St John's in the Vale dog walk by Good Doggy Guide
Views on the St John's in the Vale dog walk

Cumbria corpse road: An autumnal dog walk that’s perfect for Halloween

As it’s autumn and the leaves are turning to shades of yellow, brown and red, it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy the scenery. And the Lake District is one of the best places to do it. As we live here, we might be a bit biased, but it also means we are best-placed to share our favourite new dog walks in this glorious landscape. This walk is perfect for a Halloween outing as it follows an old corpse road, but thanks to the scenery, it’s great any time. And as it takes in a mix of countryside, it’s great for dogs.

What to take with you on an autumn walk in the lakes

Although it’s a great season to be out walking, the weather can be hit and miss, so if you’re doing this walk or any others in the Lake District, check the forecast and be prepared for everything (wind, sunshine and showers).

We recommend wearing: a breathable rain jacket and waterproof boots.
Do take: map, compass (and GPS or mobile mapping if you like), water, dog lead and poo bags. Plus, plenty of human and dog snacks.
The walk: An undulating loop that follows the old corpse road of St John’s in the Vale, taking in riverside woodland, hillside scenery using footpaths, lanes and farm tracks.
Where to park and start/end the walk: You can park (and start the walk from) the United Utilities car park (if it’s open) or from the community hall car park (pay at honesty box) at Legburthwaite.
Refreshments: There’s a cafe at the St John’s in the Vale Lodge (seasonal opening) and we spotted a self-service tea room along the route. Alternatively, drive or catch the bus to nearby Threkeld which has a few pubs, or head into Keswick.

What is a corpse road?

First of all, I’d better explain what a corpse road is. A corpse road, aka coffin route, is an old path that was used to carry the deceased from their community to the nearest graveyard. With communities being so rural and remote, families weren’t always located by a church or chapel. In a time before there were hearses to transport coffins to the graveyard, the dead had to be carried by people to their final resting place. These old routes have survived as footpaths and green lanes in some places, and there are quite a few in and around the Lake District.

We have a great book on these corpse roads by Alan Cleaver. And this is how we first discovered this walk.

St John’s in the Vale Circular Walk

Download file for GPS

If you start the walk at the community hall like we did, you’ll need to walk a short way along the road to the United Utilities car park (we would have started there, but it was closed). At the far end of the car park is a wooden gate that takes you out onto a lane. You head left along the lane towards the main road where you should see a footpath entering the woods on your right. Follow this path through the woods, alongside the river. Where the path forks, take the upper route and it takes you out into the valley, along a footpath which crosses fields, mostly following the boundary, with great views all around.

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Poppy takes in her surroundings after we leave the wood
Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Following the path across the fields
Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Heading towards St John’s in the Vale Church

The path climbs a little as you head towards where the path comes out onto the road, where you’ll find the pretty little church of St John’s in the Vale. As there are benches in the churchyard, it’s the perfect spot to have a rest and refuel. There’s a Holy Well at the rear of the churchyard, which is worth a quick look if you’re curious.

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
At St John’s in the Vale Church
Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Someone’s after our lunch

Continuing the autumn dog walk

Once rested, head left along the road, past the youth centre. Here the tarmac quickly turns to gravel track as you follow it through the bracken-heavy hillside. This is where the path loops back.

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
The fellside bracken adds to the rich colours of autumn

Eventually you leave the bracken fellside at Rough How Bridge and come towards the main road. Cross this with care. Head straight across and follow the farm track and footpath arrows through the farmyard. Through a deer gate, you’ll follow a path through scrubby woodland. This leads out onto a wide gravel track. You’ll see forest on the right and rough grassland on the left (Shoulthwaite Moss).

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Something catches Poppy’s nose as we head along the gravel track

Keep following this until you reach the road. Cross over and head through the field and farm buildings, following the footpath.

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Nearing the end as we head towards the farm buildings

Cross the footbridges at the flow measurement station. Here you’ll meet a lane that leads back out to the main road. Again, do cross the main road with care. Now, simply head back to the starting point.

Good Doggy Guide, St John's in the Vale Dog Walk
Back along the lane as the walk returns to the start point