A High Level Circuit of Mardale Head

3rd June 2017

As agreed during last weeks Fairfield walk today we find ourselves in the beautiful valley of Mardale on what can only be described as a mixed day of weather, although this isn't to say we didn't get the best out of the morning sunshine before the mid morning grey cloud rolled in.

Anyone who knows me will already know my fondness for not just High Street but for the Mardale valley too, this is where my love of fell walking began, a place that I taught myself to read the land, to navigate alone and where most importantly, the place where Lakeland fells came together and for me, any walk here always feels special and todays despite the cloud drama that we encountered was no different.

After a run of dry weather rain returned throughout the course of the week which meant it was eyes down on Saturday's forecast which thankfully remained the same throughout. Rod had earlier suggested that we plan a walk from Eskdale through Great Moss taking in Pen and the Scafells which I had to say was tempting, very tempting but we managed to persuade Rod to alter his plans and join us on a high level circuit of Mardale Head.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Far Eastern Fells

-The Rough Crag Ridge

The ascent is a classic leading directly along the crest of a long, straight ridge that permits of no variation from the valley to the summit. The views are excellent throughout.


Ascent: 3,600 Feet - 1,098 Metres
Wainwrights: 5, High Street - Mardale III Bell - Harter Fell (Mardale) - Branstree - Selside Pike
Weather: A Bright Start Turning Overcast Towards Mid Morning With Brighter Spells Returning. A Cool Breeze Across The Sumits. Highs of 21°C Lows of 9°C
Parking: Car Park, Mardale Head
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 11
Walking With: David Hall & Rod Hepplewhite
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 7 Hours
Route: Mardale Head - Rough Crag - High Street - Mardale III Bell - Top of Nan Bield Pass - Harter Fell (Mardale) - Adam Seat - Top of Gatescarth Pass - Branstree - Artle Crag - Selside Pike - Selside End - Old Corpse Road - Rowantreethwaite Beck - Mardale Head

Map and Photo Gallery


Harter Fell (Mardale) The Rigg and High Street seen over Haweswater 07:10am 9°C
The plan was to meet at Mardale Head at 07:45am with a 08:00am start but with the mornings forecast being so clear I left home earlier so that I could take some early morning shots before the crowds arrived.

Harter Fell (Mardale) and the Rigg taken from the top of Whiteacre Crag.
I left the car at the side of the road and hopped up Whiteacre Crag close by. I was overcome by the calmness of Haweswater, there wasn't a sound, not even a breath of wind.

Mardale Head from Mardale Road.
I made my way towards Mardale Head stopping at every picturesque opportunity sometimes having to travel a hundred yards or so back to where I had left my car. Soon I am joined by David who had exactly the same idea as I had leaving his house earlier to capture Mardale and as you can see, we wasn't disappointed at what we found.

Rigg reflections with the Rough Crag Ridge, High Street, The Straights of Riggindale, Riggindale and Kidsty Pike beyond.
It's still not 07:20am and feeling more than satisfied with our amazing views we decided to head down to the car park at Mardale Head and wait for Rod, I best get back to my car which is way back up the road close to the bridge over Rowantreethwaite Beck.

Harter Fell (Mardale) as we head towards The Rigg shortly after Rod joins us at Mardale Head.

We arrive at Mardale Head and no sooner had we opened our boots to kit up we spot Rod's car who has also stopped to take photographs from various points along the Road. Rod soon joins us pulling his car alongside mine in what can only be described by now as a half full car park, it appears we weren't the only ones who wanted an early start this morning. We soon kit up whilst being joined by midges who at first didn't seem to bother us but the more we lingered the more we are swamped, it really is time to make a move.

With the cars locked we head through the new Deer fence and gate before heading right over dry ground towards the footbridge over Mardale Beck. The morning sun beams down and I can feel the heat already on the back of my neck, it certainly is a beautiful morning to be out for a fell walk but unfortunately present conditions are set to change as soon as late morning so we make the most of the sun whilst we can.

I add my new Sinner sunglasses after finding my Bloc Billy's damaged a couple of weeks ago, it feels like the end of an era because those Bloc sunglasses had been with me from the start.

Views over Haweswater.

We continued to follow the path raised high on the banks of Haweswater observing the old stone walls of Mardale Green which could still be seen just below the waters surface, beyond which fish begin to rise breaking the glass like surface with bubbles along side a trio of ducks who create a small wave on the other side of the bank, besides that it was just us and the Skylarks.

Instead of heading around the head of The Rigg we opt to climb onto the ridge by means of a steep narrow path which traces through new bracken before the silence is broken by a car travelling along the lake road. After reaching the top of the path we detour back slightly towards a stone wall to take in this view over Haweswater and what was once, Mardale Green.

A close up towards the top of Nan Bield Pass seen with a glimpse of Small Water below.
We'll be over there soon after summiting High Street and Mardale III Bell.

Haweswater seen with the Naddle Forest fells from Swine Crag.

Kidsty Pike seen over the Riggindale Valley with High Raise (left) and Low Raise (right) in the distance.

From the Rough Crag Ridge it's difficult to imagine that the distinctive summit of Kidsty Pike can be seen from miles around, infact it's one of the main summits that can be seen from junctions 38 and 39 off the M6 Motorway.

'The Ingleborough of the Lake District'

Short Stile, Two Penny Crag and Kidsty Pike from Rough Crag summit.

Fond memories of an ascent on Long Stile via Riggindale always come flooding back when I take in this view, back on the day I was lucky enough to emerge through the top of a cloud inversion on to Short Stile summit when Rough Crag (where we are stood now) resembled an Island in the sky...good times.

In the southern sky the cloud that has been forecasted is beginning to build but we are still too low to see how significant it is, for that we will have to climb higher. We are soon passed by a solo walker who walked at a good pace where 'mornings' are shared before then spotting a couple in ascent on Long Stile which might explain whose the cars were back at Mardale Head. They are not the first, nor last people we will see along the ridge this morning before reaching the summit.

Long Stile and Short Stile from Gaspel Gate Tarn.
Where a rouge Deer antler is spotted in the mud.

Mardale III Bell with Blea Water below.
At a depth of 200 feet Blea Water is Lakelands deepest Tarn, it is also one of the most beautiful Tarns that Lakeland has to offer.

The Rough Crag Ridge, Gaspel Gate Tarn, Blea Tarn and Haweswater from Long Stile.
In the distance (centre left) is Selside Pike which features as todays fifth and final summit while over on the right is Branstree, our fourth summit.

High Street summit plateau.
After reaching the top of Long Stile we made our way over the plateau towards the summit where we are met by a welcoming cool breeze and not to mention views of the dark clouds which continue to build up.

Looking back at High Street summit Trig Point.
The walkers who were ahead of us had left the summit by the time we had arrived leaving us with our own summit time. By now cloud was starting to gather in most directions, in fact prior to reaching the Trig Point we had spotted cloud over Thornthwaite Crag which had just lifted, beyond our position the cloud was starting to darken and thicken at the same time, and all of it was heading our way.

Views towards Thornthwaite Crag as we head southwards towards Mardale III Bell.

The III Bell Ridge looking moody as the light begins to fade with a capture of light over Lingmell End.

The light continued to fade with cloud coming and going over head, notably the temperature dipped too and by the time we arrived at Mardale III Bell the light was at its lowest with huge banks of cloud now blocking the sunlight.

On a positive note however, those clouds appeared to be scarpering quite quickly across the sky meaning we might have low light one moment quickly followed by bursts of sunshine next which only added drama along this section of the walk.

Periodic bursts of light over the top of Nan Bield Pass with Harter Fell (Mardale) ahead.

Small Water and Haweswater taken after passing the top of Nan Bield Pass.
Time to make our ascent on Harter Fell now.

Yoke, III Bell and Froswick seen over the top of Nan Bield Pass.
It was noted how low Kentmere Reservor is looking. I myself have never seen the waterline so low, we press on.

Burst of light captured over Mardale III Bell.

The same view just minutes later, this time with Small Water seen below.
As I mentioned earlier, it's a fine day to be out on the fells.

Silhouettes of High Stile, Kidsty Pike and High Raise from Harter Fell (Mardale) summit cairn.

As we approached the summit we spot two walkers who are getting ready top leave "thowt it were gonna lash it down a minute ago" aye us too. We are soon caught up by a solo walker who has a dog with him, a rather sheepish looking dog which resembled Zach's from Emmerdale but by all accounts a mountain dog nevertheless, they pass by and more 'mornings' are shared.

The topic of conversation soon turns to drinking posh tea...dont ask!

Views over Mardale Head, The Rigg and Haweswater from the Third Cairn.

We had been caught up again by the fellow with his dog who asked would I mind I take a photo of him with this view in the background, I of course obliged.

Earlier it was suggested we pay a visit to Adam Seat which is easily gained during our descent towards the top of Gatescarth Pass, it's a simple case of leaving the path before crossing a short grassy col before reaching its summit.

The large 'L' on this side of the Boundary Stone is for Lowther who was Landowner of Shap Rural parish.

On the other side of the Boundry Stone the letter 'H' for 'Harrison' the landowner in Longsleddale parish.
That's Branstree in the background which is where we are heading next.

Descending Adam Seat for Branstree.

We could have made our way back to the path seen over on the left but it was no trouble to stick to the wooden fence until we reached the top of Gatescarth Pass, besides had we of returned towards the path we might have to have a word with the guy who thought it was cool to ascend Harter Fell in just flip flops, yes flip flops.

Best our paths didn't cross I think.

From our ascent of Branstree we are treated to this peep into the Longsleddale Valley.

Selside Pike from Branstree summit circular Trig Point.

Despite its steepness I have always enjoyed the ascent of Branstree from the top of Gatescarth Pass and todays ascent was no different even if it meant for the first time throughout the walk we got our boots wet as we crossed the familiar boggy ground after leaving the top of the pass. Momentum soon returned and we eased our way towards the summit only stopping to chat about where should we stop for lunch because right about now I'm starting to feel hungry, in fact we all are.

It was agreed we would continue towards Selside Pike until we broke out lunch.

Selside Pike seen after descending Branstree and Artle Crag.

Views over Selside Pike Summit Shelter towards Harter Fell (Mardale) Mardale III Bell and High Street.

We had seen a group of walkers on Selside Pike's summit and had hoped they might have moved on by the time we arrived, we were in luck. Despite the sunshine a cool breeze blew which could have been on the cool side had we not of been on the move. The summit shelter was soon reached after crossing a relatively dry Captain Welters Bog before the final push towards the summit.

With the summit reached we wasted no time tucking ourselves within the shelter each making sure we were clear of the summit winds before breaking out lunch, it was our first rest stop of the walk and we ate while the wind blew over the shelter wall. It was still cloudy during our down time and to be honest I was starting to feel the bite wearing just the one layer but thankfuly as soon as lunch had been packed away the sun reappeared bringing with it some welcome warmth.

Views into the Swindale Valley as we make our descent towards Selside End.
No signs of the pair of Sparrow Hawks today.

Views towards Mardale III Bell, High Street, Kidsty Pike and High Raise from the Corpse Road.

Having descended Selside End and despite the walk being almost over the last mile or so was undertaken along the Corpse Road which offered fantastic views over Mardale Head, the ground underfoot is dry, the Cotton Grass is flourishing and the Skylarks are singing over the top of the wind.

Just how do you put all of that into words?

The Cotton Grass is out in full glory here looking towards Selside Pike, Harter Fell (Mardale) and Mardale III Bell.

Views back along the Corpse Road.

Mardale Head with a glimpse of Haweswater from the Corpse Road.
It's time to begin the descent back to Mardale Head which we do by straying to the right of this photo.

The first of two ruined Peat Huts found above High Loup.
Derelict Huts like these can still be found all over Lakeland although many have succumb to time and are nothing but a pile of stones but this one above High Loup is still in great condition considering the weathering it recieves. Peat would have been stored here after being manually dug to dry out before being hauled into the valley more than likely by ponies.

Mardale III Bell, The Rigg, High Street, Kidsty Pike and Riggindale seen over Hawsewater.
Hey, who's up for a five minute break?

And how couldn't we with a views as good as this.
The silence only being broken when David chips up "it feels like a scene from Last of the Summer Wine!" and we all know who voted to be compo...I'll leave you guessing on that one.

Mardale Head from the Corpse Road.
It almost feels sad that we'll be back into reality soon.

The Rigg, The Rough Crag Ridge, High Street, Riggindale and the Kidsty Pike from Mardale Road.

Mardale Head.

David and Rod had gone ahead while I continued to take shot after shot of my favourite Lakeland Fell soon catching them up once the tarmac was reached. We've got less than half a mile to walk before reaching Mardale Head which we do at a snails pace while taking in the views or simply stopping to chat. Cars pass in both directions and we can see how busy Mardale Head is now by the glint from the many car windscreens but it didn't matter, not when you've been treated to the light drama as we had today followed by the best walk back to the car that Lakeland has to offer.



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