Out and about with East Lancs

The Cumbria Way Team
Walking the Cumbria Way 11th – 15th May 2009

Whenever I’ve been hiking in the Lake District, it’s been on the high fells, so doing the Cumbria Way, which is a relatively low level walk would be different. I thought maybe that it wouldn’t be as rewarding or as enjoyable as being up in the mountains, but take it from me – the Cumbria Way is a cracking route, much to my surprise.

The Cumbria Way starts from Ulverston and there’s a sculpture to indicate the starting point– a variety of rocks enclosed in a pyramidal framework and after a journey of around 75 miles, it finishes in Carlisle, where there is absolutely nothing to signify the end.

There were 6 of us – friends from my days studying chemical engineering at Aston university, circa 1974, and my big brother, Stephen (not Steve) who set out on a glorious sunny Monday morning and headed for Coniston. The route is rather gentle to begin with, across pastures, through farmland and over rolling hills, looking back to the Hoad monument and Morecambe Bay, and ahead to the Lakeland fells. We passed by Beacon Tarn, not a great lake, but it has a wonderfully remote and wild setting and soaked up the solitude before making our descent to walk alongside Coniston Water, into the village and the beer garden at the Black Bull.

We were staying Lakeland House guesthouse and whilst I was searching for the entry code to get in, four members of East Lancs LDWA bumped into us – Peter, Hilary, Ian and June (from the other side). They were doing the Furness Way, but now they were complaining and peeved that we had rooms here and they did not – I booked early and Peter et al did not. However, they had succeeded in getting accommodation at the Crown, just down the road. Incidentally, the Crown at Coniston was the first pub I went in and ordered a pint. I was only 15 years old at the time…..but nearly 16. We met up there later on, where one of my colleagues asked if it was a coastal walk! He might have been a good chemical engineer, but needs to work on his geography.

The next day was another bright and sunny one. The route from Coniston to Dungeon Ghyll is only short - a mere 11 miles, that takes you through Tarn Hows, Skelwith Bridge (where you need a bank loan for a bowl of cauliflower soup – nice though) and into Great Langdale with Pike O’Stickle and Harrison Stickle, poking their rocky peaks above the valleys. Since it was only about 4 o’clock when we arrived, I thought maybe we could make the most of the good weather and have a walk up to the top of Harrison Stickle. The alternative was to stroll down to the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a couple of pints of real beer. Guess what we did? We made the most of the good weather and sat outside in the beer garden at the Old Dungeon Ghyll.

We really are being spoilt with the weather in the Lake District. Another glorious morning as we set out – first to the Old Dungeon Ghyll for a hearty breakfast before heading along Mickleden and a steep climb to the top of Stake Pass. Clouds were now beginning to make an appearance as we dropped down the wild deep valley of Langstrath, but the weather remained fine as we continued on our way, to Rosthwaite, where a little refreshment at the Flock Inn tearoom was on the agenda. But on Wednesday’s, it’s Flock Inn - closed. No matter, the café at Grange, just down the road met our requirements, and then we completed our walk to Keswick, alongside Derwent Water and through Portinscale, which comes across as a place where posh people go.

We were staying at the YHA in Keswick and went to the Dog and Gun for our evening meal and a few pints of proper beer. The pub has resisted change over the years and it was buzzin’. There’s a fine selection of real ales to choose from and the food is tasty and plenty of it. The goulash in the Dog and Gun is legendary and the steak pie I ordered was so big that Bernard would have struggled to eat it all.

The next day was cool, overcast and rain threatened. We walked out of Keswick, and headed for the fells en route to Hesket Newmarket, a small village that had its own brewery. More excellent walking - a grassy track on traversing the slopes of Lonscale Fell, which then swings north overlooking another dramatic valley and on to Skiddaw House. Now here, there are two path’s you can go by – the Eastern Route or the Western Route. I was talking to a group of walkers from Bolton HF, who commented that the Western Route was for wimps. So an executive decision was made to opt for the Eastern Route, that takes you over High Pike, and at 658m is the highest point on the Cumbria Way. The fine weather was holding out, as we walked through a wild and lonely landscape, alongside the River Caldew before making our ascent.

Prince Charles has been to the Old Crown at Hesket Newmarket, not once, but twice! It’s certainly a pub worth going back to, time and time again. It’s a cosy hostelry and tonight there were six different beers on tap, all from the adjacent brewery, varying strength and each with a distinctive taste. “Doris’ 90th” was like nectar.

Our last day started off fine, but heavy rain was forecast for later in the day, and the forecast wasn’t wrong. There isn’t much climbing on the last section, and it’s not the most inspiring, though the route takes you along pleasant riverside paths and through lush green fields. But after Dalston, you walk along a tarmac track, parallel to the railway line and then the Cumbria Way sort of fizzle’s out in Carlisle.

We arrived at the Travel Lodge, wet and bedraggled; but if there were to be an award for the “Best Shower in the World”, the one we had at the Travel Lodge in Carlisle would be a contender. Well-washed and changed, out into town for a few more beers and celebrate the end of a great week of walking and talk about what we were going to do next year.

Tony Clark
Lonely Beacon Tarn Looking back over Coniston Water Looking down Mickleden Lunch Break in Bridge End Nether Fold Roadworks ahead over Langstrath valley Two swans and the Langdale Pikes Walking and Talking