Cumbria Way: across the Lake District by foot

Cumbria Way. Not often signposted as well as this!

Cumbria Way. Not often signposted as well as this!

In May 2014, a friend and I walked (most of) The Cumbria Way, a 70 mile Long Distance Path that cuts right through the heart of the Lake District. I’m no hardened trekker but I love a good long distance walk. We specifically approached this walk as a holiday, not seeking sponsorship and a few short cuts were taken along the way.

With a little training anyone could do this path that runs alongside Consiton Water and Derwant Water, up Lonscale Fell behind Skiddaw and through beautiful farmlands and lowlands. There really is no better way to experience the Lakes than by foot if you are able.

Hopefully this record will assist some people with planning their trips, or get your juices flowing for any sort of outdoor activity.

Day 1: Ulverston to Coniston. Approx. 15miles

View north from Ulverston

View north from Ulverston

We stayed the night in Barrow in Furness and caught the train to Ulverston and grabbed a taxi to the start of the route because we needed to drop our bags off with the Sherpa Van Project who would then deliver our luggage to our accommodation for the night.

First learning point was that I’d recommend staying in Ulverston rather than Barrow, which we did just for cost of the Travelodge. But the first train our of Barrow wasn’t until 9.17am so we didn’t start walking until nearly 11am which is too late for a 15mile day. When you include the cost of the train and taxi/inconvenience, we think staying in pretty Ulverston would have been a better choice.

Finding your way: We’ve walked a lot of long distance trails before, but all have been official National Trails. The Cumbria Way isn’t maintained by anyone specifically as far as we can tell and so signage is poor to middling along the entire route. We used a specific Cunbria Way map but it wasn’t useful at all on days 4&5 and so I wanted to stress the importance of carrying and being able to use Ordnance Survey maps for this route. We got lost (well, had to detour) less than quarter of a mile outside of Ulverston as the walk doglegs sharply by a road with no signage so off we went up the road.  There were plenty of footpaths to get us back to where we needed to be, but it elongates the walk and didn’t add anything, apart from frustration!

At Beacon Tarn, a lovely high lake about a third of the way into Day 1, there is a clear decision to be made about whether to take the Cumbria Way the long way around the Tarn or the straight path along the eastern bank. If you don’t mind scrambling along a sheep trail with a sheer drop take the eastern path. If you do, stay west!

The last stretch of Day 1 along Coniston Water is lovely but we were somewhat knackered by that point. It had been a very hot, sunny day even though thunderstorms had been predicted by almost everyone!

Cumbria Way

🙂

We stayed the night in the Yewdale Hotel, centrally located in Coniston where pub grub was available but only until 8pm on a Sunday. This is a lovely welcoming hotel and we had a quiet room save the church bell opposite but we were dso pooped we barely noticed.

We had originally booked into the Coppermines Youth Hostel (the closer Holly How Youth Hostel being full) but Sherpas don’t deliver to the Coppermines. If you’re up for another 1.5mile, straight uphill on a track added to the end of the day, I am told Coppermines is a lovely stay. We didn’t fancy the extra walk and the Yewdale was cheaper and included breakfast in the price.

This is a long stretch, with a lot of short but sharp ups and downs. Just because it doesn’t go high and isn’t in the Cumbrian Mountains ‘proper’ do not underestimate it. A tough first day.

Day 2: Coniston to New Dungeon Ghyll. Approx. 11miles

This was probably my favourite walk of the whole route even though we were straight into a climb out of Coniston which is always a special way to bein! The path led to to Tarn Hows, a beautiful man made lake with an interesting history. There’s usually an ice cream van in the car park! The route then followed the  River Brathay along the Langdale Valley floor and afforded us a cracking lunch stop.

View towards New Dungeon Ghyll

View towards New Dungeon Ghyll

Chesters by the River is an artisan shop and café/restaurant. I had a scrummy vegetarian flatbread and local ginger beer. Walkers, dogs all welcome.  Chester’s is a 3 minute walk off the Cumbria Way into Skelwith Bridge and well worth the detour.

This was a well-populated stretch of the route as there are lots of short and circular walks to do in the area and lots of families were picnicking by the river.

Towards the end of day 2, the path climbs onto the side of Lingmoor Fell and there is a steepish descent at the end into New Dungeon Ghyll.

We had booked into the Great Langdale Bunkhouse which was of a good standard. We had a (rather expensive) drink at the Sticklebarn Tavern, famous for being the only National Trust pub which is right next to the Bunkhouse. The Tavern have recently stopped serving breakfast and when we asked if we could book in for dinner we were told we couldn’t book if we were less than a group of 8, and that if we didn’t book we’d have to take our chances. Hmpf!

So, we spent a lot of our free time in the very friendly and charming New Dungeon Ghyll Walker’s Bar where they served generous portions of pub grub, free Wi-Fi and were helpful hosts. There are rooms available at the Bar too.

Day 3: Day off!

For our rest day we planned an amble around Ambleside and had booked a swim and massage at the Langdale Hotel. Buses buzz up and down the Langdale Valley throughout the day but looking at the timetable you’d think you needed to walk a mile to Old Dungeon Ghyll to catch it.  However it  truns out it will stop pretty much anywhere it was safe to do so.  We hailed the bus at New Dungeon Ghyll and rode into Ambleside. Later our lovely driver not only dropped us off at the hotel which isn’t an official stop but he told us to wait for him to pass again and he’d pick us up, which he did. how lovely!

Cumbria Way north of Tarn Hows

Cumbria Way north of Tarn Hows

Ambleside is lovely, lots of outdoor shops, cafes, local interests, pretty scenery and a little shuttle bus to Lake Windermere.  The Langdale Hotel was convenient for a swim, Jacuzzi and a nice Swedish massage.

We spent the evening again in New Dungeon Ghyll and breakfasted there too. They also provided extra bacon butties all wrapped up for our packed lunch.

 

Day 4: New Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick (Rosthwaite) Approx. 15miles

Big brownie Birthdya Boot at the top of Stake Pass

Big brownie Birthdya Boot at the top of Stake Pass

This day includes a walk over Stake Pass which looks thoroughly intimidating on the profile and isn’t to be sniffed at. The up was actually easier than I expected. Please note, the start of the switchback wasn’t signposted so keep your wits about you! The down was a steep switchback, slippery in places and as this was the only day we had rain, it was a bit scary at times. The route away from the Pass follows the Langstrath Beck into Rosthwaite which felt very long after the climb over the pass but it might have been because of the downturn in the weather. The Cunbria Way here passes over boulder fields so lots of concentration needed. It was still a fun part of the walk and as I had been apprehensive about the Pass I was really chuffed to have completed it.

We jumped on a bus in Rosthwaite, knowing it was our last chance to save our legs a little before Day 5 which had no public transport alternatives! We met a few other walkers who stayed in Rosthwaite and enjoyed it and it seems it would make a suitable stop if you wanted to break down the walk further.

Day 5: Keswick to Caldbeck (Whelpo Bridge) Approx. 16miles

As much as I’d been apprehensive about this stretch, I utterly loved it.  Prepare for a steep, long climb out of Keswick which we hadn’t appreciated to its fullest in our preparations. The walk around Lonscale Fell to Skiddaw House youth Hostel was a challenge  – thin, scrambly

Signage on the Cumbria Way leaves a little to be desired

Signage on the Cumbria Way leaves a little to be desired

paths in places with steep drops. Skiddaw House Youth Hostel wasn’t open when we got there so we had our lunch against their wall.

OS maps are an absolute must on this day! We turned ourselves around (ahem) twice once we’d come off the mountain, once in the middle of a farm which is worth avoiding.

There is a choice to make on this stretch as there are Eastern or Western alternative routes, both of which are plotted on most maps. We eventually chose the eastern as our accommodation was in Whelpo Bridge to the west of Caldbeck, meaning we didn’t elongate our longest day unnecessarily although that left a bit more to do on our final day.  We’d seen some less than flattering reports of the western route but we found it charming. It crosses the Candleseaves Bog on a good track before dropping out of the Cumbrian Mountains then meandering through farmland. We did struggle with our bearings on a section out of Longhead around the very edge of the fell as we were tired by then, heading uphill into a strong head wind.

Path to north of Lonscale Fell

Path to north of Lonscale Fell

We stayed in an utterly charming B&B called Swaledale Watch run by Nan and Arnold; we were welcomed warmly. They even gave us lifts to and from the Oddfellows Arms in Caldbeck for our dinner. Another lovely pub, free Wi-Fi and a great selection of local fare. Try the lamb hotpot with dumplings! Breakfast at Swaledale Watch was huge and hearty .

Day 6: Caldbeck to Carlisle. Approx. 15miles.

Plenty of wildlife and farm stock along the Way

Plenty of wildlife and farm stock along the Way

Because of dodgy ankles, we only walked the first 9 miles of this final stretch before hopping a bus to Carlisle. We walked into Caldbeck from Whelpo Bridge past the shell of Howk Mill then up and out of the village. The rest of the walk was a gentle ramble mostly alongside the Caldew River and through a lot of arable land. We caught the bus at Bridge End just south of Dalston.

We stayed the last night in Carlisle Central Travelodge  which we’ve used before and is entirely functional and well located.

 

Useful links & helpful hints:

I’ve reviewed all of our accommodation, food and other amenities on Tripadvisor

We used Sherpa Van Project so although we carry our day sacks, our main bags with all the extras are delivered straight to our accommodation.  Although we’d usually pay for one bag and share, this company insisted on a minimum of two bags and to be honest, we’re getting to the point where we wanted a few extra changes of clothes and space for a few luxuries so we stumped up the extra.

We were grateful that we grabbed a Cumbria bus timetable booklet at Barrow in Furness rail station. Some of the route is well out in the sticks so no public transport alternatives are available, but it is always worth having in your mind a back up in case of fatigue/injury/inclement weather or just having had enough!

Phone signal is rare across the entire walk.

On previous sponsored long distance walks we’ve never skipped a mile and usually walked to whatever transport was taking us home again. We’ve learned that walking to a bus/train or plane puts a lot of pressure on us mentally and physically so we booked ourselves local accommodation after the walk was finished. This was the best decision we made for the whole trip.

We hadn’t been able to find a decent profile of the western route before we went so I ran Runkeeper as we walked to produce this:

 

Cumbria Way: Western alternative route profile

Cumbria Way: Western alternative route profile

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