The Cumbrian Coast: Our Top 5 Walks

Recommended in the Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel 2020 guide, the English coastline is one of jewels of natural England. Whether you want sandy beaches, towering cliffs, iconic lighthouses and more, the sheer variety of the English seaside can offer something for everyone. The Cumbrian coast is not something most people talk about about when discussing Cumbrian landscapes; of course, that’s often reserved for the fells and lakes of the Lake District.

But we would argue that the Cumbrian coast is a beautiful alternative if you’re looking to move on from the fells and dales of the Lake District… you just have to know where to look.

So fill your travel mug with a hot beverage, and take some nourishing soup or stew with you: here’s 5 of our favourite Cumbrian Coast walks, the secret jewels of the English coastline.

1. St. Bees to Fleswick Bay, the cliffs of the Cumbrian Coast

3 miles/4.8 km. Give yourself two hours.

St. Bees is a beautiful little village at the foot of the Pow Beck Valley in West Cumbria, sandwiched between Whitehaven in the north and Sellafield in the south.

Rising 141 m/462 ft above the mile-long sandy beach at St. Bees is the southern cliffs of St. Bees Head, the only Heritage Coast between Wales and Scotland and a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

There’s a terrific walk you can enjoy here that takes you to one of Cumbria’s secret little jewels: Fleswick Bay. Start from the St. Bees beach car park, walk past the Lifeboat Station and turn right along the promenade.

St. Bees to Fleswick Bay route
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Cross the footbridge and start ascending up the South Head of St. Bees Head, known locally as Tomlin. Follow the clear footpath near the cliff edge all the way up the South Head and back down as it descends into the junction at Fleswick Bay. Then you just have to navigate the gully out into the bay.

The cliffs of St. Bees head at Fleswick Bay on the Cumbrian Coast

You’ll immediately find yourself surrounded by the towering, jenga-like, red sandstone cliffs of St. Bees Head. On foot, there is no sand but instead a very fine shingle, occasionally parted by wave-cut sculpted sandstone platforms. Should you visit this secluded place in the spring, you’ll be greeted by the cries and calls of thousands of cliff-nesting seabirds. Mostly guillemots, you can also spot razorbills, fulmars, and kittiwakes.

Simply return back the way you came. And do keep in mind the tide times.

2. Ravenglass to Newtown Knott, the historical Cumbrian Coast

3.5 miles/5.5 km. Give yourself two hours.

Ravenglass is the only Cumbrian coastal settlement within the boundaries of the Lake District National Park. This ancient village, dating back to the 2nd century when it served as a Roman naval base called Glannoventa, sits at the confluence of three rivers: the Esk, Irt, and Mite.

A famous survivor of the Roman settlement at Ravenglass is the Bath House, which this walk incorporates.

Park at the Lake District National Park car park off Croftlands Drive, and exit the car park eastwards to take the bridge east over the railway line. Head into the woods alongside the children’s park and turn right down the wooded Walls Drive.

Ravenglass to Newtown Knott route
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Eventually you’ll come across a clearing with the ruins of the Roman Bath House on your left. You can fully access the ruins, just be careful and obviously treat the area with respect.

The Roman Bath House at Ravenglass, once the home of the Roman fort Glannoventa on the Cumbrian Coast. Photo by August Schwerdfeger, licensed CC-BY-4.0
Photo by August Schwerdfeger, licensed CC-BY-4.0

Afterwards, continue down Walls Drive until you reach a fork. Take the left fork heading towards Newtown, and follow the footpath all the way towards Newtown Knott. On top of the Knott, one can enjoy incredible panoramic views: westwards over the Ravenglass Estuary and the Irish Sea, and Eastwards towards Muncaster, Eskdale, and the Lake District fells.

Come down off the Knott towards the south, passing through a gate, and rejoin the Cumbria Coastal Way towards the sea. You can then follow the beach front and dunes north all the way back to Ravenglass.

3. Humphrey Head circular, the myths of the Cumbrian Coast

4.25 miles/6.8 km. Give yourself 1 hour 40mins.

The Cumbrian coast is more known for its long stretches of sandy beaches, fine shingle, undulating dunes, and expansive mudflats, with the only real cliffs being located at St. Bees. But you can find the occasional rocky outcrop along the Cumbrian coast that offers extensive panoramic views.

About 10 miles south of Grange-over-Sands one can find, rising 52 m/172 ft above the mudflats of Morecambe Bay, a whale-back-shaped limestone outcrop known as Humphrey Head. Most of the head is now a nature reserve, managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, featuring leaning windblown Hawthorn trees, peregrine falcons, shellducks, curlews, redshanks, as well as some relatively rare flora.

Humphrey Head circular route
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According to folklore, Humphrey Head is also the location of the killing of the last wolf in England, in around 1390. The legend describes the wolf being chased off the Coniston fells where it caused mayhem among the local sheep. Eventually locals rounded up on the wolf at Humphrey Head, killing it with pikes whilst it hid in the rocks.

Humphrey Head, a promontory of limestone sticking out into Morecambe Bay from the Cumbrian Coast. Photo by Andrew ARG, licensed CC-BY-2.0
Photo by Andrew ARG, licensed CC-BY-2.0

This walk starts at Kents Bank railway station. Park on the roadside outside the station and enter onto the platform at the station, crossing over the tracks using the wooden boards of the passenger walkway. Go through the white wooden gate, and then through the gap in the wall about 4 metres to the right and out on to the parapet. Walk along this concrete parapet that runs parallel to the railway line, and follow the track as it branches off to the left, with the trees on your right. This is Kirkhead End. Follow the track around the Head where you’ll close in on the railway line again. Keep following the track towards the farm buildings, and then follow along the farm boundary wall towards the Humphrey Head Outdoor Education Centre. From here you can follow the wall and then the line of trees at the eastern end of Humphrey Head all the way to Humphrey Head point, at which point you can then ascend its southern tip towards its summit and enjoy panoramic views of Morecambe Bay and beyond.

4. South Walney Nature Reserve trail

3 miles/5 km. Give yourself two hours.

The Furness peninsula of South Cumbria offers a plethora of coastal walks, so choosing just one proved quite tricky. We’ve gone for South Walney Nature Reserve on Walney Island, immediately south of Barrow-in-Furness.

Walney Island is just one of many of the Islands of Furness but is certainly the biggest, and also eighth biggest island in England. It was formed during the last glacial period, around 15,000 years ago, when the River Duddon was a large glacial lake and deposited till at its mouth, which eventually became Walney.

South Walney Nature Reserve route
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Simply park up at the South Walney Nature Reserve car park and follow signs clockwise for the Red Trail. Around the Nature Reserve’s northern coast you’ll experience cracking views across the water, with the skyline of Barrow backed by the Lake District fells in the distance. But closer to the shore you’ll spot Piel Island and the famous Piel Castle. It is possible to walk to Piel Island when the tides are out, but absolutely don’t do it unless you have a local guide.

Piel Castle viewed from South Walney Nature Reserve. Photo by John Hill/padsbrother, licensed CC-BY-2.0.
Photo by John Hill/padsbrother, licensed CC-BY-2.0.

South Walney Nature Reserve is home to Cumbria’s only grey seal colony, and you can generally see them playing in the water all year round, moreso at high tide. Be warned: baby grey seals are particularly vulnerable to disturbance, which would cause the mother to abandon it and the pup to starve.

South Walney Nature Reserve is home to Cumbria's only colony of Grey Seals

During the winter you’ll spot huge numbers of waders and wildfowl feed and roost around the Nature Reserve. In spring, see the courting eider ducks and catch the returning spring migrants: wheatear, willow warbler, and sandwich terns.

5. Arnside to Arniside Knott circular

4.9 miles/7.8 km. Give yourself 3 hours 30 mins

Arnside is a seaside village located right on the southeastern corner of Cumbria. Once an important fishing port, the rise of 19th century mining required a viaduct to be built over the Kent Estuary at Arnside, linking the Furness peninsula of Cumbria with Lancashire. As a result of the viaduct, the estuary silted up. Following the decline in use of the railway line as the mining industry wound down, Arnside was instead promoted as a tourist seaside resort, a growing trend with moneyed Victorian holidaymakers.

Arnside maintains its reputation today as a beautiful holiday destination, with incredible coastal views, independent shops, historical buildings, and a ruddy good chippy. Reaching 159 m/522 ft behind the village front is Arnside Knott, a limestone outcrop much like Humphrey Head. There are many ways to access the summit of Arnside Knott; the route we’ve chosen incorporates much of the Arnside coast along with a hike to the top of the Knott to enjoy those panoramic views.

Arnside to Arnside Knott route
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Park along the Promenade Road in one of the free laybys and head southwest along the road, with the beach to your right. You’ll see a sign for a footpath to New Barns Bay once you reach the end of the road, just follow that route. On reaching New Barns, there is a three-way finger post. Take the route to Whitecreek and Far Arnside; it runs along the landward side of Frith Wood and rejoins the coastal path at Arnside Point.

Walk along the cliff path, rounding Park Point until you reach some residential caravans. Use the main tarmac road through the caravan park, following the fingerpost for Far Arnside. Walk through the hamlet of Far Arnside and turn left off the road at the three-way green fingerpost, signed “Arnside via the Knott”. The fenced footpath takes you to a stone slit stile by another caravan site. Turn left following the public footpath fingerpost for Arnside.

View over the Kent Viaduct to the southern Lake District from Arnside Knott. Photo by Alastair Rae, licensed CC-BY-SA-2.0
Photo by Alastair Rae, licensed CC-BY-SA-2.0

Eventually you’ll reach the National Trust area of Heathwaite. Follow the obvious climbing track, but make sure to enjoy the views as they start to open up. You’ll arrive at a four-way fingerpost. Go through the gate next to it and go straight ahead, following the direction for “Arnside Knott”. When the track forks, go right, and stay on the main climbing track. On the flat-topped summit of Arnside Knott, take in the views of the Lakeland Fells to the west, and the Yorkshire Dales to the east, with Ingleborough being particularly prominent.

To return, locate the main track again, heading north. It forks at a gate. Ignore the right-hand fork that follows the wall and instead turn left through the gate. Descend the field toward its bottom right-hand corner, then go through the gate into the woods and turn left.

At the road, turn left and follow it as it curves right. At the road junction, turn left and walk along the road until you see a “no through road” on the right. There is a fingerpost indicating a public footpath to the Promenade. Follow the road downhill all the way back to Arnside.

Do ewe love to be beside the seaside?

Have you been on any of these Cumbrian coastal walks? Let's have a chat in the comments below, or join the flock on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or email us.

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