The county of Cumbria has been on quite the global journey in the last 500 million years. Back then it sat, along with the rest of England and Wales, in the landmass of Avalonia that floated around the South Pole. Scotland and Northern Ireland were quite separate; lying somewhere near the equator as part of Laurentia. Over the next 100 million years, large shifts started occurring as the Iapetus Ocean became smaller and smaller until, BAM, our four little countries were smashed together as the supercontinent Pangea formed.
Never particularly harmonious bedfellows, this was not a peaceful union. The collision slammed and folded plates against each other and pushed up the sediment from the sea floor. The Skiddaw Slates were forced into existence, blinking and gnarling above the waters, and the impact erupted angry volcanoes on the Laurentian side creating the great craggy peaks of Scafell, Helvellyn and the Langdale Pikes.
Further sculpted by ice and water, the horseshoe shaped corries near the summits collected snow 26,000 years ago which froze and grew in to glaciers. Just the most recent glaciation of many, the erosion scarred Red Tarn and the precarious ridges into Helvellyn. As the glaciers retreated, their paths, like those in mud after rainfall, cut ribbon lakes like Ullswater into being and the tributaries were left behind, sitting in hammocked basins.
I say all this to make you truly appreciate that that bit of rain that’s likely to fall on this long distance trail is not all that dramatic in the grand scheme of things (a thing I momentarily forgot).
The Cumbria Way extends across the county from Carlisle to Ulverston. Well, traditionally it is the other way round. Every guide seems to be written south to north and pretty much every online write up has it going south to north, and yet the advise of the majority is to walk it north to south. So that’s what I did.
From the urban centre of Carlisle and a sedate cycle path, the way enters the Lake District at Caldbeck where it journeys over High Pike and beneath the craggy, towering crests back o’ Skiddaw to Keswick. From here it traverses Borrowdale and the rugged Stake Pass, with the Langdale Pikes in full view along the sweeping Langstrath valley, and over, to Mickledon and to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. Through more orderly and genteel woodland paths along Derwant Water to Coniston with the Old Man in the west and then a final day along Coniston Water, woodland and fields to Ulverston, it is around 70ish miles (there doesn’t seem to be an agreement) of one of England’s most intriguing, varied and brilliant corners that has inspired writers, poets, artists, madmen, hermits, and addicts for centuries.
I drew up my plan, the five day standard for this trail, hopped on a train from Manchester to Carlisle at 0626 one May monday morning and went to see what all the fuss was about.
|Tent plus pegs||907g|
|Sleeping Bag plus liner||900g|
|2L Water Bladder||200g|
|Clothes Bag:||2 x shirts 1 to wear, one to bag|
|2 x leggings 1 to wear, one to bag|
|2 x hiking socks 1 to wear, one to bag|
|2 x liner socks 1 to wear, one to bag|
|5 x pants|
|1 x sports bra|
|2 x tissue packs|
|Hair ties and clips|
|Electrical bag:||Power bank|
|3 x charging cords|
|Journal With stamps and pen|
|Miscellaneous:||First aid kit|
|5 x small binbags|
|Base Weight = 7.93kg|
|Food bag:||Collapsible bowl|
|Tortillas x 15|
|Hummus with pesto|
|20 x protein bars|
|Pack Weight = 13.03kg|
–Pack weight was 27% of my body weight.
More than the classically preferred percentage, but it’s a comfortable weight for me to carry.
I may be small but I have a core of iron.