16 things to do in Sedbergh

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.

Shops and businesses on Main Street in Sedbergh
Shops and businesses on Main Street in Sedbergh.

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. The 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 collectible items.

A view along Main Street in Sedbergh, England's official book town
A view along Main Street in Sedbergh, England’s official book town.

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 starts 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.

Footpath leading to the summit of Winder, one of the hills in the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.
Footpath leading to the summit of Winder, one of the hills in the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.

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 you 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.

A man pauses to enjoy the landscape while walking on the Howgill Fells in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
A man pauses to enjoy a view of the landscape while walking on the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.

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.

Settlebeck Gill runs off the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh
Settlebeck Gill runs off the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.

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.

Yellow wildflowers in a field near Sedbergh in Cumbria, England.
Not a fan of steep climbs? There’s plenty of relatively flat walks too. Here’s a scene showing yellow wildflowers in a field near Sedbergh in Cumbria, England.

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 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.

Rolling countryside in Cumbria
Rolling countryside in Cumbria.

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.

Smatt's Duo Cafe and other buildings in Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Smatt’s Duo Cafe and other buildings in Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Three Hares Deli (57 Main Street) has the same owners as The Black Bull and serves locally sourced, seasonal produce. Scotch eggs count among the snacks served.

Fancy a pint? In addition to The Black Bull,  The Thirsty Rambler (14-16 Main Street), Dalesman Country Inn and Red Lion (1 Finkle Street) count among your options.

Dessert served at The Black Bull in Sedbergh, Cumbria
Dessert served at The Black Bull in Sedbergh, Cumbria.

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.

A weather beaten sundial on the facade of St Andrew's Church in Sedbergh
A weather beaten sundial on the facade of St Andrew’s Church in Sedbergh.

Step inside St Andrew’s Church

St Andrew’s Church dates back to 1130, making it the oldest building in Sedbergh.

Visiting St Andrew's Church is one of the things to do in Sedbergh
Visiting St Andrew’s Church is one of the things to do in Sedbergh.

Embroidery on the church wall depicts the surrounding area.

Porch of St Andrew's Church, a building dating from the 12th century, in Sedbergh, Cumbria.
Porch of St Andrew’s Church, a building dating from the 12th century, in Sedbergh, Cumbria.

Play a round of golf in Sedbergh

Sedbergh Golf Club is just south of the River Rawthey and features fairways either side of the River Dee. The par-70 course demands accuracy due to its water features and trees.



The clubhouse bar and restaurant welcomes non-playing visitors for food and drink.

A dry stone wall demarcating fields just south of the River Rawthey
A dry stone wall demarcating fields just south of the River Rawthey.

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.

A woman photographs The Calf while walking on the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.
A woman photographs The Calf while walking on the Howgill Fells near Sedbergh.

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.

Things to do in Sedbergh include picnicking and walking
Things to do in Sedbergh include picnicking and walking.

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.

See the ruins of Akay House while walking near Sedbergh in Cumbria
See the ruins of Akay House while walking near Sedbergh in Cumbria.

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.

One of Sedbergh School's many buildings in and around the small town near the Lake District
One of Sedbergh School’s many buildings in and around the small town near the Lake District.

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 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.

Pausing by the Pepperpot to read information boards about the landmark is one of the things to do in Sedbergh
Pausing by the Pepperpot to read information boards about the landmark is one of the things to do in Sedbergh.

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.

One of the Religious Society of Friends’ most significant meeting houses was built close to the town in 1675. Brigflatts Meeting House is a stone-built Grade 1 listed building with wood-panelling.

St Andrew's Church in Sedbergh
Fox also addressed people in the churchyard of St Andrew’s Church in Sedbergh.

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:

 

Sedbergh is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the footpaths lead to Back Lane, Main Street and the Cattle Market.
Sedbergh is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the footpaths lead to Back Lane, Main Street and the Cattle Market.

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 south-east of Sedbergh. Western Dales Bus services and Woof’s 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 par at Loftus Hill, opposite Sedbergh School’s beautifully maintained cricket field.

Buildings in the Cumbrian town of Sedbergh
Buildings in the Cumbrian town of Sedbergh.

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 top things to do in Alnwick, Northumberland.

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