Cumbria Way
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Cumbria Way
England, UK

The Cumbria Way is a long-distance footpath in Cumbria that falls largely within the boundaries of the Lake District National Park.

This popular route crosses through various quaint villages and meanders across the Langdale and Borrowdale valleys, attracting walkers from across the UK.

Originally devised in the 1970s by local Ramblers Association members, the Cumbria Way stretches 112 kilometres between the two historic Cumbrian towns of Ulverston and Carlisle.

Despite being almost 50 years old, the waymarking of the route was only completed in full in 2007 by a combination of volunteers and national park staff.

The Cumbria Way is regarded as the perfect ‘warm up’ to some of the tougher routes in the region due to the fact that is is primarily low level with just a handful of higher exposed sections.

Despite being lower than most of its nearby counterparts, the scenery and views are still outstanding.

In terms of cost, a five or six night trip will cost around the £200-250 mark if staying in B&Bs or significantly less if opting for youth hostels or camping grounds.

Highlights
  • A low-level route that is a perfect introduction to both the Lakes and long-distance walking.
  • Offers a combination of great scenery and quintessential English towns.
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About the route
  • Travel

Regardless of the direction you choose to walk in, both ends of the trail are well served by public transport.

At the top, Carlisle lies on the West Coast Mainline with plenty of train, coach and bus services connecting to major cities across the country.

From the bottom, Ulverston is a little quieter with a station running limited services to nearby Lancaster, Preston and Manchester. From these stations there are plenty of services running further afield.

For anyone flying in, the nearest international airport is Manchester, which has a direct train to Ulverston.

There are also regular trains from Glasgow, London, Lancaster or Preston with minimal changes involved or you can take a National Express Coach to Windermere and switch onto a local bus bound for Ulverston.

If driving, both ends of the route are only a short drive from the M6 motorway but you will need to factor in getting from the end of the route back to your parked car.

  • Length

The Cumbria Way stretches 112 kilometres and is typically completed over the course of five or six days.

For those that have more time, there is a seven-day option that breaks up the longest section with a stop at Rosthwaite. This is the preferred itinerary for anyone using the route as an introduction to long-distance walks in the Lakes.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

Despite meandering through the Lakes, which is an area notorious for its steep peaks, this is a relatively low-level route.

Most of the walk follows valleys and lake shores, with one Wainwright fell en route as an optional extra.

Cumbria Way as it passes through Mickleden

The climb over Stake Pass ascends to 300 metres and crosses relatively high mountain terrain where the paths are a bit rougher. Other than that the paths are generally well defined and maintained.

If taking the Eastern route up to high Pike, the climb has less well defined paths and sturdy boots with decent grip are a must.

  • Experience

Seasoned walking pros may find the Cumbria Way not challenging enough, but for most it presents the perfect opportunity to cover distance and enjoy varied scenery without too much physical exertion.

A base level of fitness and the ability to walk distance over consecutive days are all the experience you’ll need.

  • Permits

No permits are needed to hike this route.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

This route can either be done self-guided or as part of an arranged tour.

On the whole, signage is pretty good but perhaps slightly more sporadic than National Trails, so it’s worth having a guidebook and map on hand.

Where an official marker is missing, various home-made ones have been added by volunteers and previous trekkers to help you get back on track.

An OS map is recommended for anyone who is planning to adapt the route to include additional fells as it can be hard to retrace your steps in thick fog or low cloud.

For those who are attempting the Cumbria Way as their first long-distance route, you might choose to do the walk as part of a group to take the hassle out of planning when and where to stop, what times of day to set off and rest, and which sections can be altered or avoided if you’d prefer to omit some of the steep ascents/descents.

best time to walk

The Cumbria Way can be walked throughout the year thanks to its low-level route, relatively easy navigation and defined paths.

Having said this, to get the most out of your walking experience, the route is best walked between April and October when the days are longer and warmer and the surrounding landscape is at its greenest.

UK weather is always unpredictable and you should be prepared for rain at any time of year, but winter conditions can make walking through Langdale and Skiddaw difficult and the terrain underfoot particularly boggy.

A typical five-day itinerary would be:

Day 1:
Ulverston to Coniston – 23.5 kilometres

Day 2:
Coniston to Old Dunegon Ghyll – 18 kilometres

Day 3: 
Old Dunegon Ghyll to Keswick – 24 kilometres

Day 4:
Keswick to Caldbeck – 30 kilometres

Day 5:
Caldbeck to Carlisle – 25 kilometres

The only downside of completing the route in this direction means that the fnish is slightly underwhelming, with the last few miles spent walking down a tarmacked path to finish on the outskirts of Carlisle city centre.

As the route passes through small towns with few transport links, although doable it is not particularly easy to break up into sub-sections.On the flipside, it is quite easy to extend it into a longer challenge.

The Cumbria Way path connects with the Allerdale Ramble, Cumbria Coastal Way, Coast to Coast Walk, Hadrian’s wall path, Cistercian Way, Eden Way and Windermere Way.

Accommodation

Depending on your budget there are a variety of B&Bs and basic hotels along the route in the towns listed above. B&Bs do tend to fill up quickly in summer months and so it is worth booking a month or so in advance, particularly if you are walking as a group or family.

B&Bs or guesthouses provide breakfast, with some also catering for dinner and packed lunches otherwise you can buy snacks at shops in the larger villages and Keswick. Dungeon Ghyll has limited accommodation but does have a local bus running to nearby Ambleside via Elterwater, with additional options in both areas.

As mentioned before, the best way to complete the Cumbria Way on a budget is to stay in hostels/bunkhouses or campsites.

The route is well served by campsites between Ulverston and Keswick, with enough space to allow for just turning up and finding a pitch. The most notable sites can be found at Ulverston, Conniston, Langdale and Keswick but between Keswick and Carlisle options are more limited.

Near Caldbeck is a caravan site that also allows overnight stays for Cumbria Way walkers.

For anyone who would prefer to not lug their bags along the route with them, there are a handful of companies that can transfer luggage accommodation points. If booking through a tour company or operator, most will include this service in the price but these are not available to/from campsites.

What to do

The Cumbria Way cuts through classic Lakeland country via Coniston, Langdale, Borrowdale, Derwent Water, Skiddaw Forest and Caldbeck. It is worth stopping off at any number of these towns – for a few hours or overnight – to relax, soak in the scenery and enjoy an English pub dinner.

Coniston is a picture-perfect Lakeland village on the shores of Lake Coniston. Spending an extra afternoon here will allow you enough time to take a cruise on the lake’s iconic steam “Gondola” or visit the nineteenth-century home of John Ruskin.

Keswick is also a popular stopoff as it is the midway point and offers the most to see and do. This bustling market town has all the key amenities, a laundrette, decent pubs and restaurants, as well as a cinema, boutique shops and a range of galleries to peruse.

There are plenty of easy, short walks down from Keswick to the lakeshore or if you need some time off your feet there is a regular launch service around Derwentwater.

Alternatively you could tag on a day at the end of your trip in Carlisle. This historic city has the beautiful castle and cathedral, a military museum and Tullie House Museum with various Roman artefacts on show.

In addition, there are plenty of shops and lots of places to eat or grab a coffee.

 

Operators
Mickledore
Mickledore
Mickledore specialises in self-guided walking holidays in the UK for the independent traveller.
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At a glance
Difficulty 1/5 - 2/5
Starts at Ulverston, UK
Finishes at Carlisle, Cumbria, UK
Length of route 112 Km
Average time to complete 5 - 6 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsNo
Highest point 280 metres
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited England, UK