A Riggindale Round

25th November 2017

We've lost count how many times we have had to postpone our Glenycoyne walk but it's probably gone from weeks to months now, all I know is I seem to remember I was still walking in shorts when we planned it! The reason why we are waiting on this one is because it has to be one of those blue sky days which is rare during the Winter months but that day will come.

Rod emailed both David and myself asking what's this weekends plan B walk and added a few suggestions one being this walk but ended the email stating that I might not want to do it because I was only here a couple of weeks ago but this being Mardale and the High Street Fells that didn't matter so I emailed Rod back almost straight away saying so.

With this Rod had planned to scratch his itch, his itch being a Riggindale Round so we set about checking the forecast as usual which all looked fine up until the evening before when Lakeland would receive a significant dumping of snow overnight and along with this freezing valley temperatures which appears as the perfect start to a day on the fells on paper but when todays starting point was as remote as Mardale Head those freezing valleys may pose as a problem in the form of ice.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Far Eastern Fells

-The Connoisseurs Route

The ridge of Rough Crag and the rocky stairway of Long Stile together form the connoisseurs route up High Street, the only route that discloses the finer characteristics of the fell.


Ascent: 2,843 Feet - 867 Metres
Wainwrights: 5, High Street - The Knott - Rampsgill Head - High Raise - Kidsty Pike
Weather: Bright To Start Turning Overcast. Freezing Level Above The Summits. Highs of 3°C Lows of 0°C Feels Like -8°C
Parking: Car Park - Mardale Head
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 8.1
Walking With: Rod and Michael
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: Mardale Head - Rough Crag - Caspel Gate Tarn - Long Stile - High Street - Straights of Riggindale - The Knott - Rampsgill Head - High Raise - Kidsty Pike - Kidsty Howes - Riggindale Beck - The Rigg - Mardale Head

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA10 2RP
Grid Reference: NY 469 310
Notes: Probably one of the most scenic car parks in Lakeland found at the head of the Mardale Valley offering easy access onto the High Street fells plus many more. The car park during Summer can fill up quickly but with most car parks in Lakeland if you time your arrival early enough you're always guaranteed a parking place. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


Snowtastic views over Haweswater towards The Rigg, High Street and Riggindale 08.25am 0°C

How much snow had fallen over night only became apparent by the time I reached Tebay where fields either side of the Motorway had received a dusting soon followed by my view of the Howgill Fells which had a healthy coating of the white stuff too, I was climbing into a world of white towards Shap which looked as magical as ever but my concerns of reaching Mardale Head soon took over. With junction 39 (Shap) reached I left the motorway where I was able to get a murky view of the High Street Fells all of which are covered in snow, ok that's great but my fear now is have the roads been gritted not just in the Mardale Valley but the four miles of narrow country lanes prior to reaching it, I would soon get my answer and the answer was no, the snow had obviously took the Council Gritters by surprise, the road hadn't been gritted.

I drove through Shap then turned left onto Keld Lane signposted Haweswater and Bampton, it was soon apparent that I was probably the second car to drive these lanes, the first car had already left its marking in the new snow, dammit. Ok 'keep calm' With no phone signal I was unable to contact Rod who I had an idea was behind me mainly because I know I'm half an hour early. I get out of my car and test the snow, it's soft and powdery and the tarmac is just wet underneath and not icy, well not here anyway. My luck continued as I drove past the sign for Rosgill but after passing the Crown and Mitre Pub at Bampton Grange conditions got progressively worse so I stopped the car again just after crossing the stone bridge over the River Lowther. Here the road surface was semi-frozen which made a cracking noise when driven over, the entrance to a farm just up ahead had a slight incline to it so I got out of the car and started to walk up the hill where I was met by a farmer and his dog; after a quick 'morning' I asked was it as bad further ahead and he asked of my direction "Mardale Head" I said, reckon it's going to be like this much of the way he replied. I continued up the incline to the top and noted much of the ice was caused by flowing water which had frozen overnight while up ahead the ice was much more sporadic. I decided to walk back to the car and maybe wait for Rod. It only took a few minutes to get back to the car but in doing so I'm passed by a Kia estate car that drove past without a care in the world easily taking on the icy incline, my thoughts were to give it a go too.

I slipped the car into first then second gear and gently eased up the incline, there was still ice on the road but thankfully this wasn't black and I could see any dangers well before I drove over them, by the time I arrived at Haweswater Dam I'd driven over a mixture of ice and deep puddles never leaving second gear, the road to Mardale Head was just up ahead and it was here, from out of nowhere did I spot Rod in my rear view mirror, thankfully he had made it through and Rod followed me painfully slow until we reached the bridge over Rowantreethwaite Beck where I stopped to take this photo "nearly never made it" I smilled, Rod could only look on nodding his head "I'll meet you down at the car park"

Selside Pike from Mardale Beck.

I soon met up with Rod and Michael at the car park and parked up next to Rod's car then one by one more cars arrived followed by a minibus full of children leaving the car park feeling very busy very quickly. With a freezing forecast set above the summits (predicted between -2° and -14°C windchill) for the first time ever I used my Montane down jacket exactly for what it was made for, to act as a layering system beneath my thin waterproof Rab Latok. It was zero degree's here in the valley and with adding such layers I knew prior to reaching summit level I would just have to sweat it out, it wasn't just me who had come prepared both Rod and Michael had too.

David however,sadly is unable to join us today due to a throat infection and with such low temperatures forecast the best place for him right now is home but there was mention of David getting out for a short walk. With the cars locked we strode out passing through the gated Deer fence then turned right and followed the stone wall towards the footbridge over Mardale Beck which is where I stopped to take this photo.

Views back over Haweswater towards Mardale Head and Harter Fell.
I might have been here just two weeks ago but the crags and gulleys of Harter Fell look totally different now after their recent covering of snow.

Views into Riggindale towards Short Stile and Kidtsy Pike.
Just as I had during my last visit we opted to remain on the path instead of taking the steeper short cut that flanks up the fell side. Todays forecast is sunny spells until late afternoon and if our view into Riggindale is anything to go by we should be in for a treat albeit a cold one.

Looking back on Haweswater as the morning light graces Measand End in the distance.
It was here we caught up with the two walkers and their dog who had stopped to take photos, after a quick chat we left them to it before beginning our ascent on Swine Crag where despite the shade it's still feeling incredibly mild, and the reason for that is...

...here comes the sun.
Sunrise over Gatesarth Pass.

Views over Haweswater from Heron Crag.
We had been sheltered from the wind during the early part of the ascent but once we had gained the ridge at Heron Crag we lost our shelter and soon felt the affects of the windchill which thankfully for now was counteracted by a Winter sun. The snow was starting to get a little deeper ranching between a dusting up to a foot in drifts. Of course the puddles had frozen which the snow had covered meaning at some point anyone of us was cracking through leaving muddied boot prints over fresh snow in our wake, I've missed this!

The top of Nan Bield Pass, Mardale III Bell North ridge and a glimpse of Small Water.

Short Stile, Two Penny Crag and Kidsty Pike from Eagle Crag.

Blea Water from Rough Crag.
Earlier we had spotted a solo walker on the ridge and it was his boot prints we had followed for much of the way before we arrived at Rough Crag, the solo walker by now had gained some good ground on us who by now was just about to shoulder Long Stile. We had a fabulous view over Blea Water with High Street's snow covered Head Wall disappearing below the inky blue surface. The windchill was such that it was best to keep moving so we decided to pay a visit to Caspel Gate Tarn next which is just a short descent away from Rough Crag summit.

Long Stile and Short Stile from Rough Crag summit.
The cloud cover beyond High Street summit hadn't gone un-noticed and we had hoped that it would soon drift on which isn't unrealistic in such winds, I guess we will have to wait and see.

Long Stile and Short Stile from Caspel Gate frozen Tarn.
The area around the tarn had completely frozen unlike two weeks ago when I was last here

Looking down on Blea Tarn with Mardale III Bell, the top of Nan Bield Pass and Harter Fell in the distance.
It had remained brighter and clear further east with the wind even creating spin drift over the top of Nan Bield Pass which made for perfect viewing but the cloud which we had seen earlier over the top of the summit was still present, perhaps getting darker and looking more menacing as it started to creep its way towards Mardale III Bell and Kidsty Pike.

Looking back on Rough Crag, Caspel Gate Tarn, Haweswater and Selside Pike from the top of Long Stile.

A similar view except this time taken from the stone cairn at the top of Long Stile.

Rod and Michael next to High Street summit Trig Point.
It didn't take long for the cloud to catch up and by the time we arrived at High Street summit we had lost the sunlight completely leaving the summit feeling chilled and incredibly gloomy, minutes earlier we agreed that we would evaluate the cloud cover from the summit and maybe change the route depending on which looked best but it was no use, the cloud seemed to be encircling, certainly the eastern and far eastern fells but as previously mentioned there's a wind present which is changing conditions by the minute, we decided to stick to the original plan and steered north towards the Straights of Riggindale.

The Mell Fells, Rest Dodd, The Knott, Two Penny Crag and Short Stile seen over the Straights of Riggindale.
We left High Street summit and began our descent towards The Straights of Riggindale shortly followed by a chap on a mountain bike who's next stop it appeared would be Kidsty Pike. The windchill was probably the coldest we've dealt with all morning and it was here I was glad of my layering system, exposed skin however, such as cheeks and ears took the full brunt and I don't mind admitting the hood went up if only to take the chill away.

Two Penny Crag and Kidsty Pike from the Straights of Riggindale.
For now we have the sun back and with every foot of descent the wind drops as did the windchill so down came the hood at a point when I'm even contemplating taking the sunglasses out, don't curse it Paul!

Views over Hayeswater and Gray Crag towards a backdrop of Eastern fells.
We enjoy the distant views while we can but we know this could be short lived because there's a lot of movement up there with more dark cloud heading our way. Further south towards the Coniston fells the cloud there is menacingly dark and snow filled, there might even be a rumble of thunder in there, we joked it looked like something right out of a Lord of the Rings movie.

Fantastic views over High Street, Hayeswater and Thornthwaite Crag from the Straights of Riggindale.

Rampsgill Head and High Raise (Martindale) from The Knott summit.
The light continued, for how long though we didn't know but we figured it was on borrowed time. We traversed the Straights of Riggindale passing two walkers who stopped to take photos of icicles dangling from a ditch just off the path, we stopped to admire them too before taking in the short ascent towards The Knott summit. Over on the left is Rampsgill Head while over on the left is High Raise where we intend to break out lunch at the summit shelter.

Views over Hayeswater towards Thornthwaite Crag, Caudale Moor and top of Red Screes.

Here stopping to look back on The Knott.
From The Knott we descended slightly and simply crossed over the path and started our ascent on Rampsgill Head, this isn't the official path but for anyone wanting to gain Rampsgill Head direct from The Knott this is the quickest way of ascent without the need to double back over Two Penny Crag.

Dramatic cloud scenery from Rampsgill Head summit.
There's still plenty of colour left in the sky for now it's easy to read but not for much longer.

Looking back on Rampsgill Head from our ascent on High Raise.
Normally this ascent would be pretty boggy underfoot but today it was mostly frozen.

High Raise (Martindale) summit.

A group of walkers had gained High Raise after leaving Rampsgill Head just as we had and arrived at the summit just moments before we had. We weren't too sure if they too were about to eat lunch at the summit shelter (seen behind the cairn) and after a moment or so of doing nothing I politely asked would they be needing the shelter when one of the walkers (the guy on the far right) answered "no they were heading for Kidsty next" this was great news so we made our way around the shelter only to find it was full of snow, bugger.

We had only been stopped for a minute or so but the windchill was uncomfortable to be stood still for too long so we found a spot as best we could out of the wind and de-shouldered our packs. Around the shelter the snow had accumulated so we used our boots to clear the snow then placed our foam mats down to sit down on. We were relatively sheltered and five to ten minutes into lunch for me the chill started to set in. Rod and Michael were still eating and not far from finishing their lunches so I stood up and had a wander about if only to keep moving, it was only now did I realise how quickly the cloud cover had moved in.

Kidsty Pike, High Street and Thornthwaite Crag from High Raise (Martindale)
The cloud hadn't actually dropped nor obscured our view but it had certainly thickened with more on its way from the direction of Helvellyn who not twenty minutes earlier appeared as a Winters paradise, cloud now obscured every summit across the range. With lunch packed away we re-shouldred and made a break for Kidsty Pike, hopefully before anymore cloud would arrive.

Looking back on High Raise shortly before arriving at Kidsty Pike summit.

With a lack of sunlight the temperatures plummeted to perhaps the coldest windchill we'd experienced the whole day, the fingers on my right hand felt like they were on fire and for a few moments all I could think about was the bloody pain, I de-shoulder once more and take out my Montane Winter gloves, a first in almost three years, they're semi frozen (or at least they felt that way) meaning it was best to crush the fingers of the glove before I put my hand into them, my left glove slipped on easily while my little finger on my right glove struggled to get past the inner sleeve, sod it, I'll just do star shapes with my hand and let the blood circulate, this seemed to take forever.

Rod had the same bad luck changing from his regular gloves into his Montane Winter gloves too, it wasn't just the one finger it was all of them, it was clear Rod was getting increasingly frustrated and in the end he turned the inner sleeve inside out and painstakingly seated it back into the glove, it seemed to work.

Kidsty Howes (bottom left) Riggindale, The Rigg, Haweswater, Selside Pike and Branstree from Kidsty Pike summit.

From High Raise we had seen a lot of activity on Kidsty Pike including the group of walkers we had just seen back at High Raise, all of whom had just left leaving the summit to ourselves. We hung around a few moments while I scoured the summit of High Street and the Rough Crag ridge but I couldn't see anyone.

Two walkers descend Rampsgill Head pathless, this I know by how high they raise their knees to stretch over the long wild grasses before continuing onto High Raise which appeared as a frozen bleak mound, I hoped their experience wouldn't be as cold as ours.

Harter Fell seen over Mardale Head.

There was the odd patchy sunny spell mainly over the summit of Selside Pike but other than that it remained overcast for much of our descent. We had caught up with one of the groups who were descending Kidsty Howes, they had in turn made it through the rocky section before the snow covered grass into Riggindale slowed them down to an almost halt, most of the group at one stage were on their backsides, those who weren't chose to descent backwards to stop then sliding.

Experience told us to descend just off the path and use the dead bracken for traction which worked a treat, by now the fingers on my right hand had returned to normal, sweaty even but I'll not forget the pain they were in between High Raise and Kidsty Pike, note to self: look into ways to enhance blood circulation because this has never happened to me in the past, not as severe anyway. We tail the group all the way back to Mardale Head and inparticular the young man seen in the photo who looked exhausted and like he'd had enough. As it turns out these are the same kids who pulled up in the mini bus this morning, their leader way up front tired of waiting for the poor kid.

We arrived back at the car park and just out of politeness we could have overtook this kid but we never did, we hung back not wanting to weaken his will any further, his mate was waiting for him back at the mini bus whose first words were "that was hell" the young kid agreed replying "no that was torture" This young mans, perhaps only experience of Lakeland was of holding everyone up, forcing his friends to wait for him who eventually gave up, whatever happened to the term "your team is only as strong as its weakest member" If this was the case all of the group would have finished together and this young mans lasting memory would have been of leadership and a great day out on the snow covered fells.

"If this is torture, then I like tortutre" -Rod Hepplewhite


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