Planning a Cumbria Way walk

Last updated 3 March 2017

Please do not stray into the campsite ground

Created by the local Ramblers Association in the 1970s, the Cumbria Way starts in Ulverston near Morecombe Bay, the 70 mile route goes through the Lake District before ending in Carlisle city centre. It’s a fantastic tour of of a fantastic county, and a celebration of some amazing landscape.

It’s a low level route that’s a great introduction to both the Lakes and long distance walking! So go on, get your boots out and let’s go!

In this guide

  1. What is the walk like?
  2. The Route
  3. Planning an itinerary
  4. Accommodation
  5. Getting to/from the Cumbria Way
  6. Guide Books and Maps
  7. And finally, and any questions

What is the walk like?

Cottages at Caldbeck

Although the walk spends most of its time in the Lake District National Park, it is notably not the Lake District Way. The Cumbria Way is more than that, heading across the county from north to south. Although if we’re fair, the Lake District sections are the true star.

Despite going through the Lakes, this is a relatively low level route. There’s only one Wainwright fell on the route, and even that’s an optional extra.

Still, even from the valley floors, the views are stunning. The Cumbria Way takes an easy route for the most part, allowing you to take in the sights without providing endless hills and summits to climb. Although the ending in Carlisle does rather let the route down, spending the last few miles heading down a tarmacked cycle path before dumping the walker on the outskirts of Carlisle city centre.

Dedicated fell-baggers may find it all rather lacking, but for those that want a relaxing amble, it’s perfect. This means it’s great for novices and beginners, but more experienced long distance walkers will certainly find plenty to enjoy as well.

You can read about my own Cumbria Way journey.

The Route

The Cumbria Way goes between Ulverston and Carlisle, and you can see the route using the map above. Using the controls you can scroll around, zoom in and explore the route. The map shows both the high level and low level versions for Skiddaw. Note that this map is a guide only, and should not be used for navigation.

Planning an Itinerary

Smithymire Island

Most people tend to split up the Cumbria Way over five days, although it is possible to extend to six. However as, in the main, the route does not go through many villages and towns, it is difficult to walk in sections.

The usual itinerary is listed below, with the five or six day options. All distances are approximate. Locations with railway stations are marked with a *.

5 Day Itinerary
Day From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 Ulverston * Coniston 14½ 23½
2 Conistion Old Dungeon Ghyll 11 18 [1]
3 Old Dungeon Ghyll Keswick 15 24
4 Keswick Caldbeck 18/20½ 30/33 [2]
5 Caldbeck Carlisle * 15½ 25
6 Day Itinerary
Day From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 Ulverston * Coniston 14½ 23½
2 Conistion Old Dungeon Ghyll 11 18 [1]
3 Old Dungeon Ghyll Rosthwaite 12
4 Rosthwaite Skiddaw House YHA 12½ 20 [3]
5 Skiddaw House YHA Caldbeck 13/15½ 20/25 [2]
6 Caldbeck Carlisle * 15½ 25
  1. There is limited accommodation around Dungeon Ghyll however there is a bus service to Elterwater and Ambleside
  2. Between Skiddaw and Caldbeck there are two routes – the low level western route and the high level eastern route. The low level route is 2½ miles longer.
  3. Only accommodation is the remote YHA hostel, which is self-catering only. It has a small shop, but anyone staying there will probably want to stock up for supplies in Keswick. There is no alternative accommodation in the area and no road access. Booking is, therefore, strongly advised if you wish to take this option!

The low level route, relatively easy navigation and generally good paths mean the Cumbria Way has all year round walking potential. There are few tricky parts, and certainly none that would dangerous in bad weather.

The trail is best walked between April and October as winter conditions may make walking through Langdale and Skiddaw difficult.

Accommodation

The Old Dungeon Ghyll's dodgy signage

There is currently no accommodation guide published for the Cumbria Way. Thankfully though, the Cumbria Way towns and villages well supplied with walkers accommodation which can be found with a quick Google search or from the Cumbria Tourist Board.

The two places with limited accommodation are Skiddaw House (as noted above) and Dungeon Ghyll. However Dugeon Ghyll is served by Stagecoach’s 516 Langdale Rambler bus which goes to Ambleside, via Elterwater.

Hostels and Bunkbarns

The Lake District has a host of hostels, and as such the Cumbria Way is very well served by it with almost all the hostels being either on the route or a very short distance from it. You can find hostels at:

You may still find references to an independent hostel at Ulverston, however this ceased to take individual bookings in January 2012.

Camping

The Cumbria Way is also well served by campsites between Ulverston and Keswick and you should have no trouble with just turning up and finding a pitch. Notable sites can be found at Ulverston, Conniston, Langdale and Keswick.

However between Keswick and Carlisle, options are far more limited. Near Caldbeck is Throstle Hall caravan site which allows overnight stays for Cumbria Way walkers. There is also a campsite near Dalston.

As the Cumbria Way is a mostly low-level route through the Lake District, wild camping is generally not an option, although you should be able to find suitable spots on the high level sections beyond the Old Dungeon Ghyll and Skiddaw House.

Getting to and from the Cumbria Way

Sinister cow

Both ends of the trail are well served by public transport. At the top, Carlisle sits on the busy West Coast Mainline with a plethora of train, coach and bus services across the country.

At the bottom, Ulverston station is a little quieter. Its train station sits on the Furness Line, with local services to Lancaster and some services to Preston and Manchester. The X35 National Express coach also serves the town.

More information on train services can be found on the National Rail Enquiries website.

Most of the towns and villages on the route have good local bus services. Details of these can be found on the Cumbria Council website’s bus pages, which also includes an extremely useful public transport map covering the whole county.

Guide Books and Maps

On a small beach on Coniston Water

Generally we prefer to recommend a guide book that we’ve used and recommend, however our favoured book is long out of print. (Aurum Press’s The Cumbria Way by Anthony Burton) is sadly no longer in print, and now only available second hand. You may be able to pick up a used copy at a cheap price and if you can, it is worth getting. The route hasn’t changed much, and the book contains detailed Ordnance Survey maps at the 1:25,000 scale meaning you don’t need to carry maps and a guidebook at the same time.

There are, however, alternatives which are both in print, up to date and sometimes a bit cheaper.

Freshly published in 2015 is Cicerone’s Walking the Cumbria Way. Naturally it contains detailed information about the walk, and OS mapping for the whole trail. This is at the 1:50,000 scale which is (sadly in my opinion) Cicerone’s default choice for its guidebooks. We’d suggest taking a detailed map with you.

Paddy Dillon’s Rucksack Readers Cumbria Way was published in 2013. It contains a detailed guide to the walk, as well as accommodation and travel guides. However the book only contains a very high level map of the route, and you will need a separate map to find your way.

Peter Jackson’s The Cumbria Way: An Illustrated Walking Guide was published in 2012 also includes detailed walking guides, and accommodation listings. The book doesn’t provide maps, but you can download a GPX file of the route.

The route is generally well waymarked, however there are a few tricky areas and a good map is highly recommended. None of the books offer detailed Ordnance Survey maps so you would be advised to carry a map with you. Harveys publish a map for the whole route.

Alternatively if you prefer to use Ordnance Survey Explorer maps, then you’ll need the following maps. The route is marked on them all:

And finally, and any questions

Inquisitive sheep

The Cumbria Way is an excellent walk, although admittedly does tail off near the end. The hours spent on a cycle track approaching Carlisle are not its finest, nor is the fact that it takes in a bin lorry depot near its conclusion.

One alternative would be to go north to south instead, thus ending on a high in Ulverston which is a town which really appreciates the walker. Indeed many of the pubs sell Hartleys Cumbria Way Ale, and a pint of that would be the perfect way to end the trip.

Whatever way you do it, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable walk that deserves to be better known and enjoyed. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

If you’ve any questions feel free to ask them in the comments box below.

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Your Comments

Matthew King (@hillplodder)

5 February 2012 at 11:02 am

I walked the Cumbria Way in March/April 2011 and can thoroughly recommend it. But I wanted to take in more hills along the way so customised my route, eventually ending up with a 7 1/2 day itinerary. Plus I also spent 2 extra nights at Skiddaw House to explore the fells around there.

Another accommodation option to consider is Camping Barns (http://www.lakelandcampingbarns.co.uk/). I used 3 – Fell End between Ulverston and Coniston (because my first day was a half day), Dinah Hoggus barn in Rosthwaite and Hudscales Barn near Caldbeck. They were cheap and solved the problem of where to stay in places where there isn’t much on offer. Hudscales Barn is particularly impressive.

An account of my walk is on my website if anyone is interested (http://hillplodder.wordpress.com/long-distance-paths/cumbria-way/).

Andrew Bowden

5 February 2012 at 2:29 pm

When I walked past Skiddaw House I just knew that one day I’d have to go back there for a good stay. Still yet to do it but it’s on the list along with Black Sail! Now if only I had more free time…

Still yet to stay in a camping barn which is probably why I’ve barely mentioned them on these guides. Maybe it’s time to buy that sleeping bag.

Jem Willett

1 June 2014 at 8:51 am

Having finished the walk only yesterday I would recommend that you ditch the last day of caldbeck to Carlisle and instead walk back to Keswick via the alternative western route. The section from caldbeck to Carlisle holds very little interest and indeed became very tedious for the final 4 miles into Carlisle. The finishing spot in the town centre is not marked or celebrated at all. If Carlisle town council cannot be bothered to mark the end, don’t bother going to their city centre. Whilst you then couldn’t say that you did the whole of the Cumbria way, at least you get to do a decent walk on the final day. The rest of the walk is truly lovely.

Mark Smith

24 August 2014 at 12:07 pm

Hi this looks interesting… We want to park and leave the car in Caldbeck then travel to Ulverston to start the walk – any thoughts best travel bus/taxi/train also would our car be OK/where could we park it? Any help would be very welcome…

Andrew Bowden

25 August 2014 at 8:04 pm

Mark – can’t tell you about parking as I didn’t pay any attention to that. What I can tell you is that Caldbeck’s bus service is very limited. You’d probably be looking for a taxi to Penrith or Carlisle for the train.

Maria Anna

27 August 2014 at 6:58 pm

I’m going to walk this way, hope it’s not too late, weatherwise. Is there any difference where I start? I mean should I start in Ulverston rather than Carlisle? Or should I make a detour and start somewhere else?

Andrew Bowden

28 August 2014 at 9:51 am

Maria – I wouldn’t say there’s that much difference other than the last few miles into Carlisle is rather lacklustre. You may well wish to start there and head south to get it out of the way!

Maria Anna

28 August 2014 at 10:26 am

Thank you Andrew, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve never been to the Lake District before so I’m quite excited and want to use my time (9 days) well.

Andrew Tawn

2 September 2014 at 12:19 pm

I am about the walk the Cumbria way starting this weekend and camping along the way. I rely on picking up food for lunches along the way. Can anyone tell me where there are shops – obviously in Ulverston, Keswick & Carlisle but are there village shops in other places along the way?

Many thanks.

Andrew Bowden

5 September 2014 at 11:27 am

Hi Andrew – there’s shops in Conniston, Chapel Stile and Caldbeck as well. You shouldn’t have any problems finding food. Have a good walk.

brian

23 November 2014 at 7:59 pm

I would advise anyone proposing to do the Cumbria Way starts at Ulverston rather than Carlisle.
The prevailing winds are from the south west.
Walking from Ulverston,the wind is at your back.
If you follow the river from Dalston to Carlisle,don’t cross it but continue on the west side,the path will take you directly to Carlisle Castle.

Chris Simmons

7 April 2015 at 12:27 pm

I am intending to walk the Cumbria Way from North to South, but I can’t find any reference to which guide books, if any, cover it in that direction. Can anyone help?

jenny

17 April 2015 at 3:49 pm

Hello Andrew I know it is a long way off, but I work full time 7 days a week during spring, summer and autumn and hope to walk the path mid feb to early march period 2016. As it is a lowish walk I am hoping, with up to 2 weeks to complete it, it will be possible even in winter. If the weather turns out to be as mild as this year it may also be possible to attach some of the coastal way on as well. I am very wary of walking in bad weather and would change my plans if the winter was harsh.
Any advice? best wishes and thanks Jenny

Andrew Bowden

17 April 2015 at 4:01 pm

Hi Jenny – there are two sections of the walk which, whilst not summit tops, are pretty high, and these would be my concern with walking at that time of the year. The section on the Stake Pass – between Old Dungeon Ghyll and Keswick – gets to a height of 480m as I recall. The bit near Skiddaw YHA (between Keswick and Caldbeck) is similar. You’ll probably have to face some snow on both sections. How much is another matter. It might not be much, or it might be very heavy.

Martin

17 May 2015 at 8:08 am

Hi Andrew
I am walking the Cumbria Way starting on 23 May 2015. You mention in your article that wild camping isnt an option. Why is that? I am going to do the walk without much money:) I am planning to camp wild all the way through. Are there and tips you could give me about it? Thank you.

Andrew Bowden

19 May 2015 at 12:30 pm

Hi Martin – my view on the practicalities of wild camping is mainly because the route goes near and through a lot of villages and a lot of fields with livestock in them. As such, finding suitable wild camping spots is difficult. It’s not impossible, just difficult.

Jean-Marc Simar

27 May 2015 at 8:28 pm

Dear Sir,

I intend to do Cumbria way in July. Can you tell me if the path is well marked and it is easy to follow these marks?

Thank you for you answer,

Jean-Marc Simar
Belgium

Andrew Bowden

28 May 2015 at 9:21 am

Hi – it’s waymarked in parts, and is reasonably good. But I wouldn’t rely on them entirely for navigation. There are gaps and some areas where you’ll need a map.

Chris

4 June 2015 at 12:58 pm

Hi Andrew,

I’m walking part of the Cumbria Way (Ulverston to Keswick) next week and am intending to use the Footprint route map (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1871149878). Do you know whether this one is as good as the Harvey map of the route? I don’t really want to carry all the individual OS maps with me, although I will also have the Cicerone guide book.

Also, do you know whether there are any partial closures of the route at present?

Many thanks in advance.

Michelle and Pauline

20 July 2015 at 11:04 pm

We have just returned from the Cumbrian Way and we had a brilliant time, some negatives were Caldbeck to Carlisle, just don’t bother, it’s a muddy, beastie infected walk with no real views…..we stopped at one of the villages on route then caught a bus to Carlisle. Route was very busy and we met loads of people from all over Britain/Canada/Japan/American. We didn’t find it particularly well signed posted and got ‘lost’ several times but all in all a great time.
Michelle & Pauline from Glasgow July 2015

Veronica

28 September 2015 at 2:55 pm

We’re thinking of walking at the end of October with a dog. I’ve read there can be cattle issues along the route – does anyone have any advice?

Sheila Hilton

27 January 2016 at 8:02 pm

Bell Bridge, Sebergham was washed away today 27/01/2016. You may want to work out detour when walking Caldbeck to Carlisle part of Cumbrian Way Route

Julie Wareing

30 March 2016 at 10:14 pm

Hi , I am thinking of doing this walk through the summer months starting from Carlisle so I get the boring bit out of the way. Can you recommend any groups that do this walk as my husband isn’t interested in doing it. Purely for safety as I havnt done long walks before ,I am pretty fit , run half marathons.

Inbar

2 April 2016 at 7:39 am

Hello 🙂
My only time off this year (2016) will be at the beginning of October; can I still hike the Cumbria Way? (I can leave as early as October 1st) will I be able to camp along the way? are campsites still open?
Or maybe I’d better be betting on the South West Coast Path (Dorset section)… ?
Thanks for advice, love your page!

Andrew Bowden

2 April 2016 at 10:02 pm

Can’t tell you about the campsites but you should have no major problems in early October. May be wet though.

Inbar

4 April 2016 at 2:29 pm

Thank you Andrew; I know my timing isn’t ideal but its the only time I will have this year… I hiked the West Highland Way (Scotland) in early October and handled the rain quite well… but when looking at campsite opening dates, it seems like many of them will be closing.

Miriam

18 April 2016 at 9:05 am

Hello Andrew
I plan to hike through the Lake DIstrict for one weekend in June and thought that I could walk a part of the cumbria way. My idea is to walk from Ulverston to Keswick. Do you think that is a good part to choose? Also it is the first time that I go hiking so would you recommend the way for beginners? Thanks for your help and your website: It’s great!

Andrew Bowden

22 April 2016 at 9:20 am

Hello Miriam – Ulverston to Keswick is a great section as you go through Langdale and Borrowdale. It’s wonderful scenery. And yes I recommend the Cumbria Way to everyone, including beginners. It’s very easy to navigate.

Liz

11 May 2016 at 8:01 pm

We walked the Cumbria Way from North to South at the beginning of May mainly because we live in Ulverston , so walking home was the logical thing to do. Bell Bridge (between Caldbeck and Carlisle) is still out, having been washed away in the floods in December 2015.
Signposting is not always good , and a map and compass should be part of your kit. At Newbiggin (just outside Ulverston) the route is very obscure going from North to South, not least because one of the house owner has partially painted over one of the yellow signs. All in all, a lovely walk.

Suzy

7 July 2016 at 3:08 pm

It is possible to camp outside Skiddaw House en route to Caldbeck. We charge £7 per person, which includes use of the hostel facilities (common room, kitchen, toilets and showers). The hostel has a well-stocked shop and bar. Please phone/email to check availability, as we sometimes have a sole-use group.

07747174293
skiddawhouse@yahoo.co.uk

Ross Madden

23 July 2016 at 5:19 pm

I will be in Ulverston shortly (at the Buddhist Festival), and would like to take some day trips on the Cumbrian Way. Will I be able to locate a trail map somewhere in Ulvertson? Thank you very much.

Eddie

31 July 2016 at 4:57 pm

This is a great website Andrew, comments and answers are very informative and helpful too. Especially for those of us that have very little experience or knowledge..

I want to walk around the Lake District and realize I need some sort of plan, so I’ll get the best waterproofs as advised, buy the book by Anthony Burton, then start off on the Cumbrian Way with the wind behind me as it seems a good easy intro to get my walking legs going again, stopping at Caldbeck and then heading south back into the N.Park. to discover the rest of the lakes.

But reading about your journey it seems that the YH’s, although warm, dry, friendly and cheap, are difficult to get a good nights sleep in ! … so I am now thinking about camping all the way but have never done that before either and surely that has its pitfalls too, apart from carrying the extra weight.

I would be on my own with no time restrictions and could stay a few days in one place along the Cumbrian Way to explore the area a bit more, (like Skiddaw, as Suzy says camping is possible), so do you have you any advice please from your experience about preparing for a walking/camping holiday ?

Andrew Bowden

1 August 2016 at 10:24 am

Hi Eddie – you can get private rooms in hostels, although they’re often hard to get hold of and obviously bump the cost up. Personally I don’t mind sharing dorms but if you get a loud snoorer then it can be a fractured nights sleep. Thankfully I’ve not had many of them, and sometimes have had dorms to myself!

Camping is also fun, however it’s hard work carrying everything and can slow your progress down a lot.

Paul

5 August 2016 at 3:36 pm

Hi I’m thinking of walking Keswick to ulverston end of Aug on the cumbria way . Never done it before …will 3 days be plenty of time ?

Andrew Bowden

8 August 2016 at 10:24 am

Hi Paul – three days for Keswick to Ulverston is a good amount of time.

David

10 September 2016 at 3:11 pm

looking for a place midway between Coniston and Ulverston for a night in late October. any recommendations?

Jonathan

28 December 2016 at 11:17 pm

Really great website! I tried the CW with my brothers in 1994 but only got to Coniston as my eldest brother sprained his ankle in the Lakeside woods & on the drive home that evening my other brother started vomiting!!! Disaster, and it has irritated me for the last 12 years that I didn’t complete it!
My son has recently started his Duke of Ed Bronze & has been bitten by the bug, but importantly we both have the necessary kit to hand.
We’re looking at October half term 2017 as my son has GCSE exams early this summer so the next suitable holiday will be then, not too far into A level course etc.
Because I have notched up Ulverston to Coniston I’m considering starting in Coniston & keeping the route only as far as Keswick, or maybe Skiddaw House with a return to Keswick, due to the dreary final miles to Carlisle.
Does a route coniston-ODG-Rosthwaite-Keswick sound like a reasonable route breakdown?

Ralphy

29 December 2016 at 1:05 am

Thinking of giving this a go in 2 days.
Anybody know if theres a b&b about halfway?
Also, where are the hardest parts of the walk?

cheers

Andrew Bowden

29 December 2016 at 9:16 am

Jonathan – sounds good to me, although it’s not all dreary beyond Keswick. There’s some nice stuff to Caldbeck too!

Brian Wiles

30 January 2017 at 10:00 pm

Hi all, been great reading your comments. I am planning to do the CW in 24hrs, this summer 24th June 2017, the plan to walk from Carlisle to Ulverston, fair point about the wind direction but as I live in Ulverston want to feel like I am walking home. All in aid of Charity mate local St Marys hospice and scout group (I am a leader of) going to benefit from proceeds. lots of planning and walking to go.

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