Appleby, in the heart of the Eden Valley, was traditionally the county town of Westmorland although ever since a severe fourteenth century attack by the Scots when many of its population were slaughtered it has not been the largest town. Kendal was the administrative centre, but Appleby still kept the ceremonially dignity. When the county was absorbed into Cumbria in 1974 the people appealed to have the name changed so as to retain its Westmorland identity – hence, although Appleby in day-to-day conversation, “Appleby in Westmorland” is its full title.
Above is the centre of Appleby, at the foot of Boroughgate with the Parish church in the background. Turn right there onto Bridge street, and go over the bridge to find The Sands. Here a good number of ducks and gulls are enjoying some winter sunshine on the bank of the River Eden. (No, there’s not much sand to be found but when the water is low there is often a good pebbly “beach”).
For a week in early June the town is taken over by the gypsy fair. This is the ancient Appleby gypsy horse fair. As in the picture here there are horses everywhere (except that theoretically at least they’re not allowed on Boroughgate). Buying and selling of horses goes on for days and Fair Hill above the town is a popular spot with the many thousands (actually tens of thousands) of visitors who enjoy the sights of traditional gypsy caravans.
The crowds also enjoy watching the horses being washed and swum in the river, and the young gypsy lads enjoy showing off their prowess on their mounts, riding bareback.
In the photo above the river level is quite low. The shingle can be seen at the side. After heavy rain on the fells the river can rise by several feet, and on occasions the horse washing and swimming is stopped by the police and RSPCA. This next photo, from May 2013, shows a much higher water level. There certainly could have been no horse swimming on that day (fortunately it wasn’t fair week). The bridge here is “Appleby New Bridge”, although “New” could be somewhat misleading; it’s been there since the nineteenth century.
From the hill above the town we can look down onto the river to get a different view, showing another of Appleby’s three bridges over the Eden.
Then if we go upstream a little to Bongate Mill we find the third bridge (actually the first if we count in the direction of the river’s flow) with a glimpse of the castle on its hill above the river. Like nearby Brough Castle this was one of Lady Anne Clifford’s residences in the 17th century. (She’s buried in the parish church here). However unlike Brough, which is a ruin in the care of English Heritage, Appleby Castle is still a private home and not currently [mid-2013] open to the public. Hopefully this will change shortly; it used to be popular with visitors to the town and the owner is working towards once again being able to welcome the public.