Stuart Forster heads to Cumbria and suggests 16 things to do in Sedbergh, England’s official book town.
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Sedbergh is England’s official book town and a lovely spot to visit if you enjoy walking and cycling.
On the western edge of Yorkshire Dales National Park, the attractive small town is well-placed as a base for visiting the nearby Lake District. Kendal is 11 miles away and Windermere is 19 miles from Sedbergh.
Today part of Cumbria, Sedbergh was in the West Riding of Yorkshire until boundary changes during the 1970s.
It’s easy to orientate in Sedbergh as most of the businesses are on Main Street.
Browse Sedbergh’s bookstores
Sedbergh became England’s official book town in 2003 and is dotted with secondhand bookshops. Even the bus stop on Main Street has been converted into a book shelter. The town is part of the Dales and Lakes Book Shop Trail that includes bookshops in places such as Barrow-in-Furness, Carlisle and Hebden Bridge.
The visitor information centre (72 Main Street) doubles as a bookstore with shelf space showcasing books from each of the town’s shops.
Westwood Books (Long Lane) displays a vast collection of books over two floors. Several other businesses in Sedbergh sell books that tie in with their principal line of work.
For example, the Haddock Paddock fish and chip shop (67-69 Main Street) sells books about fishing, cooking fish and marine life. Al Forno Italian Kitchen (30 Main Street) has books about Italy and Italian cooking.
Footloose (37-39 Main Street), a travel agency specialising in ethical wildlife tourism, stock wildlife and travel books. By now you’ll be able to guess that The Flower Shop (49 Main Street) stocks books about flowers and flower arranging.
Sedbergh’s old schoolhouse doubles as a factory shop selling outdoor clothing and books. The Sleepy Elephant (41 Main Street) also stocks outdoor gear and footwear and, you guessed it, books about the Yorkshire Dales, outdoor activities and collectable items.
Go hiking on the Howgill Fells
The Howgill Fells have been likened to sleeping elephants because of their weather-beaten form. It’s easy to understand why while gazing towards The Calf from the summit of Arant Haw, 1,985 feet (605 metres) above sea level.
From that hilltop, you can also look towards Morecambe Bay, waterbodies and peaks in the Lake District as well as across the Yorkshire Dales.
Be prepared for steep ascents out of Sedbergh onto the Howgills. Walks start at Sedbergh Information Centre (72 Main Street) and head up along Settlebeck Gill to the hilltops of the Howgill Fells.
Allow a couple of hours for the 3.4-mile walk to the summit of Winder, at a height of 1,552 feet (473 metres). The walk involves 1,150 feet of vertical ascent.
Plan up to five hours for the eight-mile hike to the top of The Calf. The highest point of the Howgill Fells is at an altitude of 2,217 feet (676 metres). Is it named because it looks like a young, sleeping elephant or because you’ll be feeling your calf muscles the day after you climb it? Hike it then decide for yourself.
Even during the summertime, the Howgills’ hilltops are noticeably cooler and breezier than down in the town. It makes sense to wear walking boots and carry food and drink. Take a backpack with layers and waterproofs so that you are prepared for changes in the temperature and weather.
Enjoy a fragment of England’s ancient woodland
Settlebeck Gill streams through Jubilee Wood. Stride through the woodland on the way to Winder and Arant Haw.
The ancient woodland’s ecosystem provides habitat to red squirrels as well as mammals such as stoats and badgers.
Look up above the ash, oak and sycamore and you may even spot a kestrel or buzzard.
View England’s highest waterfall
Cautley Spout is England’s highest waterfall. The cascade falls tumble from The Calf, so be prepared for the steep hillsides around the waterfall. The water flows into the River Rawthey which meanders along the southern edge of Sedbergh before joining the River Lune.
Cross Keys Inn, a National Trust property, is well-placed for food and drink before or after hiking to see Cautley Spout. Don’t expect booze though, the Cross Keys is a temperance inn. More than 400 years old, it also stocks nature and history books.
Go cycling around Sedbergh
Stroll along Main Street and you’re likely to see cyclists.
A handful of popular cycling routes on the National Cycle Network pass through Sedbergh. They include the Walney to Wear or Whitby Cycle Route (National Route 20) and Pennine Cycleway (National Route 68).
The Yorkshire Dales Cycleway also loops through Sedbergh.
If you’re looking to base yourself in a place and then head out on the road each day, there’s a choice of circular cycling routes from Sedbergh. Heading north you could head along the Lune Gorge to Orton, a circular ride of 26 miles (42 kilometres). Heading to Kirky Lonsdale and back is a 24-mile (39-kilometre) ride.
The Lune Valley and trails in the Grizedale Forest are recommended for families who want to pedal together.
Pause for a brew and a bite to eat
Hikers, cyclists and sightseers need places to eat and drink. Consequently, Sedbergh is dotted with attractive restaurants, cafés and pubs.
Smatt’s Duo (32 Main Street) is an option for afternoon tea. In common with many other businesses around Sedbergh, you’ll also find books. Cookery and recipe books count among those on the shelves.
See the remains of Sedbergh’s Norman castle
If you appreciate medieval history take a look at the earthworks up on Castlehaw. They are all that remain of a motte and bailey castle erected in the 1080s to help impose Norman rule in northern England.
The town’s triangular layout is another legacy of its Norman history.
Step inside St Andrew’s Church
St Andrew’s Church dates back to 1130, making it the oldest building in Sedbergh.
Embroidery on the church wall depicts the surrounding area.
Play a round of golf in Sedbergh
Sedbergh Golf Club is just south of the River Rawthey and features fairways on either side of the River Dee. The par-70 course demands accuracy due to its water features and trees.
The clubhouse bar and restaurant welcome non-playing visitors for food and drink.
Follow the line of the Dent Fault
Into geology? Named after the village of Dent, the Dent Fault marks the geological boundary between the Howgill Fells and Yorkshire Dales.
Explore the area while following the Sedgwick Geological Trail. The marked trail is named after Adam Sedgwick, who was born in Dent in 1785 and became a renowned geologist. Sedgewick is reputed to have discovered the fault.
Enjoy a picnic near Sedbergh
There’s a lovely, easy walk from Sedbergh looping along the south bank of the River Rawthey between New Bridge and Millthrop. Once there you can join the Dales Way, one of the long-distance footpaths that skirt through the area.
Pausing by the river bank will give you opportunities to see kingfishers diving into the waterway from overhanging branches. Dippers also count among the bird species you may spot.
Pack food and drink and take a seat at enjoy a meal at the New Bridge picnic site.
Go birdwatching in Akay Woods
The oldest oak trees in Akay Woods date back to the 14th century.
Foliage makes the dense woodland cool and heavily shaded. Pause while walking and you may hear the hammering of great spotted woodpeckers up in trees.
Flycatchers and redstarts also count among the bird species frequently seen in and around the woodland.
See the ruins of Akay House
As you walk through Akay Woods you’ll see floor tiles and an arching doorway. They were once part of Akay House.
With 13 bedrooms and five reception rooms, the mansion was empty for more than a decade in the 1920s and 1930s. The property was sold for demolition in 1938.
Stroll on land owned by Sedbergh School
Sedbergh School was established back in 1525. The grammar school’s premises and boarding houses are scattered in and around the town.
Footpaths cut through land owned by the educational establishment, giving you opportunities to walk past the school’s impressive theatre and cricket pitch while strolling around Sedbergh.
Pause by the Pepperpot
Looking much like a lighthouse, the restored tower known as the Pepperpot is located close to Akay Woods, on land owned by Sedbergh School.
A board next to the landmark explains that it is likely to have been built as a dining suite – a phenomenon popular in the early part of the last century. Servants from nearby Akay House would have carried furniture, food and drink over to the tower for the owning family to dine with country views.
Yet many locals believed that the Pepperpot was built so that Anne Taylor could live near her family after being diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of 18. That’s because the light, airy tower received lots of sunlight. In the early 20th century people believed that sunlight killed the bacteria that caused tuberculosis.
Learn about the Religious Society of Friends
In 1652 George Fox, a key figure in the evolution of Quakerism, preached at Firbank Fell 2.5 miles from Sedbergh. A plaque is set into the rock from which he addressed a crowd of around 1,000 people. Every year, Quakers meet for an open-air meeting around the rocks, which is known as Fox’s Pulpit.
Books about Sedbergh
Planning on walking near Sedbergh? Ordnance Survey Map OL 19 charts the Howgill Fells and Eden Valley:
Need inspiration for walks around Sedbergh? You may find it in Cicerone’s The Lune Valley and Howgills: 40 scenic fell, river and woodland walks:
Travel to Sedbergh
Sedbergh is five miles along the A684 from the M6’s junction 37. Travelling from North East England I found it easier to drive west across the A66 then join the A683 at Kirkby Stephen.
Trains travelling between London and Glasgow along Britain’s West Coast Main Line stop at Oxenholme, 10 miles west of Sedbergh. Dent Station, England’s highest mainline railway station, is one of the stops on the Settle-Carlisle Railway. It is 10 miles to the southeast of Sedbergh. Western Dales Bus services and Woofs of Sedbergh buses connect the town.
Zoom into the map of Sedbergh below to see places of interest mentioned in this blog post:
Google Map of Sedbergh, Cumbria
Parking in Sedbergh
Sedbergh has pay and display car parks offering short-stay and long-term parking. You can reach Joss Lane Car Park by turning left off Main Street just before the public toilets. There’s also a car park at Loftus Hill, opposite Sedbergh School’s beautifully maintained cricket field.
Accommodation in Sedbergh
The Black Bull on Main Street has 18 guestrooms and onsite parking. I enjoy staying and eating at the gastropub during my stay in June 2021.
Things to do in Sedbergh
Take a look at the Visit Sedbergh website for more information about things to do and see in and around the town.
This post was written by award-winning travel writer Stuart Forster. Based in the north of England, Stuart is available for commissions about the region.
Photography illustrating this post is by Why Eye Photography.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about 16 things to do in Sedbergh. If you enjoy visiting small towns in northern England, you might enjoy this post about the top things to do in Alnwick, Northumberland.
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