(70 miles, 4/7 days)
“An arrow through the centre of the spectacular Lake District”
The Cumbria Way is a mainly low level route which passes through the heart of the Lake District, starting in Ulverston on Morecambe Bay and finishing in Carlisle 70 miles (or so) later. However these bare facts hardly tell the story of one of the most popular long distance paths in the country. Coniston, the Langdale Valley and Keswick are the headline makers on the route and the passes and valleys which link them.
No less enjoyable are some of the less frequented areas at each end of the walk, the route connecting Keswick and Caldbeck to the North being a particular favourite of mine.
The Cumbria Way offers many temptations to the walker, particularly as the official route sticks to a low level (except on High Pike near Caldbeck) but is surrounded by magnificent highland scenery throughout.
Taking a little longer on the route and visit the summits of such beasts as Coniston Old Man, the Langdale Pikes and Blencathra may be too hard for many to resist and I don’t blame them!
The number of places to stay are endless in the central section of the walk but less so south of Coniston and north of Caldbeck so my itinerary suggestions below are just that, suggestions. However they are based on an in depth knowledge of the routes and the underfoot terrain. One thing to always remember is that the undulating nature of the landscape makes a day take longer than you may expect.
It is also perfectly possible to complete the trail ‘the wrong way’ and start off in Carlisle but I prefer walking north as a rule with your back (hopefully!) to the sun which always offers the best views and least discomfort.
Day 1 Ulverston to Coniston 14 miles
A straightforward start to the walk at lower level throughout. Initially the walk takes in farmland on the fringes of Lakeland but then changes when Coniston Water is met. A detour at this stage to lovely Beacon Tarn is certainly recommended before returning to the shores of Coniston Water
Day 2. Coniston to Langdale 11 miles
A picturesque day in the Southern Lakes starts off at Tarn Howes, a glorious tarn a few miles north of Coniston. Heading through woodland the path meanders back in to Little Langdale and towards Elterwater. However from Elterwater it is easy to gain access to Loughrigg Tarn (do) before skirting the shores of Elterwater. The Langdale Pikes dominate the view at this point and soon the valley opens in to a vast amphitheatre of fells.
Day 3. Langdale to Borrowdale 8 miles
Continue west towards the main fells along Mickleden, a real mountaineers valley. The col at Stake Pass signifies a change from South to North Lakes. The valley to the north is Langstrath which winds its way between 2 high ridges before breaking out in to the main Borrowdale Valley.
Day 4. Borrowdale to Keswick 7 miles
If you follow the traditional route this is a simple day. Keeping to the woodland it then skirts the attractive western shore of Derwentwater before entering Keswick. An alternative route to the east heads past such famous sites as Watendlath, Surprise Vies, Ashness Bridge and Walla Crag before heading in to Keswick. A classic and better route.
Day 5 and/or 6 Keswick to Caldbeck 14 miles direct
There is a choice on Day 5 depending on how fit you feel or how much time you want to spend in the area.
a) Overnight stay in Bassenthwaite. Skirting the flanks of Skiddaw, passing lonely Skiddaw House and then spectacular Dash Falls before dropping down to the little village of Bassenthwaite. The next day is shorter and takes a direct route in to Caldbeck
b) Direct. A lonely and remote area of rolling fells at the back of Skidda is the setting for an excellent and challenging day. High Pike is climbed before the direct descent to Caldbeck village.
Day 6 or 7 Caldbeck to Carlisle 14 miles
The final day on the Cumbria Way starts well but the further out of the Lake District it gioes the more disappointing the route becomes. Rolling fells become rolling farmland and soon the city of Carlisle hoves in to view. The Cumbria Way finishes none too soon.
The route starts to the south at the foot of the 3rd map down and travels North
Maps: O/S 1.25,000 Explorer Series OL 6, OL4 and OL5 going south to north.
Places to Stay
The Crown Inn. Coniston
Ambleside Backpackers, Ambleside
Mary Mount Hotel, Derwentwater
Dancing Beck B & B, nr Keswick
Kestrel Lodge Camping Bassenthwaite
Old Rectory, Caldbeck
Jim Watsons book on the Cumbria Way & the Allerdale Ramble