A Guide to Walking the Cumbria Way A Guide to Walking the Cumbria Way

A Guide to Walking the Cumbria Way

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking in Cumbria. With hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways to select from, it can be helpful to have a specific route mapped out for you – particularly one that showcases much of what the Lake District National Park has to offer.

That’s exactly what the Cumbria Way delivers. The 71-mile (112-kilometre) walk takes you from the market town of Ulverston, right through the breathtaking scenery in the heart of the Lake District, and culminates in the historic border city of Carlisle.

You can go the other way, of course. But the most popular approach is to walk from south to north in stages over five days.

The Cumbria Way was devised around fifty years ago by members of the Ramblers’ Association. It makes for an enjoyable and not too challenging discovery of the Lake District.

Much of the walk keeps to valleys and lakesides, although there are a couple of sections that demand a bit more from your legs and boots.

Be correctly prepared for walking the Cumbria Way

Choosing to explore the Cumbria Way gives you a taste of fell walking in the Lake District. This means it’s not a journey to be undertaken lightly, because the terrain isn’t always easy, and the mountain weather can change very quickly.

Step 1: Plan your route

Begin your adventure by getting familiar with the route and your choices. Most walkers take the journey from Ulverston to Carlisle over five, sometimes six, days. You might want to do it all in one week, or spread the sections over a longer period.

You’ll need to choose whether to take the high-level or low-level route at Skiddaw – this might be a decision left until you can assess the weather conditions on the day.

cumbria way signPhoto credit: Andrew Bowden | Flickr

Step 2: Plan your accommodation

If you’re planning to stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast during the walk, you should book well in advance. People visit or go fell walking in the Lake District all year round, so accommodation is always in demand.

Be aware that some B&Bs request a minimum of a two-night stay, particularly at weekends.

If you’d prefer to camp, there are sites along the way. Wild camping is not recommended.

If you don’t want to carry all your baggage with you along the route, you can organise baggage transfer for each stage. This gives you the freedom to carry just what you need for the day.

Step 3: Prepare yourself

The Cumbria Way is described as ‘tough but rewarding’. While it’s mostly lowland walking, you’ll be covering around fifteen miles on most days and there are plenty of ups and downs.

You should take care to be in good physical shape and perhaps get some practice walks in beforehand. If you plan to use digital navigational aids for the first time, it’s good to familiarise yourself with how to use them.

Also, become familiar with the sources of information about the Lake District weather. You’ll need to check these regularly, to be prepared for what might be coming your way. Rain is likely and snow is possible on the high fells.

helvellyn walk cumbriaPhoto credit: Alh1 | Flickr

Step 4: Select your gear

To make the most of walking in Cumbria and stay safe, here’s what you need to have with you:

Step 5: Start walking!

With everything prepared and all your plans in place, it’s time to pull on your boots and hit the trail.

The five stages of the Cumbria Way

Day 1: Ulverston to Coniston – 15 miles

Day 2: Coniston to Great Langdale – 12 miles

Day 3: Great Langdale to Keswick – 15 miles

Day 4: Keswick to Caldbeck – 15 miles

Day 5: Caldbeck to Carlisle – 15 miles

Day 1: Ulverston to Coniston

You’ll soon be leaving Ulverston, home to the Laurel & Hardy Museum, behind as you head north towards the Lake District National Park. The early miles of relatively level countryside soon give way to the first slopes of the Cumbrian mountains.

By the time you reach Beacon Fell with its small lake, or tarn, you’ll be enjoying views of Coniston Water. The path drops down to the side of the lake, which you follow to the town of Coniston, at its northern end.

Sights to look out for:

Coniston LakePictured: Views of Coniston Water

Day 2: Coniston to Great Langdale

This is the shortest of the five days of fell walking in the Lake District, covering nearer 12 miles than 15. It’s a day of hillside woodlands, low fells and paths beside smaller lakes. This includes Tarn Hows, one of the most visited beauty spots in the National Park.

The climax is entering the Great Langdale valley, which is capped at the far end with the Langdale Pikes. This includes the highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike.

Sights to look out for:

coniston fells cumbriaPictured: Tarn Hows. Credit: Wildlife Terry | Flickr

Day 3: Great Langdale to Keswick

Today includes one of the more challenging sections, as you cross over Stake Pass. It’s important to check the weather before you set out, as this is a high section and can get misty.

The route takes you up to around 480m above sea level, and is an energetic climb along a zig-zag path. Don’t forget to pause and look back from time to time.

Once you’re at the top, it gets easier, and you zig-zag down again into Borrowdale and along to Keswick.

Sights to look out for:

great langdale walk cumbriaPictured: The View from Blea Rigg at Great Langdale. Credit: Rum Bucolic Ape | Flickr

Day 4: Keswick to Caldbeck

This could be a day of high excitement, as you reach 658m above sea level, at High Pike. It’s the only Wainwright Fell on the Cumbria Way and is the highest point of the journey.

However, you can choose between the high-level route or the low-level option. This will depend, in part, on the weather and on how confident you feel. The path splits near Skiddaw House, with the high-level route heading north-east and the low-level going north-west. They reconnect not far from Caldbeck.

Sights to look out for:

high pike cumbriaPictured: The view between Grey Langdale and High Pike. Credit: Terry Kearney | Flickr

Day 5: Caldbeck to Carlisle

Leave the mountains of the Lake District National Park behind as you stroll alongside the River Caldew to the historic city of Carlisle. Compared to the last couple of days, this is much easier, with fields and woods instead of high fells and bubbling mountain streams.

The route follows the river into the heart of the city and turns aside for the final section, which ends at the Market Cross.

You’ve done it! You’ve covered well over 70 miles, taking in some of the most spectacular sights to be had in Cumbria.

Sights to look out for:

river caldew cumbriaPictured: River Caldew. Credit: Peer Lawther | Flickr

Enjoy nature as you walk the Cumbria Way

There’s a wealth of nature to be enjoyed when you’re fell walking in the Lake District. Here are just a few of the plants and creatures you may see as you travel.

Red squirrels – driven out of most of England by the bigger, grey variety, the delicate reds have found a haven in Cumbia. Will you spot one or two as you walk?

Floating water-plantain – a native British plant that’s now rare in its natural habitat, this white-flowered aquatic plant grows in both shallow and deeper water. You may be able to see it at Derwentwater.

Otters – these cute semi-aquatic mammals have been making a comeback in recent decades. You might be able to spot them playing in the rivers that feed into Derwentwater near Keswick.

Touch-me-not Balsam – a lover of damp places, the yellow trumpet-like flowers turn into explosive seed pods, hence the name! Look for it on the early days of the walk, particularly around Coniston Water.

Golden eagle – if you do glimpse one of these, let everyone know! Golden eagles are very rare in Cumbria, and none are known to nest here. However, they’ve been here in the past and it’s possible one might come down from nearby Scotland.

The Lake District really is a twitchers’ paradise. Want to explore more wildlife in Cumbria? Discover more Wildlife and Nature Reserves near Hawthorns Park.

Go walking in Cumbria more often

Imagine having your own holiday home just a short drive away from the spectacular Lake District National Park. It’s more affordable than you think, with a static caravan at Hawthorns Park.

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