The river Eden rises in the fells beyond Kirkby Stephen and runs through its wide valley for some 85 miles before reaching the Irish Sea via the Solway Firth beyond historic Carlisle. Fed by innumerable springs and streams along the way, the Eden, its valley, towns and villages are overshadowed in popularity by the honeypots of the Lake District to the west.
The river flows through the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, the North Pennines, the Solway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. Not bad. The Vale of Eden itself is a blend of richly verdant countryside, dry stone walls, small towns and sandstone villages, some with their roots in the age of the Vikings.
Whilst it lacks the scale and drama of the Lakeland hills, the valley has a unique charm and attractions that have to be sought out rather than being promoted in neon lights. Intriguing names such as Wild Boar Fell mingle with others that flow off the tongue such as Temple Sowerby. Behind them all lie centuries of social history and millennia of forces that shaped the landscape we can all now enjoy.
My own interest grew from a footslog when backpacking along part of the Pennine Way and through countless brief transits by car on my way from Tyneside to the Lakes. When friends moved to Dufton, I spent more time in the valley; much of it at first in the excellent Stag Inn. It soon occurred to me that the sun always seems to shine in Eden.
As I explored the area on foot or bicycle and explored the streets and markets of towns such as Penrith and Appleby, I began to appreciate the variety of the area’s qualities. Plus, despite the antipathy of many of my Geordie friends to the city of Carlisle (probably to do with football), I came to enjoy not only its long history but also its attractions and energy.
Gradually, my trips to the Lakes withered away as I was seduced by the character and easy access to Eden. After several years of short breaks, I decided to put some more time into exploring and appreciating the area, mostly but not exclusively on foot. Happily, the Settle-Carlisle railway line and local buses not only offer transport alternatives but also opportunities to meet people and learn from them.
For me, Eden is bounded to the east by the rising fells of the North Pennines and to the west by the M6, the end is obvious; the start elusive. I include Carlisle as to miss it out would be bizarre, located as it is on the Eden and despite being to the west of the motorway. Though the Eden’s catchment area extends as far west as Ullswater, mine doesn’t. In the south west are the often overlooked Howgill Fells, a Wainwright favourite.
So, not quite geographical, nor political as per Eden District Council’s area – but it’s my choice.