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The Cumbria Way – Coniston to Dungeon Ghyll

It has been 10 years since my second book, The Cumbria Way, was released. To celebrate this, I have decided to feature all of the text from the book in a special blog feature over 6 weeks. So please make yourself a cuppa, grab a comfy seat and I hope you enjoy reading the Cumbria Way as much as I enjoyed writing it! And of course if you can’t wait for the next chapter from the book, you could always download the entire book with all of the images for only £2.99 from the online store. Please click here to buy your digital copy.

Coniston to Dungeon Ghyll

Just as the first day of the Way gave a subtle but picturesque introduction to ‘Lakeland’, the day ahead provides an excellent opportunity to discover many of the qualities that led to this area being designated a National Park. A good night’s sleep and hearty food are always required by the walker undertaking a multi-day hike, and Coniston is always a great location for a traditional full English breakfast – believe me, I’ve had my share!

Yewdale Beck running through woodland and a blanket of Ramsons wild garlic.

The Way now continues along Tilberthwaite Avenue before taking a left turn down a quiet lane. After a short stroll a stone bridge appears on the right, leading across Yewdale Beck. Turn immediately left at the stile and follow the public footpath as it gently begins to climb through farmland to a rustic stone building from where you continue onwards towards the woods in the distance. Here the Way follows a small track through the trees, before joining a forestry commission vehicle track used to access pockets of the woodland which are felled on a rotational basis. A brief uphill route, sandwiched between fields and trees, allows fine views towards the mountains and fells to the west. The path passes Tarn Hows Cottage – a typical Lakeland- style habitation – then takes a small track to Tarn Hows Road, which should be followed to the left. By now it is possible to appreciate the height gained since leaving Coniston, rewarding you with a panorama of upland views as you continue onwards to one of the most scenic spots to be found along the entire Way.

View from Tarn Hows wood looking towards Yewdale and Holme Fell.

The Tarn Hows of today is drastically different from the one that would have been seen more than two hundred years ago. This peaceful and picturesque tarn was once three separate tarns before these were joined to form the stretch of water that we enjoy today. It is in fact something of a man-made feature, the plantation of conifers surrounding the banks once again being the product of human interference, although this does not mean in any way that the Tarn is less picturesque than any other of the Lake District’s natural attractions.

Beatrix Potter had strong connections with the Lake District and played an active role in its conservation. The famous illustrator and writer, who came originally from London, frequently holidayed in the area before and after her first children’s book ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ was published in 1902. It was Derwentwater that was to provide the backdrop for her third book, ‘The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’. Soon she was living and working in Cumbria where she eventually purchased the Monk Coniston Estate, which included Tarn Hows. She later sold Tarn Hows and nearly half of the estate to the National Trust, leading to the preservation of a landscape to be enjoyed by many past, present and future generations of Beatrix Potter fans as well as walkers of the Cumbria Way.

Deciduous and evergreen trees surrounding the waters edge of Tarn Hows.

The route continues along the well- defined track to the left of the Tarn and through woodland, before reaching a junction and a track to the left. After a brief while along this easy to navigate section, the walker will find themselves in a slightly elevated upland area in which impressive views of the surrounding scenery are almost guaranteed, before eventually reaching a small country lane leading to reach a larger and somewhat busier road. At this point the route crosses the road and follows the impressive stone walls to the right through farmland until reaching a ladder stile. Here the Way follows the road signposted ‘High Park’. Continue along this until just before reaching High Park Farm, then enter a field through the gate and head along the way-marked route to the neighbouring woods.

This delightful pocket of deciduous woodland is home to wild deer and if the wind is in a favourable direction, a quiet hiker, may be granted a glimpse of these magnificent animals. The route now carries on through woodland offering a choice of two routes. The official route continues along the well-defined track through this picturesque woodland, whereas the second branches off to the left and the serene Colwith Force – a testament to the sculpting effects of water upon the landscape of the Lake District. Both routes eventually lead to a road near Colwith Bridge. Crossing the road and entering the small field via a stile built into the wall, the Way heads towards another pocket of woodland, which is transformed into a riot of colour during late autumn.

Flowering Fox Gloves within a pocket of woodland near High Oxen Fell.

By now the track is starting to climb gently through the trees. These once again give way to fields where the track continues to meander through farmland until reaching the busy Coniston- Ambleside Road, at which point it follows the road towards Skelwith Bridge, where it crosses over a quaint bridge and heads left, loosely following the direction of the River Brathay via the public footpath that cuts through the slate workshops. Here there is a café which is a great place to have a cuppa overlooking the river. The trail shortly reaches Skelwith Force – a raging course of water after heavy rain. Continue along the track to the point where the river begins to enlarge as it merges into Elterwater, which is a deceivingly unrecognisable lake unless viewed from the hilltops above. This is a very serene spot and any visitor to Elterwater on a calm day may view the reflections of mature neighbouring trees in the still waters of the lake. In spring the surrounding woodland is transformed by a thick blanket of native bluebells splashing ample amounts of colour into this already vibrant landscape.

Reeds in the still waters of Lake Elterwater with the Langdale mountains in the distance.

The route now officially continues via the fields immediately in front. However another option at this point is to keep to the well-defined track along the banks of Elterwater until the path begins to follow a small beck, and the official Cumbria Way route once again continues onwards. After passing through a small gate onto a country road through the tiny village of Elterwater, the Way follows the beck upstream (it is important to take care on the road past the mines, as it is often used by industrial vehicles transporting slate quarried from the area), and eventually reaches a small bridge, where it crosses over into the village of Chapel Stile.

The great Langdale Beck running through woodland nr Chapel Stile.

Chapel Stile is the location of a public house named after one of Cumbria’s most famous fell walkers – Alfred Wainwright. Wainwright’s love of the Lakeland fells is well documented through his series ‘Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells’, for which he researched and visited more than two hundred fells. With their hand-drawn sketches, his guides inspire fell walkers to this day. Wainwright also wrote various other books based on Cumbria and the north of England in general. Perhaps his most famous legacy was designing the Coast to Coast walk, a 190 mile long track running from St Bees Head in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.

The Cumbria Way passes behind the inn, continuing through a small settlement of houses towards the farm campsite and once again crosses over the beck. By now the beck has gradually started to increase in size and to deserve its title of the Great Langdale Beck. The Way now follows loosely the path of the beck, occasionally straying away from the banks to climb high above it before dropping down alongside it. The landscape here is a spectacular panorama of Lakeland mountain views, with fern-covered fells, watercourses and rocky outcrops all in view until one reaches the inn at Dungeon Ghyll and a well deserved rest after completing the second leg of the route.

A hiker walking along the Cumbria Way near Chapel Stile, heading towards Dungeon Ghyll and the Langdale Mountains.

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