Fixing the Cumbria Way – A New Northern End Point

As I discussed in my earlier post, the single biggest issue with the Cumbria Way is where it ends.  No one wants to spend a week walking through lovely Lake District scenery and end it all walking through an industrial estate or next to a railway.  There has to be a better way.

Of course, moving the northern end point, depending on where it moves to, also brings into the equation the southern start point, which itself isn’t perfect (but if I could only move one it would certainly be the northern end). The goal is really to have a route that approximates to a direct crossing of Lakeland, rather than a giant curve. So where the walk ends may determine moving the start point to be broadly “opposite”.

Let’s aim straight for the main issue – the end.

Possible Northern End Points

As I’ve already said, ending a walk like this in a city centre, and a pretty ugly city centre at that, is really not the way to go. I’m less bothered about my start point, but I certainly want to end a long walk somewhere meaningful. Somewhere that is in tune with the walk itself, has some symbolic significance, or is simply a stunning or inspiring location. (It’s for precisely that reason, that I’ve devised my own Coast to Coast route and chosen the end point as Holy Island which meets all of those descriptors).

So how do we go about choosing a suitable end ?

Well, first I think we need to have in mind the parameters of the walk. The Cumbria Way is a long distance path that happens to completely traverse the Lake District National Park south to north. But it travels most of the length of Cumbria – why not all of it ? Or at least from one coastline to another ? All of these are perfectly valid premises for a walk, so I have come up with a selection of potential end points that are all outside the National Park (or right on the border), and have something else to commend them. Here they are:

The potential northern end points
End Point Pros Cons
Carlisle i.e. an alternative location in or close to Carlisle. Keeps as close as possible to the official route. Still likely to involve some dull walking
Dalston Stops short of the worst part of the official route whilst not deviating from it. Don’t need to create a new route to do this – could simply stop short. Therefore, no reason to choose Dalston for a brand new route.
Caldbeck Also stops short of worst part, and moreover avoids the lowland walking of the last day. Limited public transport. Also, as for Dalston, not really worth choosing for a brand new route.
Gretna The obvious candidate for a walk that crosses the county boundaries. A long way, and the last bit inevitably close to the M6.
Bowness-on-Solway On the coast and also where Hadrian’s Wall starts/ends. Quite a bit of lowland terrain to negotiate to get to.
Burgh by Sands On Hadrian’s Wall, and closer to Carlisle for return journey. Doesn’t have the additional advantage of being on the coast that Bowness-on-Solway has.
Wigton Railway Station. Nothing else really to commend it.
Silloth On the coast. Nothing else really to commend it and a long walk after leaving the high ground.
Maryport On the coast and convenient if a south-eastern start point were adopted. Railway station. Roman connection. Is the extra walk worth it ?
Cockermouth Convenient if a south-eastern start point were adopted. Good bus links. Feels a bit too close to the high ground compared with all of the others. Better off extending the walk to the coast at Maryport.
Penrith Convenient if a south-western start point were adopted. Railway station. Like Carlisle, it’s not much of a place, and certainly doesn’t have an inspiring end point.

Now, as I’ve already said, I personally give greater weight to an end point that has some significance or some aesthetic merit, and would rate those more highly than convenience or simply where they are on the map. This seems to rule out Wigton, Silloth, Cockermouth and Penrith and there’s no point considering Carlisle, Dalston and Caldbeck in this exercise. So that leaves us with the following possibilities for more serious consideration:

  1. Gretna
  2. Bowness-on-Solway
  3. Burgh by Sands
  4. Maryport

Let’s take each in turn.

Gretna

Gretna made it through to the shortlist largely because it offers the ability to do a complete crossing of the whole of Cumbria, whether that be starting at the actual border or the southern shore. It’s also highly convenient for the travel arrangements. But it would involve a lot of lowland walking and a spell close to the M6. In practical terms the most likely route to Gretna would coincide with the latter part of the official Cumbria Way. The biggest problem is that in order to cross the River Eden, the walk has to go via Carlisle and so doesn’t really offer an  improvement over the existing walk. Were it not for this, it might be worth a more serious look.

Bowness-on-Solway

This was my first thought of alternative end points, and it easily passed the meaningfulness test and it’s on the coast. I need to look at the public transport implications, and we do still have the issue of the amount of lowland walking, but it feels like a contender. A bit of lowland walking with a chunk of Hadrian’s Wall to finish may just work. It also has the advantage of giving an obvious link up to the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail.

Burgh by Sands

Ends at Hadrian’s Wall without the extra walking to the coast at Bowness. It’s also a bit nearer to Carlisle for the return journey. But to me this feels like stopping short of the finishing line, with the coast just 2km walk away. I think if I were to do a walk across Cumbria to Hadrian’s Wall, I’d opt for Bowness and then walk the section of the wall past Burgh by Sands to Carlisle for the train home. Hey, I might even carry on to the other end of the Wall.

Maryport

I’ve heard bad things about Maryport, but it does have a station, an old Roman fort and is the end of a Roman Road. If I were to go with a south-eastern start, then I think this would be a logical choice of end point. But whilst this may be a perfectly decent multi-day hike, it doesn’t feel quite right for this exercise.

Conclusion

I think I’m going to go with Bowness-on-Solway as my preferred new end point. Bowness seems to have the most going for it and I like the link up with the Hadrian’s Wall Path and the fact it’s on the coast. The Cumbria Way feels incomplete as it doesn’t connect both coasts, and this will sort it – at one end at least. The only issue I can foresee is the amount of lowland walking towards the end, but at least there is the Wall to look forward to. And by that stage on a long walk, there is an element of getting the head down to get the walk done – I’d rather have that later than right at the start when the desire to ditch it is greater – it’s like reading a book when you’re more likely to stop if you can’t get into it, but once you’re three quarters of the way through you generally read to the end come what may.

In my next post, I’m going to look at the options for the southern end, which I think are a lot less clear cut.

One thought on “Fixing the Cumbria Way – A New Northern End Point

  1. The last few miles are a disappointing ending. I would not wast a week on it either. It’s a bank holiday weekend walk if you get stuck in. Fine start, great sections and poor end. Yes it needs sorting.

    Like

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