It's the people you meet...
I guess I could tell you all about the Cumbria Way, but it's already a very well-known trail through a very well-known part of the country. It also starts on my doorstep, or at least on the next street to where I live, so it's all very familiar to me. Anyway, I spent a few days walking it from Ulverston to Carlisle, and even added an extra day to take account of the fact there there are two routes between Caldbeck and Carlisle.
The main thing that struck me was how quickly the weather changed from winter to summer. I left Ulverston on a cold, grey day, but finished in Carlisle in stifling heat!
Day 1 - I set out so early from Ulverston that I didn't expect to meet anyone else on the way to Coniston. By the time anyone else would have left their B&Bs, or turned up later in the morning on the train, I was already crossing the boundary into the Lake District national park at Gawthwaite. Apart from local farmers, I saw no-one else. In fact, even in the Blawith Fells I only saw two people beside Beacon Tarn, but then it was pretty cold up there. Now, I guess it will be full of people having picnics and swimming, since that's what happens on sunny days. Only a few people were pottering along the shore of Coniston Water, and even Coniston itself was fairly quiet.
As there's a bus service between Coniston and Ulverston, I'd already planned to 'commute', so headed home for the night. One of the passengers on the bus was a guy I've seen a couple of times on the fells, but only recently somone pointed out to me that he tests outdoor gear for a number of companies. Turns out this is indeed true, and he went into some detail about how thoroughly he tests stuff and advises how things can be refined before they go into full production for the likes of you and me.
Day 2 - Leaving Coniston, every time I stopped to take a few photos, I was passed by other Cumbria Way walkers. The first ones to pass me were English, followed by Belgians, then Dutch. I ended up having a tea break with the Dutch walkers, at a farm that's suddenly started a tea garden. I walked along with them and they told me how their trip along the Cumbria Way had been packed by a tour operator. They'd already used the same operator for treks along the Coast to Coast, Pennine Way, Dales Way and a big chunk of the South West Coast Path. Apparently, they like walking in England! I was impressed by how easily they were able to pick off the names of distant Lakeland fells.
Day 3 - With the weather hotting up, I walked through Mickleden and climbed onto Stake Pass. All of a sudden, a helicopter kept passing above me carrying big bags of stones. I made a detour into the 'drop zone' and found out that the National Trust were repairing a path across bog between Stake Pass and Rossett Pike. The helicopter later came with ENORMOUS bags of Herdwick sheep fleeces. The man from the National Trust told me that the wool would be used as a base, and the rocks piled on top, with a gravel surface to finish off. Apparently, this is one of the first times they've used wool on boggy ground, so it will be interesting to see how it goes. Expect workers to be wild-camping up there in June while they lay the path.
I came down from Stake Pass with more Belgians, and they showed me their route notes, which had been supplied in Flemish by a tour operator. It looked a difficult read! The rest of the day was spent walking down through Borrowdale, where I met a guy who had been thrashed off the TGO Challenge by bad weather, and had retreated to the comfort of a nice hotel. With the hot weather advancing, there were people paddling in the River Derwent and splashing around the shores of Derwent Water, with Keswick being fairly busy. They still had the banners up from the Keswick Mountain Festival.
Day 4 - There are two ways from Keswick to Caldbeck, and I intended walking both. Either way involves climbing from Keswick, around Latrigg, and through a gap between Skiddaw and Blencathra to reach Skiddaw House. I met other Cumbria Way walkers, including the Belgians from the previous day and a couple of English guys. However, there seemed to be more mountain bikers around than walkers, and some of them were making huge loops along the bridleways around the Back o' Skidda'.
I took the 'main' route downstream via the River Caldew, and then climbed from the Carrock Mines to the 'garden shed' bothy on Great Lingy Hill. A notice inside says that over 1000 people use the hut for shelter or overnights, and it had recently been repaired. I walked with the Belgians and English to the top of High Pike, and there was much discussion about the fact that people regularly get lost on that part of the route. So... with maps unfolded... I told everyone what I knew of the fell and how important it was to get down in the right direction. Bearing in mind that it was lovely and sunny, though a bit hazy, I didn't think anyone would have a problem. The English guys set off down first, and I never saw them again. I went second, and the Belgians came last. Some hours later I met the Belgians in Caldbeck and they told me that they'd gone completely wrong and ended up at Wood Hall and Hesket Newmarket!
Day 5 - I got the bus back round the fells so that I could check the 'alternative' route back to Caldbeck. That meant walking all the way back to Skiddaw House before taking the other route. Although easier underfoot, the route to Caldbeck is longer, and seems to involve just as much ascent and descent, with lots of little hills instead of one big one. I didn't see any Cumbria Way walkers on the 'alternative', and in fact only met a couple of walkers altogether. I had met one English guy in the morning, who was walking the route southwards from Caldbeck, intending to stay overnight at Skiddaw House, and I guess that means that he's still due to turn up any day in Ulverston... so I might see him in the street soon!
Day 6 - An easy walk out of Caldbeck, but believe me, try this in the winter and it's horribly muddy. Woodlands, fields, and quite a lot of riverside walking, lead at length to Dalston. I didn't see anyone walking the Cumbria Way, and didn't see anyone at all until I was at Dalston. From there to Carlisle, most of the time I saw the River Caldew, someone would be paddling in it to keep cool. It was the hottest day of the trip, and a far cry from the cold weather I had on my first day. I kept up a cracking pace in order to reach Carlisle with time for a quick spin around the main sights... the Castle... Cathedral... and Market Place.
I had my eye on the bus timetable so that I could link three double-decker buses end-to-end to get from Carlisle back to Ulverston in four hours. Easy when you know how! I'll have to take more notice of the folks setting out from Ulverston on the Cumbria Way, because I was surprised how few English there were, and how many overseas walkers... especially Belgian.
Sounds like a pleasant stroll. And you get paid for doing this?!!!
I've not been to Carlisle, certainly never thought of it as a sightseeing town - obviously I'd better reconsider. Perhaps I'll take the scouts there as we will be at camp close enough in August. Better brush up my Belgian.
Oddly enough... I only ever meet Flemish Belgians on my travels... never Walloons.
Carlisle must be one of the unsung trail capitals of the country. Not only does the Cumbria Way finish there, but Hadrian's Wall Path runs straight through the city, and there's access to the Cumbria Coastal Path. On top of that, there are cycleways through the city.
I've uploaded the National Trust chopper that was uploading path repair materials...
Well... here are some more assorted views, taken along the Cumbria Way between Coniston and Caldbeck...
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