The Cumbria Way is 68 miles long, and although it is a mainly low-level route, it passes near several mountains, which could be tempting for a diversion. Most people take 5 days to complete the trail, but you should really allow extra days for sightseeing in places like Coniston and Keswick, or a foray to a mountain summit.
It should be borne in mind that the Lake District is one of the rainiest regions in England, and the going underfoot can be wet as well as rough and rocky – so walkers should come suitably prepared.
Many walkers will prefer to reach Torver or Coniston. Buy a picnic lunch before leaving Ulverston as there is little or nothing en route. Some of the farms can be very muddy at any time of year - boots are important even in dry weather. At first there are views back to the shimmering sands of Morecambe Bay and soon the shadowy mountains of the Lake District National Park come into view ahead. At the halfway point, you will cross the park boundary and the scenery becomes wilder and more rugged. If you are turning off the trail towards Blawith or Water Yeat, you should try to get as far as Beacon Tarn, a tiny jewel of a lake amongst steep hills.
This is quite a short day, but you will enjoy the chance to linger on the summit of Beacon Hill, only 255m high but still a magnificent viewpoint. The walk along the shores of Coniston Water is also best savoured at a leisurely pace. There are opportunities for swimming along the way. Boots are needed as there are some steep descents in the first part of the day. When you reach Coniston there is a choice between afternoon tea in one of the cafés, or a boat trip on the lake, possibly combined with a visit to the house, rhododendron gardens and nature trail at Brantwood, former home of John Ruskin, or a short walk to the dramatically rugged Coppermines Valley.
This stage can seem longer than it is; there is an alternation of ascents and descents, and a greater variety of scenery than on any other stage. If you make an early start you can be at Skelwith Bridge or even Elterwater in time for a pub lunch. Otherwise carry a picnic. The first part consists of a walk through parkland and woodland, then a short road section to the tourist honey-pot of Tarn Hows, a shallow and irregularly shaped lake whose shores are planted with spruce. The way then descends to pass the waterfalls of Colwith Force in Little Langdale and Skelwith Force in Great Langdale, and then the placid and secretive lake of Elterwater. There are pub lunch opportunities at Skelwith Bridge and at Elterwater village. From here you follow the Great Langdale Valley into even more dramatic landscape as you approach the famous twin peaks of the Langdale Pikes, which are known as Harrison Stickle (736m) and Pike of Stickle (709m). There is a popular footpath (not part of the Cumbria Way) which leads up from New Dungeon Ghyll to Stickle Tarn, a tiny glacial lake just below the rock face of Harrison Stickle.
The first stage where you have to cross ground high enough for the route to be possibly confusing if the cloud is low. However the trail is well used and occasionally signposted. After walking along the spectacular valley of Mickleden you ascend to Stake Pass, at 480m the highest point on the Cumbria Way until you get north of Keswick. In clear weather it is possible to make a detour to ascend either or both of the Langdale Pikes. From Stake Pass it is a steep descent into the long, silent and uninhabited valley of Langstrath to the first settlement, Stonethwaite. Beyond Stonethwaite the valley broadens out and there is a choice of paths, bridleways and minor roads to lead you to the other hamlets of Longthwaite, Rosthwaite and Seatoller. If you are combining stages 4 and 5 into one day it is worth knowing that there are cafés and pubs at both Stonethwaite and Rosthwaite.
This is a short stage which many walkers will combine with the previous one. The Cumbria Way clings to the valley bottom and the shores of Derwentwater, which is very pretty. On the low level route it is possible to stop for a coffee break or early lunch at a café in Grange. There are places to picnic along Derwentwater. If the hills are clear of cloud it is also possible to take a high-level alternative along the crest of the ridge of hills west of Borrowdale, reaching High Spy (653m) before descending via the sharp summit of Cat Bells Peak, back down the shore of Derwentwater at Hawes End. Those who start off on the valley route can still make a detour later in the day from Hawes End to Cat Bells. Another refreshment possibility on this stage is a late lunch or afternoon tea at Lingholm Gardens, which are on Derwentwater about 2 miles before you reach Keswick.
It is possible to divide the stage into two days by spending a night at Skiddaw House (on both low-level and high-level routes - basic hostel accommodation only), at Mosedale (high level route only) or at Bassenthwaite (low level route only). The high-level route crosses some of the wildest and most remote country in England, passing Carrock Fell and reaching 658m at High Pike. The low-level route has its own attractions, including a fine waterfall at Whitewater Dash and a delightful traverse via country lanes and tracks along the base of the bigger hills between Bassenthwaite and Nether Row.
A scenic day as you follow the Caldbeck and Caldew Rivers all the way into the City of Carlisle. Your day is filled with some woodland and pastoral undulations passing some interesting old farms and a castle. As you approach Carlisle the scenery becomes more suburban, but there are opportunities to visit both the cities castle and cathedral, before or after finishing in the Market Square; the official end of the Cumbria Way.
Manchester Airport is the closest to the start of the tour. Catch the train to Ulverstone. Train from Carlisle to Manchester or to London Euston. Refer to www.nationalrail.co.uk