Kirkby Stephen
Kirkby Stephen
An attractive market town at the head of the Eden Valley, Kirkby Stephen boasts a 12th century church known as the Cathedral of the Dales. Within the church is the Loki Stone, an 8th century figure of the Norse god Loki in chains, as well as memorials to the Musgrave family (see Edenhall). To the south of Kirkby Stephen is Pendragon Castle, reputed home of Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, but in actual fact a Norman stronghold.
Although there was a Roman presence in the area, we do not know of a settlement here until the Danish period in the 10th century. By 1090 the name of the town was recorded as Cherkaby Stephen, though there is no indication of where the 'Stephen' comes from (it is not, as is sometimes mentioned, the dedication of the parish church). The word may come from the Saxon term 'stefan', or moor, in which case the name would mean simply 'Place of the church on the moor'.

Whatever the provenance of its name, today Kirkby Stephen is a prosperous looking place. The central core is a conservation area, with mainly 18th and 19th century buildings grouped about a small market square. Off the market square is the parish church, reached via a small decorative cloister.

In Vicarage Lane is the Kirkby Stephen Grammar School, founded by the 1st Lord Wharton, whose grandiose tomb can be seen in the Wharton family chapel of the church. 17th century Frank's Bridge is a local landmark. This was a 'corpse bridge', used to allow access for mourners carrying coffins to the church in Kirby Stephen from neighbouring villages. You can still see stones on the end of the bridge where bearers rested the coffins. The bridge is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a prisoner from Hartley Castle who drowned in the river.