(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 would ever 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.
I had trouble sleeping on my first night away from home and at half four in the morning, 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 complete a walk to Coniston – let alone right across England to 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 … though it has changed hands since I last stayed), walked around the town and stopped in front of Graham Ibbeson’s charming statue of Stan and Ollie.
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 “Dance of the Cuckoos” theme to myself. I got a few odd looks but that’s OK.
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 that this red squirrel would be the only one I’d see. (It wasn’t).
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
and within a few minutes I was crossing achingly green fields, dry-stone walls and a farmyard. It’s a good beginning.
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.
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.
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 of the CW and climb him the following day.
I turned around for a final, dazzling look at the Bay, dug out my sunglasses,
against that almost-too-vivid-green and ambled on.
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.
After my last two annual walks (in snow and ice), I couldn’t believe my luck. Was I dreaming? Was this weather for real?
(You’ll see a lot of photos of sheep on this walk, I’m afraid).
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.
Sometimes, someone smiles down on me.
This beermat stuck into a wall had me repeatedly whirling around looking for a pub (but sadly there are none until Coniston).
With my back aching, I stopped often to soak up the sun and top up with painkillers.
The first day of a long walk is liberating.
There is no rushing to get to work; no washing up; no hoovering nor any of the tedious chores of everyday life.
Rather, 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.
I walked along with my heavy Nikon swinging on my neck, pausing often to change lenses or filters and snapping away merrily.
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.
Ulverston to Coniston is only 14½ miles and yet both times I’ve walked it, this day has seemed longer.
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 miler. As a first day, it isn’t an easy introduction … or so I find.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
At about 2.30, I crossed clear Torver Beck, then a road and
finally descended to the shore of Coniston 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.
The path follows the lake shore through broad-leaf
and mature conifer woodland.
I still stopped often. I was in no particular hurry and my back was painful. But I didn’t cry.
When I reached Coniston Hall, with its fabulous stepped chimneys,
I knew I was almost finished.
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, those alone were worth a 15½ mile walk.
10 thoughts on “The Cumbria Way: Day 1 – Ulverston to Coniston”
What amazing pictures and insight into the wonderful Cumbrian Way.
We are planning on walking this in April 2022 but not as hardcore as yourself. We are taking 9 days and hiring luggage transfers to hotels.
Thank you for the post and I look forward to capturing some pictures and creating amazing memories.
Thanks Aprille. Nine days and luggage transfer sound great to me. Enjoy! I hope the weather is kind. Best, David
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
Wonderful photos of all thst gorgeous scenery.
Hope your back gets better soon.
Thanks. My back was to get worse before it got better. Dave