Sunlit journeying from Coniston to Ambleside19th June 2009
One of the nice things about a British bank holiday is that, so long as engineering works are avoided, you still can get a normal weekday train service on the day itself. That afforded me an early morning getaway to Cumbria for a day’s walking in Central Lakeland. Following the previous day’s lengthy walk, I wasn’t planning on doing anything too exhausting and so stayed away from testing gradients for a walk that took part of the Cumbria Way from Coniston to Skelwith Bridge followed by a mixture of road and footpath hiking, thankfully with more of the latter than the former, from there to Ambleside.
From the point of those who are sold on the idea of a Bank Holiday scorcher, the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was perfect in many respects. However, hot days are less good for those wanting to go wandering through the countryside. Without any semblance of a cooling breeze, there is the unavoidable strength of the sun with the heat inducing dehydration if you’re not careful. The first consideration makes a good hat and sun screen essential and ongoing watering addresses the second though regular shaded pauses are things that I am coming believe necessary too. It was also the sort of weather for shady havens next to water and I could expect to pass fleshpots as I continued on my merry way, especially given that I was staying lower down anyway.
2007 became a year when many of the trip reports that you would have found on appearing here described progress along long distance trails. Somehow, it has slipped my notice that there is one that has been edging towards completion without my consciously planning it. That trail is the Cumbria Way and I have walked most of its length between Skiddaw House and Coniston. In fact, it turns out that I have been in its vicinity all of the way, even if I didn’t follow the route to the letter; there is a missing part between Rosthwaite and Derwentwater but I ask myself if it’s worth the effort unless I added it to a longer hike because I had frequented that are a good deal anyway. Other than that there are the fells around the Back o’ Skiddaw on the way to Caldbeck and a stretch extending along the shores of Coniston Water before you get to mentioning sections beyond the Lake District proper that get you as far as Ulverston or Carlisle. The latter pieces may get left for occasions when I want something lower level and without encountering hoards along the way.
Returning to the section between Coniston and Skelwith Bridge, that was landed on the ideas shelf for a truncated day rather than the longer period of time that I had. However, the extension to Ambleside aroused caution in my mind so the bank holiday was when I made use of the option. The first trick to execute when you get anywhere is to get your bearings and so it was for me in Coniston. It may not be the biggest of places but it was my first visit so I took my time as I sought out the northbound leg of the Cumbria Way. The next entrance on the right after the leisure club is where the trail goes off road again and I set to making steady progress on National Trust land beneath the Yewdale Fells. The terrain was a mixture of woodland and pasture with gentler gradients. Others were out and about but it was far from crowded. The shadier spots like Tarn Hows Wood were welcome shelter from the heat of the day.
After a short spell over tarmac, the tarns at Tarn Hows were reached and that was were things became busy. The mixture of gentle trails, shady woodlands and water attracted the masses in droves but they remained steadfastly along the water’s edge and the required spot of negotiation didn’t take too long at all, a stone’s throw along the trail and I virtually had it all to myself. Mountain bikers made their way against me (legally, I’ll have you know) as I shortened the distance to the A593. The Way crosses the road to pick a path following the field side of a wall. This can be easy to miss so be eagle eyed with your map reading because I missed it at first and was left with the misimpression that I needed to walk along the road, not the most pleasant of things.
The trail eventually veers away from the road to follow the boundary of Tongue Intake Plantation before doing an about turn at High Park and travelling through the said woodland, a godsend on a hot sunny day. A road crossing takes you beyond the trees and onto more pastoral countryside. This was where I started to encounter more folk again, especially on the last approached to Skelwith Bridge. Another route warning is in order for around that passing point: don’t expect the Way to emerge onto the road like it does on the map because I seem to recall that an off road alternative is now signed instead. That threw me while going from Great Langdale to Ambleside in February but my awareness of the deviation allowed me to proceed as I had planned.
After a short rest in a stone bus shelter, I carry on up the steep hill towards Loughrigg Tarn. The tarn wasn’t my destination so I veered right at the junction and picked up a right of way leading off to the left and uphill through more National Trust property. Passing a scout encampment, the gradient eased as I carried on traversing the slopes of Loughrigg Fell. Following one last blast of ascent and views over Windermere, it was downhill again. At this point, I was very reminded of a circular walk from Ambleside that took me up and over Loughrigg Fell while passing Grasmere and Rydal Water. My plan was to go to Wales that day but a cancelled train was the cause of sending me north instead. It is too easy to feel fed up when this happened but views towards the Pass of Dunmail Raise and more allowed those feelings to be displaced and satisfaction to be derived from the day’s outing.
There were no such negative thoughts as I dropped down to cross the road into a very pleasant tree-shaded Rothay Park. A pause for a short while was in order before I continued to catch my bus to Windermere’s train station. If you were lazing in Rothay Park, you may have been oblivious to this but I spied a bank of cloud approaching from the south as I yomped over Loughrigg Fell; skies had been becoming more milky as the day wore on in any case. By the time that I was in Windermere, the cloud bank was making its presence felt and helped me to feel that I wasn’t leaving for home prematurely. As it happened, I made way home from Macclesfield’s train station in dampness, a definite contrast to the weather that I had encountered on my wanderings that made me feel that going north was the right thing to be doing. Saying that, the damp ending placed no dampener on my recollection of the day.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Windermere. Bus service 505 from Windermere to Coniston and service 599 from Ambleside to Windermere.