Nan Bield Pass & the Ill Bell Ridge

7th April 2013

Its been seven long years since I walked the Kentmere Valley, not that I haven’t visited Kentmere as a means of starting & ending a walk, this usually means I have taken in the ridges on both sides of the valleys flanks.

For this walk I intended to use the valley floor as an entrance to my walk, to take in & visually explore Kentmere at her best…at dawn.

The route almost never materialised as I nearly headed up the Garburn Pass with intensions of hitting the Ill Bell ridge from south to north which it is more commonly walked by, today I wanted to mix things up a little by taking on the ridge north to south, your more than likely going to encounter more walkers heading in the latter direction but for today. I will walk against the flow.


Wainwright Guidebook

The Far Eastern Fells

The walker who toils up the top of Ill Bell may be pardoned for feeling that he has achieved a major climb that has played a part of some consequence in mountaineering history, for he finds confronted by an imposing array of fine cairns that would do credit to a Matterhorn. And in fact this is a real mountain-top, small in extent and very rough; it is one of the most distinctive summits in Lakeland.


Ascent: 3,300 Feet 1,006 Metres
Wainwrights: 5 Mardale Ill Bell – Thornthwaite Crag – Froswick – Ill Bell – Yoke
Weather: Bright But Chilly Start Turning Much Warmer. Hazy, Highs Of 13°C Lows Of -1°C Feels Like 8°C
Parking: Kentmere Church (Limited Parking With Minimum £1 Donation To The Kentmere Institute)
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 11.4
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 6 Hours 10 Minutes
Route: Kentmere – Overend – Nan Bield Pass – Mardale lll Bell – Thornthwaite Crag – Froswick – lll Bell – Yoke – Garburn Pass – Kentmere

Map and Photo Gallery



Low Lane Kentmere, 07:08am -1°C

The Kentmere valley lays under a cloak of closely clung hill fog as I entered her lower reaches; Im early, even early by my standards, so early I had no trouble in parking at her four only available parking spaces besides Kentmere Institute.

The fields & pastures roared with the call of bleating lambs & hungry sheep, out there somewhere I hear the distinctive sound of a four stroke engine, labouring & accelerating far yonder it carries the young lambs feed…For now they will have to wait until that rumble becomes louder, but by then I will be gone.

I ponder a wee while…Into the valley or hit fell side?

I stuck to my guns even though the lure of the Garburn Pass was somewhat pulling at my boot laces.

There’s only one way to enjoy the Ill Bell ridge from Kentmere & that’s via The Garburn Pass…

Or is there? please read on.


The Ill Bell ridge is out there somewhere…

The morning mist claims the valley as I wind down the twin stone wall tracks that will lead me all the way to the start of the Nan Beild Pass beyond Overend Farm situated a little further ahead

Here the morning goes by as I glance over at what I am about to climb sometime later that day, but for now, I am about to encounter possibly one of thee best entrances to any Lakeland walk…The Kentmere Valley.

It goes so far to say in that if I had dropped a piece of fluff or stood on a rock & left my boot print…I would of probably have gone back to see ‘just what it looked like’

The tranquillity of my morning however is about to end as I get a lesson in how not to pass through a group of angry sheep…


Overend Farm.

See the one on the near left near the metal troth? well he’s the instigator, the sheep on the right of the tree, well, they’re just by-stander’s looking after blood…The sheep on the track further back, they’re keeping up the rear flank.

There was not a cat in hells chance I was about to walk through this lot, not as the instigator spat & hissed at me…not with those horns I mutter…

I’ll give you lot a wide berth seeing as your just being territorial & protecting what is naturally yours… your lambs.

With a stick in hand I give them what they want…


Spot the happy sheep.

If sheep had eye brows this lots right now would be meeting in the middle…even the two curiously watching from behind the tree trunk.

I swear the one far left is about to charge at me so I place my weapon of choice (stick) back on the ground & get on my way.

Herdwicks no doubt!

Peace most definitely shattered.


Ger outa it yer bloody fackin stupid animals!! & so on…

If hill farmers have bad days this one certainly had got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, as the quad approached the hungry sheep they were met by a volley of swear words mixed with an angry local Cumbrian dialect.

This continued well into the valley as he swept the valley floor finding more hungry sheep to verbally abuse with each entrance to a field spouting said top line.

I wanted to walk quicker but my pace could not keep up with the quad so I put up with-it amusing myself at times thinking, what could of catastrophically have gone wrong to have woken up in such a bad mood?


Yoke, Ill Bell & Froswick from the Kentmere Valley.

It is still relatively early as the sun has not properly risen, so for now I put up with whisp of blue as the morning sunrise slowly burns the mist away.


Crossing Ullstone Gill via this narrow footbridge with Kentmere Pike providing the backdrop.

I was well & truly on the Nan Bield Pass by now & had been for just over half a mile, it is here a slight ascent starts as I gain The Tongue.


Forgotten Green Slate Quarries above Ullstone Gill.


The Ull Stone found at the head of Ullstone Gill.


Kentmere Fell Ponies, Ill Bell & Froswick as I gain Smallthwaite Knott.


This time in front of Yoke, Rainsborrow Cove & Ill Bell.


Sunday morning lie-ins Kentmere style.

By now the sunrise was doing a grand job of burning the morning mist away, the morning had a hint of spring so much so said walker had to de-layer & learn how to cope with the rare phenomenon that forms during spring that is…a sweaty brow.


Nineteenth century graffiti found along the pathway on Smallthwaite Knott.


Ill Bell & Froswick reflecting over Kentmere Reservoir.


Looking towards the top of Nan Bield Pass from Smallthwaite Knott.

I was under no illusion that I was well within the snowline which can only be described as menacing from here on in, here I trained the mind that I was going to punch through its thick crust under thaw yet the confusing matter was, at times I didn’t punch through, it held my weight so with confidence underfoot I press on over grass, ice & over crusty snow.

It was the times I did punch through the snow that knocked the confidence & set the mind back to zero, will I go through – or wont I go through went with every step.

Utterly confusing & hard on the knees!

I press on.


Ill Bell reflections.


A close up of my route ahead with the top of Nan Bield Pass shelter coming into view.

From a distance I could pick my route over the snow wall & try to pick the best route up seeing as the usual zig-zag path was under a foot of snow.

I trained my eyes towards the grassy section towards the left but found myself equally enjoying the hard way up as I kicked foot holes into a thick crust of snow.

Slightly trying yet immensely rewarding once the shelter was gained.


The Ill Bell ridge & Kentmere Reservoir taken from the top of the Nan Bield Pass.


The stone shelter found at the top of Nan Bield Pass.

It was time to take in more ascent in the form of Mardale Ill Bell which lies just west of the shelter.


Small Water & Haweswater & High Street’s Rough Crag as I start my ascent on Mardale Ill Bell.


Magnificent Harter Fell (Mardale) in full winter conditions.


This time with a hint of Branstree.


Mardale Ill Bell summit cairn.

It was from here on in I had to make the slightly less favourable decision on whether to make an ascent on High Street, my favourite Lakeland summit of them all.

Although High Street summit only lay a few hundred metres away I reluctantly decided to give its summit a miss, the snow made progress slow & fearing as I was already behind in terms of time I set off with sights on Thornthwaite Crag.


Looking back on Mardale Ill Bell as two fell runners prepare for their summit after leaving High Street, envy was at full flow.


Thornthwaite Crag bound.

I make my way over to Thornthwaite Crag pathless with exceptions of these footprints that I followed, given that now I am higher now the snow here is more pact & less likely to give way leaving each boot print reassuringly satisfying


The Ill Bell Ridge as I make my way across the head of the Kentmere valley.


Just follow the wall if you are in search of High Street, sadly I am not.


Passing the head of Pasture Bottom as Thornthwaite Beacon comes into view.


Gray Crag on the left & Riggindale, The Knott & The Nab far far right, below is a very cold looking Hayeswater.


Thornthwaite Beacon.

By the time I reached Thorthwaite Beacon I had the summit to myself as I passed on my good mornings to a fellow walker heading in the direction of High Street.

I perch myself down on a dry slab of rock & take five minutes, in the distance a walker approaches from The Ill Bell Ridge, again I pass on my good morning & let him have his summit time alone as I had.


High Street, the straights of Riggindale & The Knott from Thornthwaite Crag summit.


The Ill Bell Ridge & the reason I choose to do this walk ‘in reverse’ so to speak.


Froswick was the first ascent along the ridge.

I had my reservations on taking on the ridge in such conditions which were already starting to take effect on my limbs, the knees felt a little ‘shot at’ through the countless shudders they took after punching through countless snow under thaw.

It turns out that the time spent gearing myself up for the ascent actually worked as I enjoyed the ascent more than I thought I ever would.


Taking a line towards the summit.

It was here I was stopped by a fellow walker much the same age as me, we chatted about the conditions & just how great the day was turning out to be.

My fellow walker explained that he was only thirty or so Wainwrights of completion ‘I’ve just come over from Sallows & Sour Howes he explains & from here I’m heading down into Troutbeck, are you parked at Troutbeck Church I asked, yeah he replies.

It was nice to chat to my fellow walker, more so in that he reminded me, about me only just a few years ago, taking on new summits on new routes.

The reason I asked where he was parked was because I did the very same walk sometime ago & I like him, was gaining new Wainwrights whilst walking alone.

We parted with a handshake & the usual ‘enjoy the rest of your day’ although I only just met the bloke who was from Leeds, I felt I had known him longer, it turns out chatting to him added another twenty five minutes to the walk.

Like two owd washer women I guess with a fondness for the fells.


Leeds lad Troutbeck bound.


Ill Bell from Froswick summit cairn.


Next, Ill Bell & little more strenuous climb from the ridge.


Ill Bell summit beckons from un-scheduled camera stop.


The spectacular triple stone cairns at Ill Bell summit.

The summit had quite a few walkers already on it & with more approaching, so time spent here was pretty seldom which was a little sad as the stomach ached for me to put something in it.


Yoke & my dinner table from Ill Bell summit.


Yoke beckons under sun-bow.


Looking down on ground covered.


Yoke summit cairn.

As I approached Yoke summit it was clear that the summit was rather over crowded, this was the only picture I took whilst crossing the summit plateau.


A distant Windermere after lunch as I prepare to descend to the Garburn Pass.


The Garburn Pass.

The sun was in full flow as by now the sweat on my forehead had turned to burn leaving a somewhat scorched effect, I wasn’t complaining as this meant we are in the grip of spring.

Scores of Mountain Bikes head up the Garburn Pass, a roofless ascent under difficult pitch for the walker never mind the mountain bikes, this being the reason that after every few yards, I start to find bike parts scattered along the pass as I take in the rocky descent.


Badger Rock, a large free-standing rhyolite boulder. It is one of the many challenges popular with climbers within the Kentmere valley.


The Nook tea rooms found at the bottom of Grabtree Brow.

My time in Lakeland is almost over, here whilst in the shadow of Kentmere Church I sit in the sun drinking hot coffee from my flask reflecting on just how much I enjoyed the Kentmere valley today but not just the valleys & vales of Kentmere, the Ill Bell Ridge is up there with thee best in Lakeland, once in a while…go against the flow.


Back to top