The Cumbria Way is a 70 mile trail that runs from the south to the north of the Lake District National Park. It’s a pretty unknown route; I had never heard of it prior to my online search for a multi-day hike in the U.K. and none of the people that I met along the way had heard of it either, despite being on the route.
Whilst there are far more famous trails in the U.K. I think that the Cumbria Way deserves a massive shout out. I’m not sure how much it has to do with it being my first solo backpacking trip, or the fact that I had unusually good weather for the Lake District (i.e. glorious sunshine) but I really enjoyed it. The scenery is completely stunning and it’s very peaceful, with few other hikers. It’s also really easy to get to and from by public transport; you certainly don’t need a car.
I did the hike by myself in April 2017 as preparation for the John Muir Trail, but it was a fantastic mini adventure in its own right. I think it’s a great one to try solo, as navigating it is pretty easy and despite feeling quite remote in many sections, you’re never far from civilisation. And whilst it’s not particularly sociable, I had some really nice chats along the way.
Day zero: London to Ulverston
Me and my shiny new backpack took a train from London Euston to the sweet town of Ulverston. I stayed in a really homely Bed and Breakfast (B&B) and the owners recommended a great pub for dinner that was themed around the comedians Laurel and Hardy, who were from the town.
Day one: Ulverston to Coniston Water
I ate the entire English breakfast provided by the B&B, pocketed some fruit, asked the nice owner to fill up my water bladder and headed on my merry way.
I felt more than a little self conscious, click-clacking with my poles along the street, looking for the start of the trail. Luckily I didn’t have to look very far, as there is a lovely sculpture marking the beginning of the route. I also had a few people ask me what I was up to (inconspicuous as I was) and wish me luck.
The first couple of hours were spent navigating through farms and fields. I had an actual map of the route and cheated occasionally with my GPS route on the Outdoors GPS app. I can’t recommend it enough.
I stopped for lunch in the corner of an empty field and marvelled at the fact that I’d only made it about four miles. Oh dear. Fortunately, come the early afternoon the route turned into more of a trail and it became easier to cover more ground. It’s also around this time that you enter the actual Lake District National Park and the scenery starts to become rather more mountainous. Exciting!
Later in the afternoon I stumbled across my first lake. I think I actually said ‘wow’ out loud to myself as it was so pretty.
By the end of the day I was really starting to feel the weight of my bag and I’d developed a pretty gigantic blister on my big toe. I was very happy to arrive at my campsite alongside Coniston Water – Coniston Hall campsite. It cost £7 for the pitch and had what I’ve come to realise are rather ubiquitous at U.K. campsites; coin operated showers.
I set up camp, had a £1 shower and made my dinner. This was the first time that I’d pitched a tent and used a stove by myself so I was #chuffed.
Day two: Coniston Water to Great Langdale
Day two started off pretty grey and cloudy so I left Coniston Hall in full rain gear. However once I’d left the small town and headed upwards into the hills the sun came out again.
Day two also marked the start of my enduring love affair with Compeed blister plasters and my big toe was feeling pretty good. However, my bag felt heavy and I was rather tired as I hadn’t slept well. I was also a bit nervous about the long walk that I had ahead of me.
The scenery that day was really pretty, although it was a little crowded through Elterwater and rather too flat for my liking. However, the views started to get more spectacular through Chapel Stile and the closer that I got to Great Langdale.
By the end of the day it had started to get really cold and snow was forecast for that evening. This is not completely unusual for the area at that time of year (mid April) although it was a big change from the sun of earlier that day.
Not fancying a night in sub zero temperatures, I decided to cheat a little bit and rather than staying at the National Trust campsite, got a bed at the Great Langdale Bunkhouse. Once I’d bailed on the camping, I decided that I might as well go all in and had sausage and mash and a glass of red at the Sticklebarn pub. I mean I am on holiday aren’t I? It was delicious and well worth the guilt that I felt for not eating my cous cous.
Day three: Great Langdale to Keswick
I began day three with a spring in my step. The sun was back, my legs felt strong and I’d started to get used to the weight of my bag. I’d also ditched a couple of things (including a book and the uneaten cous cous) at the bunkhouse.
There was quite a big climb – one of the only significant ones on the route – early that day. It provided me with pretty spectacular views back down into the valley of Great Langdale and towards Borrowdale. I found myself singing ‘Climb ev’ry mountain’ from The Sound of Music at the top.
Continuing with the cheating theme, I stopped for a tea and scone early in the afternoon at a very sweet farmhouse cafe. I also had a Twix and bought a couple of extra bars for the next day.
Shortly after my afternoon tea it finally started to really piss it down, which provided me with a rather more authentic Lake District experience. I spent most of the afternoon walking alongside Derwent Water, which looked beautifully moody in the rain.
I got a little lost towards the end of the day, but was helped by a very kind dog walker who accompanied me for the last mile or so, and pointed me in the right direction of the campsite – Castlerigg Hall Caravan and Camping Park.
The campsite was pretty flash – it had heated bathrooms and a very well stocked shop – and was staffed by a lovely couple from South Africa. I think it cost around £9. I bought a beer and watched the sun go down from my tent.
Day four: Kewick to Caldbeck
The scenery on day four was absolutely incredible. I was #blessed with another glorious day of sunshine and had to stop a number of types to simply gawp in wonder at the vistas.
Along the way, I also had a glimpse of the highest hostel in the U.K. – Skiddaw House.
That afternoon I got completely lost on a boggy hillside for about 45 minutes, but apart from that it was an incredible day. I was very touched by the message on a memorial bench for a man called Mick Lewis that I saw at the top of the final hill. It read: He is a portion of that loveliness that once he made more lovely.
The end of day four also marked the end of my time in the Lake District National Park, as the last mile or two into Caldbeck is a slow walk downhill back into the fields and farms of the lowlands.
There aren’t any camping options in Caldbeck (and it’s too low for wild camping), which is how I excused my stay at probably the best B&B in the world, The Old Rectory. It is run by a brilliant couple called Tim and Anne, who greeted me warmly and served me tea and brownies in their gorgeous kitchen. When I grow up I’d like to be Tim and Anne.
I decided to call it a day that evening. I was completely exhausted and had read a number of walk reports saying that the final day of the walk really isn’t very scenic or particularly pleasant.
Day five: Caldbeck to Carlise and back to London
Having planned to walk the final 13 miles or so to Carlisle, I hadn’t realised that there is no public transport from Caldbeck. Luckily for me, Tim was driving to Carlisle for business and so very kindly gave me a lift. An alternative would have been to walk the six miles or so to a town called Dalston, where there is a bus or taxis into Carlisle. Based on what I saw in the car of the final stage of the route, I think I’d advise that you skip the last day too, or at least the section from Dalston to Carlisle. Unless of course you’re really keen to complete the trail regardless of the scenery.
In Carlisle I had a wonder around and went to see the cathedral, which marks the official end of the route (although there is no signage/ place to pose). That afternoon I got a train back to London.
Are you tempted by The Cumbria Way, or by Tim and Anne’s brownies? If so, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.