This alternative route starts and finishes in the same places as the Cumbria Way: Ulverston to Carlisle. However, it climbs Scafell Pike, Green Gable, Grey Knotts, High Spy and Cat Bells instead of going past Coniston Water and through the Great Langdale valley.
This route is more challenging than the original Cumbria Way, but takes in the highest point in England. It’s a good option if you have already walked the Cumbria Way and fancy a change. It does involve a little bit of scrambling near the summit of Scafell Pike, but there is an option to take an easier route here if you wish.
South to north
Starting in Ulverston and finishing in Carlisle are the best options for transport links.
I walked this route in March 2019 in four days. I was covering a high mileage every day and had perfect weather. If I was walking it again, I would allow more time – possibly 5 or 6 days – and set off with at least 3 days’ food. The only place to resupply during the walk is Keswick.
From Ulverston follow the Cumbria Way path until about two miles past Gawthwaite, at Kiln Bank.
At Kiln Bank my Cumbria Way alternative over Scafell Pike leaves the original Cumbria Way and follows a footpath heading west for Birch Bank.
The footpath then joins a minor road north west at a cairn circle. You will need to follow footpaths, minor tracks and roads all the way to Broughton Mills. At one point you will need to cross the A593.
Leave Broughton Mills on the road towards Seathwaite. After just over a mile, at the top of the hill, leave the road and take the track on the right, heading north directly to Seathwaite. This is a really lovely path and feels remote. There are great views down to Seathwaite.
The footpath eventually descends to Seathwaite, where I stopped for a well-earned pint and a meal in the Newfield Inn.
As I left the pub after downing a second pint, I realised it was getting dull and I like to camp without using my head torch if I can (it attracts less attention). I walked down the road a short distance to a path leading into some woods by a river, and found the perfect camp within 20 minutes of leaving the pub.
It was a quiet camp last night, just the river noise, and I was able to pack up reasonably dry.
My alternative route then follows the river for a few hundred yards, and then it’s steep climb through the woods to Stonythwaite. There are two nice but very remote cottages here.
Follow the footpath from Stonythwaite to Grassguards. Then follow the path through the woods, around the west side of Harter Fell, and descend to Brotherilkeld in Eskdale.
On reaching Brotherilkeld, cross the bridge over the River Esk to the footpath on the west side of the River Esk.
I had never walked up this side of the valley before, and it ended up being a good decision. The river doesn’t have a bridge further up the valley, which could be difficult if there has been recent rain.
Follow the footpath on the west side of the River Esk for about four miles. Immediately after Cam Spout Crag, take the steep path up to Scafell Pike summit. I say path, but it is not obvious initially. However, it does soon open up into a lovely quiet path.
This is an enjoyable route to the summit of Scafell Pike, but I wouldn’t have climbed here if I didn’t trust my GPS. Initially there was no path to see on the ground, and it did involve a bit of scrambling. I found this quite tricky with a full pack!
If you don’t like the look of this route, there is another easier path about half a mile further up the valley.
The bonus of this route up Scafell Pike is that there are far fewer people. Towards the top there is a small path that is easy to follow.
When I arrived at the summit, I put on all my jackets as the wind was extremely cold. There was a continuous stream of people arriving and leaving the summit, which made me glad it wasn’t a weekend when it may have been even busier.
Head down from the summit and pick up the corridor route, which is rocky and a bit exposed in places. However, it gives you great views across Cumbria.
Styhead Tarn options
On reaching Styhead Tarn, you have a couple of options. You could follow Styhead Gill down and walk through the Borrowdale valley, rejoining the original Cumbria Way route in Rosthwaite. This is a relatively easy route and definitely the best option if the weather is poor.
However, a more challenging option is to climb up from Styhead Tarn to Windy Gap and the summit of Green Gable. This is very steep but once you reach the summit you can stay high, following the path over the summits of Brandreth and Grey Notts. The views are amazing in good weather.
From here you drop to the Honister Pass and Mine which has a cafe.
Again, you have some options at this point: climb again and camp, or head for the Rosthwaite pub. I wanted to climb Cat Bells in the early morning, especially as the amazing weather looked like it was going to hold. So I made the decision to climb out of Honister Pass and camp under High Spy.
It’s a steep climb out of Honister pass up to Dale Head. You don’t need to climb to the very top; part way up take the path that contours around to the tarn.
I made camp at about 6pm under clear blue skies, but a very cold wind. It was a beautiful sunset and the low cloud over Scafell Pike gave it an eerie feel.
It didn’t get dark until 7.30pm, which was a great help, as it had been a long day.
Morning dawned clear and frosty, with no wind and initial cloud inversion. There were wonderful effects made by the clouds around the mountains.
My Cumbria Way alternative over Scafell Pike now climbs to the top of High Spy.
I felt very lucky to be up here on such a perfect morning.
From the summit of High Spy, follow the ridge all the way over Maiden Moor, and descend over Cat Bells. I had a lovely walk in the sunshine along Cat Bells with not a soul in sight until the very end. From the end of Cat Bells rejoin the Cumbria Way path into Keswick.
It was still early and there weren’t that many people about as I walked into Keswick.
I stopped in the George Hotel for breakfast. It was nearly 12 when I left Keswick. Head north out of town towards Skiddaw House, following the Cumbria Way.
The path climbs steeply to the Skiddaw car park, then it’s a nice, fairly level walk around to Skiddaw House Youth Hostel.
The Youth Hostel is open to non residents between 12 and 3pm. I went in for a sit down in front of the fire, made myself a cup of coffee and left a donation in the tin as requested.
From Skiddaw House, it’s a long empty valley walk all the way to Grainsgill Beck, following the Cumbria Way.
It was a harder climb to Great Lingy Hut than I remembered – I last walked this in October last year, with my wife and youngest children. I did remember to fill up with water at the last river, because I remembered that there’s none by the hut. I arrived just before 6pm and put the tent up to dry. You could camp here if the hut was full, or if you prefer to camp, but it’s exposed and not perfectly flat.
The wind had got cold as I climbed to the hut and there were still patches of snow at this height. I was expecting a cold night.
The route today follows the Cumbria Way from Great Lingy Hut and High Pike, dropping down into Caldbeck and then all the way to Carlisle.
This part of Cumbria feels really remote, but I hadn’t been walking long when I met a runner who stopped to ask where I was going.
Not long after I met a young lad walking his dog, who asked the same thing. Perhaps not so remote after all, then!
Caldbeck is a nice village with a cafe and pub.
The map shows the path following the River Caldew all the way to Carlisle. The steep climb as you leave Caldbeck is therefore a bit of a surprise.
It was a nice walk through the woods with some views.
I don’t think this area has as many walkers because on leaving Caldbeck, I had another chap ask what I was doing. We chatted about the North and South Lakes which still have local communities, which have been lost in the Central Lakes. He said they are struggling to keep it that way, though, as more and more homes are being sold to holiday home owners.
I made it to the Bridge End pub for 12.30pm, after good paths in the woods and along the river. It felt good to re-charge and rest my feet.
The route then took me through fields to join a cycle path into Carlisle. It looked a nice tidy city; I liked what I saw of it.
I really enjoyed walking this quiet, more remote Cumbria Way alternative over Scafell Pike in perfect weather. If you were unlucky with the weather at any point, there are various, interesting options to change the route. Five or six days would make the route more enjoyable; I walked it in four as this route formed part of my Land’s End to John O’Groats route, and I was up to full fitness.
I found wild camping on this route fairly easy. Finding water was also not an issue, as there were plenty of rivers to filter it from.