Branstree, Moasdale & The Old Corpse Road

21st July 2012

Had I known initially what I would take away from this walk, I would of put so much more into it. This, a hastily scurried walk planned around a Saturday morning spent in work & a trek up to Lakeland to enjoy “a three hour walk” (ish) & back in time for tea.

But that Saturday morning in work never materialised & what I had left was a whole day on the fells. My walking plan & indeed my route wasn’t to change, within the last twenty four hours I had that belly wobble, you know the one, just when you know that this day was going to be perfect so don’t go changing it, the fine weather also attributed to that wobble…

Mardale has always fascinated me, I feel at home in Mardale more than anywhere else in Lakeland, this owing to the fact that I cut my teeth here on what would go on to be my finest Lakeland fell of all in High Street.

But today, & although High Street dominates the ascent & descent in this walk, I wasn’t to set foot on her slopes, instead I should be on the exact opposite shore of her, taking in her beauty from both my ascent on Branstree’s north ridge & again while descending The Old Corpse Road, but more about that later on in the walk.

You could spend a whole day in Mardale & still not grasp its entire history. Sadly most of that went when the valley was flooded back in 1941 by Manchester Corporation to supply the North West with drinking water. The dam was late in completion giving the villagers of Mardale a four year respite due to an economic depression. In this time many a Mardale resident may have passed away not being witness to the unforeseeable future of Mardale & the Dam project lying in waiting…

The Old Corpse Road was steep yet as straight as a dye, those Mardale folk don’t muck around. The road left the hamlet of what was then Mardale Green, a lush valley with a thriving farming community, made famous by the Mardale Fox Hunt & the Dun Bull pub.

The Corpse Road left Mardale initially for St Michael’s Church in Shap, the route by Mardale to Swindale didn’t cover much in terms of mileage yet can you imagine four bearers carrying a coffin on ones shoulder over steep uneven terrain for two miles? no? me neither, because after walking this route I can tell you those Mardale folk must of been as tough as owd boots. But it didn’t stop in Swindale, here the job in hand was only half complete, if lucky enough a track pony would carry the coffin to Shap for the final burial.


The last person to leave Mardale via the Old Corpse Road was in June 1736, his name was John Holme.

I’m here today to relive a few short hours in the magnificence of Mardale & it surrounding valleys.

Wainwright Guidebook
The Far Eastern Fells
- The merit of the ascent by the north ridge lies in the intimate views of Mardale Head and Harter Fell:

Ascent: 2,142 Feet, 653 Metres
Wainwrights: 1, Branstree
Weather: Bright & Sunny & Warm, Highs Of 19° Lows Of  11°
Parking: Road Side Parking, Haweswater Mardale, (Bottom of The Old Corpse Road)
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 7.5
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 4 hrs
Route: Haweswater Road – Hopgill Beck – Branstree North Ridge – Branstree – Selside Brow – Mosedale – Mosedale Cottage – Mosedale Beck – Swindale Head – The Old Corpse Road – Haweswater Road

Map and Photo Gallery



Shap Abbey 07:36am 12°C

I make great time in reaching Shap for Mardale so in this I take a small de-tour towards the ruins of the 12th Century Shap Abbey.

The sun is bright & rises brilliantly through a tree line towards the back of the Abbey, here the original groundwork & masonry can still be seen although the majority of the stonework was removed towards the end of the 17th Century to build Shap Market Hall.

I grace through the ruins & over the dew covered grass forming a trail of my existence, the dew will burn away very shortly once the sun is high & no one will ever know I was here.

Well, that’s except for the farmer who blazes along a private lane that runs parallel with the old ruins on a Quad bike!


Taken from inside the ruins of Shap Abbey.

Just spare a thought & think of the eight hundred year history on the very spot where you are standing.


The draw off Tower boasting the original stonework & windows from what was Mardale Church before the Valley was flooded.

In the background we have Harter Fell & High Streets Eagle Crag named after a pair of Eagles that used to nest in Mardale Green, sadly the last sighting of an Eagle was a female back in 2004.


The start of my walk: Rowantreethwaite Beck.

Twenty minutes after leaving Shap Abbey do I find myself just above the mouthful that is Rowentreethwaite Beck.

My car is parked ahead around the bend you see in the photo, not a two minute walk from where I am stood.

I park with ease given that the parking spaces can accommodate four well parked cars, I was second to arrive & kit up to the squawk of very noisy Gulls circling Wood Howe island, I seriously could be forgiven for thinking I am at Blackpool’s Central Pier, they really are taking over the morning mood.

I pass the wooden signpost of which the Old Corpse Road is posted, this is my descent route for later in the walk. As I walk in the shadow of Branstree’s lower north ridge slopes, the track is difficult to follow at first as the bracken is thigh high & steep, I remove my Bloc Billy’s to trace the route only to have to suddenly put them back on when the sun elopes over the top of the ridge burning my vision.

In the other direction however…


High Street, Kidsty Pike  & Riggindale dominate my rear view.

Haweswater has a calmness to it that only the deep blue skies above High Street can match, I gave it some small thought that I may get some descent views of The Rigg from my route up Branstree’s northern ridge but I didn’t expect them to be this good.

I think to myself that if for some ever reason I had to cancel my walk right now I would still walk away a happy man after seeing this view of my favourite fell.


The spectacular views are repeated, this time with Mardale Head & Harter Fell.


Passing The Hollow Stone.

The path is non-obvious as I pick my way past The Hollow Stone, a boulder the same size as a family car which can be used as a makeshift bothy, towards the back of the huge boulder The Hollow Stone came to rest on top of a much smaller boulder giving it the nickname “Hollow” The bothy looks positively delightful & could easily accommodate the wild in you for an evening yet seeing as it is situated not three hundred foot above the Mardale Road I think the wild in me can wait, or even better find myself in the Mardale Hotel a mile up the road.

I press on scurrying through the bracken.


Too hard to ignore.


The Branstree north ridge with Harter Fell on the right.

Finally the bracken gives way for a less obvious grassy track, it was nice to be out of the bracken as towards the end I was getting slightly dis-heartened with the stuff as it seemed I was gaining nowhere fast, adding to this frustration was my car every time I looked back along the Haweswater road didn’t seem to be getting any smaller.


Looking back along Haweswater & my car!

The views however sure make up for the hard work through the bracken.


Sooner or later…

You’re going to have to climb up that steep fell side.

I guess as you can see, the presence of Harter Fell ahead is more than enough to draw you in & I guess it worked its magic on me, to my right is Mardale Head & a very packed car park.

I hit the fell side in a zig zag fashion & find that this exhausts me the most.


Mardale Head.

Superb views as I head for Artle Crag, with Harter Fell, the Nan Bield Pass & the High Street ridge, not to mention a glimpse of Small Water on the left & Blea Water on the right.


The Rigg, Wood Howe & Speaking Crag along the Haweswater shoreline.


Looking back on Hare Shaw (R) & Selside Pike (L) from the impressive cairns on Artle Crag.

Branstree summit lies less than a hundred metres away in the opposite direction.


Branstree circular summit trig point & cairn.


Situated just yards from the summit is my descent route via Selside Brow.


Just hop over the sty & follow the wall.


Tarn Crag (Longsleddale) dominates the descent.


Looking south over Selside Bottom, Kentmere Pike & Shipman Knotts. The depression to the right of Kentmere Pike is where Wren Gill Quarry is situated.



After reaching the bottom of Selside Brow do I turn left through a metal gate, this is Mosedale & is seldom walked compared to the more popular of Lakeland valleys – hence the lack of path that runs through it.

This is right up my street as I squelch my way through long grass in search of Mosedale Cottage.



Mosedale Cottage appears after a short mile & was my intention to give one of Lakelands most secluded Cottages a visit.


Mosedale Cottage Bothy.

I approach the cottage with anticipation & maybe a little sceptical about exploring the place since M.B.A (Mountain Bothies Association) has taken over the cottage some time ago. What is a bothy you may ask? well, a bothy is as close as you’ll get to rough camping without a tent & bothies with toilet facilities are considered to be like spending a night at the Hilton Hotel.

Mosedale Cottage has no water supply so if you find you do need to use the toilet this must strictly be done at a minimum of sixty yards & away from any water supply!

Mosedale Cottage is one of eight Bothies operated by M.B.A in the whole north west of England so you can go so far to say that I was a little startled at the fact that I have a chap in my photo, I think I startled him as me much as he startled me – but there you go.

As I took this photo it was only seconds afterwards did I notice this chap; I thowt I heard summat he says, morning mate you ok I ask? Aye he says, this chap can be described as local in his fifties, in the yard of the cottage are two Quad Bikes parked neatly so I’m guessing the chap is a farmer…he’s definitely local…

With this he sits down on a deck chair staring at the ground, in between taking a drag from a cigarette & sipping from a cup of tea.

I’ve just come down through Mosedale I say, from Branstree…

Still staring at the ground I get no reply, Mind if I take a look around?

No reply…

So of I go, wondering slightly, guest or farmer?

You cant go in theere, that’s private (looking at the picture the door on the left)

Oh right sorry I reply?

Next douwer!

I enter the cottage.


Stone floors & original fireplace.


The biggest & main room housing this original wood burner with a stark note on top of the fireplace left behind from M.B.A


The note reads: Ok folks this is the deal, Respect the place and look after it, you are welcome. Do not leave rubbish, if you carried it in, carry it out.


We cannot allow this to happen.

We can and will withdraw M.B.A rights to this cottage at any time if the disrespect continues.

Care for it or lose it.

After reading this & another note I take my shots & make my way out of there, the chap is still sitting at his deck chair & dragging on his fag as I say thanks & I’ll be on my way.



Mosedale, seclusion at the highest order.


I pass this sheepfold & oddly enough is a highlight along the route, despite a slight cackle from Mosedale Beck & once the mind has lost itself within the vastness of the Mosedale valley, seeing a sight or an object such as this is as comparison as staring down on Striding Edge, well, that’s my view anyway.

With my mind now racing at 100mph! I leave the beautiful valley of Mosedale behind & cross over into Swindale & virgin territory for me.



Seeing Swindale & a brand new valley for the first time was a real treat, I spoke about this feeling like virgin territory & it was just that. Swindale felt new & walking down into the valley was a huge highlight that I took from the walk.

I wander down into the valley in search of Simon Stone.

But first, attack from above…


A Hen Harrier swoops on me from above.

The Harrier makes no reserve at all that I am within its territory, firstly encircling me from high above, I’m going to let you in on first hand experience of a dive from a Hen Harrier because as awesomingly powerful as it was, the moment you see a Harrier tuck in its wings & dive in on you is the moment you get out of there, with one whoosh to many – the descent into Swindale was done alot quicker than I’d imagined.


Simon Stone.

Simon Stone, a boulder perched in between three ancient trees.


Swindale Head across Dodd Bottom, a very wet looking place I might add with a rather amusing Hobgrumble Gill adding to the fact that this is no place to go wandering into without a pair of waders & maybe a long rope.


Passing this rather impressive Oak Tree along the way.

Just beyond the farm building lies the Swindale end of The Old Corpse Road.


From where I have come from & where I am about to go.


The start of The Old Corpse Road.

Its midday as I reach the start of the Corpse Road & the lunch I was about to have a little while ago was rudely interrupted by a diving Hen Harrier after my Tuna Mayo sandwiches – so its through the gate & a little up the track & a quick lunch stop.

The path here is rough underfoot this being the point when once up on time eight burley men carried a loved one in turn on aching shoulders.

As I sat there eating lunch I couldn’t help but give thought to just how well we have it nowadays.


Looking back along the start of the Corpse Road into Swindale, over on the right we have Langhowe Pike & on the left the Harper Hills.

The Harper Hills was a passing thought from when I penned this route, I looked at the mileage involved & I thought to myself that I could manage more, all was needed was to keep within the valley along the lane whence I had just left & then an ascent & a double back to re-join with the Corpse Road.

This I quickly discouraged as I wanted to keep to the Old Corpse Road as humanely possible, if that meant missing out on the Harper Hills & indeed a summit of Hare Shaw then so be it.

It sounds stubborn of me in not a least gaining Hare Shaw as an Wainwright outlying fell & I guess it was on my behalf, but today Paul. your mind is not for changing, besides the only cushion from Hare Shaw’s blow was that I could include it when I do the Swindale Horseshoe.


Cairns mark the way along the Corpse Road.

Once the main ascent is gained which is nothing more than 150 metres are you then presented with rolling grassy hilltop.

The seclusion matches Mosedale & Swindale valleys put together as I try not to think about how many dead have been man hauled along this ancient route.


Passing this ancient marker along the track.

In the times of the Corpse Road the body of the deceased would of been carried by a team of eight men working in relay at four at a time, along the route at places designated by the villagers of both Mardale & Swindale would use certain natural vantage points along the way, these may come in the form of a build up of stone laid in such away that a coffin could be rested whilst the party of men took their turns along the route.

Throughout Lakeland these resting places can still be seen with bodies of flat rock & maybe a slight junction in what may look like an other wise straight path, I know they exist but sadly if they are along this route my eye was not trained enough to pick these resting places out.


After passing the highest point along the route I start my descent into Mardale. My mornings ascent on the Branstree north ridge can be seen in the left of the picture.


Mardale & Riggindale in all its glory.

From the stone peat huts along the route I took this photo covering the Mardale Fells including left to right; Harter Fell, Mardale III Bell, Nan Bield Pass, High Street & Riggindale.


Harter Fell & Mardale Head.


Something to think about.

Upon the day in question, make a mental note to the driver of the Hearse carrying ones coffin & say, I want to go out like the people of Mardale once did.


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