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A pilgrimage hike from coast to mountains — St Bega’s Way and Back

Joe Hayhurst (CC-BY-SA/2.0)

A pilgrimage hike from coast to mountains — St Bega’s Way and Back

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

8

Tours

40:39 h

86.5 mi

10,250 ft

The mountainous regions of our planet have always inspired a kind of spiritual reverence. The laws of nature are played out on a huge scale, with towering peaks, great lakes, crashing waterfalls and dazzling displays of wildlife. It is no wonder that, around the world, these places draw millions of pilgrims to their slopes and summits every year.

The Lake District’s unique and romantic beauty draws more people than any other national park in Britain. In many ways, its picture-postcard lakes and rugged fells are the most worshipped of all the mountainous regions of Britain.

It is into the Lake District’s western reaches that St Bega’s Way and St Bega’s Way Back explore. Totalling 86 miles (138 km) when taken together, the Ways start and finish at two places where Christian worship has taken place for over a thousand years. Whether you choose to embark upon this great trek for religious reasons or merely as a disciple of the natural beauty found along the route, you are sure to feel invigorated.

The original St Bega’s Way follows the imagined route of St Bega, starting and finishing at the two churches with strong connections to her. She was the daughter of an Irish chieftain who fled an arranged marriage to a Norse prince. Her audacious escape took her across the sea to St Bees, where she tended to the sick and helped the community in a variety of ways. She then travelled to Northumbria, possibly via Bassenthwaite, where a church in her name now stands.

St Bega’s Way is a 36-mile (58 km) journey on foot from the priory church at St Bees on the west Cumbrian coast to St Bega’s church on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake in the northern Lake District. It passes through the gorgeous valleys of Ennerdale and Borrowdale, crosses the Honister Pass and summits Dent, one of Wainwright’s Outlying Fells.

The 50-mile (80 km) St Bega’s Way Back swaps start and end points, starting at St Bega’s church at Bassenthwaite Lake and taking a longer and more challenging route back to St Bees. You ramble through Vale of Lorton, Buttermere and Wasdale, summiting the Wainwright of Graystones and crossing the high passes of Scarth Gap and Black Sail. Each stage of this wonderful pilgrimage ends at a village church.

In this Collection, I have joined the two Ways into one great figure-of-eight through western Lakeland. Whether you choose to complete the Ways separately, or to complete the stages as day trips is entirely up to you. All the stages end near accommodation and amenities specifically tailored to walkers, though do book in advance if you are planning to overnight.

Taken separately, the Ways are a good warm up to some of the classic long-distance trails in the region, such as the Coast to Coast or the Cumbria Way. The route follows a mixture of minor roads, farmers’ tracks, public footpaths and fellside trails and for the most part is easy to follow, though it is not waymarked like some of the more established trails.

Most of the hiking is through the valleys of Lakeland, rather than over the tops. However, both Ways summit a medium sized fell and there are considerable ascents to mountain passes at Honister, Scarth Gap and Black Sail.

The mixture of terrain calls for sturdy, waterproof boots. Warm layers and waterproofs should still form a part of your pack even when the sun is shining. The mountain passes and fell summits are likely to be windier and it will certainly be colder up high. Don’t forget your sun cream, something that often catches people out in the Lakes. Provisions can be stocked up en route, but you will need plenty of water and snacks when on the walks.

For most, this is a trail for the warmer months, with long daylight hours, the sun reflected on the shimmering surface of the lakes and wildflowers in the woodland. Experienced hikers and those familiar with Wainwright bagging might enjoy the challenge posed by winter. If this is you, just be aware that the high passes may require the use of an ice axe and crampons after heavy snowfall.

The start point of St Bees is on the A595 west coast road, about an hour’s drive from the M6 at Penrith, via the A66. There is a regular train service from Carlisle, which takes about an hour and twenty minutes. Bassenthwaite Lake is a short drive from Keswick on the A66, also best accessed from the M6 at Penrith. Half of the stage end points are near bus routes, the ones not are the head of Ennerdale, Wasdale Head, Gosforth and St Bees (though there is a train station here).

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Intermediate
    04:53
    10.2 mi
    2.1 mph
    1,475 ft
    1,175 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage of St Bega’s Way begins on the Cumbrian west coast in St Bees, where Bega was said to have landed having fled Ireland to escape an arranged marriage to a Norse prince. The route heads inland, with fine views of the Western Lake District from the summit of Dent, before making for the lovely village of Ennerdale …

  • Difficult
    06:48
    13.9 mi
    2.0 mph
    1,800 ft
    1,825 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    A magnificent journey into the heart of the Lake District awaits you on this stage, which takes you through Ennerdale, ascends to the highest section of the Way, Honister Pass, and drops to finish in brooding Borrowdale

    At 13.9 miles (22.4 km) this is the longest stage. It also contains a steep pull up to the Honister Pass, giving it …

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  • Difficult
    05:43
    12.9 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,000 ft
    1,075 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This grand journey takes you north through Borrowdale, into the open expanse of the Vale of Keswick and along Derwent Water’s western shore to finish at St Bega’s church on Bassenthwaite Lake.

    There is 12.9 miles (20.8 km) to cover on solid paths throughout. The section on the wooded flanks of Dodd entails 1,000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain, …

  • Difficult
    05:39
    12.2 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,675 ft
    1,675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage of St Bega’s Way Back loops around the top of Bassenthwaite Lake, before crossing some rough terrain, bagging a Wainwright summit and descending into the peaceful Vale of Lorton.

    St Bega’s Way Back is designed to be slightly more challenging than the original way, as indicated on this leg by the ascent of Graystones, a Wainwright summit …

  • Intermediate
    04:02
    9.18 mi
    2.3 mph
    775 ft
    625 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    A wonderful valley walk from the serene Vale of Lorton to the famously beautiful Buttermere awaits on Stage 2. The highlight is the amble along Crummock Water’s western shoreline, which boasts sublime views. Gradients are kinder on this leg and there’s only 9.2 miles (14.8 km) to cover.

    The route initially heads east and south across pastureland. It then winds …

  • Intermediate
    04:36
    7.60 mi
    1.6 mph
    1,975 ft
    2,125 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    You explore three of Lakeland’s most magnificent valleys during this stage. Buttermere is left behind, as you pass over Scarth Gap and down to the head of wild Ennerdale, before ascending to Black Sail Pass and descending into glorious Wasdale.

    As the crow flies, the journey from Buttermere to Wasdale Head is not far. Even on the trails, you only …

  • Intermediate
    04:03
    9.30 mi
    2.3 mph
    600 ft
    700 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    Wast Water and the horseshoe of mountains that throng England’s deepest lake are the main spectacle on this stage, which takes you from Wasdale Head to Gosforth. There’s nowhere else in England quite like Wasdale. Take time to revel in the views, one of which is often cited as the nation’s favourite.

    Despite the lofty surroundings, this leg is easier …

  • Intermediate
    04:54
    11.1 mi
    2.3 mph
    950 ft
    1,100 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The finale takes you from Gosforth on quiet roads, through fields and along farmers tracks back to the lovely Cumbrian west coast at St Bees. The mountains are left behind for a quieter, more rural feel. With 11.1 miles (17.9 km) to cover, this is a lengthy end to the journey.

    Ascend north from Gosforth through meadows and past plantations. …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    8
  • Distance
    86.5 mi
  • Duration
    40:39 h
  • Elevation
    10,250 ft

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A pilgrimage hike from coast to mountains — St Bega’s Way and Back