For as long as I can remember I always wanted to develop a long-distance walk, either a long linear route along the gritstone edges and the steep-sided limestone valleys of the Peak District, or a circular route traversing the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District. It was in those early years of walking in my back garden, the Dark Peak, that I first became acquainted with OS maps, and realised the joy of joining the popular routes and creating longer days out in the countryside. This was very rewarding for me, mentally and physically. From an early age, I was very creative and full of imagination, which is probably the reason why I was good at Art in my school years, and had a successful career as a cabinet maker. However, it wasn’t until I was well into my 30’s that I truly embraced walking and found a way of escaping life’s dilemmas.

Although exploring the hills and escarpments of the Peak District was the beginning of a new pastime for me, and one that would eventually take over my life, it would be a lovely calm September day in 2009 that completely changed my life forever. I skipped off the train at Ravenglass donning a new waterproof jacket, walking boots and a rucksack, and headed for the youth hostel in the valley of Wasdale. This was the Lake District, a whole new landscape for me to explore and stories to discover.

While descending from Irton Fell, I looked ahead and witnessed something quite breathtaking. A patchwork of greens dominated the valley floor, but my eyes were soon drawn towards a long expanse of blue surrounded by shielding giants. Yewbarrow, with the appearance of the arched back of a diving whale, receives most attention across Wast Water, while a vigilant Great Gable, seated at the head of this amphitheatre like a Cumbrian king on his throne, invites you to enter its secret kingdom. This is Lakeland, and I am amongst new friends.

The next morning I headed back to Ravenglass by following the course of the River Irt, and taking with me an overwhelming sense of spiritual and forward-thinking enlightenment. I wasn’t sad to be leaving, but instead I was already planning my next adventure. I returned to the Lake District the following year, in September 2010, to walk Alfred Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path. To walk across the country and through three national parks, was of course a wonderful experience, but it was the Lake District section and walking from one valley to the next that was truly exhilarating. This created an everlasting memory and became the blueprint for who I am today.

Thirteen wonderful years have followed, and during that time I’ve relocated to North-west Cumbria, got married and started a family. I built a website called Lakeland Routes, which is a family blog and photography diary of our favourite walks in the Lake District. Being so close to the national park has given me the chance to explore all the paths of Lakeland; yes, I’ve bagged the tops, walked the rounds, climbed the ridges and scrambled many crags over the years, but it was exploring the old packhorse routes and researching the history of the valleys that has, without doubt, provided the most interest for me personally. This newfound knowledge and my ambition to create a long-distance walk through the beautiful English Lake District became an obvious marriage, and my main focus was to recreate the journeys made by the people of the time. This was my inspiration.

The old routes connecting the valleys were vital arteries for early traders and dalesfolk, and for miners and quarrymen to commute between their homes and workplaces on the fells. Generally these old tracks and paths traversed the valley sides to avoid the marshy ground on the valley floors, and then zig-zagged their way up the valley heads to reach the summit passes. Standing at a summit pass today, we get a sense of what it was like for the folk to travel between the valleys; they certainly didn’t have the comfort of the walking boots and waterproofs we have today of course, or have the option to pick a good weather day. Each day, and each journey was a struggle for them. This was their way of life; to them, it was the Lakeland Way.

I began to seriously think about devising a long-distance walk through the Lake District in 2020, when we were told to “stay at home” during the Covid pandemic. Instead of scrambling the crags of the fells, I was of course beginning to climb the walls at home! However, the lockdown provided an opportunity to spend more time researching and looking at some of my favourite routes for possible inclusion. It was on a glorious day in June, with four Lake District maps laid out on the room floor, highlighter pen at the ready, and a cup of coffee served by the faithful wife, that I began plotting my way through the valleys and over the passes of Lakeland.

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