England’s ‘book town’, on edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Close to the Howgill Fells on the River Rawthey, a great base for exploring either the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District.

Main St, Sedbergh by DS Pugh

Main St, Sedbergh

Photo by DS Pugh1

The small town of Sedbergh sits on the far North-West edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, close to Swaledale.

It has become England’s ‘Book Town’ with a number of independent book shops and dealers operating in the town. The bleakly impressive rolling hills of the Howgill Fells dominate the views and the River Rawthey runs through the town.



In brief

  • England’s Book Town
  • 8 independent book shops and dealers in the town centre
  • Howgill Fells on the doorstep
  • Within easy reach of and the Lake District
  • Lies just inside the but is in Cumbria not Yorkshire.

At bit of history

It’s thought that the name ‘Sedbergh’ comes from the Norse “Set Berg” meaning “flat-topped hill”, so the Vikings must have had a strong presence here. The Normans recorded the settlement in the Doomsday Book and established their hegemony over the area by building a motte and bailey castle at Castlehaw, now the eastern end of the town.

Sedburgh seems to have developed quietly but steadily. The town was granted a market charter in 1251 – farming was a key part of the local economy – and Sedbergh School was established in 1525. The school, in fact, quickly became one of the key components of the town’s economy, along with farming and hand knitting, a by-product of the local sheep farming.

Non-conformism was strong in the area. When George Fox, founder of the Quakers, came to preach at the town in 1652, a thousand people turned up to hear him. So popular was he that the large rock on the fellside from which he delivered his sermon was named Fox’s Pulpit.

Old loom at Farfield Mill

Old loom at Farfield Mill

In the 18th century, road improvements meant Sedbergh became more accessible which helped local industries. Mills were built, taking advantage of the potential for water power, to process the locally produced wool as well as cotton brought in from outside the area.

The railway was next, with the line to Sedbergh opening in 1861 and producing another boon to local industries. It fully closed over 100 years later, in 1967, as part of the Beeching Cuts although passenger services stopped in 1954.

Sedburgh today

Farming has declined over the years but still makes a significant contribution to the local economy. Today, in addition to farming, the economy is based around the schools, books, various other businesses and, of course, tourism.

Book Town

Sedbergh was badly hit by the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001. The town needed to find something else to attract visitors and hit upon the plan to claim E England’s unclaimed official Book Town title which is awarded by the International Organisation of Book Towns. Hay-on-Wye has the Wales accolade and Wigtown is Scotland’s book town. Sedbergh set about attracting bookshops and developing a business plan to market them, thus helping the local economy. Now Sedbergh has eight second-hand bookshops including the huge Westwood Books which includes a sitting/reading area and café.

The International Organisation of Book Towns defines book towns as “A Book Town is a small rural town or village in which second‑hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Book Towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty.
Sedbergh fits the description nicely.

More information: Visit the Sedbergh Book Town website

Town twinning and reality TV

The desire of Sedbergh’s town council to find a twin town became national news when the process was featured, in January 2005, in a BBC documentary called ‘The Town That Wants A Twin’. Four towns were selected by the TV production company – from France, Cypress, Slovenia and Austria – and visits arranged. After the visits, the residents of Sedbergh voted for their favourite with Zreče in north eastern Slovenia, announced as the winner.

Howgill Fells

Howgill Fells

The Howgill Fells

The Howgill Fells are hills just outside the town, some of which lie within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The name Howgill comes from the Old Norse word ‘haugr‘, which means a hill or barrow, and ‘gil‘ meaning a narrow valley.

These are sometimes called ‘the quiet hills’ and are far less visited than the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales. However, visitors can enjoy wonderful walks, spectacular views of the Lakes and Dales, and the occasional thundering waterfall. Plus, there is a real chance that no-one else will be seen all day.

Alfred Wainwright , the famous fellwalker and writer, trod the paths of these Fells and described the Howgills as looking like a herd of sleeping elephants. In 1972 he published a book called “Walks on the Howgill Fells” which recorded his routes and thoughts in the hills.

Farfield Mill

Farfield Mill

Entrance to Farfield Mill

Farfield Mill was one of the woollen mills built in the 18th century to take advantage of local wool fleeces and abundant water power. The Mill thrived for many years but declined, along with UK woollen industry across the UK, during the 19th century. Production finally stopped in the early 1990s after 156 years. The Mill was then refurbished and opened as an arts and heritage centre. The 4 floors now contain heritage displays, working looms, regularly changing exhibitions, craft demonstrations, art and craft for sale by resident and visiting artists, workshops and events. Visitors can enjoy food and drinks in Weavers Cafe.

More information: Visit the Farfield Mill website .

Where to stay

With the Lakes, Yorkshire Dales and Howgill Fells on the doorstep, there is plenty of choice when it comes to places to stay in Sedbergh. Here’s a few:

Hotels & Pubs

The Bull Inn & Restaurant
The Dalesman

Bed and Breakfast

The Daleslea
Summerhill B&B

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