Dunmail Raise offers the only realistic gap in the fells for traffic to travel from the northern half of the Lake District to the southern half. For centuries people have taken advantage of this low point in the fells, not least among them the 19th century ladies and gentlemen who undertook their 'tours of the English Lakes', more often than not following one of the guide books of the time. Several of the books I have from this time tell us that the passengers may need to get out of the coach and walk up the steepest section of the pass. During this period it was often referred to as The Mail Road. Once over the raise and into Wythburn, the travellers would stop at the Nag's Head; to rest the horses and to calm their nerves after crossing Dunmail Raise.
The name Dunmail comes from King Dunmail, the last king of Cumberland. in the year 945 he was defeated by King Edmund of England at the top of the pass. The huge pike of stones between the carriageways of our modern road are said to be King Dunmail's burial place.