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Walk the Cumbria Way through the Lake District with a Cicerone Guidebook - Sample Route

Cover of The Cumbria Way
6 Jul 2017
17.2 x 11.6 x 0.9cm
1st Published
11 Feb 2015
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The Cumbria Way

by John Gillham
Book published by Cicerone Press

A guidebook to the 73 mile Cumbria Way, an easy long-distance walk though the heart of the Lake District National Park, from Ulverston in the south to Carlisle in the north, with good transport links to either end. The route is largely low-level but this guide offers alternative mountain days to climb some of the famous fells en route.

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A guidebook to the Cumbria Way, a 73-mile long distance path through the heart of the English Lake District from Ulverston to Carlisle. The route is largely low-level, and accessible to new trekkers, but this guide offers alternative mountain days to climb some of the famous fells en route.

The guide divides the route into 5 stages of between 12 and 16 miles, but there is plenty of opportunity to plan your itinerary for a more easy-going 7 to 8 days. The Lake District is a walkers paradise, and there is no better way to experience the fells, lakes and woodlands of the Lake District than by trekking through their midst. 

This guidebook also provides useful information for every stage, from accommodation to available facilities en route, as well as an annotated OS map and details on points of interest. The result is a guidebook that enhances a walk on the Cumbria Way, as well as providing the walker with the tools to complete the trek.

  • Seasons
    official way can be done year-round using B&Bs or Easter to October using campsites. The mountain route is best saved for spring, summer and autumn
  • Centres
    Ulverston, Torver, Coniston, Elterwater, Great Langdale, Rosthwaite, Keswick, Bassenthwaite, Caldbeck, Dalston and Carlisle
  • Difficulty
    official Cumbria Way is easy with only two places where the inexperienced walker can go wrong (in mist) - Stake Pass and High Pike. The mountain routes require mountain experience and the knowledge of how to use a map and compass
  • Must See
    official route visits Coniston, Tarn Hows, Great Langdale, Stake Pass, Derwentwater, Back o' Skiddaw and Caldbeck, while the mountain route adds the Coniston Fells, Glaramara, Skiddaw and Knott

July 2017

Pages 122 and 123 of Appendix B The distance from Caldbeck to Dalston is marked incorrectly as 1 mile (1.5km ). The correct distance should be 11 mile (17.5km)




Stage 5

Bell Bridge, over the river Caldew, collapsed after flooding in December 2015. The Cumbria Way will remain closed at this point for an extended period of time.

A route diversion can be found on this website


The Cumbria Way
The mountain way
Wildlife and plants
Geology (Ronald Turnbull)
When to go
Getting there
Planning your itinerary
What to take
Using GPS
Using this guide
The Cumbria Way
Stage 1 Ulverston to Coniston (or Torver)
Stage 2 Coniston to Great Langdale
Stage 2A Torver to Great Langdale – mountain route
Stage 3 Great Langdale to Keswick
Stage 3A Great Langdale to Keswick – mountain route
Stage 4 Keswick to Caldbeck
Stage 4A Keswick to Caldbeck – mountain route
Stage 4B Keswick to Caldbeck – foul weather route
Stage 5 Caldbeck to Carlisle
Appendix A Route summary table
Appendix B Facilities summary table
Appendix C Accommodation stage by stage
Appendix D Useful contacts

Sample Route

Torver to Great Langdale – mountain route
Distance15½ miles (25km)
Approx time8–9 hours
MapsOS Explorer OL6 & 7 South Western and South Eastern areas
SuppliesTorver: one shop with general supplies; Chapel Stile: one shop with general supplies

This stage starts easily, passing campsites, cottages and quarry pits before coming upon Goat’s Water, whose dark waters are dwarfed by the shadowy climbers’ cliffs, buttresses and gullies of Dow Crag. A steady climb takes the route to Goat’s Hawse, where you look across to new mountainscapes encompassing Seathwaite Tarn, Harter Fell and Grey Friar.

The hard work is done and a splendid promenade of a path rakes across the high eastern slopes of Brim Fell to reach the ridge at Levers Hawse before climbing to the high point of the day on Swirl How’s summit.

What follows is an equally delightful descent into Little Langdale by way of Great Carrs and Wet Side Edge. Easy end-of-the-day paths continue for a couple of miles to join the official route at Elterwater.

A fingerpost signed to Torver High Common shows the start of the path by the north side of the Wilsons Arms. A gate at the back of the car park leads to an enclosed footpath. At a four-way path junction beneath a whitewashed farmhouse turn right on an enclosed track, then take the left fork track, which soon joins a narrow tarred lane passing the farm and campsite of Scarr Head. The lane becomes a track and climbs past the Tranearth climbing hut before coming to the disused Banishead Quarry, where the track comes through a gate to a walled enclosure. Now go through the gate on the far right of the enclosure and through another gate on the right cross the bridge over Torver Beck. A track now continues parallel to the beck before rounding a large quarry pit with a waterfall plunging into the lake that has formed at the base of the pit.

There are a couple of tracks that begin at a stream crossing (SD 276 963). The left fork meets the Walna Scar Road (track) at the intersection point for the path for Goat’s Water (SD 274 965). The actual Goat’s Water path junction is about 50m west of the path junction marked on the OS Explorer map. The slightly quicker route veers right for a few paces across wet ground then climbs grassy hillside to meet the Walna Scar Road at SD 275 965 – this keeps all stream hollows to the left.

The continuing path climbs beneath the slopes of Coniston Old Man and the terrain becomes more bouldery. The buttresses and gullies of Dow Crag, usually sullen and sunless, form a moody, impressive backdrop. The path draws up to and runs alongside the shores of Goat’s Water before climbing to the large cairn on Goat’s Hawse.

Goat's Water from Goat's Hawse

New mountainscapes come into view. Seathwaite Tarn peeps out from behind Dow Crag’s declining grass slopes, with the pyramidal Harter Fell and the dome-like Grey Friar dominating beyond the shoreline.

Turn right and climb onto the slopes of Brim Fell but leave this path for a faint (at first) left fork path, which rakes NNE across the mountain slopes to meet the ridge path at Levers Hawse. Although it omits Coniston Old Man and Brim Fell this path is superior in every way.

Coniston Old Man is the most popular of this compact group of fells lying on the southern edge of Lakeland. Rising to 803m it lies on the end of a ridge thrown out by Swirl How. Most guidebooks will tell you that the Old Man is the highest peak but Harvey Maps have thrown this into confusion with their measurement of Swirl How at 804m.

Should you want to visit the Old Man don’t take the left fork above Goat’s Hawse but instead keep right along a good path all the way to the ridge just short of the Coniston Old Man’s summit. To rejoin the main mountain route retrace your steps but this time stay on the ridge path over Brim Fell before descending to Levers Hawse.

At Levers Hawse a good stony path climbs first to Great How Crags then to Swirl How, which has a large beehive cairn on its summit.

Swirl How's summit cairn

From Swirl How head west following the path that rounds the top of Broad Slack, with fine cliffs to the right. The path soon comes to the summit of Great Carrs, where you can look back to Swirl How and all the walkers on the Prison Band. The path descends to Little Carrs, then Hell Gill Pike. Below and left you can see cars creeping along the tortuous Wrynose Pass road.

To the right is the lonely Greenburn Reservoir, and the Greenburn or New Coniston copper mines. A storm in the winter of 1979 caused the rupture of the earth and stone dam but it’s still intact up to about six metres.

Mining on the Coniston Fells

The Banishead Quarry Pit beneath Coniston Old Man

The Coniston Fells have a great presence. The ice ages chiselled masterpieces in their crag faces and corries, but since Roman times these mountains have become rural factories – even the main valley leading into them is known as Coppermines Valley.

The Coniston slate mines have been worked intensively since the 13th century. The main locations are in the Coppermines area, Tilberthwaite and the Brossen/Bursting Stone area, south east of the Old Man. They were underground workings, with the exception of Low Brandy Crag, which was excavated into an opencast quarry in the 1980s by Burlington Stone. Today just two remain operational: Low Brandy Crag, which supplies blue slate and Brossen Stone, which supplies pale green slate.

Large-scale mining for copper began some 400 years ago, when Queen Elizabeth I sent in a team of German miners to work with hand tools on the veins that surfaced on rock outcrops. The hard rhyolite rock of the Borrowdale Volcanic group made the drilling difficult and slow. In the 1640s activity declined, partly due to the destruction of the Keswick smelting works during the Civil War. It increased for a short period in the middle of the 18th century, when the Macclesfield Mining Company took over. They built a water wheel for pumping and used gunpowder to ease further excavation to levels over 100m.

The industry reached its peak by the mid-19th century after mining engineer John Taylor and his mine manager John Barrett took control and ordered the drilling of deeper shafts, the construction of access and drainage levels and a system of leats that transported water to where it was needed. A railway between Furness and Coniston made distribution of the ore for smelting easier. By then the shafts had reached over 500m beneath the surface. Gradually the industry declined, with the maintenance costs increasing to unsustainable proportions. By the 1940s all activity had ceased.

Today, most of the deep shafts of the copper mines are abandoned, flooded and dangerous – it would be difficult to tell whether you were standing on the floor of the pit or trusting your fate to a rotting debris-covered timber platform.

The descent from Little Carrs is a gradual one along Wet Side Edge (which is not particularly wet). The path you want starts to veer to the right-hand side of the ridge as the route approaches the great crags overlooking Wrynose Bottom. Faint at first in the upper reaches, it descends as a grassy passage between the rocks, then turns left as a clear path through bracken. It then flattens out in a boggy area but you’ll be able to pick out the slightly darker swath that is the path. This passes a couple of low crags before descending steeply as a grass path through bracken.

Keep right of a wall corner to descend to a footbridge over Greenburn Beck. Climb the far banks and turn left along a stony mine track. This descends past the cottages of High and Low Hall Garth. Turn left through a kissing gate beyond the second cottage, used by the Yorkshire Ramblers as a base, and descend to cross Slater’s Bridge.

Climb on a narrow path up hill pastures. Beyond the first gate the path becomes a stony track, and beyond the second by High Birk How Farm, turn left along another stony track, which comes out onto the Wrynose Pass road. Turn left for a few paces then right along a lane signed ‘Ambleside – Challenging Route’. The lane becomes a stony track beyond Dale End farm. Beyond a gate it enters and descends through Sawrey Wood. Take the right fork at the next junction. This continues the descent to the Elterwater road by the Eltermere Hotel. Turn left along the road, passing the youth hostel before meeting the official way at the bridge over Great Langdale Beck.

Now follow Stage 2 to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel.

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