Walking in the Lake District
February 4, 2014 10:31 AM   Subscribe

My mom and I are planning on taking a walking trip in the UK's Lake District in May. We're currently considering booking with Contours Walking Holidays to walk Cumbria Way. They provide maps and routes and arrange accommodations and baggage transportation. However I haven't been able to find much in the way of reviews for them -- possibly because each person's trip is so different. My question is basically whether using Contours is the way to go here (perhaps someone reading this has personal experience with them?) or if I should be looking at a different company or some other way to make arrangements.

Mom and I are in the US and while we've both visited the UK several times, we haven't been in over a decade, and I've never been to the Lake District, so we feel a bit overwhelmed with the planning of all this. Please share any insight you have into planning a trip like this! Once we have things a bit more set up, I may ask some more specific questions about the area, too! Thanks guys.
posted by pupstocks to Travel & Transportation around Market Square, England (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The only reason I would go with a tour for something like this is for the baggage handling.

Everything else you can basically do yourself for free. Heck, you could spend the money on an international data plan and do the whole thing from your smartphone during the trip.

The great thing about traveling so slowly is that you can talk to people on the ground and ask things like, "Where's a good place to stay up near Bucolicton?"
posted by Sara C. at 11:06 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mother and I did a trip with Lakeland Ramblers (Lake District, inn-to-inn) in 2008. It was lovely (photos here) and the food/accommodation was top-notch. The Lake District is absolutely beautiful and the scenery is surprisingly varied. I also liked that we got to stay in so many different places. That being said, the company can be a bit claustrophobic--there were only about eight people on the trip, all of them but me 55+ (don't expect to walk particularly fast). Our tour was guided, and while the information was nice I was meh on the guide herself. If we did it again I'd do a self-guided option, but with baggage transportation--which sounds like exactly what you're planning!
posted by ethorson at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2014

If you're happy booking your own accommodation the you can just use The Sherpa Van Project to move your kit from place to place. The Cumbria Way service works south to north and costs £8 per stage (and I imagine that is per person), so £8 x 6 = £48. You can also download a trailplanner for £5. However, knowing the route, it would be fairly easy to use TripAdvisor to book your accomodation.

If you want guidance on the route, which Ordnance Survey maps to buy etc, this is a good resource.

My understanding is that Contours is reputable. Mac Adventures seems to get decent reviews too.

I would also suggest knowing when UK holidays are, especially school holidays, bearing in mind the Lake District gets pretty busy in the spring and summer.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:32 AM on February 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The main downside I can see from that website is it does look a little pricey-- you could definitely book some nice B&Bs and luggage transport for less than £850 for two people for a week on your own. On the other hand if you really hate planning it might be worth it!

I've done multi-day walks around the UK (though not the Cumbria way yet!). I've always booked my own B&Bs, so I can read all the reviews etc, and shift plans around for rain or what have you. May is outside intense competition for rooms, so it shouldn't be too much of a hassle I wouldn't think. There are many, many excellent books and services for planning all aspects of popular long-distance walks, it's an extremely common hobby here! There's a baggage-transfer service here for instance.

It sounds like if you're doing a self-guided walk, you're going to have very little contact with the company in any case, so the worst they can do is book you in awful B&Bs I guess? Can you ask for a list of the ones they use, so you can quickly check the quality?
posted by Erasmouse at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2014

Get some of those hiking ankle guard things. My friends and I found the hard way there their are ticks in them there hills.
posted by srboisvert at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2014

leg gaiters.
posted by srboisvert at 11:54 AM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Cumbria Way is a relatively low-level long-distance path, designed to cover decent distances without demanding fell ascents. It's well-trodden, well-supplied and well-described. Because of that, you're less reliant upon guidance than some of the more hardcore paths up the fells.

As for the route itself, it sort of depends on your travel and walking experience. The first day out of Ulverston is mainly farm fields and doesn't get properly "Lake District" until you're closer to Coniston. That transition in the landscape (and a gentler start) might be something you enjoy, or it might feel like a wasted day once you get into higher fells. I don't fault the tour company here, because it makes logistical sense.

I like MuffinMan's suggestion of the Sherpa Van Project, along with booking your own accommodation. That gives you a bit more leeway in where you choose to start and end your walk, and the option to spend a day or two on slightly more challenging loops that get you up into the high fells.
posted by holgate at 12:07 PM on February 4, 2014

It is also worth mentioning a point about scale: the Lake District really isn't very big, especially by the standards of American national parks. Multi-day walks can be great fun, but they're very far from being obligatory in the Lakes. If you split your accommodation between two b&bs in different parts, rented a car, and were willing to drive 40 or so minutes, max, to the start of your walks, I don't think there are many places you couldn't explore.
posted by oliverburkeman at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've taken several trips like this (though not in the Lake District). Two were long distance multi-day hikes in Scotland, and I've done a few in California as well. I've never used a tour guide / trip planning service.

It's certainly not necessary to use a tour service, but if you don't want to deal with the hassle of figuring it out, then it's worth the money to have a tour group do the planning.

Here's the logistics I had to deal with myself for the Scotland trips, that a tour operator would have otherwise done:

-book B&B/inn/hostel in each town - that's 8 sets of accommodations
-book baggage handling - most B&B owners do this for a small fee
-buy maps & trail guides & familiarize myself with the route
-make a reasonable judgement of how much mileage I can cover in a day
-feed myself - most B&B owners could provide a sack lunch for a small fee w/advance notice, and I made sure to have snacks & PB&J supplies as backup

My priority was doing it on the cheap, and I *like* planning travel logistics, so I was perfectly happy to plan this all by myself. The most annoying bit was figuring out the lodging for rural Scotland, since most of the options required a phone call or email to check availability. (It was like the internet of 10-15 years ago.) Many of the inns didn't have a web presence, so I ended up calling through lists of inns on trail info websites. That was a pain.

Also worth noting: I can't speak for the Lake District, but for my Scotland hikes, I rarely had any phone service while hiking, and often didn't have it in towns or at B&Bs. So having paper and/or cached copies of all of your info (maps, hotel addresses & phone #s, etc) is important, and takes time to gather.

I love planning complicated trips and feel a sense of accomplishment when I put trips like this together & do them, but when I recommend the Scotland treks to friends, for most people I suggest some sort of trip planner. It's not challenging to coordinate, but think about how much your time is worth before you embark on booking it yourself.
posted by soleiluna at 3:03 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great responses so far!!

We kind of like the idea of someone else handling the arrangements since it's all foreign territory to us and neither of us has a ton of time to devote to planning. At the same time, we do think we would prefer self-guided rather than walking with a group. We're not too worried about the issue of expense as far as paying someone to make arrangements goes, I guess? We just want to make sure we don't make some kind of horrible mistake going with that company. They are very tight-lipped about where your accommodations/arrangements will be until you've paid your full fee (which I can understand, but it makes it a little hard to bite the bullet on making the booking). I'll see if it's possible to get a list of where the accommodations are (great idea, Erasmouse!).
posted by pupstocks at 4:29 PM on February 4, 2014

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