Walking The Cumberland Way

One of several reasons why it’s best to walk the Cumberland Way with a guide who knows exactly where they’re going is that, officially speaking, it doesn’t actually exist, and it isn’t waymarked. Even with a good map and route notes, you could potentially miss dinner. In fact the county of Cumberland no longer exists either. With the boundary changes of 1974 the area was absorbed into the new country of Cumbria. It lives on, however, both in the famous Cumberland sausage, a Lake District delicacy, and the Cumberland Way which is unarguably one of the great English long-distance walking routes. The walk begins in Ravenglass, the only coastal town in the Lake District, and leads across the national park as far as Appleby-in-Westmoreland (though some itineraries finish earlier, in the village of Brougham on the edge of the park).

If you have time to spare after arriving in Ravenglass, you might support a beloved local heritage attraction by taking a trip on La’al Ratty, one of the country’s oldest and longest narrow-gauge railways, before setting off. Then it’s on towards the atmospheric Wastwater, a lake with plunging depths, over Black Sail Pass and past several of the region’s most imposing peaks, among them Scafell Pike and Haystacks, the latter a favourite of legendary Lakes writer Alfred Wainwright.

You continue east through the Newlands Valley, along the shore of Derwentwater, before reaching the popular market town of Keswick. Then it’s up to the Bronze Age Castlerigg stone circle before descending through moorland, past Ullswater and the finish line. By the way, if megalithic stone circles are your thing, then note that Castlerigg draws just a fraction of the crowds of Stonehenge and offers some quite spectacular panoramas on a clear day. Strictly speaking the Cumberland Way ends in Appleby-in-Westmoreland, but some itineraries come to a close earlier, as it leaves the park, at historic Brougham Hill, parts of which date back as far as the 13th century.


The Cumberland Way begins with an easy-going gradient, which gets gradually tougher as you go along, but the main challenge for walkers tends to come from the daily distances, rather than the ascents and descents that are involved (around 600m). Expect to cover about 100km over six days, averaging between 14km and 21km per day. You’ll be hiking through gently rolling hills, across farmland and moorland. David Kay, from our specialist operator Ramblers Walking Vacations, is familiar with this region: “Our walks are graded one to nine, with one the easiest and nine really Alpine hiking, where you need crampons. In the Lake District, you’re never looking at more than three to seven, so moderate challenge only.” Regular walkers with a reasonable level of fitness, then, should find the Cumberland Way very manageable. Trips operate in June and September, skipping the peak season in the Lake District, but also promising pleasant weather, as well as ravishing scenery.

Cumberland Way walking tours usually operate on a small group basis, with numbers capped at 21 to minimise the impact on the environment and communities you pass through. You’ll be accompanied by a guide, not only useful since the route is not waymarked, but also a great source of information about the local area and landscape that you would miss out on if walking alone.
Those with a real passion for walking vacations will appreciate that tackling the Cumberland Way offers other benefits too, beyond their own enjoyment. As David Kay explains, “Our walking vacations in the Lake District are operated as ‘not for profit’. What that means is all profits from the trips are placed into a trust fund, and a large proportion of that goes to The Ramblers, the walking charity that uses the money to promote walking, maintain paths, rebuild bridges, increase access and generally help to protect the countryside.” In addition, you might also receive an evening visit from a mountain rescue team to explain their vital work in the region and hopefully boost financial support.

The Cumberland Way lends itself well to point-to-point walking of course, but you may well be on a center-based trip instead, staying in a delightful country house on the shore of Buttermere. The advantages are obvious: only needing to unpack the once, enough space to accommodate the entire group and a wonderfully remote location far from the crowds that clog many other parts of the Lake District. Transport will be provided each day to and from the trailhead, and every afternoon you can take the short walk into the village, or watch red squirrels scurrying around through the picture window in the lounge. Your evening meals will either be in-house, using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients wherever possible, or in a nearby restaurant, thereby pumping a little more money into the local community.

Our top Lake District Vacation

Lake District hike on the Cumbria Way, England

Lake District hike on the Cumbria Way, England

Hiking vacation in England's Lake District

From £891 to £1332 10 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This vacation can be booked from the 1st March to 31st October each year.
Travel Team
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Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Philip Male] [Intro: George Hodan] [Derwentwater: ExploreMoreUK_com]