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.
Dungeon Ghyll to Keswick
The starting point for the third day of the route will depend on one’s choice of accommodation the previous night. Walkers desiring creature comforts will probably have stayed near, or indeed at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel and will simply need to take the track running to the west of the inn to rejoin the trail. Campers will rejoin the track at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, approximately 1 mile west of the new hotel.
An early start during the autumn months may reward you by witnessing the mists lifting from the valley as the weak, early morning sun begins to warm the crisp dawn air. The actual route involves a short but sharp incline towards the Dungeon Ghyll falls, before branching to the left and following a slightly elevated path in the valley through farmland used for grazing sheep. As the Way passes the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel (a wonderfully charismatic public house for a spot of food and a pint of beer as you may have discovered the night before, if camping). It then levels out as it goes down the Langdale valley following the Mickelden stream as views of mountainous peaks unfold.
The Langdale Valley is a true glacial landscape with its distinctive U-shaped valley and craggy features carved by vast amounts of compacted ice. This area has had a turbulent natural history with evidence of both volcanic eruptions and glacial activity.
Along Mickleden it is flat easy walking, where you are likely to see sheep grazing on the lower levels and often towards the tops during the summer months. The following stage of the Way is one of the most arduous, although the hard work will reap its rewards. On reaching a small wooden bridge at the end of the valley there is a beck on your right and a boulder painted which is with a crude arrow and the inscription ‘Stake Pass’. It is necessary to follow the directions and to keep initially near to Stake Gill before the route becomes more defined. There is now a network of many routes heading towards the top of Stake Pass but walkers must continue along the well-defined official route of the Way, not one of the many shortcuts created by people trying to ‘cut corners’. Now it is time for a steady, gradual ascent up to the pass. The views back towards Mickleden are impressive and improve with every step. Climbing upwards, the mountains seem to unfold, revealing the true glory of their peaks that can only be fully appreciated from a viewpoint of near equivalent height. It has been suggested that the Cumbria Way would make a better route if walked in the reverse direction, and if there are any exceptional grounds for this argument then Stake Pass and Stake Gill are it.
As always seems to be the case, on reaching what you expect to be the top of the pass, you discover a new landscape and that the path continues further uphill! After one last steep ascent it becomes a steady route towards the top of Stake Pass (1576 ft).
It has been implied that the open fell that you find at the top of the pass is a bleak and inhospitable place. However if you actually sit down and allow time to let the world go by, you will most probably be quite surprised by the variety of wildlife that makes its home in this landscape. Amazingly, there is evidence that this open, wild land was also once a home for Homo sapiens during the Neolithic period. Now there are definitely no signs of human habitation although it does attract many keen hikers and climbers.
The route roughly follows the Stake Beck until the imposing presence of the Langstrath and the Langstrath valley below provide magnificent examples of the vast landscapes along this wild stretch of the Cumbrian Way.
At this stage walkers cross an important watershed where the gently flowing waters of the Stake Beck start their journey to become part of the River Derwent and eventually join the Solway Firth towards the Scottish Borders. Up until this point, all the water headed towards Morecambe Bay in the south. This is effectively the middle point of the Cumbria Way (although it may be worth holding off celebrations until you have climbed its highest point!).
On reaching the foot of the pass and after crossing a small bridge, the Way continues to the right of the beck as you begin a gentle hike through the largest uninhabited valley in England. Personally I regard this as one of the most tranquil stretches of the Cumbria Way, and one that receives far less human traffic than other areas but still boasts a landscape that must truly be considered one of the most spectacular in England, if not the British Isles. The route meanders through the valley for about two miles before the beck eventually makes a sharp turn to the left as its waters begin to merge with the Greenup Gill and form Stonethwaite Beck. From here it continues onwards keeping the now larger beck to the left. The path shortly passes a National Trust campsite which can be seen on the other side of the beck. This is a wonderfully rustic campsite which is a good spot to pitch a tent at any time of the year. I wholeheartedly recommend that if you can spare the time, you plan to spend a night here and break up this stretch of the route, as it is the most arduous but also possibly the most enjoyable. What could be better than enjoying a brew in your camp near the banks of the beck, followed by a well deserved pint in the local tavern?
The Cumbria Way continues alongside the beck following a well-defined track sandwiched between some particularly fine examples of dry stone walling. It is quite possible that these walls have stood for many generations, being repaired as necessary using the same painstaking techniques as when the walls were originally built. There is an art to dry stone walling which luckily has not been lost with the introduction of modern farming techniques. In fact, it is often a requirement for land owners within the National Park to uphold the appearance of these walls in order to preserve the character of the area.
At the end of the track a sign indicates a route to a bunkhouse, which is another option for overnight accommodation should you wish to break up this stage. Branching left across a stone bridge until reaching a small road, the route heads left and then takes the first immediate right, continuing past a few houses and through a farmyard until it merges into a farm track. Eventually the Way joins the course of the River Derwent and follows its banks past a group of stepping stones until it arrives at a small, typical Lakeland stone bridge, whereupon it crosses this ‘New Bridge’ and follows a well-defined track.
Before long the Way enters what is arguably one of the finest examples of woodland found anywhere in the National Park. During autumn it is often possible to find numerous varieties of fungi, growing on both living and dead hosts. It would be easy to assume that fungi are simply parasites which attach themselves to a host, but this is not always the case. In many cases the fungi actually extend the tree’s root system with benefit to the uptake of water and nutrients. Fungi also provide great support for numerous animals and insects, with over a thousand species being dependent on fungi for shelter and food in the UK alone. If you do plan to search for fungi, it should be remembered that a few examples exist of poisonous species that are potentially fatal. You must never eat fungi unless you have absolute knowledge of fungi identification.
The Way now traverses woodland along a track that passes through the open remnants of slate quarrying and the occasional cave, again a reminder of the area’s slate quarrying past. Next the route rejoins the river and passes a small, picturesque rustic National Trust campsite, hidden amongst oak trees against a classic fell backdrop. Although this site can often be busy at weekends and Bank Holidays, it is quite possible that outside these periods you may find you are the only soul present if you decide to camp here for the night.
After leaving the river the Way heads along a small bridleway until reaching a lane where it veers left towards Hollows Farm. It then passes through the farmyard and through a gate, before continuing along a bridleway towards the Grange. By now the mountains have begun to display characteristics that differ distinctly from the previous examples of craggy peaks formed from the hard Borrowdale rock of volcanic origin. The mountainous landscape that lies ahead was made from a softer material, Skiddaw Slate, which consequently has created mountains of a gentle, smoother appearance.
After going right through a farm gate into the Grange, walkers are rewarded with their first views of Derwent Water, undeniably one of the most popular of the lakes. Here, a small bench situated on a grassy bank provides a welcome spot to take the strain off your legs, and an opportunity simply to admire the views of the lake and, if the weather is good, the distant slopes of Skiddaw. This is the first chance to view the eventual path of the next leg of the Way.
The route now heads through farmland, before turning left onto a small country road then branching right through a meadow, which has a colourful abundance of wildflowers in spring. There follows a stretch of woodland before the shores of the lake are reached. It is worth savouring this expanse of flatness – your legs will welcome the easy pace of this section of the Way after the steep climb and descent of the previous stages. There are numerous signposts for Keswick before you eventually leave the lake along small country lanes and public footpaths and finally reach the town.