Cumbria Way — England, Snowdonia — Wales, 2002

Our third long-distance ramble in the United Kingdom, the Cumbria Way drew Paul and I forth from the southern Lakes District north to Carlisle on the Scottish border.  Our journey began with uncharacteristically fine weather during our overnight stay in the friendly seaside community of Ulverston on Morecomb Bay.

We were welcomed by a vegetarian youth hostel, toured the compact but comprehensive Stan Laurel museum, and thoroughly enjoyed the curious Lantern Procession festival that so happened to coincide with our stay:  the locals parade at sunset with hundreds of hand-made candlelit paper lanterns in a variety of animal and abstract forms.

Following the procession, we grabbed some cod & curry at the local chippy before heading to a hilltop park on the outskirts of town where a massive dragon effigy was set ablaze, igniting a shower of fireworks accompanied by a soundtrack of inspiring sound.  After such excitement, we were barely rested for our early departure the next morning.

So off to the hills after a hearty veg English breakfast!  The weather was again brilliant and by noon we had entered the Lake District National Park.  Overlooking Coniston Water and the fells beyond, we sat on the grass and in my packed lunch I was delighted to find a prize 5£ note in my bag of crisps!  The first round of beers was on me, thanks to the Walkers snack food company.

The rest of the Way was filled with physical challenge and reward as we crossed the rugged hills and dales, the weather held nicely for most of the week and climbing the many fells certainly got the blood pumping.  We were happy to traverse our beloved Lakeland in a new direction (previously we crossed West-to-East) and met the Coast-to-Coast footpath in the stone village of Rosthwaite, a favorite from past visits.

On day five we arrived in Carlisle after an undulating 112 km (66 miles) from Ulverston.  A Roman city established to serve nearby Hadrian’s Wall, Carlisle was a relative metropolis after our week of tiny villages and local pubs.  But we didn’t dally; the next day we were Wales-bound with the objective to scale the magnificent Snowdon peak.

Our feet rested after the southbound journey, we entered Wales greeted again by perfect clear blue skies (despite Snowdonia’s reputation as the wettest place in the UK).  The next morning we left Llanberis town with our sights on Mount Snowdon.  We reached the intimidating Crib Goch knife-edge and scrambled along it’s scraggy surface with whipping winds from the west and a thousand-foot drop to the east.

Despite our white knuckles and shaky feet we finally arrived at Yr Wyddfa, the top of the Snowdon Massif.  A letdown after grappling Nature in coupled isolation during the ascent, this ne plus ultra was packed with hordes of non-climbers filling their bellies with greasy chips and ale before heading back down from the summit on the narrow gauge Snowdon Ranger railway.

Thankful to leave the crowd, we continued westward along the Snowdon Horseshoe trail and eventually descended to the  Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel where Sir Edmund Hillary and his team trained for the first successful Everest expedition in the 1950’s.  Tipping our pints beneath Hillary’s signature on the pub ceiling, Paul and I downed our well-deserved drafts.  The greatness in this historic hotel was palpable.

With the first of the Three Peaks Challenge behind us, we rested our legs during our remaining days in Wales.  We toured National Trust manor estates and gardens, strolled along the expansive sands of Tenby where Paul summer vacationed as a child, and filled our bellies with tea, ales, curries, toffees, and pub meals.

We had survived the challenging footpaths and peaks of the Lakeland fells and Welsh Snowdonia.  The beauty of the land and the affability of the people enthralled us.  Eager for our next adventure, we were already plotting our next UK ramble as we boarded our home-bound plane…

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