Visiting Lacy’s Caves from Little Salkeld

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A walk along the River Eden near Little Salkeld in Cumbria to visit Lacy's Caves - a series of small caves carved into a sandstone cliff above the river

Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Lacy

Many years ago Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Lacy lived in Salkeld Hall in the Eden Valley village of Little Salkeld. Having bought the house in 1790 he set about making changes to the surrounding area.

There is one tale telling how he attempted to blow up the nearby stone circle of Long Meg And Her Sisters. The story goes that the Colonel was frustrated that the stones prevented the land being ploughed and used for growing crops. And his simple solution to this problem? To blow them up! This obviously didn’t go to plan as the stones are still there to this day. Also, whereas there seems to be some truth to this tale, there seems to be no evidence that this happened while Colonel Lacy was living at Salkeld Hall.

Another tale, this one certainly true, is about the creation of the caves named after him: Lacy’s Caves. The Colonel ordered a servant to dig out some caves in a sandstone cliff that overlooked the River Eden near to Salkeld Hall. Who knows why but they ended up being used for entertaining guests – maybe this was actually their original purpose? As a finishing touch he allegedly employed someone to live there and act as a hermit. This was his idea of great entertainment for his guests. The long, dark winter evenings must have flown by in his house!

Anyway, whatever the true story is, the caves are well worth a visit.

Getting to Lacy’s Caves

Lacy’s Caves lie on the banks of the River Eden midway between the village of Little Salkeld and Daleraven Bridge. The best way to visit them is to walk the ‘classic’ loop from the village green of Little Salkeld. The outward leg passes the stone circle of Long Meg and Her Sisters, the old church of St. Michaels at Glassonby and leads to Daleraven Bridge. And the return section is back along the banks of the River Eden. The walk is only 5.5 miles long and the highlight – Lacy’s Caves – is near the end.

I’ll pick up the route at Daleraven Bridge alongside the River Eden. The footpath south from here follows the river bank and climbs to the top of Kirk Bank: a cliff overlooking the river. The views over the river towards Lazonby are worthy of a long lunch break.

view from kirk bank overlooking river eden
River Eden from the top of Kirk Bank

To take this photo I had to climb over a wooden fence that prevents anyone getting too close to the edge of Kirk Bank. Looking over the edge its clear to see why its there: the cliff is not particularly stable and it looks like landslips are quite common! After taking a photo from as near to the edge as I dare get I retreated back to the footpath before taking another photo looking upstream (the way I was heading).

view towards tib wood from kirk bank in autumn
Looking upstream towards Tib Wood and Lacy’s Caves

After descending the other side of Kirk Bank a stile leading into Tib Wood is soon reached.

wooden stile leading into tib wood and autumn beech trees
The stile leading into Tib Wood

The ground hereafter becomes very muddy but thankfully there is a wooden walkway in place. Admittedly it needs a bit of repairing in places but its much better than nothing.

wooden duckboards leading through muddy tib wood in autumn
Duckboards in Tib Wood
path made of duckboards in muddy tib wood in autumn
Another stretch of the duckboards in Tib Wood

Eventually the boggy section ends and the path becomes drier and wider as it leads further into the wood.

wide footpath in tib wood covered with fallen autumn leaves
Wide footpath through Tib Wood

Not far after this section the path passes over the shoulder of a craggy outcrop, the crag into which the caves have been built. Dropping down the other side an abundance of rhododendron bushes are seen. These are part of Colonel Lacy’s legacy as it was he who had them planted.

At the foot of the slope a second path to the right leads towards the river.

path above River Eden leading to Lacys Caves
Walkway leading to the entrance to Lacy’s Caves

The sign on the rock handily points out that this is the path leading to Lacy’s Caves.

Exploring Lacy’s Caves

On walking along the short path through the cutting the entrance to the caves is reached.

the doorway into Lacys Caves
Walkway leading to the entrance to Lacy’s Caves

Thankfully the sun came out just as I took this photo and the real colour of the sandstone can be seen.

The caves themselves are quite small and consist of five rooms. Even so to hack these out of solid sandstone must have taken some effort, especially considering it must have been done by hand!

I was also fortunate to have the caves to myself on this visit so could take photos without waiting for people to get out of shot. Having said that I’ve never seen many people here, maybe as its a few miles from the Lake District. Plus as the caves are small inside most visitors only hang around for a few minutes before leaving.

Controlling contrast is a bit of a problem when photographing the caves. This is because the interior is quite dark and light coming in through the doors and windows isn’t. With a bit of help from some post-production I managed to produce this photo looking out of a doorway.

looking out of the doorway of Lacys Caves towards autumnal trees
Light streaming into a doorway of Lacy’s Caves

I love the patterns in the sandstone walls and over time have taken quite a few photos of them.

carved patterns in sandstone inside Lacys Caves
Carved pattern in Lacy’s Caves’ wall
graffiti on sandstone wall inside Lacys Caves
Graffiti on Lacy’s Caves’ wall

Far be it from me to encourage vandalism but I do think the graffiti adds something to the second photo.

Walking along the River Eden to Little Salkeld

Having explored as much as it is possible to explore a small cave it was time to wander back along the River Eden back to Little Salkeld. On this latest visit to the caves the banks of the river were choked with debris, possibly as a result of Storm Desmond in 2015.

Sadly this meant that a photo of the caves from the banks of the river wouldn’t have had a decent foreground. Therefore I’ll make use of a photo I took a few years ago.

This is much tidier than it is now. And the log in the river acts as a nice bit of foreground interest pointing towards the caves. Zooming in a bit more gives a better view of the caves themselves.

Lacys Caves above River Eden in autumn woodland
Closer view of Lacys Caves from the riverbank

So there you go – that’s Lacey’s Caves: a hidden gem of the Eden Valley well worth visiting if a break from the Lake District is in order. To see more of what Cumbria has to offer apart from the Lakes feel free to view my other photos of the Eden Valley.

Visiting Lacy’s Caves from Little Salkeld was last modified: January 22nd, 2024 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Wild camping on Wild Boar Fell
    May 2018 : A seven mile climb up Wild Boar Fell from Cotegill Bridge for a windy, sleepless night's wild camping. The dawn made it all worthwhile though!

  • A walk from Dufton to High Cup Nick
    January 2019 : An eight mile walk from Dufton along the Pennine Way track to watch sunset at High Cup Nick in winter. And what a sunset it turned out to be!

  • Gelt Woods walk in autumn
    October 2018 : A walk along the River Gelt in Gelt Woods in autumn, when the woods are at their colourful best

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