28 August 2010

Dog Days, and Hill Days, and Horse Days as well

» An ascent of High Street from Riggindale then over the tops to Harter Fell before dropping back down to the head of Haweswater.
Distance: 6.7 Miles | Time: 4h 32m | Difficulty: Medium

"and remember ... NO MOUNTAIN CLIMBING" were Terry's final words whilst we planned another assault on the Lakes.  "So we'll do High Street then? Nice and gentle that one..." Whilst you'd get the impression that maybe Blencathra had put him off anything steep and craggy, the fact that High Street is over 2000ft (and so qualifying as a mountain) must have been lost on him. And it sure was a climb, for some of us anyway - me and the first 600ft of ascent were just not gelling the other day...

High Street from Gatescarth Pass

So a cool and overcast Wednesday afternoon presented three Fellfallers and their four-legged companion with an opportunity for a medium length ramble up one of the Eastern Lakes's most prominent features; High Street.  And following Mallory's wisdom of "Because it's there" a quick trip up Harter Fell too "It'd be shame not too, I mean, it's only there..."

A funny place is Haweswater, firstly it's one of those 'one-way' places, only one way to get there (by road at least) and it's got to be somewhere you want to go in the first place.  Secondly it's the result of one of those "Hang on lads; I've got a great idea" moments.   In 1929 the Corporation of the city of Manchester started work on a dam in the Mardale valley to provide water for homes and industry in the North-West.  Unfortunately this meant the demolition of the villages of Measand and Mardale Green along with the famous Dun Bull Inn - for 500 years it had stood as a coaching inn with an attached farm of 1000 sheep. The valley was flooded with 29 metres of water in 1935 and in doing so became one of the largest reservoirs in the region.


Starting from the car park at Mardale Head at the western end of Haweswater skirt around the top end of the reservoir, over Mardale Beck and make your path along the well worn path along the opposite shore. To get up onto Riggindale Crag there's two paths, either follow the shoreline path out towards the wooded section and make your way up very gently, or take the path that looks more like it was hewn-out by mountain goats and starts going sharply upwards immediately. Guess which path we took?

At the junction with the main crag path there's a second route down into Riggindale proper to the RSPB viewing point. Local bird-life varies from Dippers to Peregrines, but the star of the show is the male Golden Eagle. Unfortunately the female has been missing in action for about 6 years now, but it's hoped that one day the male will attract another mate.

Back down towards The Rigg

The route up Riggindale takes in a series of crags; Swine, Heron, Eagle, Rough and finally Riggindale Crag. The path's easy going, a fair climb but no sections where you need to use your hands, however it does get pretty boggy in places so be prepared to get a bit wet and muddy.

Once you reach the Caspel Gate tarn you've come over the steepest sections, and you're three quarters of the way there at the start of Riggindale Crag. On a warm day it's a nice place for a quick break, on a cool one it's a nice place for dogs to have a quick play in the water.

Blea Water

To the south of Riggindale Crag, nestling under Piot Crag and High Street is Blea Water - literally 'Blue Water' from the Old Norse Blea. The deepest tarn in the Lake District at 63m, it's only surpassed by Wastwater (74m) and Windermere (64m).

Running along a 23 mile path from the Roman fort at the site of Brougham Castle to Galava fort at Ambleside, High Street was only identified as a Roman road in the mid 19th century, however older documents dating back to the 1300s refer to the route as 'Bretstrett' or 'street of the Britons' suggesting it was considered to be an antiquity even then.

Ever popular today with walkers, riders, and cyclists it has a varied history, it's vast flat top being used for livestock markets, summer fayres, and horse races - with fell ponies still to be found grazing at the summit of both High Street and Mardale Ill Bell.

Fell Ponies on Mardale Ill Bell

From the summit of High Street the path drops gently down onto the top of Mardale Ill Bell, offering views of Small Water on one side and Kentmere reservoir on the other. Then it's down the ridge-line to the Shelter at the top of Nan Bield Pass, an ideal place for a quick sandwich stop before the final ascent of Harter Fell.

Nan Bield Pass itself is moderate going, pretty steep and loose under-foot, so we were surprised when two middle-aged chaps huffed their way up it with mountain bikes on their backs. They were working their way along a 'Killer Loop' they'd seen in a magazine and, in all honesty, they looked like they were pretty much at death's door. Bonnie turned down an offer of a piece of Malt loaf from them; I think she realised they needed it more than she did - who says dogs don't have a sixth sense?

Harter Fell

Harter Fell is yet another vast flat topped mountain, this time a mere 778m above sea level. The path up from Nan Bield follows the ridge and is a bit of a switchback route, steep at times, but generally good going and once you're up there it's downhill all the way back to Mardale. I won't kid you, there's no real distinguishing features or interesting snippets of history to accompany Harter Fell, it's big, it's flat, there's a cairn at either end, and the paths to Nan Bield and Gatescarth are in good condition.

Although speaking of cairns Harter Fell does try to be a little bit different with cairns that look like they were built by Daleks using left parts from some second World War sea mines...

Down Gatescarth Pass

To get back down to the car park at Mardale we headed down Gatescarth pass, which intersects the path off Harter Fell quite a way back - so don't be surprised that you're heading in the wrong direction to get home. The pass was originally one of the two trade routes into the villages of Mardale Green and Measand from Longsleddale (the other being the Nan Bield pass from Kentmere) and as such is well worn but in very good condition as it winds it's way down into the valley.

Over the course of the afternoon we'd noticed Terry becoming more and more adventurous, be it marching off to remote rocky outcrops for photo opportunities or taking the more direct (but possibly more fraught) routes rather than follow the path. Maybe he was finding his head for heights, maybe it was altitude sickness, but when he suggested that a more interesting route might have been to come down Harter Fell Gully, we did start to wonder what he'd put in his sandwiches that morning...

I don't have a photo of the gully, but it's steep, really steep, and if you slipped you'd keep rolling until you reached the M6 I reckon. In the photo above it's the far left hand side of the image. A bit like Foule Crag it looks fine when you're there and suicidal once you see it from a sensible distance.

Mardale Beck and Haweswater

From Harter Fell it's a miles walk down the pass back to the plantation and car park at the head of Haweswater. The paths pretty much follows the route of Gatescarth Beck right the way down, meaning dogs that reach the bottom are, by this point, very wet and have a hint of drowned rat about them ;-) Then it's through a final kissing gate before you're back where you started.

The Map

OS Maps: Landranger 90 | Explorer OL5

View the trip at | See the pictures on Flickr | Or go get the GPX file
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