Would I Recommend this Path?
Yes, a thousand times.
The Cumbria Way was a diverse and wonderful trail in which every day was different. It brought me deep into the history, pre-history, and birth of the area. I witnessed where our country fused together and the fury, fire and freeze that came after. I also was able to witness and explore the industrial and agricultural heritage of Cumbria, and both the sociological and ecological impact of those. There were challenges, and there were comforts, and it was a privilege to be able to walk it.
There is something for everyone. Whilst it is a low level route, those looking to do more peakbagging can easily amend the route to do so. Every day is something new – interestingly, my least favourite day (Chapel Stile to Coniston) was many other people’s favourite – so if a day is boring you, don’t worry, the next day may likely be your type of magnificent.
How Challenging is the Trail?
I find it difficult to ascertain from blogs and individual bloggers a genuine sense of how challenging a route is as their experience of it is incredibly subjective and based entirely on their own previous hiking experience and capability. I have often found the LDWA site to be a very decent objective observer of this measure.
The LDWA rates it as ‘challenging’. I would say the challenges lie mainly in the ability to adapt: it is a path where your route may change in the morning based on the weather, and where you have to be able to assess your own capability and safety to make those choices. I would say you definitely should both be able to read a map and compass, and do so confidently. Be prepared to make route choices that aren’t written about in the guidebooks, or to rectify yourself should you get lost in open country.
Whilst it is technically waymarked, as much of the route is through open country, the waymarking is in no way extensive enough to depend upon. You need good navigational skills and to be able to read a map and compass. If you have those skills, and have reasonable fitness, you can manage it.
Would you Recommend it as a First Long Distance Path?
For a confident day hiker that has gone further than their own county, absolutely. For someone just starting out with hiking, possibly with less than average fitness, that wants to set themselves a challenge, I think it’ll be a baptism of fire. It is by no means the most rugged, remote or most difficult route in the UK, but there are better starting points.
Whilst the sections can be split further down that the traditional five day standard, and there are alternative routes suggested to the northern fells and high pike, I feel you’d be selling yourself and the trail short to start this trail with the intention of taking the safest and easiest possible route and should return at a time when you are more confident and thus more able to enjoy it to its full potential.
How Long is the Path?
The path is around 70 miles (different guides vary) with the western alternative through the northern fells adding a couple more miles. It can easily be adjusted to accommodate more peakbagging for the fervent Wainwright collectors.
What is Accomodation Like?
I camped for three out of my four nights, with one night spent in a camping barn. Accommodation of all kinds – camping, hostels, BnBs and hotels – is easily sourced at most of the traditional day-end points with the exception of Old Dungeon Ghyll (which is why I stayed two miles further in Chapel Stile where there is a large and lovely campsite).
Decent lists for hostel, bunkhouse and camping accomodation can be found at The LDWA and The Independent Hostel Guide. For campsites and hostels, campsites.co.uk is pretty thorough (though more can be found with a a dig). Camping barns and bunkhouses can be found on all of those sites, and the YHA has hostels at Skiddaw House, Keswick, Ambleside and Coniston.
I am a poor resource for hotel or guesthouse accomodation, but suffice to say that there will be at least twice the choice than the above.
Be sure to book in advance. The area is immensely popular, especially in summer, and it’s not a thing you should be willing to be lazy about.
It should be noted that if you are opting for a luggage transfer service, they do not deliver to absolutely all establishments and it should be checked that your proposed itinerary and their willingness align.
Can I Wildcamp?
Legally, not really, however the National Trust as owners try to act with leniancy in the Lake District. If you abide by the following general rules in England, it is often overlooked:
- Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
- Solo or small groups
- Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
- Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet. In the Lake District, it must be above the highest fell wall.
- Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not an area of protected growth or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out.
- No fires. Definitely no fires sourced from trees in the area.
- No music
- Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.
Over the pandemic there has sadly been a massive influx of wilcampers that either don’t know the ‘rules’ or don’t care, which has lead to either increased vigilance by the rangers (who will ask you to move on) or growing intolerance from many locals who are left to deal with the rubbish and damage. Whilst I am hoping that these ‘pandemic wildcampers’ will have, by the end of this year, become either bored or serious, in the meantime don’t stir the pot and be incredibly, overly, respectful with your actions.
There are a great many places to successfully wildcamp somewhere beautiful and isolated throughout the route and I am sure that any nature-loving, respectful and discreet wildcamper will have a wonderful time. I do suggest that, where possible, do buy a drink or a meal from places you pass by even if you are choosing to wildcamp – hospitality has been incredibly badly hit over the last year and small shops, sites, hostels and pubs can do with all the support they can get.
How Easy is it to Resupply?
I hiked carrying all my food for the five days, as having to schedule in restocking is something I find tedious and, in my case, unnecessary (I am an avid postcard writer though, and that WILL drag me into a shop). However, for those who do not want to carry all their food, or have a far greater caloric demand that I do, there are plenty of places to restock.
There are obviously shops in Carlisle, Keswick. Coniston and Ulverston and the villages you pass through (Caldbeck, Great Langdale) will also have a small range. Ultimately, if you wanted to, you could easily just pack food for one day at a time or, even, not at all if you’re scheduling in pub lunches and dinners. However, I really wouldn’t recommend walking with nothing at all.
How are Water Sources?
Water sources are plentiful throughout the Lake District, whether it is from a natural source or a tap. I would not fill up from a natural source on the first or last days as those are agricultural and residential land and and could be full of nasties, even with additional treatment.
Water obtained from the streams and becks in the fells and valleys should be absolutely fine to just fill up and drink. If you want to be extra safe, a water filter or aquamira should help ease your concerns.
Definitely be sure to have filled up at the start of each day, and, if possible, before attempting the more strenuous sections like High Pike or Stake Pass.
What Should I Bring?
If you are backpacking the route like myself, there is nothing additional to your normal pack that I would recommend you carry (my kit list can be seen on this page – remember what works for me might not work for you). The exception is, of course, if you are opting for an winter or cold weather walk when, at the very least, crampons and a few extra layers wouldn’t go amiss.
For those having their luggage transported for them, remember to also carry a basic first aid kid (including moleskin for potential blisters) and an extra set of clothes and socks in your bag.
What Guidebook and Map do I Recommend?
Cicerone guidebooks are ‘the standard’ with many UK paths and trails, are fairly thorough, have comprehensive route instructions, interesting information, and, in this case, offer several alternatives. I’m happy to recommend that others use this book. As I did not use any others, I cannot offer my opinion on them.
The Harvey maps are well set out, in day to day sections, in waterproof sleeve. The 1:40,000 scale is generally pretty effective. However, if when doing your own research of the route, if you find yourself worrying about certain areas where the scale might miss necessary details, I would really suggest getting the corresponding OS map (or any other smaller scale map), cutting out those specific areas, and bringing them with you.
For me my accounts of getting lost was due to pure doziness and I cannot blame it on my tools. Though do be aware that the turn off from Borrowdale down to Langstrath is hidden in the fold of the Harvey map!
What Other Write-ups Would I Recommend?
This is a very well blogged about route (and vlogged and instagrammed…) and there are many wonderful write ups.
I need to advise that, when reading write ups, to keep in mind the direction you are going. I walked north to south which was the opposite of the traditional route, and whilst it was simple enough to ‘flip’ everything logistically, there was one detail that I overlooked.
For those that have read my account, you’ll notice that I basically skipped over High Pike but really struggled with Stake Pass (hunger and tiredness aside). I wasn’t expecting this as many blog expressed difficulty at High Pike and being just a bit puffed at Stake Pass. It wasn’t until I got home, I realised that, whilst High Pike had been first thing in my day and Stake Pass the last, it was the other way round for other writers and thus our energy surpluses had been reversed.
- The Walking Gardener has walked The Cumbria Way twice, experienced different weather and challenges, and is not only very good at comparing those experiences, but provides an entertaining and informative write.
- Rambling Man has walked all over this green and pleasant land (that is sometimes not so green nor pleasant) and is always immensely articulate with his experiences and answers any questions thoughtfully.
- For a dry list of pretty much all pertinent information and resources, the LDWA does a good job of it.
- I’ll be the first to admit the reddit is a mess of a place and attracts messy people, but so does long distance hiking, and the redditors over on r/UKhiking are on point with their responses and the breadth of their combined experience.
- Not all hikes go to plan, and Natalie Simpson’s definitely didn’t. For a wonderfully entertaining, self deprecating account of how NOT to hike The Cumbria Way, she can school you in with her own mistakes. Seeing as Natalie has written twelve articles now for Cicerone, it’s fair to say that her failure all those years ago, has not dulled her hiking fever. Don’t let any mistakes you make dull yours,