A 70 mile route through the Lake District between the towns of Ulverston in the South and Carlisle in the North.
Name of route: The Cumbria Way
Country: England County: Cumbria
Length of route: 70 Miles, 112 Km
Terrain: A mix of low level farmland footpaths, low fells and some higher level passes with steeper ground
Difficulty level: Medium
Start point: The Gill, Ulverston, Cumbria
Finish point: Castle Street, Carlisle, Cumbria
The GPX file for the Cumbria Way can be found here.
The Cumbria Way was created by the Ramblers Association in the 1970s as a linear footpath from the town of Ulverston in the southern Lake District to the city of Carlisle at the northern end. On the way the route passes through some of the most scenic and varied landscape that the Lake District has to offer. The majority of the route is at low level and offers easy walking but those considering undertaking this walk should be aware that Stake pass and High Pike do add an increased requirement for fitness and ability. There is a lower, alternative route to avoid High Pike which adds a few more miles. This is clearly shown on the OS map.
Even though the route was set up to be walked from South to North, I chose to walk in the opposite direction. This was mainly for the purposes of logistics as it is much easier to leave a car in Ulverston and get the train to Carlisle. There are several carparks to choose from including one at The Gill which is where the route ends/or starts. You can buy a three or seven day pass for this carpark. Personally I prefer to have my car at the end of the route so that I do not have to get onto public transport in the inevitable wet and smelling of peat bog state that I usually end up in!
I am glad I chose this direction as the first section out of Carlisle is not the most inspiring but when you first set off on a route in a dry and happy state it seems ok.
I have provided links to various campsites and other accommodation through the blog however not all of these are open all year round and some are offering reduced facilities due to the current COVID-19 complications. The same applies to any cafes and shops that I have also linked to.
I drove to Ulverston on the day before I planned to start my route and found a quiet street on which to leave the car. Having already packed my rucksack I was able to walk straight to the station and catch the train to Carlisle via Lancaster. Once there I checked into the city centre Travelodge and bought pizza for my dinner from Papa Johns which is just up the street.
Doing this walk at the end of October, just after the clocks had gone back an hour, meant that I had roughly 10 hours of daylight available for walking. This meant starting each day at 7am to make the most of this. I planned to walk around 20 miles per day and 10 miles on the last day so that the walk would take 3 and a half days to complete. I have given a possible itinerary for a 4-5 day walk at the end of this blog.
DAY 1 – Carlisle to Lingy Fell – 21 miles
DO NOT underestimate this day! I have read several blogs from people walking north to south who planned to walk from Carlisle to Skiddaw House on the first section. This is perfectly do-able if you are fit and strong and leave at 7am walking with purpose. I was not able to stay at Skiddaw house due to the current COVID-19 restrictions so I planned to wild camp somewhere off Lingy Fell. In normal circumstances there is also the option of the Mountain Bothy Association hut (Lingy Hut) but these are all currently closed except for emergency use.
The route in Carlisle starts in the market square opposite the tourist information office, following Castle street takes you past the Cathedral and also Carlisle castle itself.
Shortly after this you join cycle route 7 along the River Caldew to Dalston. Travelling from north to south meant that I soon left the industrial areas of Carlisle behind and enjoyed the easy trail through the nature area of Cummersdale Holmes.
I soon arrived at the village of Dalston and stopped at a sandwich shop, Crumbs, for a refill of coffee. From Dalston the path mostly follows the River Caldew through Sedbergham and Dentonside woods to Caldbeck. Not long after leaving Dalston I got my first view of the Lake District fells in the distance. This was where I hoped to be by the evening and where I should find a suitable place to wild camp.
If completing the route at more leisurely pace I would recommend Caldbeck as the first overnight stop, accommodation options here include the Oddfellows Arms which looked quite inviting as I walked past, or the Throstle Hall campsite just outside the village (note the campsite is currently not open for Cumbria Way walkers, 2020).
It was now 2pm so I called in at the Caldbeck village shop and topped up my coffee flask before setting off towards the fells. After passing through the hamlet of Nether Row the path then gets onto the open fells and the climb up High Pike. At 658m this is the highest point of the Cumbria Way and would provide for great views over the surrounding area, however as I started my climb the weather changed for the worse and I could not see much beyond the summit cairn.
After High Pike the path descends slightly across Great Lingy Hill and passes the MBA’s Lingy Hut. Currently closed due to COVID-19, the hut is a great refuge from the wind and rain that often batters walkers and runners as they cross this remote section of the fell. Shortly after the hut the route turns left and follows the Grainsgill beck, and luckily some more sheltered areas for a wild camp!
I had two dehydrated meals for my dinner from Activeat Foods, one main and one breakfast/dessert. I also ate a whole bag of salted cashews whilst reading a book on my Kindle from the comfort of my sleeping bag.
Day 2 – Lingy fell to Langstrath valley – 21 miles
The next morning I packed up and continued to the lower end of Grainsgill Beck. Here you can see what remains of Carrock mine where the miners extracted lead, arsenic and tungsten ores. You can also see the remains of the World War 1 Tungsten mill.
Shortly after passing the mine remains the path turns right and heads in a south-westerly direction along a valley towards Skiddaw house. The river which starts in this valley is the River Caldew – the same river that I followed south out of Carlisle. An easy section to follow, you can see Skiddaw house straight ahead in the distance.
Skiddaw House was originally built in 1829 as a Keepers lodge and Grouse shooting base for George Wyndham the third Earl of Egremont. In 1987 the house became a hostel, firstly run by the YHA and then later became an independent hostel.
The Cumbria Way passes just in front of the hostel and then along the ‘back O ‘Skiddaw’ and Lonscale fell. The mix of sunshine and showers today made for some good photo opportunities. I started to pass more people along this section, out for a walk up Skiddaw or over Lonscale Fell.
In Keswick I decided to pop into the YHA cafe where I got a coffee and a refill for the flask. I have used this space many times in the past to sit and work on my laptop and recharge my phone. The YHA and cafe are directly alongside the River Greta providing a great view which sometimes includes people canoeing down the river.
From Keswick the trail goes out through Portinscale and then alongside the western shore of Derwent Water to Borrowdale. The weather had cleared a bit by now and I could see people making their way up and down Catbells.
A short walk after this and you reach the basic campsite at Hollows farm which would be a good place to stop for the night if you had started the day from Caldbeck. This is also where the route enters the picturesque Borrowdale which is one of my favourite places for a short day walk, taking in Castle Crag – which at 300m is the lowest of the Wainwrights.
Today, however I remained on the riverside path and continued on to the hamlet of Rosthwaite. Here I walked past the amazing looking Flock-in Tearooms, I will definitely go back here another time but for now it was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to get to an area that I could wild camp. After a quick visit to the toilets in the National Trust Carpark I continued on along the footpath to Stonethwaite, the wet conditions meant that this track was now more of a river and my boots, socks and feet were thoroughly soaked through.
After crossing the Stonethwaite Beck by the footbridge I then set off up Langstrath. It was now approaching 5pm and the light was going, I met a few people returning from their day walks who were surprised to see me going in the other direction. I reassured them that I planned to camp out and had all the appropriate kit with me. After about a mile I found a suitable place to camp and set up my tent. No phone signal here but I use a Spot tracker and can press one of the buttons to send out a pre written ‘I’m OK’ message. The wind and rain had eased a little now and I was able to cook and eat my two dehydrated meals from Activeat Foods, read my book on my Kindle for a while before settling down for a good nights sleep.
Day 3 Langstrath to Blaewith Fell – 22.5 miles
I knew that heavy rain was forecast for this day, the MetOffice app on my phone was showing a yellow weather warning for rain! I also knew that today’s section of the Cumbria Way was going to take me over Stake pass before descending into Langdale. I dressed in my still damp Paramo Cascada trousers and put my Berghaus Goretex Hillwalker Waterproof trousers over the top, on my top half I was wearing Paramo grid fleece a Torres Gilet and then my Rab Mantra Waterproof jacket. This combination did a great job of keeping me warm and dry despite being in constant rain for most of the day.
The first section is along the valley bottom following the Langstrath Beck, there are loads of places along here that you could wildcamp and in warmer weather you could also go for a dip in the Beck.
Just before the turn to climb Stake pass a footbridge crosses Stake Beck, I took the opportunity here to fill my water bottle with fresh water coming straight off the fell. Although I do carry an MSR Trailshot water filter, I only use it if getting water from a tarn or water that is not free flowing.
The route through Langstrath is stunningly remote with the zig zag climb up Stake pass giving plenty of opportunity to stop and take a look back.
From the top of the pass the route then descends by Stake Gill and Mickleden Beck before entering Langdale. After a brief stop at the National Trust cafe at Stickle Gill carpark for coffee I then continued in the rain through Chapel Stile and Ennerdale. Just before the village of Chapel Stile is the Baysbrown farm campsite, I have stayed here a few times, they operate a turn up and pay system and offer hot showers, toilets and washing up facilities. The site can get quite busy with groups in the summer months but there is plenty of space over several fields.
Just before Skelwith Bridge the route crosses the River Brathay, however I thoroughly recommend taking time to go into Skelwith Bridge and visit Chesters by the River. This vegetarian/vegan bakery and cafe does the most delicious food, I went for a caramelised onion and sage pastry roll followed by an almond croissant.
After Skelwith bridge it is best to retrace your steps back to the route, and then follow the trail through the woods to Tarn Hows.
From Tarn Hows there is a short road section before passing across fields and into Coniston. The village of Coniston is usually bustling with tourists and is a great place for an overnight stop, there are also plenty of pubs and cafes from which to find a meal and to replenish drinks and snacks. I popped into Summitreks to buy another pair of socks as all mine were soaking from the copious amounts of water running off the fells.
From Coniston the route continues along the edge of Coniston Water all the way to Torver common. The path passes directly through the Coniston Hall campsite which is large open site for tents and campervans. The lake was so full that at some low lying points the water was over the path and I had to do some wading. As I approached Torver Back Common the light was fading so I stopped to put on my headtorch, I also passed signs here and noted that camping was not allowed and there were bylaws in place. This restriction continues after crossing the A5084 and on to Torver Low Common. I continued on through the dark to Blaewith Fell. This section involves a few stream crossings which in normal conditions probably just involve hopping across a couple of stones to get to the other side. Tonight however water levels were high and the streams had turned into fast flowing torrents, thank goodness for my walking poles as they helped to stabilise me as I struggled to stay upright!
As I got onto Blaewith Fell things started to go a little wrong, my navigation skill temporarily went astray and I ‘lost’ the path. I checked my OS map app and my GPX track on my Suunto watch, which both confirmed that I was a little west of the actual route. After some bracken bashing and chats with a few surprised sheep I waded my way back to the actual path. At this point I decided that the next dry and flattish bit of land I found would be my campsite for the night.
Shortly after that I found a suitable spot and set up my tent. This was my first expedition with the MSA Hubba NX and overall it has been a great tent. The one downside is that it pitches inner first so when it is raining the inside of the tent does get wet. I found my micro fibre towel to be a great bit of kit. I had brought it for me but proved to be so useful for the tent. After putting the tent up I then wiped out the inside floor with the towel. I was also able to sit inside the tent in all my wet gear, remove my waterproof clothing and then wipe out the tent again. After that was sorted it all remained dry. The porch is large enough that I could put my rucksack, wet waterproofs and boots into one side and still have room to boil up water for my evening meal.
I removed all my wet clothing and put on warm dry base layers. I confirmed with Lindley that I was stopping to camp using the Spot tracker and then settled down to eat dinner and read my book. The night was very wet and the winds were strong at times but the tent held up well and by the next morning the conditions had improved.
Day 4 Blaewith Fell to Ulverston – 10.5 miles
I was amazed to find, when I went out to get water in the morning, that I had managed to find the only flat, dry bit of land around and I had located this in the dark. I congratulated myself before setting about packing up and setting off on the final leg.
After passing Beacon Tarn the route leaves the fells and follows paths through farmland to Ulverston. I could see the monument on Hoad Hill, just above the town, from miles away but like always it seemed to take ages to get there.
On reaching Ulverston you get to the end/start of the route at The Gill. On finishing the route I just had a short walk back to my car where I was able to dump all my wet, muddy gear and dress in warm dry clothing for the drive home.
I really enjoyed this walk and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wishing to traverse the Lake District without too many high level paths. For me this was an ideal route for this time of year when the weather may not be at its best. Also passing through towns and villages each day means that there are plenty of opportunities for accommodation and also for obtaining food and drink supplies. This means that you could do this walk with a much lighter pack and use hostel’s or B&B’s along the way.
For a slightly longer itinerary I would suggest finding overnight stops in Caldbeck, Keswick, Chapel Stile, and Coniston. You could also use campsites at Caldbeck, Borrowdale, Chapel Stile and Coniston – links to these sites are in the blog above.
If however you chose to wild camp then you only have 3 options – Lingy/Lonscale fell, Langstrath and Blaewith fell. For more information on wild camping read my blog Top tips for wildcamping.
I carried all my kit in my 30l Osprey Tempest rucksack which included the following – MSR Hubba NX tent, OEX 3/4 length self inflating mat, Alpkit Pipedream 400 sleeping bag, Primus stove, gas, cooking pots, titanium folding spoon, long plastic spoon, small knife, Montane Prism down jacket, Berghaus Waterproof Gore-tex overtrousers, Rab Mantra Waterproof Jacket, 6 x Dehydrated meals from Activeat Foods, 3 bags of nuts, coffee bags, 1 litre Nalgene water bottle, Lifeventure 500ml flask, LED Lenser MH10 headtorch and 2 spare batteries, Kindle Fire, Spare baselayers – Decathlon winter running leggings and Rab baselayer top, spare socks ( a mix of Injinji liners, Darn tough, Bridgedale and Horizon) and spare pants, Montane prism gloves, Montane waterproof overmitts, North Face beanie hat, foldable trowel, tissues and dog poo bags, Spot tracker, Compass, Samsung S9 Phone, PowerAdd 20,000mAh charger, small first aid kit, wash kit, microfibre towel and a lifesystems emergency bag.
I wore Paramo Cascada trousers, Paramo grid technic hoodie with the Torres Medio Gilet, my boots are OEX Vyper Trek.
I will be writing a separate blog about this kit and how it all fits in to my bag. I will post a link soon.
Throughout my walk I used dehydrated meals from Activeat Foods, these are made locally to me in Essex and are some of the best dehydrated meals I have tried. I took the following: Thai Pork Laksa, Sweet Potato and Peanut Biryani, Mixed Mash Cottage Pie, Apple, Sultana and Cinnamon Breakfast, Red Berry Breakfast and Fruit and Nut Muesli. Click the picture below to read my blog post on their meals and access a discount code.
Have you walked the Cumbria Way or do you plan to? Let me know what you enjoyed about the route or ask me any questions in the comments below.