North Lakes Traverse

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North Lakes Traverse
England, UK

The North Lakes Traverse is a new on the hiking scenes and winds around the lakes of Ullswater, Thirlmere and Derwentwater, then ascends over the mountain passes that separate them.

An unofficial route that was originally created by Mickledore, the trail takes in the best of Cumbria’s lakes, mountains, delightful small towns, villages and hamlets. The landscape found in the Northern Lakes is amongst the best and most challenging in Britain.

Taking in the lake shores, fells and mountain passes, there is the option of taking the higher and more difficult route, or the lower and more manageable one.

Although a breathless task, opting for the high route along mountains and over the fells provides spectacular views. The lower one still encompasses serene woodlands, plunging waterfalls and views over the valley.

Hikers take to this area in Cumbria to get off the beaten track and away from cities and roads. The Lakes provide rolling hills, impressive mountains and lakes aplenty, meaning that no two days of walking are the same. The area was recently awarded with UNESCO world heritage status but remains free from crowds or tour groups.

If you really fancy a challenge, there is also an ultra running race that covers much of the same route, crossing the entire Lake District and finishing in Shap. Given a deadline of 28 hours, runners must endure a total of 3,500 metres of ascent over 96 kilometres making it extremely challenging yet beautiful in nature.

Highlights
  • A perfect introduction to the North Western lakes with plenty of variety in walking and scenery.
  • Great views of Ullswater, the Helvellyn range, and the Borrowdale Fells.
  • Options to take either the high or low route, depending on ability and weather.
Walk Map
About the route
  • Travel

The starting point of Dockray is just down the road from the town of Keswick. Found in the Northern Lake District, Cumbria, it can be accessed by the A66 and M6.

Because it is an almost circular route, it is possible to leave your car at the beginning and collect it afterwards, but be sure to arrange secure long-term parking in advance of your trip.

Keswick’s nearest railway station is Penrith, which has plenty of trains linking to elsewhere in the country throughout the day. There is also a larger station at Carlisle. Buses to Keswick run regularly and most accommodation is around ten minutes walk from there. Packages will include a transfer from Keswick to Dockray, otherwise it is just a short taxi ride.

For those coming from further afield, the nearest international airports are Manchester and Newcastle, from where you can get a train to Penrith and finally a bus or taxi onward to Keswick.

  • Length

Stretching 68 kilometres, hikers typically complete the North Lakes Traverse in five days.

Because it is a fairly new route and signage is limited, most people opt to do it through a company who can design an itinerary for you based on you walking ability.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The North Lakes Traverse is moderately difficult as it involves hills and fells throughout. However, thanks to the choice of going via the high or low route, individuals of varying fitness levels and experience can taper their hike accordingly.

As with most of Lakeland walks, the terrain varies from fields in the valley bottoms that can be muddy and soft, to higher mountain passes as the route crosses the Helvellyn range and remote moorland further along. Overall the tracks are well defined and maintained.

There are just two days with notable climbs, the first of which goes over Stick Pass between Patterdale and Thirlmere at 600 metres, and the following day ascending over 400 metres towards Borrowdale.

  • Experience

Anyone of relative fitness with some practice walking over consecutive days will be able to manage the lower route comfortably.

The higher route tackles some more remote, mountainous terrain and steep ascents, so you may need to be a bit more a steely walker.

  • Permits

There are no permits needed or fees to pay to walk the North Lakes Traverse as it is not an official or protected route.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

As the route has been recently created by a trekking company, there is no signposting and so a route description and map are essential.

Although navigating the lowland sections is quite straightforward, the higher passes are often clouded in hill fog and can make it more difficult – particularly where the path is indistinct. Anyone taking the high route should be comfortable with navigation.

There are a handful of companies that can package up accommodation, luggage transfers and an itinerary for you, costing around £650.

best time to walk

The Lake District’s location on the Northwest coast of England, coupled with its mountainous geography, makes it the wettest part of England.

The Lakes’ peak season gets underway in April but March to June tend to be the driest months. May is historically one of the driest months in Cumbria and it falls nicely between the Easter rush and the summer crowds.

Even though it’s possible to enjoy brilliant walking days in the Lakes the heart of winter, it is more difficult to predict winter weather in advance, so it is always best to go in the slightly warmer months. Whenever you choose to go, be prepared because the weather can change quickly.

Below is a typical five-day itinerary:

Day 1:
Transfer to Dockray then walk to Pooley Bridge – 13

Day 2:
Pooley Bridge to Patterdale – 19

Day 3:
Patterdale to St Johns In The Vale – 11

Day 4:
St Johns In The Vale to Rosthwaite – 11

Day 5:
Rosthwaite to Keswick – 14

Accommodation

Along the route there is a variety of accommodation, including small country house hotels, guest houses in market towns, bed and breakfasts in farm houses, country cottages and Victorian town houses.

Generally, hiking packages will include a variety of each. Some towns will have more eating options and local shops than others as they vary in size, so stock up before setting off from Keswick.

In some of the more remote locations accommodation is limited so it is worth booking in advance. As mentioned, this route is usually booked as a package and tailor-made itinerary, so your accommodation will likely be organised for you.

What to do

Most people will access the route by first coming via nearby Penrith. Consider tagging on a day or two at the start/end of your trip to explore the area.

Only a little way from the northeastern edge of the Lake District, Penrith gives you the raw upland beauty of the National Park but also the noble estates and castles in the lower-lying rural landscape to the west.

Ullswater, often listed as one of the prettiest natural sights in England, is just minutes away in the car, and promises fell walks, cruises in historic steamers and also Aira Force, the waterfall that inspired Wordsworth to write his most famous poem, Daffodils.

Alternatively, head to one of the splendid Palladian country houses, check out the two Medieval castles with royal connections or wander around one of the largest Neolithic stone circles in the country.

The tiny Lakeland village of Patterdale offers some spectacular scenery. Tucked away in the peaceful countryside, you could easily spend a day here resting up and taking a ride on one of the Ullswater Steamers to Pooley Bridge, with several opportunities to disembark and explore the lakeshore attractions along the way.

Ending in Keswick is a perfect finish to the hike. This bustling market town offers the most to see and do of anywhere along the route. It has all the key amenities, including decent pubs and restaurants, 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.

Operators
Mickledore
Mickledore
Mickledore specialises in self-guided walking holidays in the UK for the independent traveller.
Learn more
At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 1/5 - 5/5
Starts at Dockray, Penrith CA11 0JY, UK
Finishes at Keswick CA12, UK
Length of route 68 Km
Average time to complete 5 - 6 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsNo
Highest point 600 metres
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited England, UK