Pendragon Castle, Mallerstang, Cumbria

by David Murray on 7 July 2011

in Castles, Cumbria, Eden Valley, Kirkby Stephen

Of all the castles inherited by Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, in the 17th century Pendragon Castle must have been in the wildest and most remote-feeling location of them all. The Mallerstang valley in Cumbria, between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, and just to the south of the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) seems almost detached from the rest of the world even today.

Looking up the Mallerstang valley from Pendragon Castle - Eden Valley - Cumbria

Looking up the Mallerstang valley from Pendragon Castle

It all looks “green and pleasant” here, but what it might have felt like in stormy weather three hundred years ago one can only begin to imagine. The view below illustrates better the contrast between the roughness of the fellside and the improved land of the enclosures lower down, which postdate the journeyings of Lady Anne.

Mallerstang Edge from Pendragon Castle - Eden Valley - Cumbria

Mallerstang Edge from Pendragon Castle

It must have taken all Lady Anne’s energy and determination to venture into this country via the wildness of upper Wharfedale and Wensleydale and see to the renovation of her properties here and in Brough, Appleby and Brougham, but so she did – and on at least one occasion stayed at Pendragon for some time.

Travelling up from her main residence of Skipton Castle, she would have arrived in the area from the south but a few days ago I approached it from the opposite direction, driving southwards out of Kirkby Stephen on the B6259. To Nateby and beyond the road more or less follows the young River Eden toward its source high on the fells near the watershed and the ancient boundary between Westmorland and Yorkshire.

Mallerstang valley from near Dalefoot - Eden Valley - Cumbria

Mallerstang valley from near Dalefoot

About half way between Kirkby Lonsdale and the point at which the Eden valley is exchanged for that of the Ure and Wensleydale, I came to a road junction. To the west went a road over Wharton Fell to Ravenstonedale and a road sign informed me that I’d come only 4 miles from Kirkby Stephen. Even though I was on four wheels, not walking, it seemed much further than that.

It is here that the remains of Pendragon Castle stand in a field on the right hand side of the road. Behind the gate is a green signboard.

Pendragon Castle sign - Mallerstang - Eden Valley - Cumbria

Pendragon Castle sign

The landowner allows visitors to walk around the castle and inspect the ruins. The extent of the Pendragon remains can look quite different depending on the direction from which one is viewing them. I spent a pleasant hour pointing my camera from just about every angle I could think of in a 360 degree slow circular walk around it. From the field side the ruins can look quite extensive. Looking up from the River Eden down in the valley bottom behind the castle they can appear sparse but threatening.

Pendragon Castle Ruins - Mallerstang - Eden Valley - Cumbria
Pendragon Castle Ruins - Mallerstang - Eden Valley - Cumbria

As I finished my circumperambulation (is that a word?) I was thinking about the retinue of three hundred men and women who typically accompanied Lady Anne Clifford on her journeys. Add to them any permanent castle staff at Pendragon, and the question arises, “Where did they all sleep and eat?” The place doesn’t look big enough for that kind of number, even allowing for maybe three floors. This is not like Brough or Brougham. Maybe the less favoured among them were billeted out on the local tenants.

Pendragon Castle - Present Occupants

As I was pondering this question some of Pendragon Castle’s current occupants appeared out of one of the doorways. In the past, long before Lady Anne’s day and her restorations, the castle was destoyed many times in fighting as men of the north invaded, but today the occupiers showed no inclination to repel my invasion. They were not exactly friendly, but were very quiet and unconcerned; in fact, they simply ignored me.

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