To The Nine Standards from Kirkby Stephen

If you are in the hills and villages around the Upper Eden Valley and have looked southwards to the area where the Howgills meet the Pennines you may have seen up on the tops an unusual sight. Stone structures like giant cairns, in a row, standing against the skyline. A landmark shrouded in mystery and quirkiness, The Nine Standards. A great place to head to on a sunny days hike and climb up.

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For those that have been you will know it is a charming and different kind of top. But those of you that know me by now will know I want to learn about why and how 🙂 Well, it is a complete mystery. Research has found many possible reasons for this straight row of stone columns, some known to have reached many metres high. Manuscripts dating back to the 1500s mention Nine Stander or Standards up on this hill (Hartley Fell). Some will say it was a military rallying point that even dates back to the Romans, the structures also built to show great huge soldiers lie in wait to those that come. The line is also just a few hundred metres from what was the Westmorland/Yorkshire border, was it a line in the sand to show the border? Or was it some artistic pranksters from later times? Wainwright also noted that they are shown on maps from the 1800s at least too.

So, it was the first day of a BaldHiker Social Hike Weekend that we held in the area, the sun was out, lets all take a walk up from Kirkby Stephen. The walk up starts right in the centre of Kirkby Stephen and free parking can be found here, bonus. The walk up and down is about 11 miles and follows the coast to coast path all the way. Head out of Kirkby Stephen via Frank’s bridge.

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Frank’s Bridge is full of stories and ghostly tales in itself. It is known as a corpse lane bridge once used to bring coffins over from the village of Hartley on the other side of the river. On the Hartley side are the stones used to rest the coffins on for a pause. Who is Frank though? In the picture above you will see houses that were formerly breweries. A story goes that one owner, named Frank Metcalfe was sick of supplies falling in the river when crossing via old stepping stones, he thus commissioned the bridge.

On the other side the path ahead is clear, you are well onto the coast to coast path and onwards to the Nine Standards. Enjoying the green and colour  surrounding the town too.

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After passing through Hartley the path definitely gets ‘uphill’ arching up and round the huge quarries. It is not long before you look around you and back over Kirkby Stephen to the incredible views. The size of the Eden Valley really is shown all the way as you look North. The North Pennines and Cross Fell lay in a line to the right, the mountains of the Lake District, High Street etc over to the left and the Howgills close by. Wonderful area to see such a vast variance of some of the most beautiful areas of Britain.

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The standards themselves appear on and off to you throughout the walk, each time they appear getting closer and looking bigger. We were so lucky for the clear day.

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As the ground gets more barren and a lot soggier underfoot the landmark appears right before you. Nearly there. Standing next to them you get a good look at their size, these are not just an average cairn. You also note that they are not exactly on the top of Hartley Fell (commonly known as Nine Standards Rigg) too. For this you can walk another couple hundred metres to the trig point. From the top you just don’t get one of the best views up the Eden Valley but now over the other side Yorkshire comes into play.

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A very very enjoyable walk indeed with interest, views, landmarks and mystery. A walk I would do again and again in different seasons without a doubt, in fact I will. Time to head down for some well earned socials 😀

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Written by Paul Steele

Founder of and avid hiker, climber and trekker. Never liking to sit still and always seeking new adventures around the world. Sharing personal views here and tweeting live via @paul_steele


  1. Lovely photos, yet again Paul. Loved the write up, but was hoping you might have solved the riddle of what the standards are doing there :).
    We hiked up and over in lovely dry sunny weather too. Views were as amazing as you said. However, the ground was still boggy enough it was another whole adventure to find a way down without being swallowed in the mud!
    Great fun.

  2. Enjoyed reading the walk to Nine standards and loved the photos. Quite apt for me as one of the stories for a recent sculpture refers to the Nine Standards above the Swale.

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