Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends:
Stan Laurel started in Ulverston and went on to fame and fortune with his partner Oliver Hardy. And Paddy Dillon’s meticulous guide to the Cumbrian Way recommends that you start in Ulverston as well.
If you take your first step of the seventy-three miles outside Coronation Hall, Laurel and Hardy will cheer you on your way. Stan is leaning on a post with his arms folded and, possibly, thinking what fools these walkers are, and Oliver is too genteelly rotund to even contemplate the twelve miles a day that Paddy expects of you.
Paddy, an Ulverston lad, looks after you very well as you start your walk in energetic style: “Keep a stone wall on your left through fields then follow a track flanked by wire fences. Turn right to go between buildings at Old Hall Farm as marked.”
Later he will tell you to “Turn left at a T junction, signed ‘Cumbrian Way’.
There is little danger of losing your way. The path is well-signed as it wends its way north, largely following the valleys with possible overnight stops well-placed to find accommodation.
The first day could well take you along the side of the Blawith Fells and down along the shore of Coniston. Day two might find you walking up Great Langdale and staying the night at Dungeon Ghyll. On day three you could tackle Mickleden and the Snakes Pass and descend through Borrowdale and along the western shore of Derwentwater and spend the night in Keswick. The fourth day takes you across the Northern Fells climbing as far as Skiddaw House and then following the upper waters of the Caldew until you turn and struggle up Roughten Gill to Lingy Hut before you ascend to High Pike, at 658 metres, the highest point on the route. After that it’s downhill to Nether Row and Caldbeck. The final day offers you “mostly riverside tracks and paths with woods and fields, occasional short road walks . . . with some short gentle ascents and descents , but mostly level and easy”. Finally you arrive at the Tourist Information Office in Carlisle, sign the Cumbrian Way Book and reflect on your achievement and your blistered feet. But it’s been worth it.
You will have walked through some of Cumbria’s finest country, along the shores of two of its most beautiful lakes, through dramatic passes and wooded valleys. You will have seen the way the landscape varies with the underlying rocks. Other routes don’t offer you this variety. The Cumbria Waymarker spire in Ulverston encapsulates this geology with limestone at the base of the cage, slate in the middle and the red sandstone of the Carlisle area at the top.
The Guide is excellently planned and presented with informative notes on the geology, natural history and history of Cumbria at the front and helpful hints on accommodation and sustenance on the way. The map at 1:110000 is a little too small for you to trace your pedestrian progress, but good enough not to stray from the path and to give an idea of the country you are travelling through.
The guidance, needing to indicate every twist and turn, is detailed, but unfortunately leaves little room for highlighting places on the way and giving the sort of curious information which adds to the pleasure of the walk.
But the detail is essential. It is fortunate that in Caldbeck we are told to “Go ahead through a gate and continue along a track, then step to the right of a small sewage works”. You can imagine what would have happened to Stan and Olly if, unheeding, they’d walked straight on.