We set off to do a walk round the head of Haweswater taking in Selside Pike 2142 ft, Branstree 2333ft, Harter Fell 2539ft, Mardale Ill Bell 2496 ft, High Street 2718ft, Rampsgill Head 2581 ft and Kidsty Pike 2560 ft.
Just under 13 miles and 3635 feet of ascent.
That was the plan for the day but it started to unravel before we even set out.
Listening to the traffic report on the radio, I heard that there had been a serious accident on the M58 and that the motorway was blocked. We decided to change our route and go over Parbold Hill to reach the M6. Unfortunately hundreds of other motorists had made the same choice and Parbold was gridlocked. We lost half an hour.
The local news on breakfast TV also spoke of flooding in the Lake District. Torrential overnight rain had caused several roads to be blocked, even the main A591 at Grasmere. Would we even make it to the Lake District?
We arrived at the car park at Mardale Head and it was obvious that the ground was saturated. Our only concern was the section between Selside Pike and Branstree. No path is shown on the map and we had to traverse Captain Whelter Bog. I have only seen a route description in one book and that said it was impossible to avoid getting your boots full of ooze. We did not want to get our feet wet at the start of the walk so we decided to reverse the route and leave the boggy sections till the end.
It was already 11.10 am and we had better get a move on.
Straight away we broke walking rule number one. Always consult your map before setting off. A few yards from the car was an inviting gate leading round the water’s edge. We could even see the stile in the distance. After 50 yards we came to a stream, now more like a raging torrent. Roger, Wendy and Marie managed to get across although Marie got wet feet. I returned to the car park, went through the main gate at the end to discover the clear signposted path that we should have taken. The other three were on the far side of the wall and getting into increasingly marshy ground. Roger and Wendy managed to scramble over the wall but Marie made her way to the stile. We all met up at the footbridge over Mardale Beck. The lakeside path may have been OK during last years drought but not today. It had been 40 minutes since we left the car and we could still see it, only a quarter of a mile away. it was going to be a long day, plus it had started to rain.
We soon warmed up as we made our way round the Rigg and the views opened up along the length of Haweswater. We crossed the footbridge over Riggindale Beck and then started the climb up towards Kidsty Howes. The going was tough especially near the top where we had to climb up some rocky grooves. it was windy and a little bit chilly as we gained height. It was also nearly 1.00 pm and I was hungry. We found a bit of shelter amongst some rocks and decided it was time for lunch. Feeling refreshed we set off again for the summit of Kidsty Pike. The cloud base was down to about 2500 ft and we would soon be at that height. We met a man and his dog. He ( the man that is ) told us that it was very wet up there and we would soon be soaked. Something to look forward to!
However it stopped raining and the cloud began to lift. We could see the tops. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad. Soon we were at the top of Kidsty Pike and could enjoy the view down into Riggindale and the route along the ridge of Rough Crag with the little tarn at Caspel Gate.
During the last section we met three couples who were doing Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk. They were on day 5 of the classic 14 day walk. Apparently it had hardly stopped raining since they set out last Sunday and when we asked what it was like, the word ‘challenging’ seemed to be used a lot. Along with “why am I doing this”
We also had a long way to go. A slight downhill section led to Rampsgill Head. We could then stride out along the Straights of Riggindale heading south towards High Street. We kept to the left of the wall to walk along the edge of the great eastern coombes of High Street. From the cairn at the top of the Long Stile ridge there was a great view looking down Riggindale towards Haweswater.
We made our way back to the wall to reach the trig point on High Street. The cloud had broken up and we had brief patches of sunshine that lit up the reflections in the puddles. From the trig point we could look west and the whole of the Lake District was spread out before us. We could play our favourite game of Spot the peaks.
We continued south alongside the wall for a few hundred yards before bearing left on a track heading for Mardale Ill Bell. As we approached the cairn a slight detour to our left gave us our first view of Blea Water sheltered below the east face of High Street. We now had a steep descent over large boulders down to the shelter at Nan Bield Pass. This pass is at a crossroads linking Harter Fell to Mardale Ill Bell and Haweswater to Kentmere. It was also our escape route if conditions were bad or if we were tired.
The weather conditions had improved, the sun had come out and visibility was perfect. We were all feeling good. After a quick bite to eat we pressed on up the slopes of Harter Fell. It was steep with one or two rocky sections but it seemed easier than the last time I had done it. Perhaps it was because I kept stopping to turn round and take photos. The view looking back to Small Water and the High Street ridge was impressive with the patterns of light and shade on the ground.
Soon we were at the summit of Harter Fell with its unusual cairn, a combination of stones, fence posts and railings. We strolled to the second cairn from where we could look down on Haweswater. Visibility was perfect and we could even see the ‘golf ball’ installation on the moors between Skipton and Harrogate.
The walk had taken us far longer than expected and we decided to leave Selside Pike and Branstree for another day and return to the car. It looked quite near, but we still had a some way to go. We had to head southeast to drop down to the Gatescarth Pass and then follow this down to the road. The final section on the stony path was hard on the knees but the view made it all worthwhile. The low sun was casting long shadows and we could look to the skyline and trace where we had walked during the day.
During the day we had talked about the walks we had done over the past year and which were the best. Marie seemed to remember them by the cakes we had at the end of the walk. So. for a bit of fun we thought we could perhaps grade them, we could give them awards. Not rosettes, how about ‘cup cakes’. We decided that the tea shop in Church Stretton would set the standard with a five.
We could start now by calling in at the Haweswater Hotel. They were advertising ‘afternoon tea with cream scones’ We went in and the place was empty. We ordered four afternoon teas but were told that we were half an hour too late. Chef was now prepping dinner. No cakes for us and a big fat zero marks for them.
The tea shop at Shap was closed so we stopped at the Southbound Westmorland Motorway Services. In the restaurant there was a good choice of cakes and the pot of tea camr with proper milk in a jug. I managed two cups of strong tea from my pot and my Mars Bar cake was brilliant. We awarded 4 cupcakes. It only lost out on ambiance. There was no getting away from the fact that it was still a motorway service station.
On the long journey back down the M6 we could reflect on what had been a superb day.