The Cumbria Way: Day 1 – Ulverston to Coniston

(Cumbria Way.  11th March 2014 – 14½ miles + 1 unintentional mile)

I like Ulverston.  It’s a small, attractive market-town with interesting shops and a friendly atmosphere.  But it is a fairly quiet and otherwise unremarkable place and I don’t suppose I ever would have visited if the Cumbria Way didn’t start/finish there.  It does though have a greater claim to fame: of all the unlikely places, Ulverston is the birthplace of Stan Laurel.

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I had trouble sleeping on my first night away and at 4.30, I was wide awake and staring at the ceiling.  I had hurt my back a few days previously (digging up peonies since you ask) and I worried whether I could walk to Coniston – let alone Berwick.  Unable to sleep, I read for a couple of hours (‘The Godfather‘ since you ask again) and then, before breakfast, I slipped out of Virginia House’ (my B&B of choice in Ulverston), walked around the town and stopped in front of Graham Ibbeson’s charming statue of Stan and Ollie.

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I doubt Laurel and Hardy films are widely watched any more but as a child I was a big fan (still am) and I stood remembering scenes and lines, smiling and humming the “Cuckoo” theme to myself.  I got a few odd looks but that’s OK.

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After a stout breakfast, I was shod, backpacked and at the path’s start by 8am.  220 miles to Berwick-upon-Tweed seemed a very long haul indeed but I wasn’t particularly worried about the distance.  One step at a time and all that.  I was more concerned that  back-pain would send me home early.  (That and this would be the only red squirrel I’d see).

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Unlike the start of some long-distance footpaths, the Cumbria Way’ doesn’t dither through parks or industrial estates, past sewage farms or schools.  No.  The CW is off like a whippet.  From the centre of Ulverston, I followed a quiet, stream-side cul-de-sac

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Old Hall Farm, Ulverston and Morecambe Bay

and within a few minutes I was crossing achingly green fields, dry-stone walls and a farmyard.  It’s a good beginning.

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After Old Hall Farm, the path climbs and I was grumbling a bit (in a Corleone accent) as I paused often to catch my breath, readjust my rucksack and gaze back.

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I would see hundreds, possibly thousands, of new-born lambs over the coming fortnight but this was the only one who was plucky enough to run up and see what I was all about.  He was very vocal in his opinion, whatever it might have been.

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Coniston Old Man, 2nd from left

A little further on and I got my first proper view of the Lakeland fells.  The Old Man was ahead and would be visible for much of the day: back-pain and fair weather allowing, I planned to leave the ‘true’ route and climb him the following day.

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I turned round for a final, dazzling look at the Bay, dug out my sunglasses,

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against that almost-too-vivid-green and ambled on.

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Unlike the Coast to Coast, way-marking on the Cumbria Way is generally excellent.  And where official signs are lacking there are often rather lovely, home-made ones.

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After my last two annual walks (in snow and ice), I couldn’t believe my luck.  Was I dreaming?  Was this weather for real?

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(You’ll see a lot of photos of sheep on this walk, I’m afraid).

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St John’s Church, Osmotherley

I remembered this first day of the CW very clearly.  Although six years before, I had walked in early January, the sun had shone then too and St John’s Church near Broughton Beck matched my memory perfectly.  But it was a shame that the church wasn’t framed somehow to make a better photo.  A pair of ash trees perhaps; maybe with one at a drunken angle.  That would work.

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Sometimes, someone smiles down on me.

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This beermat stuck into a wall had me repeatedly whirling around looking for a pub (sadly there are none until Coniston).

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With my back aching, I stopped often to soak up the sun and top up with painkillers.

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The first day of a long walk is liberating.

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Coniston Old Man dead ahead

No rushing to get to work; nor washing up; no hoovering or any of the tedium of everyday life.

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Just a steady plod-plod: regularly checking the guidebook; humming; thinking of beer and food; an immersion in a slowly changing landscape and thinking of food and beer.

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I walked along with my heavy Nikon swinging on my neck, pausing often to change lenses or filters and snapping away merrily.

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At one point (busily humming), I missed a turning and walked half a mile before realising my mistake and retracing my steps – adding a further mile to my total.

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Looking back from near Tottlebank.  Good landscape, huh?  Sorry about the sheep.

Ulverston to Coniston is only 14½ miles and yet both times, it has seemed longer.

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I’m not sure why I find Day 1 so tough.  On paper, it isn’t a particularly hard day and yet it feels more like a 20 mile-r.  As a first day, it isn’t an easy introduction … or so I find.

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But it is a great walk with many glorious sections – like this stretch of springy turf just before Cockenskell with views down into the Crake Valley.

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The first lake of the ‘Way is Beacon Tarn – a natural lunch break.  I flopped in the shade of some conifers, removed my boots and socks, air-dried my feet (with due apologies to the couple just downwind of me) and ate a sandwich.  And then another one.

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I’d only covered 9 miles (+ 1) but I was tired.  I’d had six hours sleep, the path up to the tarn is steep, my pack heavy and the sun hot.

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There was still a long way to go before Coniston.  From the tarn, I skirted the Blawith Fells and then crossed Stable Harvey Moss – always with the Old Man peering down at me.

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I was amongst Herdwick sheep now.  They are a marker for me; a marker that I am in the Lake District.  (I won’t mention that there is a small flock of Herdwicks not two miles from where I work in Sussex).

Torver Beck

At about 2.30, I crossed clear Torver Beck, then a road and

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finally descended to the shore of Coniston Water.

Consiton Water

This is a popular lakeside walk and I met dog-walkers and afternoon strollers from Coniston.  Saying hello and smiling politely became just a tad repetitive.

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The path follows the lake shore through broad-leaf

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and mature conifer woodland.

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I still stopped often.  I was in no particular hurry and my back was painful.  But I didn’t cry.

Coniston Hall

When I reached Coniston Hall, with its fabulous stepped chimneys,

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I knew I was almost finished.

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At about 4 o’clock, I approached Coniston and, with the scent of beer in my nostrils, increased my pace.  I sat outside The Black Bull and savoured a pint of Bluebird bitter (for its pain-numbing properties only) before walking out of the village again.  A few hundred yards away at Waterhead was my stop for the night – the excellent Bluebird Lodge.  I gently eased my back on the bed, supped a mug of Earl Grey and wolfed a plate of biscuits.

And actually that alone was worth a 15½ mile walk.

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8 thoughts on “The Cumbria Way: Day 1 – Ulverston to Coniston

  1. Hi Jan, sorry – I’ve been away for a little while. Your plan sounds a good one. And I understand what you mean re sombre and moody rain walking – I had a couple of days of that this year, which was all I needed or wanted!. And no need to feel bad for my lack of views – I don’t! I’ve walked most of the Lakeland bits enough to know what I should’ve been seeing and, in retrospect like I’ve said, the sense of adventure more than made up for any lack of visibility. And gives me reason to suppose I might walk the C2C again one day.

    Dave

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  2. And I am jealous of the solitude that you had when hiking the C2C in March; but I don’t much fancy those white-out conditions…. (It’s bizarre how severely your weather conditions have varied from one March to the next; this years’ being so much more hospitable.)

    I will be starting my C2C walk in the later part of May, and will take a full 15 days to go from St. Bees to RHB, finishing in early June. With no rest days planned, this should allow me a little extra time to stop and smell the roses. I can only hope that the trail isn’t too crowded.

    Although I like to hike in the rain, because I love how somber and moody the world becomes, hiking day after day in constant rain would take an emotional toll. (And mud… there’s nothing good to be said about mud…..)

    I felt bad for you, reading about the many parts of your C2C walk when the snow reduced your visibility to nothing. How many beautiful vistas did you miss?

    I will look forward to reading more about your CW walk, and drooling over your gorgeous photos!
    ..Jan

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  3. David,
    I love the pictures and the accounts of your adventures. I will be coming over next spring to walk the C2C, and I have found the posts of your own C2C trek to be humorous and inspiring. I live in North Carolina (USA), but my Mom was British, and she recently passed away. I look forward to a solo hike through the countryside that she loved. (I really need to start working on my compass skills :))
    Keep your posts coming! I can’t wait to read the next installments.
    ..Jan

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    • Hello Jan, thank you. I suppose I should wish you better weather than I had on the C2C but actually I really enjoyed the ‘challenging’ conditions of snow, ice and blizzard. It made the walk all the more exciting and rewarding; it was a true adventure. If hard work. And interestingly, I’m more jealous of you than I thought I would be. Perhaps I will redo the C2C sooner than I initially thought. At the moment I’m thinking of doing the Pennine Way next year but I have a few other options to consider. I hope, at least, that it doesn’t rain every day of your walk. That would be grim. Solo walking is certainly my preferred method – and if you meet someone who you are happy to walk with, well all to the good. Do let me know how you get on. Dave

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  4. Fab post Dave! Stonking pics. Am impressed that you are carrying a full camera kit. I can’t face taking mine. But you do it justice. I think it very brave of you not to have cried. And to continue walking in pain. Hope we hear that the back eases up. Beer has miraculous curative properties.

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    • Yes, well I’m a very brave fellow (but then if I had cried I don’t suppose I would have confessed to it). Taking photos is a big part of my walking holidays so I do indulge myself with the amount of camera stuff I carry. (I’m far too embarrassed to admit that I even had a tripod with me on this trip. I used it precisely twice)! I had to drink a lot of beer to effect a back cure. Dave

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