Quick Fixes to the Cumbria Way

In my previous post, I talked about the problems with the Cumbria Way official route, and in this post I’m going to propose some quick fixes to the route that involve minimal change overall, and importantly don’t create a whole new long distance path. Really these are just some ideas for varying the walk, but based around keeping much of the official route. It’s possible that these may be enough by themselves to remove the niggles.

As a reminder, the issues we were trying to solve were:

  1. Where should an improved Cumbria Way end in the north ?
  2. How can we make the route avoid uninspiring terrain ?
  3. Where should the southern end be ?
  4. What should the objective of the walk be (e.g. is it to cross the whole National Park ? should it be a coast to coast walk ?) ?
  5. How can the route be improved to take in more high ground ?
  6. How can the route be improved to take in more tarns ?
  7. How can we keep the good bits ?
  8. How do we keep the walk achievable in a sensible number of days ?

These quick fixes won’t necessarily answer all of these, but will try to address some of the bigger problems of the existing walk.

Quick Fix 1: The Northern End

The essence of the issue with the northern trailhead is that you spend the last part of the walk walking through grim terrain to arrive at an undefined end point. That’s right – no one can agree where it actually ends. You only have to look at the comment stream on the previous post to see an example. Not having a proper end is like a slap in the face after enduring that last 5 miles from Dalston. Imagine how those people at the back in the London Marathon feel to arrive at the finish and everyone’s buggered off.  One thing that could be done, therefore, is to put a proper marker up. I almost don’t care where it is – be it the castle, market cross, tourist information centre, next to the lorry depot or on the riverbank. Knowing there is an actual end point may just add that little bit more motivation to get the last bit of the walk done. And while they’re at it, how about continuing the waymarkers all the way to the end.

This will of course only slightly mitigate the issue with the last stretch and the simple fact is that last part of the walk into Carlisle is rubbish, and no amount of fannying around with the end point will solve that. Every discussion I’ve ever had with people about the Cumbria Way has always included a version of the following statement: “It’s great but the ending is dire. It would be better if it stopped 5 miles shorter”.

That’s the easiest fix of all – simply stop at Dalston. Dalston doesn’t have loads to commend it, but it’s not as bad as Carlisle. It’s also got a station so is a practical alternative end point. By stopping at Dalston you’d shave 5 pointless miles off the walk. With the current situation, that seems like the simplest way of culling this issue.

Quick Fix 2: Uninspiring Last Day

To get as far as Dalston, you’ll still find yourself with a bit of anti-climax in terms of the nature of the walking on that last day. After several days of dramatic scenery and high ground all around, on this day you’ll spend much of it in fields or alongside the River Caldew. I don’t have a major issue with that in principle, but for me such walking is better in the middle of a walk when you need to get miles under your belt and still have something to look forward to. It really should finish on a better high.

So the easiest and most obvious fix to this is to stop in Caldbeck. Essentially you come down off High Pike into Caldbeck, hop on a bus and go home. You really do finish on a high (High Pike). But you’re also massively shortening the walk – cutting out a whole one of its five stages. It’s not ideal, but if you want to do the Cumbria Way but only have enough time to do 4 of the 5 stages, then definitely miss out Caldbeck to Carlisle.

Quick Fix 3: The Two Legs

But there’s another problem with the Cumbria Way – it splits in two at Skiddaw House – one leg going around the base of Cockup and Brae Fell to Caldbeck and the other following the young River Caldew to Carrock Fell and then climbing up over High Pike to descend to Caldbeck. This means a difficult choice or walking it twice. But instead, why not remove this decision altogether ?

In Fix 2 above, I suggested stopping at Caldbeck, which is where the two legs meet up again. So instead, consider taking one leg over Dash Falls and around the base of the fells  to Caldbeck, then rather than continuing north, simply continue along the other leg back over High Pike to Skiddaw House. You can then walk out to Keswick, either back along the Cumbria Way or by leaving the path by Burnt Horse, taking the path to the Blencathra Centre and entering Keswick from the other side of Latrigg.

This fix still meets (just about) the aim of walking from one side of the National Park to the other since Caldbeck is right on the border, and it misses the relatively dull walk along the Caldew to the actual end.

Quick Fix 4: The Southern End

Ulverston is actually OK as a start point and has the virtue of being on the railway, making access easy. There’s no real need to change it, but there are some alternatives that may be worth considering especially if you’re considering walking the Cumbria Way for the second or even third time, when the pressure to stick to 100% of the official route in order to say truthfully that you’ve done the Way is no longer there.

First, any of the stations west of Ulverston could be potential start points – Dalton, Barrow, Askham, Kirkby or Foxfield. These may just add enough freshness to the walk for a repeat.

Second, Ulverston is quite near the coast, so you could consider walking there to start from the water’s edge.

A final thought – why necessarily walk to the west of Coniston Water ? A route up the eastern side through the Grizedale Forest area may be worth considering.

Quick Fix 5: The Objective

The Cumbria Way is a traverse of the National Park, whether that was the original aim or not, and if that’s your primary interest, then you could simply start at the boundary. But both ends of the walk can also be extended to make it a coast to coast walk. A number of the alternative start points above would enable this, and then simply carry on walking from Carlisle – either down the Eden or north towards the Scottish border, or by following Hadrian’s Wall west for a while.

Quick Fix 6: More High Ground and Tarns

This was what I was really looking for when I did my Cumbria Way in 2011. I made the following high level adjustments to the route:

  • I headed up onto Lowick High Common (Kirkby Fell) rather than follow the low level route to Gawthwaite. I then continued up onto Burney. This worked well for me as my overnight accommodation was on the other (Woodland) side of this ridge from the official route. This was forced upon me as the only place I could find to stay was Fell End Camping Barn at Woodland, but it actually worked well and fitted in with what I wanted from the walk.
  • My route up to Beacon Tarn was over Blawith Knott, Tottlebank Height etc.
  • I detoured from the Way at Tarn Hows Cottage to pick off Holme Fell. I would also have picked off Black Fell if my progress and unpleasant weather hadn’t put me off the idea at the last minute.
  • My route to Skiddaw Hause was over Latrigg and the summit of Skiddaw, descending over Bakestall to Dash Falls and then technically backwards along the Way to the hostel.
  • I added in an extra day walk from Skiddaw Hause over Great Calva, Brae Fell and Great Cockup before continuing with the Way itself.
  • If I hadn’t chickened out due to being soaked to the skin 10 minutes after setting off, I’d also have had a day walk over Blencathra and friends.

Other things I could have done with bigger detours include:

  • A diversion up the east side of Coniston Water instead of the west.
  • Although it’s quite a big detour walking the line of fells from Stickle Pike all the way to Wetherlam would add an obvious high level route to the early part of the walk.
  • A detour over Lingmoor Fell instead of sticking to the Langdale valley.
  • The route from Langdale to Rosthwaite could also be achieved by a more demanding route over the Langdale Pikes and High Raise or along the Glaramara ridge.
  • Walking to Keswick over High Spy, Maiden Moor and Catbells rather than in the valley below.

These are the options which lie naturally close to the offiical route, but of course with larger detours there are many more possibilities.

Almost all of these allow the possibility of taking in more tarns, or can be extended slightly to include them.

Some final comments

Of course, making all or even several of the above tweaks could quickly add up to a walk that increases the number of days significantly, but one of the real virtues of the Cumbria Way is that it is a walk of 5-7 days (depending on how hard you push yourself), and so I think that incorporating too many of these ideas would actually hurt the walk, and it would also significantly change its character. And if you’re going to do that you might as well start afresh and design a brand new walk rather than mess around with an existing one. Better to use these ideas to liven up the bits of the walk that don’t quite hit the spot, or as ideas to add freshness to repeat walks.

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