Kirkby Stephen (//) is a market town in Cumbria, in North West England. Historically it was part of Westmorland. It lies on the A685, surrounded by sparsely populated hill country and about 25 miles (40 km) from the nearest larger towns: Kendal and Penrith. The River Eden rises 6 miles (9.7 km) away in the peat bogs below Hugh Seat and passes the eastern edge of the town.
A view over North Road and the Old Forge, with Kirkby Stephen Parish Church beyond
|Population||1,822 (2011 census)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||KIRKBY STEPHEN|
In 1352–1353, Roger de Clifford, Baron of Westmorland, obtained a charter from King Edward III for a market and two annual fairs to be held in the town. This was reaffirmed by a charter granted in 1605 to George, Earl of Cumberland, by King James I, for "one market on Monday and two fairs yearly; one on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after Whitsuntide and the other on the two days next before the feast of St. Luke."
The Monday market, with livestock sales at the Mart in Faraday Road and stalls on Market Square, remains an important event in the town and surrounding countryside. There were special celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James charter. St Luke's Fair, or "Charter Day", is celebrated every year at the end of October, when the Charter is read at the "Charter Stone" in Market Street. The special "Tup sales", very important in this sheep-rearing area, still take place at around this time each year.
Kirkby Stephen serves as a base for tourism in the Upper Eden Valley area and for walking tours of the Valley. It is on the route of the Coast to Coast Walk, devised by Alfred Wainwright, Each June there is held the "Mallerstang Horseshoe and Nine Standards Yomp", which takes a strenuous route along the high ground on both sides of the neighbouring dale of Mallerstang, including Wild Boar Fell and the summit of nearby Nine Standards Rigg.
The surrounding countryside attracts walkers. There is a Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Team to assist those not fully prepared for harsh conditions on the fell tops.
The community and council centre in the library provides information and services for all local councils: county, district and parish.
Secondary education for the town and surrounding area is provided by Kirkby Stephen Grammar School. This was founded in 1566 by Thomas Wharton, 1st Baron Wharton, under letters patent granted by Queen Elizabeth I. Although it has retained the name "grammar school", its old buildings were replaced long ago, and it is now a comprehensive school and Sports College with about 410 pupils. The grounds of the grammar school included for a time an open-air swimming pool built in the 1960s for the school and local community, which was open from May to August to members of the Kirkby Stephen and District Swimming Club and to visitors to the area.
Kirkby Stephen has a parish council and acts as a centre for villages and parishes that include Nateby, Ravenstonedale and Mallerstang. An electoral ward in the same name stretches south to Aisgill, with a total population at the 2011 Census of 2,580. The town had a 2011 population of 1,522, which was estimated to have risen to 1,647 in 2019.
- Stenkrith Park is to the south of the town, on the B6259 road to Nateby. The river scenery marks a change from limestone at the head of the Eden Valley in Mallerstang to the red sandstone characteristic further along the Eden Valley. The main rock, from which most houses in Kirkby Stephen are built, is brockram, composed of fragments of limestone in a cement of red sandstone. The river at Stenkrith has carved this rock into many fantastic shapes, collectively known as the Devil's Grinding Mill or Devil's Hole. This natural scenery has been supplemented, in recent years, by three human additions.
- The Poetry Path has 12 stones, which were carved by the artist Pip Hall. They bear poems by Meg Peacock that depict a year in the life of a hill farmer.
- Eden Benchmark: Beside the river there is a sculpture by Laura White, entitled "Passage", one of the ten "Eden Benchmarks", a series of sculptures that have been placed at intervals along the River Eden from its source in Mallerstang to the Solway Firth.
- The Millennium Bridge, opened in 2002, provides pedestrian access from the park to a walk along the old south Durham railway track.
Unlike neighbouring Brough, Kirkby shows no evidence of Roman settlement, but there are many traces of even more ancient eras in the area, including the remains of a large Iron Age earthwork or hill fort known as Croglam Castle, on the south-eastern edge of the town.
A second, older railway station is Kirkby Stephen East station at the southern edge of the town. Originally a large junction of the South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway and the Eden Valley Railway, the station was reopened by the Stainmore Railway Company in August 2011 as a heritage centre and operational railway representing the 1950s. It is open to visitors every weekend.
- "Town population 2011". Retrieved 21 June 2015.
- A Wainwright, Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, Michael Joseph, 1987.
- "Kirkby Stephen, Sports". Archived from the original on 1 January 2010. Retrieved 10 December 2009.
- "Ward population 2011". Retrieved 21 June 2015.
- City Population site. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
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