Westmorland Heritage Walk 2004

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 1 - Preparation and Travel to Arnside

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About the Walk

The Westmorland Heritage Walk was devised by Mark Richards and Christopher Wright and first published in 1987 by Cicerone Press (ISBN 0902363 94 8). It is an attempt to approximately circumnavigate the old county of Westmorland and, in doing so, take in some of the best scenery that Westmorland had to offer. It, therefore, does not stick strictly to the borders, but deviates, where appropriate, to take in some of the best viewpoints. The walk has no official status and, to date, has not received any wide publicity to bring about much degree of popularity, although it certainly rates highly in terms of scenery when compared with many official walks. There are several places where there are optional high or low level routes to cater for the weather and/or the relative fitness of the walker. I set out with the intention of following all the high level routes as I always feel that this gives the best views, if the weather permits. By taking all the high level routes, the walk measures 200 miles on the map and considerably more on the ground when all the twists and turns of the many steep paths are taken into account. The total amount of climbing, if all the high level routes are taken, is in excess of 33,000 feet, which is a little more than the Pennine Way but in a shorter distance. It is, therefore, not a walk to be undertaken by the fainthearted, although there are several low level alternative routes available.

It has now become a problem trying to find new walks around Britain that suit me. There are many walks to choose, with new ones coming along at a regular rate, but most of these do not qualify as suitable for one reason or another. Many are too short for a main walking holiday, being only a few days to a week at most. Others follow lowland or valley routes, rather than taking to the high hills and mountains that I prefer. There may come a time when I am not able to cope with the rigours of high level walks, so I can save some of these others until then. Therefore, I was left with few alternatives but to repeat one of the walks I had done before. Of my favourites, the Pennine Way and Cambrian Way were rather too long for the two weeks I had available, so I was left with the Coast to Coast or the Westmorland Heritage Walk, both of which I had not walked for ten or more years. On balance, I considered that the latter had better scenery, though there was not a lot to choose between them, so I decided on that one, leaving the Coast to Coast for another year. One advantage of the Westmorland Heritage Walk is that it is a circular walk, so I would be able to park my car at the start and return to it at the end, thus saving a lot of difficult travelling by public transport.

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Planning the Walk

There were a few aspects of my previous walk of this route that I thought could be improved upon. I would start and finish at Arnside, which makes a more logical starting point, rather than just picking the nearest place to home, as I had done before. There was an uncomfortably long 25 mile section of the route between Ambleside and Kendal that I had found to be a problem before, so I would try to plan this differently. There is no accommodation available to be found down Longsleddale, so the only saving to be made would be if I could stay in Troutbeck rather than Ambleside, saving about three miles, but still leaving a very hard day's walk, especially as it involved a lot of mountain walking and would be followed by another day of over 20 miles. The problem I then had was that the youth hostel at Troutbeck was fully booked by a school party, and any B&Bs with rooms free wanted to charge me the full double room price of 55 for the night, which I thought was a bit much. Last time I walked this route I felt that it was a pity to drop down into the valley of Longsleddale when there was a ridge running along its western side, so I decided to change the route a little to follow this ridge, enabling me to drop down the western side into Staveley for accommodation. I could then follow the Dales Way for a few miles until I rejoined the route and then continue on beyond Kendal to stay overnight at Brigsteer. From there I could continue to Grange over Sands the following day. This would add an extra day to the walk and involve a deviation from the published route, but it would make this part of the walk much easier and may even prove better for scenery. With the reduced daily distances, it was no longer a problem to stay at Ambleside Youth Hostel, which had beds available.

In a couple of places on this walk, where the route involved a large loop almost back upon itself, I had stayed in the same hostel for two nights at a time, trading a few miles of extra walking for the ability to take a lighter pack for each of these days. This time I decided I would take the other option and progress on to an overnight stop further along the route, even if this meant that I had only progressed by three or four miles as the crow flies. The only other thing I would have liked to avoid was another long day of over 20 miles from Ravenstonedale to Kirkby Stephen. In fact, this was made worse because the B&B I had stayed in before at Ellergill had changed hands and no longer offered accommodation, which meant I would have to stay in Ravenstonedale itself, making this section 22.5 miles. There was no easy alternative without arranging transport, so I would just have to take this on board, much as I dislike days of this length, especially when there was a lot of ascent involved into the bargain.

As there is no accommodation list for this walk, and the original book is out of print through lack of interest, I had to look elsewhere for accommodation. There are several youth hostels along the route, which made a good start, and I also found a very good Dales and Vales website with lots of B&Bs listed in this area. Eventually, I managed to get all of my accommodation booked, and also arranged to leave my car at Arnside Youth Hostel, where I was staying on the first and last night of the walk.

My preparation and training for the walk was far from ideal, as my younger daughter had just bought a house needing a lot of conversion and renovation work, and this had to be done around the time I would have preferred to do the walk in June. This meant delaying it until July, and I saw a lot of fabulous walking weather pass me by in May and June, whilst I was in the thick of dust and rubble. Not only that, I had no spare time for any local walking, so I was unable to do any proper training. When I embarked on the walk, I had done no significant walking for nine weeks - not the ideal situation by any standards. This didn't mean that I was not fit, as I had been doing more than enough exercise with all the work I was doing, but this was not using my legs in the same way that a long walk would do.

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Diary of the Walk

Day 0 - Friday 9th July

Home to Arnside Youth Hostel

I was pleased to find that the weather was starting to look a bit better after some torrential rain yesterday, as I set off from home at 3 pm to head north. After contending with the usual slow moving M6 traffic on a Friday afternoon, I arrived in Arnside at 5.30 pm. The Arnside Youth Hostel is a fine old building in a prime position overlooking the bay. The very friendly warden booked me in and allocated me the 'Stargazer's Room', a small room on the second floor with a skylight window affording a view, not only of the stars, but also of the gardens and across the bay. Dinner was not until 7 pm, so I had time for a stroll down to the bay and around the village. In contrast to the heavy traffic on the M6 and on the road through Carnforth, Arnside was a peaceful and tranquil haven, with just a few anglers amongst the colourful boats lining the bay, and a few other people strolling along the promenade. The weather was quite sunny, but with a cool breeze, as I called in Ye Olde Fighting Cock for a pint of Thwaite's Bomber, which I drank whilst sitting outside overlooking the bay, watching the rising tide and the seabirds on the sands.

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Start of walk at Arnside

I returned to the hostel for a dinner of lentil soup, shepherd's pie and apple crumble, sitting at a table with a mother and daughter from Essex and a German who was working for six months in Darlington and was visiting for the weekend. Several other people were here for a guided walk of about five miles across the bay. Morecambe Bay is notorious for its quicksands and rapid incoming tides, which can take people unawares and have caused considerable loss of life to those venturing out without proper knowledge of the dangers. My meal was reasonable, but not wonderful, and I did wonder if the shepherd had lost his sheep judging by the amount of meat in the shepherd's pie. However, when it is possible to get a three course meal with tea or coffee for 5.20 it is unreasonable to complain about such things.

After dinner I had another stroll down into the village and watched the sunset across the bay, then called for a pint in the first pub I came to, The Albion, until an entertainer started singing, which drove me on to the pub I had visited previously. It was still twilight as I set off back to the hostel to go to bed. Someone else had put his things on the bunk above, and he returned a short while later. All was peaceful until 6.30, when we were awakened by very loud voices as people greeted each other in the corridor. My room-mate took exception to this and asked them to be quiet. They were members of the Ramblers' Association and were the ones I seemed to meet earlier wherever I went - in the street, in one pub, then in the other pub. They were all rather noisy and boisterous and not at all the sort of people with whom I would like to go rambling. A couple of them had been using mobile phones in the street, where their bellowed conversations could be clearly heard a hundred yards away.

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