Kirkby Lonsdale: Independent shops, characterful buildings and a stunning river view

The Moot Hall with a Lake District-themed light display!
Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery looking down towards the market square

Whilst it may be tempting to explore only the towns and villages of the Central Lakes during your time in the Lake District, it’s also well worthwhile investigating those on the edge of, and just outside, the World Heritage Site itself.

The small market town of Kirkby Lonsdale is situated in the south-eastern corner of Cumbria, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and on the border with Lancashire, and in recent years has gained a growing number of independent retailers, alongside the range of cafés, restaurants and accommodation you would also expect to find here.

I visited Kirkby Lonsdale one weekend just a short while ago, to find it buzzing with visitors and pre-Christmas atmosphere. Owing to its location, and therefore the stonework used on the buildings here, the town has its own distinctive character, and there’s nothing nicer than to see a high street filled with shops you won’t find anywhere else.

Kirkby Lonsdale has a long history, the town’s market charter dating back to 1227, so there are some lovely old buildings and architectural features around the town to discover, including lanes and monuments. One distinctive building is the Sun Inn, which dates back to the 17th century.

Main Street in the centre of the town
Main Street in the centre of the town
On Main Street near Market Square, Kirkby Lonsdale
On Main Street near Market Square
The monument in the centre of Market Square, Kirkby Lonsdale
The monument in the centre of Market Square, which was built in 1903
The monument in the centre of Market Square, Kirkby Lonsdale
The Royal Hotel on Market Square
Shop fronts on Market Square, Kirkby Lonsdale
The gorgeous shop fronts on Market Square
More shops and buildings on Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale
More shops and buildings on Main Street
Counter made of books, The Book Lounge, Kirkby Lonsdale
Now that’s a novel design for a counter… (at The Book Lounge on Main Street)
Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale
On Main Street
Salt Pie Lane, Kirkby Lonsdale
Historic Salt Pie Lane, where, according to the Civic Society’s sign, a lady used to make hot salted mutton pies to sell to cattle traders, who then needed to quench their thirst at the local inns – one of which was owned by a relative!

Entrance to a restaurant in Kirkby Lonsdale

Plato's, Kirkby Lonsdale
The Sun Inn and neighbouring shops and buildings on Market Street, Kirkby Lonsdale
The Sun Inn and neighbouring shops and buildings on Market Street

If you don’t know it’s there, it would be especially easy to miss an extraordinarily beautiful view over the Lune Valley from a place called Ruskin’s View – yet it’s less than a five-minute walk on tarmac through the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, which you’ll find at the end of the shops on Market Street. The view gains its name from famous Lake District resident and philosopher John Ruskin, who apparently described the view as:

One of the loveliest in England, therefore in the world.

So that’s quite a recommendation you probably shouldn’t ignore! The view was also painted by the artist JMW Turner.

Ruskin’s View
Information at Ruskin’s View
St Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale
St Mary’s Church
Ruskin's View sign on church
Look out for the sign on the church to know you’re headed in the right direction…
The Gazebo in the churchyard
The Gazebo in the churchyard
The Sun Inn, Kirkby Lonsdale
The Sun Inn on Market Street where St Mary’s Church can be found through the gates

There’s apparently a lovely walk from the promenade at Ruskin’s View which heads down a flight of steps – known as the Radical Steps – and then leads round to Devil’s Bridge, an iconic medieval bridge spanning the river on three arches.

Sign to the Radical Steps

The Radical Steps, leading to a walk by the River Lune

Both this circular walk and a self-guided historic tour of historic Kirkby Lonsdale can be found in a guide by the Kirkby Lonsdale Civic Society. Costing just 50p for a detailed line-drawn map and accompanying text, the guide is available from the Tourist Information Centre on Main Street next to the market square. There’s also a less detailed but very elegant information panel about Kirkby Lonsdale, pictured below, on a wall in the square.

The tourist information centre near the market square, Kirkby Lonsdale
The tourist information centre near the market square
A map on the wall in the market square, Kirkby Lonsdale
A map on the wall in the market square

A leisurely walk with a view, a wander around some unique little shops, and a cup of tea or something to eat – Kirkby Lonsdale has it all! However you choose to enjoy this superb hidden gem of a town, it is most definitely worth a visit next time you’re looking for something new to do in the area.

Have you stayed in or explored the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale for yourself? If so, have I missed anything that other readers would enjoy on a visit here? You can let me know by leaving a comment below – it’s always lovely to hear from you!


  1. Henry Roberts

    I always think that Kirby Lonsdale and just a little bit further afield The Forest and Trough of Bowland are amongst England’s hidden gems. The vast majority of tourists go whizzing past to the busier we’ll known areas when there are some delightful places to explore, if they just paused and looked at a map!

    • I struggle to make it further afield at the moment, but I’ve thought for a long time how lovely it would be to visit there. We have some truly wonderful landscapes in the UK – so much to explore!

  2. Fabulous write up and review of Kirkby Lonsdale thank you. You e captured some great detail and wonderful qualities of the area.
    I am lucky to live here and work for the community.
    I’ve shared on our Kirkby Lonsdale Facebook page for more people to see.
    Thanks again!

    • Thank you for sharing the article on the Kirkby Lonsdale Facebook page, Cindy. It’s so nice to hear that you like the article, as I really enjoyed putting together the images and text. I hope to be back again to try out the walk more fully at some point!

  3. And for any Brontë fans visiting Kirkby Lonsdale: only 2 miles up the road in Cowan
    Bridge is the old Clergy Daughters’ School attended by Charlotte and Emily Brontë – see the plaque on the gable-end of the first property beyond the village sign. (Now private dwellings, one of which can be rented as a holiday cottage and which is also open to the public once a year for Heritage Open Days in September)

    • A great fact thank you, and interesting to know that it is open for the Heritage Open Days – an excellent event that I’m always keen to let people know about if they haven’t come across it!

  4. We’ve been visiting Kirkby Lonsdale for over 20 years now & it never disappoints. Great walks, restaurants & tea rooms . Lots of new businesses have been established there, it’s really very interesting. Highly recommend the walk by the river.

    • Thank you, Kim – it’s great to hear that you would recommend a visit to Kirkby Lonsdale too. Now that I’ve learnt the layout a little better, I must return to do the full river walk at some point as it does sound lovely!

  5. Great write up about a hidden gem, we love this quaint town, we went to the Christmas fair here which is held on the first week in December. Santa parade, band, choirs, ‘chalet’ shops in the square in addition to the gorgeous selection that are always available. The shop staff and pub staff are so friendly, it encouraged us to do 80% of our Christmas shopping here.
    I think there is some amazing Irish music festival being held in the town one weekend in June ??

    • Thank you for your comment, Sandra – yes, I think I visited just a short time before the Christmas fair took place, and would imagine that that weekend would be a lovely time to visit. It’s especially good to hear that you find the people so friendly and shops so interesting. I’d not heard of the Irish music festival, so thank you, I will look into that!

  6. David Smith

    I got engaged to my fiancée there last year! We stayed at the Sun Inn and I popped the question at Ruskin’s View.

  7. Lois Luckett

    Try Avanti an amazing Italian restaurant on the High Street. Plus. The Royal Barn selling beers from the Kirby Lonsdale brewery!

    • Thank you Lois – it’s great to have recommendations on individual eateries, as (sadly) I can’t try them all! 😀 I loved the Royal Barn building when I passed it, and it looked very busy inside!

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