The Cumbria Way is a 70ish mile long route north-south through the Lake District National Park in northern England. Brian hiked this over 4 days and 80 miles in August 2022 with some variations to ‘bag’ and camp on hill summits.
Overall I found it a nice, mellow hiking route with plenty of lush bucolic Lakeland scenery. It provides great opportunities to hike variations as I pleased with an almost unlimited labyrinth of trails criss crossing the lakes which could be connected up.
The trail has two distinct characters; the first and last 15 miles or so are outside the Lakes and are at low level, crossing farmland, often along field edges with views to the distant hills. The central section from Caldbeck in the north down to about Coniston Water goes through the heart of the Lakes and offers classic beautiful scenery.
The going is on trail the whole way, but it isn’t that well waymarked and I found that I needed to keep a map at hand at each of the many trail/road/field intersections. The trail can be hiked in either direction and I hiked south from Carlisle but the guidebooks and most other hikers go from Ulverston north.
Most people do the trail in 5 days and stay in towns along the way; either B&Bs or campsites. It is possible to wild camp – as I did for 2 of the 3 nights – as long as you ‘stealth camp’ responsibly i.e. pitch in the evening and break camp early in the morning and follow leave no trace principles.
I used the Cicerone guide which had pretty good background but would be more useful for a northbound hike as that is how it is written. I love the Cicerone guides in general but this one is quite text based and was tricky to read going in the other direction. In retrospect maybe the Harvey strip map of the route would have been more useful. I also downloaded Ordnance Survey topo maps to my phone (I used the OutdoorActive Android App) which was very handy.
Getting to the start and finish is straightforward as both are well served by railway. Trains run a number of times every day between Carlisle and Ulverston and take between 2 to 3 hours (you can choose to pay £40 for the 2 hour fast route or £18 for the slower 3 hour route- you make your choice!). Here also are a couple of good web sites on the trail:
Day 1 Carlisle to Caldbeck
I parked my car at a Council site near Carlisle train station (a bargain at £3 per day) and set off south at about 3pm. Camping spots are a bit tricky in this first section leaving Carlisle so I decided to push on to Caldbeck 15.5 miles away which has a great wee friendly site including a ‘hiker biker’ area. This day pretty much follows the Caldbeck River all the way to Caldbeck itself. It starts in the city of Carlisle but soon is out in at least suburban and then semi rural territory on a mix of paved cycle ways, trails, fields and dirt roads. A trail closure (temporary hopefully) north of the town of Dalston was a bit of a surprise and I ended up doing a longer route round finishing with 2 miles along the grass verges of a busy B road. Not great hiking but I got past the closure quickly at least.
Day 2 Caldbeck – Keswick- Walla Crag
Caldbeck is a lovely village with a campsite, 2 cafes, pub/hotel and friendly village store. From here the route climbs into the ‘fells’ of the Lake District to High Pike with panoramic views south to the hills to come, out east to the Penines and back north to Scotland. There’s a cool small wooden hut on the way – ‘Lingy’ – maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association which would be a good overnight stop.
I deviated off to ‘bag’ Knott, another hill nearby that I hadn’t climbed before. It was well defended though with boggy, tussocky ground so was hard going! Back on the Cumbria Way I passed Skiddaw House then followed a viewful balcony trail around Lonscale Fell into the ‘bustling’ town of Keswick.
I just realised that it was the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend- and it was mobbed! I had some dinner and shopped for a couple of days food to make it easy to wild camp, then happily left town at about 6pm.
I took an alternate to the main Cumbria way by heading along some hill tops on the east of Derwent Water, rather than the official route which goes down the west side at low level. This also provided a great camp spot near Walla Crag….
Day 3 Walla Crag to Lingmoor Fell
After a very still night with some mist down below, I had some midges around at breakfast but set off south with great views around and to Derwent water below. I soon made it down to Ashness Bridge with a short quiet road walk through forest then steeply down to the Borrowdale Hotel at the south end of Derwent Water. Above was a climbing cliff, Shepherds crag I have been to in the past with some classic routes.
There were good trails round the foot of Derwent Water and I soon rejoined the Cumbria Way again on mellow low level walking into the small cluster of rustic houses at Rossthwaite for a fine snack/ lunch stop at the café.
From there I headed out into more open hill country up Langstrath (the well named long valley). I sped past a couple of waterfalls that were thronging with people, but I did have a quick cooling dip in the river a bit higher up. The going got hot as I went over Stake Pass with it’s glacial drumlins and down to Langdale with more excellent climbing crags above.
The hills again beckoned for tonight’s camp and I traversed Lingmoor Fell to the south of Langdale. Here I experienced a first for camping on hill tops- I needed to put in my ear plugs to dampen the sound of music floating up from a party in the valley below!
Day 4 Lingmoor Fell to Ulverston
Another still, warm night and I quickly descended to Little Langdale then along lanes and trails to pick up the Cumbria Way again at High Park.
I noticed my first Cumbria Way trail sign here- hoorah! Rolling lower level fields and woodland made for quick walking into the town of Coniston for early lunch. Hiking south of the town alongside Coniston water I took a well needed dip to cool down – superb! From there the Way headed over moorland covered in thick bracken and heather but thankfully with a clear path through the vegetation. I now had the ‘bit between my teeth’ and decided to push on to the end of the trail that day. The air was hot and muggy but the ground was dry and the walking was easy into the pretty town of Ulverston.