This tour provides an excellent introduction to the charms of the English Lake District, England's most mountainous area.
Walking is unquestionably the best way to see this celebrated landscape, which offers incredible variety, from the sea level sands of Morecombe Bay, to the Summit of Scarfell Pike, England's Highest Peak.
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 Lakeland is the wettest region of England and the going underfoot can be wet as well as rough, rocky; clients should come suitably prepared.
Stage 1: Ulverston to Water Yeat- Blawith 10 miles.
Many walkers will prefer to reach Torver or Coniston. Obtain picnic materials before leaving Ulverston as there is little or nothing enroute. Some of the farms enroute 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. Halfway you will cross the park boundary and the scenery becomes wilder and more rugged. If you are turning off the trail to towards Blawith or Water Yeat, you should try to get as far as Beacon Tarn, a tiny jewel of a lake amongst steep hills.
Stage 2: Water Yeat /Blawith to Coniston 8 miles.
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 shore of Coniston Water lake is also best savoured at a leisurely pace. Take a picnic! 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 cafes; 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.
Stage 3: Coniston to Dungeon Ghyll 10 miles.
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.
Stage 4: Dungeon Ghyll to Borrowdale (Rosthwaite, Stonethwaite, Seatoller) 7.5 miles
The first stage where you have to cross ground high enough for the route to be possibly confusing if the cloud is down. However the trail is well used and occasionally signposted. After walking along the spectacularly valley of Mickleden you ascend to Stake Pass, at 480m the highest point on the Cumbria Way trail 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 cafes and pubs at both Stonethwaite and Rosthwaite; a food shop and post office at Rosthwaite; and a bus service on Mons to Sats linking Seatoller and Rosthwaite with Keswick.
Stage 5: Borrowdale (Rosthwaite, Stonethwaite, Seatoller) to Keswick 8.6miles
This is a short stage which many walkers will combine with the previous one. The Cumbria Way clings to the valley bottom and Derwentwater lake shore route which is very pretty. On the low level route it is possible to stop for a coffee break or early lunch at a cafe in Grange. There are places to picnic along Derwent water. 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 Derwent water about 2 miles before you reach Keswick.
Stage 6: Keswick to Caldbeck 13 miles
It is possible to divide the stage between two days by spending a night at Skiddaw House (on both low-level and high level routes; basic hostel accommodation only) or 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.
Convenient Major city and international airport: The most convenient international airport for this tour is Manchester. Manchester airport has its own train station; to reach Ulverston or Windermere by train one change of train is usually necessary en route, although there are some direct trains.
Outward journey from London: Ulverston is on a branch line which is linked with the 'West Coast Main Line at Lancaster. From London Euston there is on weekdays a service to Ulverston leaving hourly through the day (with some gaps); it is necessary to change trains en route at either Preston (total journey time about 4.5 hours) or at Lancaster (total journey time around 4 hours). From Manchester Airport there is a direct service to Ulverston, journey time about 2.5 hours.
Inward journey to London at end of tour: Carlisle is on the West Coast main line and has direct train connections to most parts of the country. Keswick has no train station but is connected by bus to the train stations at Windermere and Lancaster. Windermere is linked by branch line with the West Coast main line at Oxenholme and Lancaster.
For up-to-date British train times and fares on your proposed date of travel phone 08457 48 49 50 (24 hour service, local rate call within Britain).
Parties of four will find it more economic and convenient to use a taxi for most journeys