I’ve been eyeing a walking trip in the English Lake District for several years now. The time never seemed to be right, but I finally made a time to go do it. The cool thing is that my dad came with me. The trail was not exactly what we expected, but it was a lot of fun and a great accomplishment. We didn’t walk the full thing, but did four days of hiking (out of about 6-7 total for the full route) and then spent time exploring Keswick and Carlisle. This is a post looking at the hike as a whole and what to expect. At the bottom is a list of some of the more detailed posts I put together about our walk.
What is the Cumbria Way?
It is a trail put together in the 70’s to highlight the district of Cumbria also known as the Lake District in northwestern England. The full trail is 73 miles from Ulverston to Carlisle and winds around several lakes and crosses a lot of hilly country. It is quite a popular route and I always figured it was supposed to be relatively easy.
I had originally seen a trip on gAdventures.com and thought it sounded cool. Four days of hiking across gently rolling hills and shining lakes. This was the year Ali and I got married so it didn’t happen. The next years it just didn’t seem right either. Finally when I got to having time, I couldn’t find the trip on their site again, so I had to find a company and put together a trip on my own. The cool thing is that my dad wanted to come. I wouldn’t have to walk it alone and I got to spend time with him. He is 65, but in good health. And this was supposed to be an easy trip.
The Path: Everything is relative
If you are used to hiking nicely marked, paved paths, or wide pine-needle laden forest tracks, be warned. This is definitely not that. There are stretches that are that, but there is even more footpath that crosses sheep fields, treks steeply through forests and a lot of it is like walking in a dry streambed of fist sized rocks. So when I thought the Cumbria Way is relatively easy, it is perhaps relative. The whole lake district is criss crossed with tons of paths and we definitely saw a lot that were steeper and ruggeder than what we were on. Bottom line, this is perhaps an easy stroll for the experienced hikers who blew by us, but for us two novices it was challenging.
Slow Going: Roots, Rocks, and Rises
As a testimony this, a side note on our map said to estimate 2.5 miles an hour on the trail. We didn’t hit this on any of our days. We averaged about 1.7 miles an hour. Dad liked to talk about the three things that slowed us down.
A large portion of the trail after the first day felt like walking in a dry streambed. Rocks from small pebble to grapefruit size wandered across the jagged landscape. We didn’t have problem keeping to the trail, but it was slow to walk on.
I would think that walking in a forest would be easier, but it wasn’t always. Roots can require just as much concentration to make sure you don’t trip. Especially going up steeply.
The Lake District is so named due to a lot of pretty lakes in the area, but it very well could be named the Fell District. Fells are sharp peaked hills. The Cumbria Way definitely goes up and then down and then up followed by more up. One of our days we ascended 500m to the top of Stake Pass in about an hour just to go down the same on the other side. Descents are just like rises, but in reverse.
And just because they don’t start with R, don’t forget the boglands, the cow fields and the stiles. These too took their toll on our speed. We also stopped to take a bunch of pictures, but really if you don’t enjoy yourself and the memories, what is the point of taking the trip?
We went in expecting pretty much everything but snow. Locals, when asked about the weather, often just shrugged their shoulders and replied with something like ‘we get what we get’. In fact, we had a really great week of weather for the walk. Most of the days were cloudy and warm, but not hot. I learned that you need a hat, because you can get sunburned even through the clouds. We were happy with the temperature. Much warmer and it would have been really unpleasant. Each day we went through our water supply easily. On the first day, I didn’t even bring enough, so make sure you pack a few travel water bottles.
We had a few times when I was bundled in all the layers I brought with me and I was still cold, though walking is hot work so it didn’t last long. We also had one day of real rain plus a few sprinkles earlier.
Weather in the area is varied and changeable. Definitely plan for rain, hot and cold.
So what we booked was an unguided trek. The company (Wandering Aengus, who were great to work with) set us up with BnB accommodation along the route, a guidebook, map, info sheets, and a baggage service. So we had a packet of information delivered to our first hotel in Ulverston. The BnB’s we stayed in were all great. Breakfast was full English every morning and there was at least one pub at each stop for dinner. The guidebook and map meant that we had to navigate on our own, but we did pretty good with it. The map was even waterproof, which helped on our fourth day. The baggage service meant that we left our bigger packs in our hotel every morning and they just appeared by magic at the next destination.
We planned our trip to hike for four days from Ulverston to Keswick and then spend some time exploring dayhikes out from there. We wanted some time to just be in town and enjoy it without having to worry about getting to the next stop. The next stage beyond Keswick got steeper, so I think we were quite happy to not have done that. Our company were able to book us however many nights we wanted at each point.
If I were to do the hike again, we would have split up the first day into two. 15+ miles makes for a long day. I would put more days in Keswick and only one short day in Carlisle. I was only just recovering from our hike and nearly ready for a dayhike from Keswick before we had to leave again.
Would I recommend it?
It is a beautiful area and a great walk. If you are experienced at hiking and rugged landscapes, this should be up your alley. If you are reasonably fit and have a lot of stubbornness to fill in for any lack of athleticism, go for it. If you like more leisurely walks, I would recommend staying in Keswick, hiking out from them and back so you can gauge how much you are able to do.
So yes, if you are an outdoorsy person, definitely look into it. This is the route we took, but only up to Keswick.