Cumbria Way in winter – a survivor’s review
Miracles do happen. I walked and wild camped the 73-mile Cumbria Way over the weekend – and I didn’t experience a single drop of rain. Yes, that’s right, my waterproofs stayed unused in my backpack for the entire four-day journey. Instead I was treated to clear, crisp, sunny days that you usually only dream of; unhindered views of the snow-capped Coniston fells and Langdale Pikes; and mesmerising starry skies as I set up camp.
It was an awesome – yet challenging – Lakeland adventure. The real hardship was the cold. I’ve never wild camped in the height of winter before and I fancied putting myself, and my kit, to the test. I survived (as you know, because I’m writing this blog post), but it certainly wasn’t comfortable when the mercury plummeted to around -5C. When I breathed out it was like I was vaping, my body was shivering and the water in my bottle froze solid. My four-season sleeping bag, however, did me proud and basically saved my life each night.
The other challenge was the mileage. I crammed the 73-mile route from Ulverston to Carlisle, via Coniston, Dungeon Ghyll, Keswick and Caldbeck, into four days to fit into my days off. Walkers usually take five. This meant I had to hike 18 miles or so a day, with my why-is-it-so-bloody-heavy backpack slowing me down, rather than an easier 15-miles per day. This meant I was often walking pre-dawn and post-dusk. But, strangely, I loved that. The atmosphere in the fells is so different at night. The dark, brooding silhouette of the surrounding peaks marking the skyline; Herdwick eyes glowing a demonic green in the glare of my head-torch; the gradual awakening of the world as the morning light arrives.
I’ve not written this post as an in-depth trip report (maybe that will come later) – it’s more a collection of my initial thoughts and feelings on arriving home. I still can’t quite believe how lucky I was with it all. All the ingredients came together. Snow on the high fells, sparkling frosts in the morning, mountain reflections in still lakes, friendly robins visiting me as I took a break in the forest – it was everything I adore about the Lake District and more in a special long-distance hiking adventure.