For over a year I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to walk the first leg of The Cumbria Way. I live in Ulverston, the start point, and I couldn’t see why I’d never thought of doing it before. Yeah, sure, it’s over 14 miles – that’s probably one of the reasons! So, I had it in my head that I’d walk to Coniston, have a pint, and get the bus home again.
When I voiced this to friends a while ago, they thought I was mad. My husband helpfully jeered that 14 miles is a long way to go for a pint when we have perfectly good beer here in Ulverston. But the more people built it up as a crazy thing to do, the more I wanted to do it. It became a mission. Then I broke my foot and it was put on the back burner.
I’m in training for the Keswick to Barrow walk and I need to get my mileage up before I undertake the massive task of 40 miles in one day. Doing the Keswick to Barrow is one of my 13 in 13 goals and I’m hoping to raise as much as I can for our local Mountain Rescue Teams. What better way to train than to use what I have on my doorstep and undertake this classic route, I thought.
Yesterday I did it. Way to go me! Mission accomplished.
Here’re the stats…
We’ve had some interesting weather recently. Late dumps of snow, torrential rain and gale force winds have been a hinderance in planning walks and runs. Monday was dismal. It’s not like it was even raining, the air and everything it touched was just wet. I had Tuesday and Wednesday off work so I had two days to choose from when planning my mission. Tuesday morning came around and it looked quite bright so I thought hey, just do it!
I popped a sandwich, apples, home-made biscuits, an energy bar and a chocolate milkshake in my bag; filled up a couple of waterbottles; tucked my waterproofs in the bottom of the bag; and double checked I had my map, compass, bivvy bag and head torch (always best to be prepared). Then I donned my new walking trousers, a long vest, long sleeved dry-fit top and my softshell, although bright, it still seemed quite cold. Ready to set off, I dithered around the kitchen for a while, fuelling up on coffee and porridge until I could put it off no longer and off I set.
The route starts on some well trodden ground for me, it’s part of a route I run quite often. I’d decided before setting off that I’d stick to the official route, rather than taking any of the other myriad of footpaths that would take me in the same direction. It was on the first bit of ascent that I began to wonder why I hadn’t just taken the easier low-level path. I wasn’t even a mile into the walk and I was burning up. I just felt so hot and bothered. Then I remembered the big yellow ball in the sky, and the fact that we’re approaching the end of April, it was actually a warm, sunny Spring day, not something we’ve been used to of late. Onwards, and on the path leading out of Old Hall Farm, I stopped to take off my long-sleeved top but opted to keep on my softshell for a bit of wind protection and to have my iPod easily tucked into the pocket (I don’t normally walk with music but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to spend so much time with just my thoughts). I rolled up my sleeves and on I continued.
The Cumbria Way is a great route for seeing the lesser known parts of the county. By that I mean it is a glimpse into the lives of local residents. Quite literally. Before I’d left the boundary of Ulverston I’d walked through a couple of people’s gardens. No, not by mistake, the footpath actually goes through some very well tended gardens and over the pristine patios of some very nice houses. There’s something in me that always feels a bit naughty when I take these paths, it’s like I’m not supposed to be there, but at the same time the voyeur in me loves having a nosy at the lives of others.
Up and out of Ulverston, and into Osmotherly I traipsed through fields of ewes and lambs, keeping to boundary lines as much as possible so as not to disturb them if I could help it. Walking alongside one wall I saw a victim of the recent bad weather. We had some bad snow drifts a few weeks ago. They trapped a great deal of livestock as they tried to shelter from the weather. A decomposing sheep is an odd thing to see. The carcass had been picked away, leaving only a skeleton on a pile of wool. A stark reminder of how harsh the weather can be for even the hardiest of animals.
Down the road and crossing over to Broughton Beck I saw a road sign, ‘Ulverston 2miles’, My Garmin was showing 4miles and I felt a bit disheartened that my sticking to the official route was adding extra miles and I was worried that I should be saving myself for further down the line if ever I were to complete my mission. It was at this time that a cyclist stopped beside me. ‘You look like you might know where you’re going,’ he said.
‘Yes, I do, and I have a map if not.’ He asked for directions for Coniston and I showed him the way on my map, giving him visual pointers for the way, including the sneaky cut through that goes past what I call the Brain Tree (it’s a tree that looks like a brain). He didn’t look like a seasoned cyclist- no helmet, wearing surfer shorts and a crisp white t-shirt. And I couldn’t help noticing what looked like an axe handle sticking out the top of his school style backpack. I asked what he was up to in Coniston and he said he was off to do a bit of walking and trekking. Oh well, I thought, fair play to him, making the most of this lovely sunny day and I bid him adieu, hoping I hadn’t directed an axe murderer to his next victim.
The route up from Broughton Beck was a bit boring, not much to report: a few horses, flocks of sheep, some friendly cows. When I reached Gawthwaite, I have to admit, I was a bit down-trodden. Gawthwaite doesn’t seem that far away when I drive past it and I had been going for nearly 7 miles. Then I saw it, climbing up on the dirt road, I got my first proper view of the Coniston Fells. Bathed in sunlight with shadowy textures showing the full extent of the impressive mountain range, this view gave me a bit of pep to continue on, even with knowing that I had lots more ascent to come. I fuelled up on my home-made Choc-nut-oatie biscuits, ready for the next section.
Passing through farms, up and down windy roads, I hadn’t seen another soul for a long time, but all the while I was walking over fresh boot prints – I was on somebody’s tail, and I wondered if I might catch up with them. A mile or so up from Tottlebank Wood, and on the way to Beacon Tarn, I caught sight of a wide brimmed hat atop a walker with a full pack, clutching a copy of the Wainwright guidebook. I was gaining on them quite quickly so I said hello well in advance so as not to startle them too much. The walker was a lovely lady from Melbourne, on a six week walking holiday in the UK. We chatted for a little while, and she explained that she was also doing The Cumbria Way, but only going as far as Torver today. I suggested she go to The Wilsons for food and she was very happy that I’d said so, because that’s where she was booked in to stay. I said cheerio, and off I continued.
I love Beacon Tarn. I often go up there for a picnic and a swim when the weather is good. With it being so much higher than Coniston it is always less crowded, but it is deeper too, so it takes a lot longer to warm up. While it was a nice sunny day, it will be a fair few weeks before I’d go for a dip! I relieved my pack of my ham and cheese sandwiches and fuelled up for the next section.The path beyond Beacon is my least favourite part. Bog. I really detest walking through bog. It is just so tiring on the legs. We’ve had a lot of rain so any dry patches to bounce from were few and far between. But I kept it steady and didn’t fall in so that’s an achievement (for me anyway).
I tootled along, legs tired after over 12 miles and the recent boggy navigation. Then I slipped. Seeing the main road, and knowing I’d come down off the path one turning too early, I lost my footing and slipped on the saturated ground. No worry, I was surprised it was as late as nearly 13 miles that I fell over (I’m really clumsy). A bit peeved that I’d gone a bit off course, I walked the little bit of road up from Sunny Bank to the turn off for Torver Woods and the lakeshore.
I very nearly thought of just dropping down into Torver, having a pint, ending my walk and getting the bus from there. The weather had become a bit muggy and my legs were tired. To get down to Torver I would’ve done 14 miles, that was the aim for the day. No! The mission was to walk from Ulverston to Coniston on The Cumbria Way!
So I continued. Scoffing my 9Bar as I went, I navigated the fallen beech trees, victims of last week’s winds. I’ve walked along the shore of Coniston a few times, but never after having already walked for 14 miles. It suddenly seemed a bit more technical! It was short-lived. I was soon on the well-made path that leads all the way into Coniston.
I did it, it was a bit longer than I expected but after 17 miles, five and a half hours in my own company and with over an hour to spare before the last bus, I settled down with a well deserved pint.
If you’d like to sponsor me for the Keswick to Barrow walk and help me raise vital funds for our Mountain Rescue Teams then please do head on over to the Keswick to Barrow site and search for Kathryn Kelly, or view my profile here.