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A heavenly hike amongst historic wonder — Cistercian Way

Jon Sparks (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A heavenly hike amongst historic wonder — Cistercian Way

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield



3-4 h

/ day

32.6 mi

1,950 ft

1,875 ft

The Furness and Cartmel peninsulas in the south of what is today Cumbria are home to some of the most magnificent reminders of the Cistercian order. Crumbling castles, wondrous abbey ruins and beautiful churches are dotted across this land. It is also a region of breathtaking natural beauty. The shifting sands, ebbing tides and dynamic waters of Morecambe Bay and the Kent and Leven estuaries are set to the dramatic backdrop of South Lakeland’s distant fells.

The Cistercian Way is a medium-distance trail that threads its way through this exquisite blend of ancient history and scenic wonder. The official Way covers 33 miles (53 km), starting at Grange-over-Sands and finishing at Roa Island off the southern tip of the Furness Peninsula.

Highlights along the Way include: Eggerslack Woods and the superb views from Hampsfell; Cartmel Priory, once an Augustine priory and one of the most impressive ecclesiastical buildings of the medieval era; Holker Hall and its extensive gardens and parkland; Dalton-in-Furness and its 14th-century pele tower; the wondrous ruins of Furness Abbey, once the second most powerful Cistercian abbey in the country; and Roa and Piel islands, the latter boasting impressive castle ruins.

Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries at the hands of Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541, Medieval Britain’s Cistercian abbeys were some of the most wealthy and powerful institutions in the land.

In their prime, the Cistercians of Furness Abbey controlled a great deal of South Cumbria, as well as the Isle of Man and parts of Ireland. They built a number of grand structures throughout the region, such as a pele tower in Dalton and an impressive castle on Piel Island. Both of these were built to defend against marauding Scots and to protect the trade between the Furness Peninsula and the Isle of Man.

Cistercian architecture is widely thought to be one of the most spectacular of all the European styles. The jewel in the Furness Cistercians’ crown was Furness Abbey itself, which would have been a lavish, spellbinding sight. Built from local sandstone and towering to 131 feet (40 m), the abbey’s influence and wealth was second to only Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. Its evocative ruins form the centrepiece of the Way.

In this Collection, I have split the route into 3 short stages that give you plenty of time to explore the various abbeys, churches, towns, villages and stately homes along the way. You could complete the Way in two days by combining stages 1 and 2.

The Collection covers slightly less ground than the traditional Cistercian Way, totalling 32.6 miles (52.5 km). This is because I have opted not to include the crossing of Leven Estuary’s sands, as this can be dangerous without a guide. Due to this, Stage 1 finishes at Cark and Cartmel train station, allowing you to take the train to Ulverston at the start of Stage 2. I’ve made some of the mileage back by plotting a route into the town of Barrow at the end of the Way.

This itinerary is suitable for all walkers, with little in the way of elevation change and is doable all year round. However, the Piel Ferry only operates between April and September. It would be a shame to miss seeing Piel Castle up close.

Whilst not as wet as Lakeland, the Cumbrian coast does receive a fair amount of rainfall from incoming westerlies. Waterproofs are a must, as are sturdy boots, as there are a variety of surfaces along the Way. Food is readily available en route, so you won’t need to carry too many provisions along with you. However, it is worth planning and booking your meals in advance.

Grange, Ulverston, Dalton and Barrow all offer a range of accommodation. They lie on the Furness railway line, making day walks easily achievable. The railway also connects to the West Coast Main Line at Lancaster.

The Cistercian Way often shares its route with the Cumbrian Coastal Way, which explores the entirety of Cumbria’s beautiful and historic coastline. For a Collection detailing this wonderful, long-distance trail, see: komoot.com/collection/1085794.

On The Map


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Cistercian Way

35.1 mi

2,275 ft

2,300 ft

Last updated: December 7, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Grange-over-Sands to Cark — Cistercian Way

    7.41 mi
    2.1 mph
    1,025 ft
    1,000 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage explores the Cartmel Peninsula, first ascending to a stupendous viewpoint on Hampsfell, an Outlying Wainwright Fell, before descending to Cartmel. You explore this pretty village and admire the majesty of its priory church, before visiting Holker Hall and its extensive gardens and parkland

    by Alex Foxfield

  • Intermediate
    10.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    475 ft
    350 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    During this stage you explore the historic towns of Ulverston and Dalton-in-Furness, with a visit to the delightful villages of Great and Little Urswick, situated by a beautiful tarn. There is much in the way of architectural interest – impressive parish churches and a pele tower lie en route.

    At 10

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Expert
    15.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    450 ft
    525 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    The final stage visits the impressive ruins of Furness Abbey, once a grand Cistercian abbey second in wealth and influence only to Yorkshire’s Fountains Abbey. The pilgrimage continues to the islands of Roa (via a causeway) and Piel (via a ferry), which were important for the Cistercians’ trade route

    by Alex Foxfield


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    32.6 mi
  • Duration
    14:03 h
  • Elevation
    1,950 ft1,875 ft

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