Snuggled into the heart of the Eden Valley is the quaint British market town of Appleby-in-Westmorland. Formerly known as 'Appleby', Cumbria's undiscovered gem remains largely unspoiled by tourism with plenty of things to do and attractions to see. Nonetheless, the civil parish presents a plethora of sights and activities for outsiders to relish.
Home to Appleby Grammar School, where George Washington's father once studied, Appleby-in-Westmorland offers visitors a breath of fresh, uncrowded air in comparison with the Lake District that sits beyond the town to the west. Plus, since the town is woven into the Eden Valley landscape, there's still plenty of nature to explore.
Appleby's many sights are intertwined with history, which goes as far back as the 9th century, when Vikings first settled in the area; the earliest Viking dwelling was believed to have been erected close to Bongate. The significance of the Viking settlements is reflected in the town's name, which comes from the Norse word used to describe the 'place of the apples'.
Until 1974, the county town was recognized as the capital of Westmorland county, before the government (reorganization) of 2021 saw Westmorland merge with Cumberland to create what is considered to be the modern-day 'Cumbria'. Despite its new name, the former county town clings on to a rich history that dates back to the Norman Conquest.
If you're planning a visit, here are the best things to do in Appleby.
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High Cup Nick Hiking Trail
Tie up your laces, fill your backpack with essentials, and embark on a hiking adventure along the High Cup Nick Hiking Trail. Positioned on the western outskirts of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), this scenic U-shaped valley indulges hikers with a 9.5-mile route that is best enjoyed in dry weather conditions.
Praised as one of the most picturesque gorges on the Pennine fellside, this hiking trail features a breathtaking geological formation where the volcanic Whin Sill has been exposed to frosty conditions. When you reach the peak, take a moment to admire all-encompassing views of Northern England's glacial valleys, which are home to cascading waterfalls such as Cauldron Snout and High Force.
High Cup Nick Hiking Trail begins in a steep-sided wooded valley enclosed by fertile farmland. With the ascent comes a spectacular change of scenery, so be sure to charge your camera! The journey kicks off in Dufton village and extends through Pennine Way, up Dod Hill, and across Peeping Hill. Don't fancy walking? This hiking trail in Appleby is also ideal for cyclists.
St. Anne's Hospital
Lady Anne Clifford, the daughter of the Earl of Cumberland who is remembered for her three-decades-long court battle to inherit her father's estates, founded St. Anne's Hospital way back in 1653. The historic building has housed hundreds of spinsters and widows over the centuries. As you walk under the Boroughgate-facing stone arch and into the hospital courtyard, you'll be swept into a bygone era.
Speckled with 13 cottages---one of which is traditionally designated for a "mother"---were originally constructed for the sole purpose of providing "poor widows or alms women" with a place to live rent-free. Although a £65 monthly fee has since been introduced, it has not deflected from the hospital's traditional charm.
Each cottage is designed with a bedroom and bathroom upstairs, in addition to a downstairs living area with a cooking space. A blooming front garden and lawn at the back add to the visual appeal of each house. Guests who don't reserve a stay in one of the houses at St. Anne's are welcome to peruse the courtyard, chapel, and gardens, where you may even be lucky enough to pluck a ripe apple from the trees!
Appleby Horse Fair
Appleby is a major stop on the Settle Carlisle Railway so if you decide to visit in June, make sure to stop in Appleby to see the Horse Fair. Among the many things that Appleby is famous for is its annual gypsy horse fair. A treasured yearly tradition since its inception in the 1770s, Appleby Horse Fair is held on the outskirts of the town atop Gallows Hill. Here, amid the hustle and bustle of story-telling gypsies and travellers, buyers can be found haggling with cattle, horse, and sheep dealers who are eager to sell their stock.
Running from Thursday to the following Wednesday during the first week of June, Appleby Horse Fair attracts most of its 40,000+ visitors over the weekend. The 250-year-old event is the largest in Europe; luring in visitors from various European countries and beyond. In addition to the cattle sales, one of the event's main highlights involves the bathing of horses in the wildlife-enveloped River Eden.
If you're keen to venture a little outside of the market town, make sure you include Rutter Force in your itinerary. One of the most awe-inspiring of all Cumbrian waterfalls (not to mention one of the most easily accessible) Rutter Force is a jaw-dropping U-shaped waterfall located south of Appleby.
These horseshoe-shaped falls are nestled in the captivating Eden Valley. What sets Rutter Force apart from other waterfalls in the area is the restored waterwheel that sits alongside it. Prepare to be dazzled by the gushing waters and natural wildlife at this local attraction, which can be accessed by car. If you can't wait to get amongst nature, walk along the footpath south from Colby Lane in the direction of the falls.
Another historical sight to behold during a trip to this enchanting town is Appleby Castle. Once upon a time, the restored castle was home to Lady Anne Clifford, who dedicated much of her life to renovating dilapidated castles, churches, and estates throughout Cumbria and Yorkshire, including Brougham Castle and Skipton Castle.
Shortly after her demise, Appleby castle was passed on to the earls of Thanet, and from them to Lord Hothfield. When the Normans defeated England in 1066, they did not ignore the strategic significance of the ford positioned adjacent to the River Eden at Appleby. To shield the crossing, they constructed Appleby Castle, which began as an uncomplicated and unembellished structure.
The first castle was a simple motte-and-bailey fortification. By the 12th century, Appleby Castle had been further developed with a stone keep, which was enlarged after it was seized in 1174 by William the Lion of Scotland. During the year 1648, the defences were demolished by Parliament, only to be reconstructed by none other than Lady Anne Clifford in 1651.
St. Lawrence Church
In the 12th-century, soon after Appleby Castle was constructed, St. Lawrence Church came to be. The memorials of Lady Anne and her dear mother, Lady Margaret (who stood by her side during her fight to inherit the family estates) can be found at St. Lawrence's Church. The 17th-century women are honoured by striking tombs inside this active Anglican parish church, which exhibits stunning Norman architecture and English gothic architecture.
The tower's lower section dates from circa 1150, whereas the south porch dates back to the 13th century. It wasn't until the 14th and 15th centuries that the main body of the church was built. In 1655, after the church was obliterated by the Scots in 1388, a restoration of the north chapel and the chancel was commissioned by Lady Anne Clifford. Additional restorations took place in 1861--62 and once more in 1960, but not before Christopher Hodgson added ceilings in 1830-31.
As picturesque as a postcard, Boroughgate is regarded as one of the finest streets in all of England. Running from the north end, where you will find cloisters designed by Sir Robert Smirke in 1811, to the entrance of Appleby Castle, Boroughgate is a must-visit for anyone who is searching for things to do in Appleby.
You'll find plenty of photo opportunities at Boroughgate, from the 16th century black and white Moot Hall at the northern end, to the Instagrammable avenue of verdant lime trees, which are surrounded by properties from the 17th to the 20th Centuries.
Visitors are also charmed by the 18th century 'Low Cross' and the 17th century 'High Cross' that represent the wide street's start and end. Inscribed on the High Cross are the words: "Retain your loyalty, preserve your rights."
Appleby Leisure Centre
There's no shortage of things to do in Appleby for people who lead an active lifestyle. Located next to the serene waters of the River Eden is Appleby Leisure Centre, where a whole host of gym and swim facilities can be enjoyed. Thanks to a £150,000 refurbishment that was commissioned by Eden District Council in October 2019, Appleby Leisure Centre welcomes an influx of guests seven days a week.
Sign up for swimming lessons with all the family in the learner pool or make a splash in the four-lane main pool, which is 25 metres long. Available for party and event hire, the swimming pool is suitable for all ages. Alternatively, break a sweat in the gymnasium, where you'll find a vast assortment of equipment that can be used to target each muscle group. Guests are also invited to sign up for group cycling classes - perfect if you want to prepare for a cycling adventure at Appleby's High Cup Nick Hiking Trail!
Garden Spa at Appleby Manor
A little bit of tender loving care can go a long way, so why not treat yourself to an afternoon of extravagance at Appleby Manor's Garden Spa? Overlooking the spectacular sights of the world-famous Lake District, this luxurious spa features a variety of aqua thermal facilities that will leave you feeling nourished and rejuvenated.
Perfect for a day trip or spa break weekend, Garden Spa spoils each visitor with a menu of over 80 spa therapies. Some of the spa's main features include a sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy pool, relaxation room, two outdoor hot tubs, and a restaurant and bar snuggled into the hotel.
Don't forget to take a stroll around the flourishing gardens before you head home! If you don't want the lavish experience to end, you might even consider a short stay at Appleby Manor, which prides itself on its four-star rating, games room, 2 AA Rosette Restaurant, and 1871 Bistro.
Eden Valley Railway Trust
When you're searching for things to do in Appleby, chances are you'll need a mode of transport to get you from A to B. Look no further than the Eden Valley Railway. This standard gauge heritage railway extends over 2.2 miles of the original railroad in a north-westerly route from Warcop station - the line base.
Operated by the Eden Valley Railway Trust, formerly known as the Eden Valley Railway Society, the Trust is currently focusing on restoration efforts for a segment of the railroad that connects Warcop and Appleby-in-Westmorland.
Eden Valley Railway initially opened to freight traffic on 8th April 1862, before passenger traffic began moving along the line on 7th June 1862. Since the line carves through the wilderness, you can enjoy absorbing the sights of nature during your trip to Appleby. However, it should be noted that the railway only operates passenger trains between March and September.
The Courtyard Gallery
Where threshed grain and animal feed was once stored, an ever-transforming display of artwork can now be admired. Concealed within the walls of a 17th-century Granary, Courtyard Gallery features a fascinating display of original paintings, prints, ceramics, glass, and jewellery, all of which can be ogled with tea or coffee in hand. Don't forget to sink your teeth into one of the homemade cakes while perusing the art, too!
Visitors can also enjoy exhibitions, which include the work of The Half Moon Printmakers---a group of South London-based printers---and the masterpieces of an award-winning painter from Southport, Lancashire named Rosemary Morison. The walls of Courtyard Gallery are also adorned with the work of Alan Stones, Andrew Ratcliffe, Eddie Potts, John Charlesworth, Rebecca Payn, Kate Durdy, Chris Mouncey, Roy Fleming, and various other local artists.
The Hare & Hounds
Round up your list of things to do in Appleby with a beverage (or two) at this traditional pub. A cosy meeting spot for locals and travellers alike, The Hare & Hounds is a favoured town hub for events, social gatherings, and good old pub grub.
Plonk yourself in front of the bar, where you can order a selection of real ales, premium spirits, cocktails, and gins while engaging in general chitter-chatter with the bartenders or tuck into a hearty meal in front of the roaring log fire.
Whether you're excited about outdoor activities and want to visit a cool town close to the Yorkshire dales, or just want to enjoy some time browsing the local shops and art galleries, Appleby will not disappoint. Photograph the historic sites, relax with a brew in an atmospheric coffee shop and enjoy this lovely secret gem.
Love travelling around England? Make sure to read our English travel guide. You'll find lots of useful information about other places such as London, Bristol, Manchester, and Oxford. If you prefer small towns, make sure to check out Harrogate, Ripon and Knaresborough in Yorkshire.
What are you most excited about Appleby? Let us know in the comments section below.