The valleys of the beautiful River Eden and its many tributaries
flowing through the historic counties of Westmorland and Cumberland
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Warcop – Bridge over Eden

To many people who from time to time drive between the Stainmore Pass and Penrith along the A66 east-west trunk road, Warcop may be synonymous with military training at the Warcop Training Centre. For more than seventy years tanks and other fighting vehicles have been a feature of the landscape, and at nearby Appleby Golf Club you can play a round of golf to the music of machine guns. After World War II, when the war ministry was persuaded by public pressure to give up its training areas around Ullswater and Martindale in the Lake District, the Warcop firing range was retained. Today large expanses of the North Pennines (more than 20,000 acres) between the Eden Valley and Teesdale are “red flag” zones. Footpaths are closed when firing is scheduled.

Warcop village just to the south of the A66, is in marked contrast. It may have taken its name from an ancient local family variously known as Warthecoppe or Warcop, or maybe they took their family name from the village; the name Warcop has, albeit somewhat speculatively, been traced to pre-Conquest Old English words meaning ‘look-out hill’ or ‘hill with a cairn’ which could apply to the fell to the north. Going down the road into the village and ignoring the right turn into the Training Centre, after twisting between houses built long before smooth traffic flow was a consideration, we find the village green in an angle between two streams, a maypole in the middle alongside a children’s playground and the village war memorial, where lanes converge from Sandford, Musgrave and Bleatarn


Warcop Hall and Tower

Warcop Hall, a private residence visible today (if you’re tall enough) by peering over the wall alongside the lane to the school and parish church, is one of the oldest of many old houses here. In the mid-20th century the Warcop Hall Estate was bought by the War Office but the house has been back in private hands since the 1950s. According to British Listed Buildings the western part of the house is Elizabethan while the eastern section is a 19th century extension.

The Hall was not always the manor house; Warcop Tower once had that honour, although there’s little that’s immediately obvious about that house today to indicate its past importance. In 2006 at the time of an application for planning permission an historic buildings survey was carried out, focusing chiefly on the farm buildings rather than the house; this is available online.


Warcop Parish Church

The parish church of St. Colombe dates back to at least the 12th century and in the 14th century was associated with Shap Abbey, a former Abbot of Shap once becoming the vicar here. Parts of the building can be dated to the 13th century but most of the structure is from a rebuilding in 1855. The Parson and White Directory of 1829, before the rebuilding, describes it as “an ancient fabric, dedicated to St. Columbe, an apostle of the Picts, who settled in the Hebrides in the sixth century, but was never canonized at Rome. It has a tower with two small bells, and two porches.”


The adjacent old vicarage has the remains of a moat. It is said that there was once a substantial castle here on what is now called Castle Hill. In the very early 17th century the remaining stones were taken away to build the church spire at Kirkby Stephen.

Warcop Old Bridge

The River Eden does not pass through the heart of the village but is found down the lane leading to Bleatarn. Warcop Old Bridge is said to be the only surviving medieval bridge over the Eden although it was quite likely modified considerably, or at least substantially repaired, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

It may well be asked why such a small lane from a modest village to a minor hamlet deserved such a splendid bridge, but in times past this was an important crossing for people in the areas to the south of the river, as far up into the fells as Asby. What is more, although Bleatarn is very small nowadays, it once had much greater importance as the site of a monastic institution with a community of monks linked to Byland Abbey in Yorkshire. Up to the mid-19th century at least, going downstream there was until Appleby only a footbridge at Sandford. The bridge has three arches, of which only two are visible in the photo below.


The Eden Valley Railway

Like most Eden Valley villages this is not a centre for tourist attractions but there is one, the Eden Valley Railway. A paragraph on this will be added shortly.

The Larger Warcop Parish

Historically Warcop parish included four “townships”. In addition to Warcop there were Bleatarn, Sandford and Burton. The first three were south of the east-west highway; Burton was to the north and is now virtually non-existent having been swallowed up by the military firing range and buildings demolished. Separate articles on each township will be added later.

Eden above Helgill Force - Mallerstang

If you ask in Brough where Hellgill is you might just be misunderstood and be pointed up behind the village towards Hall Fell. There’s Hellbeck Hall up there and there’s a civil parish called “Hellbeck”. But that’s not where we’re going today. If you clarify your question you might then be told, “Oh, you mean Hellgill up Mallerstang”. This is to the south of Kirkby Stephen, out past Nateby, up the valley with the Carlisle-Settle Railway climbing on our right, along the road toward Hawes and Wensleydale, and stopping at the county boundary between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. I’ve sometimes wondered why Margaret Shepherd’s excellent study of the 19th century economy of the Upper Eden Valley, ‘[easyazon-link asin=”1902806328″ locale=”uk”]From Hellgill to Bridge End[/easyazon-link]’ (that is, from Mallerstang to Brough) wasn’t titled, “From Hellgill to Hellbeck”, but maybe that would have been too much of hell for such a paradisical area.

River Eden at Hellgill Force Mallerstang

Anyway, now that we’re in the right place we’re not far from the source of the River Eden which rises on the heights above the Mallerstang valley and flows gently down a gradual slope … until, suddenly, it drops off the edge at Hellgill Force.

This area is popular with walkers. We’re just to the south of the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and right up against the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Less than half a mile upstream at Hell Gill Bridge the popular walking route, [easyazon-link asin=”095599876X” locale=”uk”]Lady Anne’s Way[/easyazon-link], crosses the stream. It then descends into the valley toward Thrang Bridge and Pendragon Castle (one of Lady Anne Clifford’s 17th century castle restorations, but again in ruins) following the line of the ancient “Highway” from Wensleydale to the Eden, a route used even before the Romans came. Alternatively you can walk the heights along Mallerstang Edge with its great views of the valley and of Wild Boar Fell on its western side.

At this stage, except after heavy rainfall, the Eden is no more than a minor beck indicating nothing of what eventually it will become. Gradually, as it proceeds down the valley it picks up a series of other becks until before reaching Kirkby Stephen it truly is a river.

How to reach Hellgill Force

Hellgill Force is close to the B6259 which climbs southwards up the Mallerstang valley from Kirkby Stephen. From Sedbergh or Hawes take the A684 and turn north onto the B6259 at the Moorcock Inn. Park by the county boundary signs (avoiding the areas by the cottages marked No Parking) and follow the track over the Settle-Carlisle railway bridge. If you’re walking Lady Anne’s Way, you can drop down for half a mile or so from Hell Gill Bridge and then either retrace your tracks to the bridge or follow the road down past Aisgill to The Thrang and pick up the walkers’ route there.

Eden above Helgill Force - Mallerstang
The stream of the infant Eden just as it drops off the edge of Hellgill Force

Where To Stay

There are scattered inns, farms and cottages offering B&B in the area between Hawes, Sedbergh and Kirkby Stephen. Or you could choose to stay in one of these towns. Here are some selections centered on those three small towns, and also Appleby which is on the Eden a few miles further downstream. If you’re planning to explore the Eden Valley then Kirkby Stephen and Appleby are probably your better choices as the river passes through both. Hawes is in Wensleydale and Sedbergh in the catchment area of the Lune, on the River Rawthey next to the Howgills; both of these towns are in the Yorkshire Dales National Park even though Sedbergh is actually in Cumbria (oh, and has a Lancashire postal address – just to confuse everyone!).

Dufton Pike and the East Fellside Weather

Dufton Pike is a conical hill behind the village of Dufton on the fringe of the North Pennines overlooking the Eden Valley. It is one of three that are close together, although the other two (Knock Pike and Murton Pike) are not so fully conical being more like spurs of the fellside behind. This page, however, is not really about either the Pike or the village but about weather and its implications for walking in these hills.

The following four photographs were taken within an hour or so of each other on an April afternoon. The lowlands of the Eden Valley are friendly. The high moors of the North Pennines can be dark and dangerous even when the valley is in the sunlight. This was one of those days when only experienced fellwalkers should risk the heights, and even some of them may think twice.

Dufton Pike from Close House near Knock

This first photograph, taken from Close House to the northwest of Knock village, shows three bands of weather. The Pike itself is not dark but is somewhat dull. The low moorland behind, though, is in the sun. That pattern was constantly changing. Look, though, at the thick low cloud shrouding the tops of the fells; this was constant and varied only in the depth of grey.

The next shot looks down the lane from the Knock end of Dufton village. I like this view for its gentleness – but notice the greyness behind.

Dufton Pike from Lane to Knock

The next one was taken shortly afterwards at the other end of the village. It doesn’t show the Pike itself (which is off to the left) but see the contrast between the Methodist chapel in the sun and the blackness overhead and behind.


What is the point of this? Simply to stress that although this is some of the most splendid walking country anywhere in England (the Pennine Way passes through Dufton and there’s a YHA hostel) one should never, never, never go onto these fells inadequately equipped. Weather conditions at one level can be very different from those at another, and can change very quickly.

Don’t let this put you off. The East Fellside of the Eden Valley, along with the Pennine uplands beyond, is a very special area. Enjoy it but remember that it has to be treated with respect. If you intend to spend much time around here, especially in late-Spring and Autumn, it would also be a good idea to read up on the “Helm Wind”, Britain’s only named wind. Wikipedia; Photo (not ours, found on Flickr) taken from Appleby.

The following constitute a bare minimum.

  • Proper weatherproof clothing and good strong boots;
  • Additional layers of clothing in your rucksack;
  • Map (this area is on the borderline of Ordnance Survey maps OL19 and OL31);
  • Compass (and please make sure you know how to use it along with your map);
  • Liquid (water preferably) to drink, and food for one more ‘meal’ than you are planning;
  • Torch, first-aid kit, whistle, etc. – see the next item;
  • There’s more – for an excellent article on this click here.

We’ll close with a shot of Dufton Pike illuminated in the sun, taken from the village green which is in the shade of a cloud.


Brough Castle

Brough Castle in the Eden Valley Cumbria

Today we’re at Brough Castle, one of Lady Anne Clifford’s 17th century restorations but now once again in ruins. Having said that the picture taken from this angle, from close to the A66 Trans-Pennine trunk road, doesn’t really do justice to the amount that remains, so we’ll need to look at it more closely.

Brough Castle in the Eden Valley Cumbria

Along with Pendragon, Appleby and Brougham Castles Lady Anne Clifford (Countess of Pembroke) restored Brough to a high standard in the mid-1600s, including extensive domestic accommodation, so why is it now in such a state? Earlier dereliction in the 1500s was due to a fire that broke out during a great Christmas party, but the story after Lady Anne’s rebuilding was simply one of neglect.

After the 17th century Civil War the northern castles no longer had any strategic significance, and there was no-one with the enthusiasm for her former properties to keep them in good order. Consequently by a century after her death Brough Castle was falling apart and was steadily diminished as its stones were used for other local building projects, especially materials from the domestic buildings – the remains of which are shown in the next two pictures.

Brough Castle - Eden Valley - Exterior

The above shot shows the exterior of the end of the castle that contained Lady Anne’s restoration of the domestic buildings. She modified the 13th century defensive tower constructed by one of her ancestors, adding windows to give more light. The next photo shows something of what remains inside. Much has gone, to be incorporated into many a local farm building, but the excellent descriptive information boards provided by English Heritage give a good idea of what was once here, several stories of varied rooms. It is still possible to walk around most of it at ground level.

Interrior of Brough Castle Domestic Buildings - Eden Valley Cumbria

Going further back in time, near a thousand years before the 11th/12th century building of castles to protect against Scots invasions, the Roman army had a fort here. Stainmore Pass was then, as today, a strategic route across the Pennines. They had forts at opposite ends of the pass, at Bowes and at Brough. The Romans also had a fort near the top of the pass, Maiden Castle, on a site looking down the Eden Valley. This was not redeveloped by the medieval kings and barons and now is little more than a series of green mounds. English Heritage have provided an information board on the Roman as well as medieval and later history of Brough Castle.

To close this page we’ll show two more views. First is a view out from the Castle toward the North Pennines with the confluence of two becks down below which after they’ve joined flow down as Swindale Beck to merge with the River Eden a mile or two downstream – the third of the significant streams that add to the Eden waters between Kirkby Stephen and Appleby. (The other two are Scandal Beck and the River Belah).

North Pennines from Brough Castle Cumbria

Finally, after exploring the castle ruins and admiring the magnificent surrounding scenery, don’t miss the Ice Cream Parlour at Castle Farm.

Ice Cream at Brough Castle - Eden Valley

Appleby, its Castle and the North Pennines Beyond

A view looking in a northeasterly direction from the fields above Colby Lane, Appleby, with the castle keep (complete with scaffolding) showing above the still leafless trees. Beyond are the North Pennines, with High Cup Gill behind the keep to the left and Murton Pike to the right.

Looking over Appleby Castle to High Cup and Murton Pike

In this view over Appleby the houses are of the newer areas by Colby Lane and Scattergate. The older part of Appleby town centre is out of sight down the hill to the left of the castle. Although the photograph was taken in early April this has been a long winter. There is still snow on the Pennines, as also in the Lake District (see An Ullswater Winter), and the fields still are brown rather than green. We’re waiting for Spring to spring.

This side of the town is probably less photographed than the central area. Here now is another shot from the same morning, from near the entrance to the town on the lane from Colby and looking almost exactly due east.

Colby Lane - Appleby in Westmorland

From this angle the castle’s keep is hidden behind the trees. Murton Pike is now off to the left and Roman Fell rises behind the town.