Captain Kirkby

I just got back from spending a lovely few days in Kirkby Stephen with Ben. We squeezed a lot of activity into four days, and some of the highlights are below.

Platform Cottage – I was fortunate to find this cottage at Kirkby Stephen station available at just a few week’s notice. I was staying there for the second time, after an earlier adventure in 2021. The station buildings have been divided up into three holiday lets. This time we were in the smaller Platform Cottage, but the experience was much the same – a cosy living room and bedroom, with a fully-fitted kitchen and all the home comforts. Once you get used to a train pulling up at the station every 2 hours and having passengers streaming past your living room window, it was a very pleasant experience.

Unexpected bonus was a library of books provided for our reading pleasure. Ben contented himself with a book of Ned Sherrin anecdotes, while I was pleased to find this book of interviews with some of Britain’s finest 20th century comedy writers, everyone from Spike Milligan and Denis Norden to Victoria Wood and, er… Chris Evans. I was sorely tempted to steal it.

Cover of "Now That's Funny! Writers on Writing Comedy" by David Bradbury and Joe McGrath

We were exemplary guests – I even went through all the streaming apps on the smart TV that the previous visitors had forgotten to sign out of, and did it for them.

Settle – on Tuesday morning we hopped aboard the 0920 train (ten minutes before our Two Together Railcard would be valid, grrr) and travelled to Settle. It was market day, and also extremely wet.

Ben and Robert together with the Settle station nameboard in the background

In search of shelter, we ducked into The Folly, a 17th century home which now serves as the Museum of North Craven Life. Exhibits on farming and rural life dominated, and there was also an interesting exhibit on women who had had a big impact on life in the area.

Exterior of The Folly, a grand 17th century residence now serving as a museum

Naturally, I spent an extended period of time in the railway exhibit, documenting the history of the Settle-Carlisle line through its decline and near-closure in the 1970s to its 1980s reprieve and subsequent revival.

Lunch followed in the Ye Olde Naked Man Café, an establishment which must have a terrible time publicising itself in a world of filters on public Wi-fi networks. Unfortunately all the men inside were fully clothed, but that was the only disappointment. Having gone in only wanting a light bite, I ended up ordering a giant burger from the lunch menu, and enjoyed it very much.

Entrance to Ye Olde Naked Man Café advertising a Bakery and Cakes

After lunch we wisely decided to eschew the steep footpaths of the Castleberg Crag in favour of a self-guided walk around the town, using a leaflet we had bought for 30p from the tourist information centre. It was an interesting walk, taking in various nooks and crannies of the town. One highlight was Victoria Hall, opened in 1853 and the oldest surviving music hall in the world.

The Victoria Hall, a 19th-century music hall building with an elegant glass canopy over the entrance.

Seeing buildings with 17th-century construction dates engraved on them was a real trip back in time. The over-riding theme of our explorations was seeing something that had been an ancient coaching inn, or a blacksmith or something like that, that was now a hairdresser or estate agent.

A Pride flag hanging from one of the old buildings was a pleasing sight, as was a notice outside the Quaker meeting house stating their opposition to our scummy government’s Illegal Migration Bill.

The Eden Viaducts – on Wednesday we were planning to walk to Pendragon Castle. However, a combination of bad rain, getting lost en route, and the fact that my body is as much an ancient ruin as the castle, meant that we cut our trip short. Instead we diverted along the route of the old South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, now maintained as a footpath by the Northern Viaduct Trust.

We walked as far as Podgill, the first viaduct on the route. There were some lovely views over the valley – or, there would have been, had the weather not been so lousy.

Panorama taken from the viaduct, showing lush green hills and fields with sheep grazing, and a sky filled with grey clouds

The rain showed no sign of letting up, so we called it a day there and turned back the way we came. Then it was just a matter of walking back to the station along the steep footpath. Yes, we were quite knackered by the time we got back to the house.

At one end of the old railway route is Kirkby Stephen East station, now converted into a heritage centre by the Stainmore Railway Company. Sadly, it is only open at weekends, so for the second time I was unable to visit.

Kirkby Stephen – Thursday was spent exploring Kirkby Stephen itself. A circuit around the town took in an ancient signpost with distances marked in miles and furlongs, Frank’s Bridge (which we learned was often used to bring coffins into the town for funerals), this memorial to a former resident which (it has to be said) looks rather phallic, and the parish church, which contains a fascinating carving of Norse god Loki, seemingly dating from the 10th century.

We rounded off our stay in the town with a visit to the Mango Tree restaurant, where we loaded ourselves up with a frankly ridiculous amount of Indian food.

Tebay – on our way home we stopped off at this small village just off the M6. Tebay was a sleepy village until the coming of the railway, when it became home to a busy junction station and steam locomotive shed. The village’s population boomed… and then Dr Beeching came along. The shed closed in 1968, and the station itself a few months later. Many people went elsewhere in search of employment.

The railway influence is still felt, however. The village’s church, St James’s, was built by the railway company, and the interior tiling bears more than a passing resemblance to stations of the era. A small exhibition in the church describes the railway’s influence, with reminiscences from Tebay residents past and present. The West Coast Main Line still passes the village, but sounds of trains is barely noticeable above the roar of traffic on the M6.

Part of the "Tebay in Steam" exhibition about the railways in the village.

Kendal – we concluded our week away with a quick drive to the edge of the Lake District. The key attraction here was the Kendal Museum. For the princely sum of £5 (ticket valid for a year!) we were treated to various exhibits on Kendal’s history and, in the basement, a frankly terrifying collection of Victorian taxidermy. It was a virtual zoo of birds, rodents, lions, deers, tigers, all stuffed and mounted more than the lads on Broke Straight Boys, and with a similar glazed expression on their faces.

Various stuffed and mounted animals in a taxidermy exhibit, with an ostrich and lion the most prominent

In fairness, this collection had been donated in the first half of the 20th century, and the museum was at pains to point out that this sort of thing was no longer acceptable. In an effort to boost the educational value, the animals were now on display in models of their natural habitat. Still, it was bemusing to see warnings about conservation and animals facing extinction, in an exhibit full of creatures that had been shot.

The ground floor exhibits were more interesting, containing lots of artefacts from Kendal’s history, including this lethal poacher trap which looked like it would take your leg clean off.

A poacher trap consisting of a frame laid across a bathtub-shaped structure, with a spring-loaded blade in the centre designed to trap a leg

Clutching our souvenir Kendal mint cake, we drove back south to Liverpool. It had been a fantastic week in a beautiful part of the world, made all the better by having my lovely boyfriend with me of course.

Robert and Ben pose in front of a taxidermy'd bear at the Kendal Museum