Cumbria Way High Route (England)
The Cumbria Way begins in Ulverston and passes through rural areas into the Lake District, the largest and most popular of the 13 national parks in England. After the Great Langdale Valley, I plan an alternative route, across some of the highest peaks in England, to Keswick, where I return to the original path.
Cumbria Way High Route
Over field and acre: Praise the Ramblers
The small town of Ulverston: world famous as the birthplace of comedian Stan Laurel. An oversized wizard’s hat marks the starting point of the Cumbria Way. The route runs Cross-country over private grounds, an achievement of the Ramblers Association, which has stood up for the rights of the hikers since 1935.
Over stone walls and through pale gates, and in front of me is a lush meadow – but no indication of where the path leaves it. Then, as if out of nowhere, the symbol of the Cumbria Way appears, (usually) a yellow arrow on a (mostly) green plaque; Sometimes a pale-yellow arrow on a yellow plaque; Or a blue arrow …
Hiking through the epochs
After two hours, I travel through time: first St. Johns Church comes into view, constructed in coursed slate rubble, built 150 years ago and recorded in the National Heritage List for England. Afterwards, finally, an ascent takes me away from civilization. A small lake is framed by a hilly landscape, the grassy bank in greens and browns, decorated by knee-high scrubs and rocks.
The path leads through Coniston, a small village, and then into the Middle Ages: a stone fort at the foot of a hill is there to pass. Sheep watching me, white heads, brown fur – looking like monks with cloaks, matching the atmosphere.
Tarn Hows, Skelwith Bridge, Elterwater. All are places that are ideal for family trips, walks and picnics. Afterwards, it gets exciting again: framed by mountains, the Great Langdale Valley, in which 4,000 years ago material for axes was won.
I am fascinated by the mile-long drystone walls, which separate the land on all altitudes. Stone on stone, without mortar: a building system that dates back to the Iron Age.
A paraglider hovering in the cloudless sky. Flat island? Not here…
Scafell Pike and Great Gable: Cairns in the Mist
Hikers meet me, on their way back to the two dungeon Ghylls, the old and the new. Farms around 200 years ago, nowadays there are middle-class hotels. Wild camping? For them a daring idea. The Cumbria Way continues straight, I turn off, to the left, cross-country. The setting sun plays hide and seek with me. On the pass at Rossett Pike I find it again.
On the other side lies Angle Tarn, a mountain lake. I leave it behind me, one tent has already been pitched on the shore, two would be crowded. Instead, I find refuge further above, off the road. On a smooth ground my view reaches far into the Langstrath valley – for no amount of money on the island would I want to exchange this wonderful place for a hotel bed.
On the way up the highest mountain in England I meet Matt with his two dogs, welcome animals on the British trails. “Unfortunately, this is Bailey’s last tour,” he tells me. “He’s too old, but always had fun. Lucy does not like hiking, she is lazy” and points to his big white mountain dog.
Half an hour scrambling over rocks and I am at 978 meters, there is no higher point in England. A tender gray veil has settled, leaving the vast view from this pile of stones blurred.
Quickly to the top of the Great Gable, England’s fourth highest mountain. The tender veil has turned into a massive mist which blocks everything. The view up here is exhilarating – on good conditions, at the moment I have to content myself with a few meters.
At least enough to see the little stone hills, marks for Green Gable, the little brother of the Great Gable. Then I miss a turn and follow in the wrong direction.
King of my pond
Fortunately, the Honister Pass announces itself noisily and I am back on the right track. The source of the disturbing sound proves to be the last active slate mine in England, which also serves as a tourist attraction with a via ferrata, a tour through the mines and an infinity bridge.
I cross the B5289, a pass road with a gradient of up to 25%. “You do not need to go up on Dale Head all the way, but at least two-thirds,” said the host of the Honister Hostel to me, otherwise the path might end at a gully.
No sooner said than hiked: Once again uphill, then along the flank. Under a cloud curtain, on the other side of the mountain, I recognize Dalehead Tarn. I pitch my tent on a small hill, feeling like a king, while I look down upon the little lake during supper.
The next morning the way leads over the High Spy and the Maiden Moor to the Catbells, one of the most popular fells in the Lake District. I turn my gaze across the Derwent Water, at the end of which my destination lies, Keswick.
On my way, plenty of Sunday strollers coming towards me, looking enviously: While it’s comfortably downhill for me, the steep uphill section is right in front of them.
A good combination – the Cumbria Way introduces you to English culture, and the Lake District offers alpine landscapes and an ideal opportunity for wild camping. Armed with map and compass and a happy hand in the weather, you can experience unforgettable adventures here.