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Cumbria Way Day 5

Conistion to Ulverston

This was a section of the Cumbria Way that we had walked on two previous attempts of the Cumbria Way.  On both occasions it had rained for the duration of the day resulting in the abandonment of the walk (the only trail to beat us yet).  Fortunately this was our last day, so as far as we were concerned the weather could do what it wanted.  It did, but more of that later.

As we started out from Coniston the weather was calm and pleasant, making the walk down Coniston Water a very enjoyable experience.  I seem to remember on the previous attempts (in the other direction) trudging along the never-ending lake side looking like a drowned rat and being thoroughly miserable.

One of the two photos we managed all day. The other was the statutory finish photo

Nice to see was a huge Duke of Edinburgh expedition heading towards Ambleside along the Cumbria Way.  There must have been at least 25 kids in the group and they seemed to be having a whale of a time, although by the look of it some of their rucksacks needed a helping hand in packing.  It was along the Lakeside that we managed to take the only photos of the day also.

Soon enough the path drifted away from the water side, crossed a road and entered the rather bleak looking Torver Low Common.  The way up to Beacon Tarn was a mixture of bog stone and firm ground.  Gradually the rain started to fall, and as we reached the Tarn a heavy persistent drizzle started that signaled rain for the rest of the day.  Somethings never change.  The common, in places, is criss-crossed with other paths, and like many other places on the Cumbria Way the waymarking is almost non-existent, meaning regular checks of the map were important.

Here's a nice photo from day 4 to take the mind off the rain

The temperature had dropped and for the first time since leaving Keswick the wind picked up too forcing on the waterproofs and some warmer clothing.  The walking on this section, although easy was now being marred by a succession of styles which had the effect of really slowing us down, not really being totally recovered from the long day that we had to Elterwater.

I’m sure in fine weather the route is thoroughly enjoyable – there was certainly the suggestion of fine views, but with the weather closing in the walk had become a slog, including a number of fields that were doing a fine impression of a WW1 battlefield.  Just when things couldn’t really have been much more miserable it rained.  Not just any old rain but rain.  Imagine standing under Niagra Falls for an hour, that is probably the closest description I can think of that gets anywhere near how heavy the rain was.  Close to the end there is quite a steep climb up a narrow road for around half a mile.  The water was running down the road up to our ankles.  In the end we just had to laugh as the last 3 or 4km were almost swum.  My backpack cover had even managed to create a pool of water inside itself.  This was taking great delight in sloshing itself over the back of my legs, until it was noticed and forcibly removed.

We got soaked.

Thoroughly.

It really was nice to get to the finish!

The pub though, was selling pints of Wainwright.  What a lovely pint and very appropriate to finish the Cumbria Way.  We only stopped for one however, it was getting a bit chilly sitting there in the wet gear!

Day Rating 7/10

Generally poor waymarking again, and really the only section of the whole way that was blighted by stiles.  The weather?  Not much you can do about it really so doesn’t affect the score.

There are some really nice sections of this walk, not least the Lakeside path contrasted with the bleakness walking over the common.  The final section sees a return to the fields of “Cumbria” of day one, this time with a real upland feel to it. There would have been some fine views along here, but, with the weather as it was, there was nothing really for us to experience.

One last point to make, there are many places along this section that suffer badly from mud, and there are certainly 3 places I can think of that will have unwary walkers up to their knees in mud if not careful – you have been warned!

Oh!

The view as the way starts its descent into Ulverston is quite stunning, or would be if you could see it.  On a fine day it would certainly be a place to linger and contemplate the journey from Carlisle.  Taylor made for your fun!

The End!

Trail Rating 43/50 (86%)

It’s a difficult choice but I would place this as the second best trail I have walked after the South Downs Way.  It is consistent, and there is a real sense that the walker is experiencing all that Cumbria has to offer.  There are no tedious section, especially walking North to South, although I can understand why if walking the opposite way the last day to Carlisle would be disappointing. An extremely enjoyable walk that will last a long time in the memory.

So which direction?

Certainly walking South made a well-balanced walk.  The big problem, especially when walking in the aftermath of a hurricane, is the prevailing wind.  It is literally in the face, but I think a small price to pay walking it this way round.

Any arguments for or against?

 

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Cumbria Way Day 4

Elterwater – Conistion (approx 9 Miles)

Today we had a lie in.  After the monster walk yesterday this was to be a nice short day across to Coniston via the splendid Tarn Hows.  After a leisurely breakfast we set off in fine weather, clear skies and high temperatures.  It was almost like summer.  The walk up to Skelwith Bridge was stunning, the clear blue sky and surrounding peaks reflecting spectacularly off Elterwater.  It wasn’t too busy here either – on a morning like this I would have expected the crowds to be out in force.

Elter Water

From Skelwith Bridge the way climbed steadily to Tarn Hows, and every single step of the way was a joy, despite being a gibbering wreck from the previous day.  As the afternoon pushed closer things started to get a little busier and we even managed to stop and chat to a few people on the way.  A short distance and good weather = take it easy and enjoy.  The walk here meandered between woodland and farmland regularly,  and each time the path left the woods another fine view was presented.  This really was the Lakes at its best.  

Eventually we reached Tarn Hows, which unsurprisingly was, due to fine weather, hoaching with walkers of all shapes and sizes.  We lingered for a while, lying on the grass and enjoying the warmth of the sun and taking the mandatory photo of the scene that must be familiar to anybody who has visited the Lakes.

Tarn Hows

The drop down from Tarn Hows to Coniston is quite steep and as we sauntered gently down the hill there a few families, some members not looking too enamoured with the hill, toiling to get to the top.  It’s always nice being smug when walking down hill.  The rest of the walk into Coniston switches between wood and field, not one step wasted.  The route of the Way really has been well thought out over the whole distance with most of the credit going to those who devised the route way back in 1970.

In Coniston itself a tea room beckoned as we had managed to get there a tad early.  A couple of pints in the Bull followed before heading the short distance to the Hostel.

Day Rating 10/10

Unusual to give 10/10 – I don’t think I have given two consecutive days a 10 before.  Super little walk with almost everything you could ask for, and it wasn’t too busy, even at the honey pot site of Tarn Hows.

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Cumbria Way Day 3

Keswick – Elterwater (23 Miles)

So far, we had been lucky with the weather and the forecast for the day ahead wasn’t too bad.  Some light showers were to appear in the morning, but more importantly the sun was due to make an unscheduled appearance in the late afternoon.

After getting suitably lost in Keswick (another game of spot the waymarkers cunningly hidden on lamposts) and eventually purchasing some cheap gaiters (which I had conveniently forgotton to bring (note to self, buying cheap equipment is a false economy, I might as well not have bothered) we were on our way.  The route crosses some playing fields on the route out of Keswick (close to the pencil museum which unfortunately we had no time to visit) heading towards Portinscale.  From here there was a fantastic view of Cat Bells looking impressive in the morning light.

Soon we were drifiting away from habitation and wandering through Fawe Park, along with what looked like an incredibly large number of Partridge that were happily wandering about.  Suddenly, we were at the Lake Side, wandering through peaceful native woods where we found a fantastic carving of cupped hands.

For the most part, the way is poorly waymarked along this section (this seems to be a recurring theme).  As a general rule though, stay next to the water and you’ll be fine, at least until Brandelhow Point where there are about five or six different path options.  Toss a (six sided) coin and take your chance!  Unfortunately, I had been distracted by a telephone call meaning that we took the wrong path, arriving at a road a good 1km before we were due to.  Rather than retrace our steps we simply followed the road to where the Cumbria Way joined it from the left.  No great drama but it is slightly frustrating when you go wandering off in the wrong direction because of poor waymarking (or should that be poor navigation?  Discuss!)

Just before the small village of Grange the way cut uphill, crossing the remains of what looked like a recently fallen tree, and continued into the mouth of Borrowdale.  This section of the walk is delightful, and just past a couple of campsites there is a quite outstanding spot by the river Derwent.  There is a real sense of peace and isolation here that encourages you to linger a while.  From here it wasn’t too far to the planned lunch stop at Rosthwaite, firstly through some pleasant woodland, then following a riverbank walk (which the resident cattle had been using for target practice) to an old packhorse bridge that signalled our destination was near.

Rosthwaite is a lovely little place with plenty going on, and the tourists to boot.  We stopped at the walkers café, the Flock In, which served up a hearty lunch and a fantastic pint of tea in a mug!  Hit the spot.  They have a sideline in Herdwick sheep, which they farm, and have plenty of fresh meat and woolen products on sale.

Goldfinch in Langstrath

We left the tea room in a light shower, just ahead of a group of gentlemen walking through to Dungeon Ghyll.  They caught up with us just after we crossed the river and when the opportunity arose, passed us at a fair old rate of knots.  The rain was gently turning on and off at this point, with even the rare glimpse of some blue sky.  The route looks like an old packhorse trail and rises steadily from Rosthwaite to where the path crosses Stonethwaite Beck to enter Langstrath.   It is worth noting that from Rosthwaite to this point the route is shared with the Coast to Coast!

Almost immediately the ground was harder, rockier and bleaker in Langstrath and this ruggedness is attractive in its own way . There was a real sense of anticipation as we continued to climb steadily towards stake pass.  The pass had obviously been busy, with quite a bit of traffic coming down towards us, all confirming that the weather was far from pleasant up there.  Never mind eh!

Eventually we passed the group of guys who had overtaken us earlier. They had pit stopped for a change of socks, understandibly as we had crossed numerous becks, as well as plenty of lying water.  Unfortunately for them their stop had come a little too early as there was still some substantial wading to be done before reaching the climb up Stake Pass itself.

Looking knacke....I mean down Langstrath

The climb up from Langstrath takes you by surprise.  Looking at it on the map I was fully expecting a hard steep slog for a good 500 metres or so.  To my pleasant surprise there has been a huge amount of erosion control up here.  Around a third of the way up the path turns into a series of highly engineered hairpins, making the ascent a delight.  There is an airy feel to them and you can’t but help turning and staring down the impressive valley that you have just walked up.  Fantastic.

Even better was to come as we reached the other side – the view into Mickleden and the Langdales was just superb.  Despite this being a long old day it was turning into the best days trailwalk I have experienced so far.

Cue a torturous decent that seemed to take forever, not helped any by the uneven stone pitching all the way to the bottom.  I can’t complain though, this kind of path work is essential for the survival of these routes, otherwise the erosion would just obliterate them.

Looking towards the Langdales

In the end, I’m glad we didn’t go up that way!

The initial plan had been to stop at the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a refreshment or two before heading on to the hostel at Elterwater.  Unfortunately time was not on our side, (it was half six), and with four miles to go we would be lucky not to end up walking in the dark.  Cue a rather fast walk to the hotel where we promptly missed the correct route.  Rather than retrace our steps we instead followed a path across the fields to the large National Trust Car Park where it appeared that someone was undergoing a driving lesson.

Almost completely unnoticed, the sky had cleared, and as we got back onto the correct route we were treated to some fantastic all round views in the rapidly failing light.  No wonder this is called the magic hour.

As we reached Chapel Stile the bats were flitting about our heads and the surrounding trees.  The last mile or so was walked with the head torches on and we arrived at the hostel in the dark as predicted.

We checked in, dropped the bags and encamped in the pub, sampling a few really good ales and some good stodgy sausage and mash.

Day rating 11/10

A day walk that literally had everything, and despite going wrong a couple of times didn’t have a bad moment.  The prelude to and ascent of Stake Pass was spectacular and although it was a long day, the last hour of walking at dusk was something pretty special.

Fantastic

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Cumbria Way Day 2

Caldbeck – Keswick 18 Miles (Via Western Route)

At the start of day two, although the wind had died down, there was still a fair breeze (understatement of the year) to contend with.  This was even at the lower levels in Caldbeck.  A visit to the local shop/post office/petrol station provided us with two of the finest pasties I have ever experienced (for lunch), and so equipped with sustenance we began the ascent out of the village.  As we climbed the wind increased, not to the levels of the previous day, but enough to make the decision about going over High Pike fairly straightforward.  At the decision point, Nether Row, we took the lower Western route, which in theory, although a little longer than the direct route (around 2 miles), should provide the easier walk.

Turning West, we walked along a lengthy farm track to Potts Gill before the way opened out onto the hillside itself.  Even here there is a great feeling of remoteness which lasts virtually all the way to Keswick.  The views however are superb, even this early on the route taken by the Cumbria Way alternative has obviously not been an afterthought.  It does make one wonder what the views are like on top though – hey ho, we will just have to come back some other time!

At Fell Side, quite a large hamlet with an outdoor activities centre, we turned left to follow the road for quite a distance (I’m sure I keep mentioning I hate road walking) before turning up a track at Green Head.  The route meanders around for a while near Orthwaite and it is here that the Lake District sneaks up on you.  Turn a corner and wham – there’s Skiddaw, its huge bulk almost challenging you to walk any further if you dare.  Suddenly, the way was passing through fields and, as we passed the first lake of the walk, Over Water, there was a very pastoral feel to the walk.

As one or two of the guide books have pointed out this is the Cumbria Way (not to be confused with the Lake District) and the way certainly gives a rounded experience of the County as a whole even though it passes through the National park for the majority of its 72 miles.  The walking up until now had been a gentle prequel of what was to come.

It is worth noting that much of the waymarking is non-existent along this section, which in part resulted in a short excursion off the main path through Whitefield Wood before returning to the Cumbria Way itself as it skirted a rather large caravan park.

At Peter House Farm we stopped by a finger post declaring Skiddaw House 3 1/2 Miles via Whitewater Dash Falls to devour the fantastic pasties.  Suddenly there were walkers everywhere.  Appearing from cars, paths and UFO’s, they seemed to pass through this point all at the same time.  I’m guessing that we were about the halfway point for the day and that this was a popular start point for walks into the surrounding hills.

The Way to Skiddaw is long, remote and bleak.   A spectacular moorland landscape in which everything living seemed to be trying its best to keep out the way of the elements.  As we climbed the steep section of path to Whitewater Dash a hailstorm appeared from nowhere battering us for a good 10 minutes.  As quickly as it had appeared the hail stopped, and as we passed the top of the falls it returned to just blowing a gale!

The only sign of life up here were a few small birds following the path in front of us and it was with some relief that we spotted the Hostel at Skiddaw House, the highest Hostel in England and quite possibly one of the remotest.  Unfortunately, the hostel didn’t open until 5pm, meaning that there was to be no sneaky cup of tea and we had to make do with the shelter on the end of the building for a few minutes rest.  This old shooting lodge looks an entirely unique place to stay.  I think I may have to try in the near future.

Looking Towards Helvellyn

The walk from here to Keswik is breathtaking, and probably not recommended if you suffer from severe vertigo!  The path snakes along the steep side of Lonscale Fell giving an airy walk along the valley.  Walking North you wouldn’t get the benefit of the views down the valley towards Helvellyn but heading in this direction it makes a quite outstanding finale to the day.

As the shelter of Lonscale Fell ended a final rain shower hammered down on us, probably just  to try to finish us off for the day.  We were knackered, and it was with some relief that we made it to the fantastic YHA in Keswick.

Day Rating  8/10

A tough old day, and certainly not the easy option, although meeting some guys who had done the high level route I think they had trouble breathing let alone standing up in the wind.  This however is a cracking day walk, with a sense that you are now really getting into the guts of the Lake District.  It really whets the appetite for the next day.  Some stunning views on quite remote paths with a quite stunning finish into Keswick.  North to South could be a far more rewarding walk than South to North.  So far, I would certainly recommend it this way.

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This summers offering of Long Distance Walking had taken a while to be decided upon.  The initial plan had been to do the Cotswolds Way, but with limited time and the logistical problem of getting to the start of the trail, we decided to walk the Cumbria Way instead.  Twice before, in 2007 & 2008 this had been attempted, with both efforts ending in a damp squib at Coniston (the second led back to a beer festival in Ulverston – silver linings and all that).  The idea was that we would tent it and walk North to South (mainly because we were fed up walking from Ulverston to Coniston!).  This being “third time lucky”, nothing would stop us finishing a walk that, so far, had been the only trail we have aborted.

Cumbria Way – Day 1

Carlisle – Caldbeck (15 Miles approx)

Sunday the 11th September 2011 was a busy day.  Our plans for using the tent went straight out the window, metaphorically speaking, with the weather forecast for the week ahead.  The tail end of a hurricane forecasting rain, doom, destruction, death, the end of the world…

You get the picture, not the ideal weather for camping.

Sunday was spent hurriedly booking accommodation for the week ahead.  A B&B in Caldbeck, Keswick YHA, Elterwater YHA (we squeezed in – just),  Coniston Holly How and a B&B in Ulverston to finish off (the walkers hostel was full).  Not a bad outcome for very last-minute planning.

The weir at the start of the Cumbria Way

We left the car in Carlisle at a friend’s house on the Monday morning and set off from the Citadel at a leisurely 1030 walking along the cycle path that eventually turns into the Cumbria Way.  We had no less than three guidebooks and the Explorer maps, each of them offering a different opinion on where the start/finish was.  In the end we picked up the way just after an old mill that had been turned into luxury flats, passing a weir to find a tiny “Cumbria Way” marker on a finger-post.  Not the most inspiring of starts, but a start none the less.

To say the wind was blowing was an understatement of epic proportions.  The only time I have experienced wind as strong as that was on top of Ben Lawers in a Blizzard and the morning after a very hot Vindaloo.  The initial walk to Dalston, a pretty little village around four miles or so from Carlisle, follows the river Caldew and is pleasant enough without being anything special.  A plethora of dog walkers adorn the area, along with plenty of evidence that there are not too many responsible owners around.  Just be careful where you step.  The Cumbria Way shares its route with part of the national cycle network and as a result, the concrete endures until Dalston.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I hate road (well, hard surfaces) walking!

The rain appeared near lunch time, so we stopped for a spud in a very nice café in Dalston, before setting off again once it had stopped.  It wouldn’t rain again for the rest of the day.

Once out of Dalstonand past Bridge End things really started to change.  The path entered open country and it began to feel like the Cumbria Way was starting to get going for real.  This was a pastoral, if rather windy, Cumbria, passing through fields apace and turning into a quite outstanding river walk (although at times the wind was doing its best to blow us into the water).  In fine weather this would be a delight.   This, however, was hard graft into a strong wind, not to mention that the noise was like a freight train passing above our heads continuously for the whole day.  At Bell Bridge we hunkered down behind a wall for a break, a relief to get out (most) of the wind for a while before crossing the river and heading uphill to Sebergham with its lovely little church.  Dropping down the lane back to the river we passed a property with three black Labradors.  They were out on the track in front of us, saw us, then promptly ran through a gate so they could bark at us from the safety of their garden.

Church at Sebergham

Once across the river again the Way entered woods lining the river bank and the last leg of the days walk.  A sign declared forestry operations close in to Caldbeck and a diversion with “moderate inclines” to look forward to.  Firstly though we had to negotiate a woodland path that resembled a quagmire.  At least now we had shelter from the wind!

The diversion point reached, the alternative route was clearly marked on the ground.  Unfortunately the moderate incline was a rather long steep incline up to open ground and the wind.  I do this a disservice though. The views from up there were superb towards High Pike and the surroundings, and despite our grumblings the diversion gave a superb and unexpected end to the days walk (it is worth attempting even if the diversion isn’t in place!).  All that remained was to get back down the hill and enter Caldbeck with our B&B right on the path.  Even better, the pub was only 100m away!

Day Rating – 7/10

First section of the day was fairly uninspiring but after Dalston it turned into a pleasant river walk.  Waymarking was suspect in many places, in fact the best waymarking was on the diversion route. Ok it was the best waymarking on the entire route to Ulverston!  The wind made the day hard work and slightly less enjoyable than it could have been.  A nice introduction to the Cumbria Way which whet the appetite for the following day.  I think it would be a major disappointment to finish with this section though – North to South is probably the way to go – even with the weather in your face.

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