Looking at the map (but not in much detail), the next stage of the Cumbria way looked shorter at around 16km, as if it was going to be a bit wiggly and potentially trickier to navigate, but also very pretty.
Whilst the weather had got a lot colder – we’d had snow mid-week – it was at least dry and the forecast for Sunday was also dry, at least until about 5pm. Penny and I met in the car park at Old Dungeon Ghyll, from which we’d started our previous 25km run to Keswick, and drove down to Coniston in my car. The car parks weren’t as busy as they had been previously, which was a bit surprising considering that the Easter holidays have just started – but which also made it far easier to park.
Leaving the centre of Coniston we turned on to a footpath which led across part of the former Monk Coniston estate, and soon saw a folly. Fortunately there was some great interpretation inside it, which not only told us about the estate generally, and how much of the landscape had been created by the family who owned the estate in the 19th century, but also that this particular folly had been created to mimic medieval dog kennels.
We dropped down towards Low Yewdale from where the path crossed fields and went through woods towards Tarn Hows, again man-made but one of the prettiest tarns in the lake district. Penny and I have both run the Coniston half marathon a couple of times (and she has done the full marathon) so we’ve run around Tarn Hows before, but we hadn’t approached it and left it on the same paths as today. The Cumbria Way leaves the tarn near to its northernmost point and after running past a field of Belted Galloways, we were on an old county byroad: and having to jump on to the verge to let a convoy of 4x4s go past.
We were truly in the heart of the Lake District today, mostly on glorious rolling gravelly paths which undulated through woods, or on grassy paths crossing rolling fields. Whereas going from Langdale north to Keswick had meant crossing stunning but quite isolated land, today’s route was chocolate-box-lakeland prettiness.
At Hollin Bank we didn’t follow the road but crossed through Tongue Intake Plantation before realising our ‘mistake’ and doing an extra loop to take us past Colwith Force – a waterfall on the beck which runs from Little Langdale tarn to Elter Water. Before long the path brings you out near to Skelwith Bridge, where a modern metal bridge crosses the river Brathay. For a time now I was on familiar ground: I can’t remember the number of times, when the children were young, that we’d bring visitors down to Skelwith Bridge and walk from there along to Elterwater, or vice versa: at least if they’d comply. I do remember one day when Isabella refused to walk and after a bit David and I ended up carrying her on our shoulders, before turning round and going back to the cafe!
I love the lakeland slate: it has a greeny tinge to it (especially the Honister slate) and makes the water have a similarly clear, greeny tinge. You can see it above in the water under the bridge in Elterwater village, but it was even more obvious when we again took an unintended detour up to the Burlington Stone quarry. Here I was acutely conscious of the industrial side of Cumbria: much is hidden nowadays but the entire county would have echoed with the sounds of quarrying and mining at one point. This is still a working quarry, which you don’t notice as you pass your touristic way from Elterwater and Chapel Stile up to Great Langdale: now I know it’s there I can imagine I shall be looking out for the huge hills of stone every time I drive that way. For all that it’s man made, it’s rather stunning, and a direct connection with the old quarries and mines which you see on walks or which have become visitor attractions. It also feels like a deep-rooted link to the Vikings and even earlier peoples, who created axe heads from the stone in the Langdale (‘long valley’) valley which were possibly traded at Castlerigg Stone circle, outside Keswick over the hills to the north (I wonder if some of those traders followed the route that Penny and I had run a couple of weeks ago?).
Although we had managed to veer off the Cumbria Way, I’m glad we saw this. We had an option of following this other footpath on further towards Great Langdale or dropping down past a campsite to rejoin the Cumbria way as it ran alongside the Great Langdale Beck, and chose to rejoin the Cumbria way. After some undulations up and down the lower slopes of Oak Howe Needle, at the foot of Lingmoor Fell, we finally dropped down the hillside and crossed the river to come out at the New Dungeon Ghyll (Stickle Barn). Once again we detoured slightly from the Cumbria way and followed a path through fields and back to Penny’s car.
We’d completed almost 20km along a lovely route which I would really like to do again sometime. It had all that is prettiest about the Lake District: views of the fells, woods, stony paths, clear-watered streams, and plenty of Herdwick sheep to look at. I didn’t take any photos of the herdies unfortunately but I love their sturdy legs, the curly hair on their thick tails, and their friendly, smiley faces. No wonder ‘Herdy’ has become such a popular brand: and not only does the Herdy website sell all their fab. stuff, but it also tells you about contour lines: https://www.herdy.co.uk/did-ewe-know/contour-lines-mysterious-squiggly-lines-on-maps/.
Next time: Coniston to Ulverston.