Wild Walking UK

Cumbria Way alternative over Scafell Pike

A view of Keswick, with Skiddaw in the clouds from Cat Bells
Looking towards Keswick with Skiddaw in the clouds from Cat Bells

My alternative route starts and finishes in the same places as the Cumbria Way, Ulveston to Carlilse. But climbs Scafell Pike, Green Gable, Grey Knotts, High Spy and Cat Bells. Instead of going past Coniston Water and through the Great Langdale valley.

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Scafell Pike summit

Starting in Ulveston and finishing in Carlisle is the best place for transport links.

I walked this route in March 2019 in 4 days. I was covering a high mileage every day and had perfect weather. So 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.

Day 1

From Ulveston follow the Cumbria Way path until about 2 miles past Gawthwaite to Kiln Bank.

At Kiln Bank my route leaves the Cumbria Way and heads west for Birch Bank. Then paths and minor roads north west to join the road to Broughton Mills.

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, directly to Seathwaite.

This was an enjoyable walk through some lovely scenery. It eventually descended to Seathwaite, where I stopped for a well earned pint and 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 mins of leaving the pub.

I’ve had two pints so this might not be the best I’ve ever pitched the tent

Day 2

It was a quiet camp last night, just the river noise, and I was able to pack up reasonably dry.

I had a short walk by the river and then a steep climb to Stonythwaite. Where there were two nice but very remote cottages.

Follow the path from Stonythwaite to Grassgaurds, then through the woods around the west side of Harter Fell to Brotherilkeld in Eskdale.

It was a nice enough walk over the top in the cloud, then a lovely descent.

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On reaching Brotherilkeld, cross the bridge over the River Esk to the path on the west side of the River Esk.

I’ve never walked up this side of the valley before, and this ended up being a good decision. I didn’t have to cross the river further up, which doesn’t have a bridge.

Following the path on the west side of the River Esk for about 4 miles. Just after Cam Spout Crag, take the steep path up to Scafell Pike summit.

This was an enjoyable route to the summit of Scafell Pike. 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. This wasn’t easy 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.

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Summit of Scafell Pike – 12 noon, 28th March

The bonus of this route up Scafell Pike was that there were no people. Towards the top there was a small path that was easy to follow. On arriving at the summit, I put on all my jackets as the wind was extremely cold and sat and ate a sandwich. There was a continuous stream of people arriving and leaving the summit, which made me glad it wasn’t a weekend.

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Corridor route down from Scafell Pike

I headed down from the summit on the corridor route, which was rocky and a bit exposed, but gave me great views as the weather improved.

Styhead Tarn

On reaching Styhead Tarn the sun had come out which convinced me to change my plans. Instead of taking my bad weather alternative and following Styhead Gill down the valley to rejoin the Cumbria way in Rosthwaite. At Skyhead Tarn I climbed up to Windy Gap and the summit of Green Gable. I then stayed high, following the path over the summits of Brandreth and Grey Notts, to enjoy the amazing views.

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Staying high to make the most of the weather

I dropped to the Honister Pass and Mine which had an open cafe. I considered my options again here at 5pm: do I climb and camp, or head for the Rosthwaite pub as I haven’t got much food left? I did fancy climbing Catbells in the morning, especially as this weather looked like it was going to hold. So made the decision to climb and camp under High Spy.

It’s a steep climb out of Honister pass up to Dale Head, I didn’t climb to the top, part way up I took the path that contours around to the tarn.

I made camp at about 6pm under clear blue skies, but a very cold wind. A beautiful sunset and 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.

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Camp for tonight

Day 3

Morning dawned clear and frosty, with no wind and initial cloud inversion, then wonderful effects made by the clouds around the mountains. I set off at 6.30am and was on the top of High Spy fairly quickly, in perfect weather.

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Looking back towards camp

I felt very lucky to be up here on such a perfect morning.

I had a lovely walk in the sunshine along Cat Bells, there was not a soul in sight until the very end. Where I descended to rejoin the Cumbria Way path into Keswick.

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You need to get up early to see Cat Bells this quiet

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 at about 10.30am, it was nearly 12 when I left Keswick.

The path climbs steeply to the Skiddaw car park, then it’s a nice, fairly level walk around to Keswick House (Youth Hostel).

Skiddaw House youth Hostel

It was a nice surprise to find the Youth Hostel open to non residents between 12 and 3. So I went in for a sit down in front of the fire, and made myself a cup of coffee, leaving the donation in the tin as requested.

From Skiddaw House, it’s a long empty valley walk all the way to Grainsgill Beck.

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.

Great Lingy Hut, with my tent drying in the evening sun

The wind had got cold as I climbed to the hut and there were still patches of snow at this height. So I was expecting a cold night.

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Day 4

The weather started off clear today, but quickly clouded over by the time I left at about 6.15am.

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Summit of High Pike

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.

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Not long after I met a young lad walking his dog, who asked the same thing.


Caldbeck is a nice village with a cafe and pub.

My map shows the path following the river all the way to Carlisle. I didn’t expect it to climb as steeply as it did as I left Caldbeck.

It was a nice walk through the woods with some views.

A nice new bridge

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.

Interesting buildings along the way

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.

Bridge to Carlisle Castle

I really enjoyed walking this route in perfect weather. If you were unlucky with the weather at any point, there are various, interesting options to change the route.

I found wild camping fairly easy, and finding water was not an issue, as there were plenty of rivers to filter it from.

My 11 wild camping rules.

Cumbria Way walk with children 2018.

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