Cumbria Way

Introduction

The Cumbria Way is 73 miles / 120km long, running  from Ulverston in the south, through the unique Lake District National Park (recently named as a World Heritage Site), as far as Carlisle in the north of the county. Unfortunately I had to do the walk in two halves due to a foot injury. I walked the route from Ulverston to Keswick (a total of 42 miles / 67.5km) at the beginning of May and completed the stretch from Keswick to Carlisle via High Peak two weeks later.

Ulverston
Ulverston during Flag Fortnight

The route takes you through some of the wilder areas within the National Park with a few villages and hamlets along the way. It passes Coniston Water, Tarn Hows and Dungeon Ghyll and crosses the Stake Pass into Borrowdale, Derwent Water and Keswick. At Keswick the Way continues to Caldbeck either via Dash Falls or over High Pike, and then follows the Caldew valley to Carlisle.

Planning

One of the joys of walking in this popular area is that there are plenty of hostels, campsites and bunkhouses along most of the route. I was therefore able to plan the route using only one B&B in Ulverston followed by three youth hostels and one camping barn (see my data sheet). My original plan was for a total of 5 days continuous walking, averaging about 15 miles per day starting over the early May bank holiday. My daily distances were planned as:

  1. Ulverston to Coniston                    15 miles / 24 km
  2. Coniston to New Dungeon Ghyll  12 miles / 19 km
  3. New Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick   16 miles / 25.5km
  4. Keswick to Nether Row                 18 miles / 29km
  5. Nether Row to Carlisle                     15 miles / 24km

I took the bus across to Carlisle and then opted for the coastal train journey south to Ulverston as I don’t know the coast so well. This journey was the first time I had ever been on a request stop train where you signal for the train to stop. Once I had found my B&B, I treated myself to an Italian meal and a wander round Ulverston which was looking very colourful during Flag Fortnight. This is my kit list for the two halves of the walk.

Ulverston
The sculpture by Chris Brammall at the start of the Cumbria Way in Ulverston

The Walk

1/ Ulverston to Coniston

Next morning, after a huge breakfast and much chat at the friendly B&B, I set off out of town from the cairn sculpture by Chris Brammall in The Gill to start the walk. The forecast was overcast but with no rain for that day or the following day. I was feeling fairly confident about my new rucksack and trail shoes. The route initially crosses open pasture interspersed with small hamlets for the first 7 or 8 miles (12km).

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Shortly after Kiln Bank it was as if a film had opened up to wide screen as I was greeted by a spectacular, if overcast, panorama through the gate into the open moorland and the fells.

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Moorland near Kiln Bank

From here the walk crosses wilder moorland running alongside Beacon Tarn, the first lake of the route. The trail then heads north east towards the southern corner of Coniston water. There is then a long and winding walk along the side of the lake, where you can watch small boats and canoes criss crossing the water until you reach the marina and turn inland.

Coniston
Arriving into Coniston

After some lovely fish and chips à la Wainwright, I spent a fairly refreshing night in a packed room at Holly Hows hostel. Next morning I set off again, leaving the village and Coniston Old Man (my first Wainwrights) behind.

Coniston Old Man
View of Coniston Old Man from the Cumbria Way

2/ Coniston to New Dungeon Ghyll

The next day I followed the route past the pretty Tarn Hows via woods and moorland towards Skelwith Bridge, where the route turns eastwards along Great Langdale Beck to New Dungeon Ghyll.

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It was strange to pass from remote moorland tracks into busy bank holiday villages. Little did I know I would be retracing my steps later that day. At New Dungeon Ghyll I discovered a planning error which I should have noticed before I left. I had thought that Langdale Youth Hostel would be in or near Great Langdale but it transpires that it is nearer Elterwater which I had passed through a bit earlier in the day.

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Traversing the side of Lingmoor Fell to New Dungeon Ghyll

The kind people at the hotel in New Dungeon Ghyll seemed to be accustomed to walkers who have made the same error, and explained that I could take the bus back to Elterwater to reach the hostel. My feeling of panic subsided and I had a drink and some food while I waited for the bus. My experience of Cumbrian bus drivers is that they are always helpful to walkers. This driver was no exception as he took me to the foot of the hill where the hostel was, stopping the bus to give me precise instructions on how to get there.

3/ New Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick

The next day, in British Bank Holiday fashion, was really dreich with steady rain and low cloud as I took the bus back to New Dungeon Ghyll from Elterwater. The rain continued as I passed over Stake Pass into Langstrath valley. The ground was pretty waterlogged and the streams were gushing, so I had a few nerve wracking moments crossing the stepping stones there. The views down into the Langstrath Valley on the other side were spectacular, even in the rain.

Langstrath Valley
Langstrath Valley

I was glad of my rainproof gear as I sat down for my lunch in the rain. As I zig zagged down the path, the rain eased off and it brightened up, but I became aware that my socks were wet and my toes were hurting in my trails shoes. I can see the advantage of trail shoes in terms of weight but this was possibly not the route or the weather for them.

Near Stonethwaite
Approaching Stonethwaite

After a painful walk along the rocky section from Stake Pass to Stonethwaite Beck, I finally arrived into Keswick just after dark, having taken some painkillers. When I got to the hostel I realised that my big toenails were a fetching shade of purple.

The next day I was advised that I would be best to postpone the remaining two days of the trip from Keswick to Carlisle. This was a huge disappointment so I went for a cruise around Derwentwater to cheer myself up, before returning home on the bus.

Derwentwater
Derwentwater from Keswick

4/ Keswick to Nether Row

After a couple of weeks, I found the opportunity to complete the walk to my original plan, wearing my boots instead of trail shoes. It is amazing what a difference two weeks can make to the scenery. By the time I did the second half of the walk the daffodils had disappeared and the bluebells were out, the new leaves on the trees were showing vivid greens and there were swallows darting around over the fields.

After Keswick the route gradually rises along the side of Lonscale Fell above the Glenderaterra Beck for about four miles, with stunning views across the valley.

Lonscale Fell
View from Lonscale Fell across Glenderaterra Beck

At Skiddaw House there are two alternative routes: the west route via Whitewater Dash falls which crosses pasture and arable land, and the east route via High Pike which crosses moorland and fells. As the weather looked set to stay fine at Skiddaw House, I decided to take the eastern route through one of the wilder areas of the National Park. The path passes along the side of the remote and peaceful fells above the River Caldew, crossing the occasional small bridge over the gills which feed in to the river.

Towards Carrock Mine
Following the River Caldew towards Carrock Mine

After four or five miles I turned sharply to the east towards the disused Carrock mine land which is now a protected area.

Carrock Mine
Disused Carrock Mine

The path all but disappears here so I followed the steep hills to the side of Grainsgill Beck as best I could towards the ridge by Great Lingy Hill. From here I turned towards Lingy Hut which is a well placed refuge on this remote section of the route. It was fascinating to read the recent entries in the visitors book and I felt privileged to add my own.

Lingy Hut
Lingy Refuge Hut

By this time I was feeling tired so I stopped for tea and a snack in the lee of the cairn on the windy summit of High Pike (my 4th Wainwright). From here I was able to enjoy the huge panorama of patchwork fields to the north as I drank my tea. From the summit it was all downhill to my camping barn for the night.

High Pike summit
View north from High Pike summit cairn

5/ Nether Row to Carlisle

The forecast for my final day to Carlisle said overcast but this turned out to include a wide variety of weather. I stopped at Caldbeck to get a packed lunch for the day and headed off east along the woodland ridge above the Cald Beck. Here I was rewarded with my first bluebell wood of the year in the warm morning sunshine.

Oakbank Hill
Bluebells on Oakbank Hill near Caldbeck

During the day, the warm sunshine was interspersed with occasional showers, one of hailstones, so my various layers were on and off a few times. As it was midweek, I had most of this pleasant stretch of woods, pasture and rolling hills up to Dalston to myself.

At Dalston I sat down for a cream tea to galvanise myself for the final leg of the walk into Carlisle. Although it briefly skirts round an industrial estate, the tarmac cycleway which runs close to the River Caldew into the city centre is fairly pleasant. Unfortunately I arrived too late to add my entry to the Cumbria Way log book which is apparently kept by the Tourist Information centre in Carlisle.

It is always a bit of a culture shock to arrive back into a city and I tried to adjust quickly to my surroundings after the wildness of the Northern Fells. I arrived at the bus station just in time to hop on the bus back to Newcastle.

Carlisle Cathedral
Carlisle Cathedral

The Stats.

The Long Distance Walkers Association gives the following statistics for the Cumbria Way:

  • Length: 118.5 Km (73.6 miles)
  • Ascent: 3,051 m (10,010 ft)
  • Maximum height: 649 m (2,129 ft)

Observations about the trail

There are very few “improved” surfaces which makes the walk feel much wilder than some of the national trails. Some stretches were rocky and muddy so I would recommend wearing good footwear. Because there are few way markers in the wilder areas of the route, and they are often very discreet, the route is intended for people who can read maps. I have heard that people often get lost in the Northern stretch of this walk, so take a map and compass along with adequate clothing, food and drink just in case. There is a refuge hut near Great Lingy Hill should the weather change, but apart from this there is very little shelter between New Dungeon Ghyll and Stonethwaite or between Skiddaw House and Nether Row.

For information I used the Harvey strip map and the LDWA download for the Cumbria Way.

Cumbria Way route map
Cumbria Way route map © LDWA & Ordnance Survey
For Sue🌹

8 thoughts on “Cumbria Way

  1. Hi Rose, I’m revisiting to read your excellent account once again. I think 2016 may be there year that I convince my girlfriend to walk the route with me. Thanks again for sharing such a great post. All the best, Dean

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  2. Hi Adrian and thanks for posting. I bought the Mariposa from the U.S before they were available in the UK so I had to pay import duty. Enjoy the Cumbria Way and let me know how it goes

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  3. Hi Rose,We plan to do this starting on Easter Saturday 2015,i enjoyed reading your account.
    I have a few big packs but have heard only good things about the Mariposa,did you buy it in the UK ?

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  4. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for your discription of the Cumbria Way, just a couple of weeks to go and we hope we can walk it either. We want to camp and cook by ourselves, but did you know if there are supermarkets at the route or closeby?

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    1. Hello Marjan. As far as I remember there are supermarkets at Ulverston, Coniston and Keswick and there are pubs which serve food at Rosthwaite, New Dungeon Ghyll, Caldbeck and Dalston. I hope you enjoy your hike 🙂

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