Fixing the Cumbria Way – Southern Endings and New Routes

In my last post I talked about my proposed new Northern End point for an amended Cumbria Way, and also discussed the merits and demerits of the other options. In the northern case, I felt the answer was pretty clear cut – to me there was one outstanding candidate for a revised end – the start of Hadrian’s Wall at Bowness-on-Solway. But now that I turn my attention to the southern end, it is far less obvious.

For one thing, I don’t think there is as compelling a need for a different start point in the south as there is for a new end point in the north. Ulverston does the job reasonably well, has decent public transport links, accommodation and can be easily tweaked for a coastal start with a short detour out of town. So this post should be read with that in mind – I am really just suggesting alternatives to the normal start point, which would be suitable if you’ve walked the Cumbria Way before, like the length and type of walk, but fancy a change.

The other reason why it will be a lot harder to come up with a clear cut new start point is that there are a number of strong candidates and they’re a lot closer in terms of their pros and cons. I’m also conscious that I’ve already covered a number of suggestions in my Quick Fixes post, and also that the choice of start point also heavily influences the route to take. So I’m going to look at a range of southern endings in conjunction with their proposed outline routes.

Even though I’m looking at the start points and routes together, I still felt it was worthwhile looking at the contenders for start points and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Possible Start Points

Potential Southern End Points

End Point Pros Cons
Ulverston Railway station. Existing start point. Able to adapt for coastal start. Doesn’t get you onto the high ground from the start.
Barrow-in-Furness Railway station, coastal start. Also the start of the Alternative Coast to Coast walk (ACC) A bit of urban walking before you get to the countryside, and then a relatively long drag to “proper” Cumbrian terrain.
Foxfield Railway station, close to National Park boundary, good location for a route over Dunnerdale and Furness Fells or a route along Dunnerdale. Not much at Foxfield itself.
Silecroft Railway station, inside National Park boundary, close to coast. Obvious start for any route over Black Combe There are much better options for a low level route start point.
Ravenglass Railway station, coastal, inside National Park, lends itself to a route following Esk upstream. Roman connection to tie in with Hadrian’s Wall end point Better options for a high level route exist.
Humphrey Head One of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells of Lakeland, coastal and within reach of a railway station. lends itself to a route passing east of Coniston Water. Maybe a bit far to walk before hitting good terrain ?
Arnside Railway station, coastal and would give a real feeling of crossing whole of Cumbria as you start off looking at it across the water. Awkward location and involves a bit of a detour to cross the River Kent.
Kirkby Lonsdale In Cumbria and would give a good long walk and work particularly well for a SE-NW route. Not close to a railway station, but served by buses. Crossing the M6.
Sedburgh If considering Kirkby Lonsdale, this is an obvious one to look at too. Nearest useful railway station 10 miles away. Inside the Yorkshire Dale NP. Crossing the M6.
Kendal Railway station, just outside National Park. Good for SE-NW route or an eastern route north. None really

Now to whittle down this list to the best options. Ulverston and Barrow should be dropped as too similar to the existing start and are really just tweaks to the official route. Humphey Head, Arnside, Kirkby Lonsdale and Sedburgh are probably a bit too wacky. In any case a route from Kendal could be started early from either of these latter two, so not worth considering them separately.

This leaves us with:

  • Foxfield
  • Silecroft
  • Ravenglass
  • Kendal

Let’s look at each in turn and discuss the potential high level and low level route options:

Foxfield

I say Foxfield, because that’s where the station is, but really I mean Foxfield/Broughton-in-Furness. From here high routes along the Dunnerdale and Furness Fells are possible, as are lower level routes along Dunnerdale or to join up with the official Cumbria Way route in the Beacon Fell area. The main attraction of this as a start point is the versatility of possible routes rather than any particularly special significance of the start point itself.

This option does have a certain appeal as it offers both a high level route and lower level routes either side of the Dunnerdale Fells, making this quite a flexible start point. But all of the essential elements of such a route could be achieved as variations on routes from Silecroft or Ulverston.

Silecroft

The stand out candidate for a high level route from the start of the walk, sitting as it does at the base of Black Combe. A route from here could get you in sight of Keswick without major lowland walking other than to cross unavoidable roads into the next fell group. Better options exist for a lowland walk, although lower level variations for this high level walk could be put together for use in foul weather.

Ravenglass

Ravenglass used to be a Roman port and so provides a link with the proposed end at Bowness-on-Solway. A route from Ravenglass could follow the Esk or Wasdale valleys and then either become a high level route or use the high passes to continue being a predominantly valley route. But apart from the Wasdale option, all of these are true of the route from Silecroft, so I would conclude that Ravenglass is only the right start for the Wasdale route or if you want to follow the Esk from sea to source. Which of course you might.  But these Esk and Wasdale routes have something big going for them – views of the highest Lakeland mountains and in that sense are fairly in tune with what the official Cumbria Way does. I think a route from here offers the best option for a valley-based route that includes the big scenery of Lakeland.

Ravenglass is also the most northerly of the shortlisted start points, so it is likely to result in a much shorter route. But I think this would be compensated for by being more strenuous than the official Cumbria Way. Of all the possibilities discussed here, this option offers the best option for a totally new lowland route that doesn’t overlap excessively with the existing Cumbria Way. At the very least, I think this potentially offers a better quality start to a Cumbria Way.

Kendal

I struggled to find anything wrong with this as a start point, but somehow it just doesn’t feel right. Kendal lends itself to a route using the Eastern and Far Eastern Fells, and as such could form a reasonable high level route to Keswick. But in terms of low level routes, these would seem to most obviously involve following main roads.

Conclusions

The choice of start point is very closely tied in with overall route choice and the type of terrain and strenuousness that a walker is looking for. For a purely high level route, I think it’s difficult to beat Silecroft as a start point as none of the other options gets you onto to high ground as quickly or keeps you high for as long. But such a route doesn’t lend itself well to overnight stops due to the relative remoteness of the terrain. This can never be anything but a high level backpacking route as detours to valleys to overnight would kill it.

For a low level route that stays in valleys and uses mountain passes, but also gives a good scenic walk then I think it has to be Ravenglass. This ties in thematically with the end point at Bowness-on-Solway, takes you through some of the big scenery of the Lake District and is sufficiently different to the existing official Cumbria Way.

The next posts will talk about these two new proposed routes in more detail.

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