve gorged on vast quantities of food? Wash it down with some delicious (and oh-so-clear) Ruskin’s bitter from the local Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery. This is one of the nicest bitters either of us has ever had (equal only to The Grace from Sulwath Brewery in Castle Douglas, Scotland, if you’re interested).
After our tea, we rolled ourselves up the hill to The Orange Tree pub round the corner, also serving the local ales.
It’s a very friendly pub with a lovely atmosphere and full of locals. Something about it feels like if you lived there, you’d be a regular. It was quite dimly lit to make it cosy but unfortunately, this made my photos from inside it come out pitch black. So here’s a close up of the delicious bitter and you’ll just have to imagine the surroundings.
5. Find the house you’d most like to buy if you won the lottery (isn’t this what holidays are for?)
In case you couldn’t tell already, Kirkby Lonsdale has more than its fair share of gorgeous houses.
I don’t know about you, but we spend a significant proportion of our UK trips standing outside estate agents’ windows pointing at pretty houses we can’t afford. This kind of torture is apparently fun to us. It’s even worse in Kirkby Lonsdale because so many of the loveliest properties are bang in the middle of town so you have to walk past them multiple times, gazing longingly at them like a weirdo.
This is the old manor house. It has an equally lovely little summer house in its garden that you’d be quite happy to live in with that view. Maybe I should put an offer in just on that…
6. Visit Devil’s Bridge (bacon butties optional)
When in Kirkby Lonsdale, I always walk down to the famous Devil’s Bridge on the River Lune. It’s one of my favourite childhood walks and still lovely now. The bridge is probably one of Kirkby Lonsdale’s main landmarks and tourist attractions, too. It’s very old (Wikipedia says 1370).
Loads of bridges around the UK are called Devil’s Bridge, because people really liked to tell the same story and apply it to somewhere local.
Apparently, the Devil appeared to some woman, saying he’d build a bridge in exchange for the first soul to cross over it. She obviously really liked bridges and agreed to this so he built the bridge and showed up waiting for the first person to cross it. Not fancying it herself, the woman threw some bread over the bridge and her dog chased after it, thereby outwitting the Devil because apparently dogs don’t have souls. Please note, bread is not good for dogs and this woman was an idiot (and didn’t exist).
Anyway, it’s a pretty bridge. More importantly, there’s an absolutely legendary food van on the bridge: home of childhood bacon butties for breakfast and famous with motorbiking people, who are queued up for it pretty much all day.
7. Take in Ruskin’s view and some ‘radical’ steps
After Devil’s Bridge, you can walk back towards the town along the river, heading for the famous Ruskin’s view.
To get to this, you have to clamber up the 86 ‘radical’ steps. They are called the ‘radical steps’ although there’s absolutely nothing radical about them. They’re worth the climb though, because they take you to the famous Ruskin’s view (and go a small way to working off all the beer and food).
It’s called Ruskin’s view because John Ruskin decided to announce in 1875 that he thought it was one of the loveliest views in England ‘and therefore the world’…
… He’d not been on holiday much.
But it is a really good view, taking in rolling meadows, the River Lune, woods and hills.
8. Walk round St Mary’s Church and its grounds
When you get to Ruskin’s View, you’re in the grounds of the very pretty St Mary’s Church, pictured below. It’s a very typical English church, complete with Norman features. Great job, Norman.
The grounds have an area left with long grass and wildflowers as a home for wildlife, and there’s also some nice floral borders. And a folly. And a sundial. It’s all happening.
9. Spend all your money in Kirkby Lonsdale’s independent shops
On our second day of this trip and before doing a spot of shopping, we had a ridiculously large portion of pea and ham soup with fresh bread at the Lunesdale Bakery. We were watching people go past absolutely laden with shopping, so I think it’s safe to say that Kirkby Lonsdale’s many independent gift shops are doing alright.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t buy everything I wanted due to having only one suitcase and being on the train so I didn’t want to be totally laden. But there are plenty of clothing and homeware shops selling little bits that you can fit into your bag. Kirkby Lonsdale has more than its fair share of lovely independent shops, tearooms and pubs – and they’re all within a small space so you can really get your money’s worth from a short visit (or bankrupt yourself, depending on how you look at it).
Because the main street of Kirkby Lonsdale is perpetually car-lined, it’s not the most photogenic as a whole, so I have no blog-worthy photos of it to show you the rows of shops. Soz! There’s a really nice market square too (also full of cars), which is worth going to when the market is on on (every Thursday). So, here’s a photo of King’s Arms Lane. Off the main road of Kirkby Lonsdale are lots of lovely side streets. They’re generally called brilliant olde worlde names like this one and the incredible ‘Salt Pie Lane’.
10. Go on some of Kirkby Lonsdale’s other stunning walks
Aside from the short Devil’s Bridge-Ruskin’s View walk (more of a mooch) mentioned above, there are plenty of other scenic walks you can do round Kirkby Lonsdale. Many of them are a short bus or taxi journey away to start off from, but there are some you can do from the town itself.
Here are 3 lovely ones in areas I really like. They’re written in detail by people who understand routes and directions far better than I could:
- Kirkby Lonsdale 8 mile loop
- Hutton Roof (a little village 4 miles away) limestone walk
- A walk to Barbon via Casterton.
11. Have breakfast at Plato’s
On this trip to Kirkby Lonsdale, we had Eggs Benedict and waffles at Plato’s restaurant as part of our stay at the Horse Market B&B. You can also go there for brunch or breakfast if you’re not a B&B guest though.
You might struggle with their delicious breakfast if you’ve had a ginormous meal the night before. But you owe it to the holiday gods to make a valiant effort, right?
12. Explore some of the lovely surrounding towns and villages
I really enjoyed our brief visit this time. But there’s also loads to see and do in the surrounding villages and countryside further out from Kirkby Lonsdale, and we’ll have to venture further afield next time. Some of my favourites like Barbon, Casterton, Hawes, Milnthorpe and Kendal are all close by. And of course there’s lots of National Trust action to be had, including the excellent Sizergh Castle.
Some of them you can do by bus but some need a car, so we’ll have to dig that out next time (neither of us really drive but we can force ourselves if we must). So watch this space for a blog post in the future about Kirkby Lonsdale’s surrounding areas.
In the mean time, do you have any suggestions for other pretty towns I would like? Anything similar to Kirkby Lonsdale, or bigger but still pretty like Shrewsbury or Kirkcudbright. All I ask is that they have to be accessible by train and be in the north. Please leave any tips in the comments.
Visiting Kirkby Lonsdale: useful information
How to get there
If you want a car-free trip, it’s perfectly doable. Train to Oxenholme Lake District (well connected and a lovely journey in itself). Then an easy 15-minute taxi to Kirkby Lonsdale.
Where to stay
We stayed in a new boutique B&B called Horse Market B&B. It’s on a little cobbled street called, unsurprisingly, Horse Market. Very stylish with lovely Farrow & Ball decor and great views. Breakfast is served just over the road at Plato’s restaurant.
How to get around
It’s only small and very walkable. There’s a decent bus service if you need to venture out but to see some beautiful nearby attractions, you do ideally need a car.
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