A Mardale Head Circuit

27th October 2019

I had originally planned to follow Birketts Woundale walk today but the pull of climbing High Street got the better of me before realising that todays ascent will be my 30th, I simply couldn't say no to that.

After firing a few emails between one another last night it was confirmed that David would be joining me after he and Rod had made use of yesterdays torrential weather forecast by giving High Rigg a circuit, via St Johns-in-the-Vale "it rained non stop" they said and got heavier by the time they had returned to the cars David told me but the point was they both got out while I took advantage of a much needed lie in.

I had penned a circuit of Mardale Head starting with the Rough Crag ridge before gaining High Street, Mardale III Bell and finally Harter Fell from where my plan was to descend the steep north ridge to Mardale Beck, a descent that I've been wanting to do for some time but for one reason or another I never got round to it. I only wish David would have been there to enjoy it with me but sadly things didn't go quite the way we had planned.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Far Eastern Fells

The range forms across the eastern spirit of Lakeland, providing a splendid full days march at a consistently high altitude


Ascent: 2,646 Feet - 806 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, High Street - Mardale III Bell - Harter Fell (Mardale)
Visiting: Rough Crag (Riggindale)
Weather: A Mixed Morning of Cloud & Bright Sunshine, Turning Brighter From Midday. Highs of 12 °C Lows of 7°C Freezing Above The Summits.
Parking: Car Park, Mardale Head
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 6.4
Walking With: David Hall
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 4 Hours 40 Minutes
Route: Mardale Head - The Rigg - Rough Crag - High Street - Mardale III Bell - Top of Nan Bield Pass - Harter Fell (Mardale) - Harter Fell North Ridge - 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


The view over Haweswater towards Rough Crag, High Street, Riggindale and Kidsty Howes.
It had been a real sporadic drive north encountering heavy rain and sunshine which was still reflecting above the Far Eastern fells by the time I arrived along the shores of Haweswater. it's views like this which remind me why I love this time of year so much.

The wider view.
Here's Harter Fell seen beyond The Rigg over on the left with the Rough Crag Ridge, High Street and Riggindale seen right. It's quite breezy and once more, bloody cold so much so my nose is starting to run before I've had the chance to put my boots on!

Mardale Head.
In all its Autumnal glory.


Kidsty Pike, Kidtsy Howes and Low Raise from Mardale Road.
The sunlight looks fantastic this morning when set against those brooding skies which are forecast to clear anytime soon.

The Rigg, the Rough Crag Ridge, High Street, Mardale III Bell, Riggindale and Kidsty Pike.
I've just spotted David driving towards the car park so after wiping my nose for the fifteenth time I go to join him.

Harter Fell (Mardale) from Mardale Beck 8:30am 7°C

After jumping back into my car I soon joined David who had just reversed his car up to the wall where I park along side him. My car gave me the chance to warm up again but once out I instantly felt the cold in what felt like double measures. I kit up while we catch up behind the cars adding my beanie and gloves along with my gaiters which are starting to feel like the norm so early into the Autumn/Winter season. With the cars locked we pass through the Deer gate and turn right towards the footbridge over Mardale Beck where I stopped to take this photo, it was here I mentioned how David felt about descending Harter Fell north ridge (seen sloping from top left to bottom right) and after assuring David of the research I've put into this descent David was well up for it

"we'll see the line I plan to descend once we get higher" I added.

One last look back at Harter Fell from the familer wooden sty.
Before continuing towards The Rigg.

High Street, Riggindale and Kidsty Pike.
The brilliant morning light show continued as we left The Rigg behind where the Rough Crag ridge now sheltered us from the wind and within minutes we were complaining it was too warm!

Looking back on Haweswater towards a distant Bampton Fell.
That's Speaking Crag stretching out into Haweswater over what was Mardale village before it was demolsihed to make way for the reservoir as we know it today.

Riggindale, Kidsty Pike, Kidsty Howes and Low Raise.
Taken before we start our ascent on Swine Crag.

Peering down on The Rigg and Haweswater.
With Brown Howe and Naddle High Forest seen beyond.

Beyond the fence Kidsty Pike re-appears while clouds continue to brood from above.
Note how the stone wall falls steeply into the Riggindale valley below.

Rough Crag appears up ahead.
With the comforts of the ridge no longer sheltering us from the wind a chill descended but not in a way were we are forced to add more layers, instead the wind aids us keeping our comfort levels in line. High above our heads thick clouds block the sunlight creating contrasting views along the ridge at a point when we swore we could feel rain in the air.

Escaping one shower.
But not for long as the tail end of another shower traces close by, we did see a few large drops from this shower but by the time we had thought about adding waterproofs the shower passes.

David is forced to head back.

Everything was going fine to a point were we spoke of numerous optional descents should Harter Fell north ridge not work out, that was until David surged forward as he descended from Rough Crag summit then skipped on his right foot quickly followed by a "f#ck" right there and then I knew this was serious. Without thinking David slumped to the ground on his backside holding his right ankle "bloody hell that hurts" I could do nothing but to advise David not to move while a look of concern concealed both our faces and indeed, our thoughts. The next few minutes was going to entail me helping David off this ridge or whether we scrap the walk altogether.

David reaches for the pain killers in his pack and downs them with a gulp from his water bottle while all I could do was feebly ask "how's the pain? can you move your foot and can you wiggle your toes" David could do all three but it was painful, a pain it would seem that after five minutes or so was starting to subside which told me that hopefully nothing was broken. David got back up and continued to wiggle his foot "try put pressure on it mate" . David gently puts his foot down and walks three to four steps "I can walk Paul but I'm not sure it would be wise for me to continue" This was Davids first assessment and in my philosophy you should always go with your first thoughts. Ok, we'll head back before David assures me he will be fine alone but I'm not sure, I wait a few moments and ask again "I'm coming with you" to which David replied "no, honestly I'll be fine, I'll just take my time I just can't risk continuing the walk" I am uneasy but I agree and we part with a hearty handshake as I watched David disappear over Rough Crag's summit.

Footnote: David sensibly has rested his foot and after three days of swelling from his foot injury it has now gone down and David is pain free, even though it took lots of 'second guessing' David certainly made the right call by cutting short his walk, I strongly suspect despite this weekends poor forecast David will be putting boot onto fell once again.

Long Stile, Short Stile and High Street as I approach Gaspel Gate.
I watched David disappear from view and proceeded to take the slight descent towards Gaspel Gate, I had only left David seconds earlier but my head was telling me I should have gone back with David but I knew should I change my mind and catch David back up he'd only tell me to continue. If there was a plus side to these few moments it was the incredible light casting down on the ridge, it was stunningly beautiful and enough to stop me in my tracks.

Mardale III Bell standing guard over Blea Water.

High Stile from Caspel Gate.
The light show intensifies.

Long Stile reflections.

Long Stile from Caspel Gate.
The tarn has no name although many refer to it as Caspelgate Tarn.

The light is changing every minute
And with it, so does the scenery.

Short Stile and Kidsty Pike from the ascent of Long Stile/High Street.

David was still on my mind as I left Caspel Gate and began the steep ascent on Long Stile, it's not like me to 'muster' the energy and indeed find the enthusiasm for such an ascent but that's what I found myself doing, I just couldn't shake off what had just happened. I had reached the halfway point during my Long Stile ascent when I spotted two fell runners with four collies making their way down, they were making good ground and before I knew it they were almost upon me, it turned out it was a couple with the female leading quickly followed by the male who right in front of me slipped causing him to land perched on all fours "you ok his partner asked" he said nothing nor moved, he just stayed there in the all fours position "your gonna have to give me a minute he replied" I couldn't believe what I was seeing and I remarked that my friend had to turn back after doing the same, both myself and the woman agreed it was still incredibly wet underfoot.

The guy recovered from all fours and skipped a few steps forward, "ok lets go" but instead of a confident trot they began making their descent slowly until they were out of sight.

Looking back on Caspel Gate and Rough Crag shortly before reaching the top of Long Stile.
With the Riggindale Valley seen falling away to the left and Haweswater Reservoir seen beyond.

Helvellyn and Nevermost Pike have received their first coating of snow through the night.
It's been raining heavily the last few days and the mountain forecast had predictied that the rain would fall as soon above 3,000ft meaning the top four all took a coating of snow over night.

High Street summit Trig Point.
It had clouded over by the time I had reached High Street summit for this, my 30th summit. I went on to say a few words mainly directed towards my Mum who passed away in December 2012 after a long illness after which I never really broke down, that was until several days later when I climbed High Street to be alone with my thoughts when my Mums death suddenly hit me leaving me sobbing like a boy, that was right here so whether it's a concrete column or not, the bond I have with High Street is so much more than just a Lakeland fell, it's also the place I cut my teeth as a novice fell walker.

Yoke, III Bell and Froswick from Mardale III Bell.
A large walking group had congregated on High Street summit and had bedded down behind the summit wall taking shelter from the cool summit breeze so I moved on and began to follow the wall before heading out towards Mardale III Bell. It was a dark and moody traverse and I kept my camera at bay which probably reflected my mood for the half mile or so it took me to reach the summit. Just prior to reaching the summit I pass what appears to be a mother and daughter duo where 'mornings' are exchanged then after tapping the summit rocks with my right hand I began the descent towards the shelter at the top of Nan Bield Pass where I was passed by more walkers making their ascent on Mardale III Bell.

Spectacular views over Small Water towards Haweswater Reservoir.
That's Piot Crag, Mardale III Bell's east ridge over on the left with the Rough Crag ridge beyond while far left we have Low Raise and far right, Selside Pike, Brown Howe and Naddle High Forest beyond, what a view!

The ridge linking the top of Nan Bield Pass with Harter Fell (Mardale)
i quickly found myself at the top of Nan Bield Pass where a group of walkers were huddled around the shelter soon joined by more who had ascended from Small Water. I'm not one for stopping at shelters unless conditions force me to so I continued and passed the group with Hi's and Hello's.

Looking down from on Small Water, Mardale III Bell East ridge, the Rough Crag Ridge, Kidsty Howes, Haweswater and The Rigg.
I started my ascent in good stead and with the sun blazing overhead, in good spirits too helped along by this view which from now on will dominate the remainder of todays walk.

Looking back over Small Water towards Piot Crag, Mardale III Bell, High Street and Kidsty Pike.

From the same spot I look back over the Top of Nan Bield Pass towards Lingmell End and Mardale III Bell.
With Froswiick, Thornthwaite Crag and Red Screes beyond.

Piot Crag looking more dramatic the further I climb.
Helped along by this mornings ever changing light.

Mardale III Bell, High Street and Kidsty Pike from Harter Fell (Mardale)

I must admit I never tire of the ascent of Harter Fell from the top of Nan Bield Pass and todays ascent was no different helped along by the dramatic views over Small Water which are about to get even more dramatic as I have decided to descend Harter Fell via its steep North ridge, as mentioned earlier this has been something something I have been wanting to do for sometime and with todays perfect conditions I have decided to go for it but before I do please accept this word of warning.

Do not attempt to follow this route in anything other than perfect conditions unless you are confidently trained to do so, to the east of the north ridge there are steep cliffs and gullies that drop suddenly 800ft to the scree below, please keep well back from the edge where a fall could prove fatal.

Amazing views over Small Water, Piot Crag, Mardale III Bell, Mardale III Bell North East Ridge, Blea Water, High Street and Kidsty Pike.
I had observed the descent many times on previous visits but that didn't stop me giving the descent my whole attention once again this time from my ascent of Harter Fell where I got a great look into what appears to be a steep grass cove the head of which was littered with boulder all except one area where I could negotiate my descent via a grass rake. In this photo I am stood on the shoulder of the summit about to start my descent which I had chosen to start from Harter Fell secondary summit cairns. The photo doesn't do the descent any justice but if you look along the lower edge of the photo you can see where the ground appears to just fall away.

Piot Crag close up with Blea Water appearing much higher than Small Water which is by approximately 100ft.
Along the lower edge of this photo the base of the cove appears. I descend using controlled zigzags three steps out followed by three steps in never taking my eyes of the ground,,,that would be a bad idea!

The far Eastern edge of Harter Fell appears bottom left to bottom right together with fantastic views over Mardale Waters towards Rough Crag, Kidsty Pike and High Raise (Martindale)

With the grass rake carefully negotiated and with a fixed view on where I was heading next I dropped into the cove not before kicking my feet into the back of my boots that is. I looked back on what I had just descended and saw nothing but 600ft of vertical grass a quarter of a mile wide and gulped, Jesus, did I just descend that.

Over to my right lies the edge of the east ridge consumed by steep cliffs and gullies where my plan is to visit the grass rock knoll seen centre right which forms the head of a steep gully. At 1,800ft ABL I didn't want to get too close to the edge but I was intrigued to get as close as safely possible.

Arriving close to the edge of the ridge with the rock knoll and gully appearing far left.
Just ten feet to my right the cliff fell away 700ft below and with uneven sodden ground below my boots it wasn't worth the risk getting any closer.

In the shadow of giants.

Mardale Head, Branstree and Gatescarth Pass as I approach the head of the steep gully.
I have looked up at this ridge line for years and said "I can do that" and now that I'm here I am in awe that I'm actually here even if I was accompanied by a slight leg wobble.

A little down the ridge line I started to make my way towards the head of the gully seen ahead by the grass rock knoll.
With dramatics reaching an all time high I wondered how long my little heart could cope it was beating so fast it felt like it was about to pop out of my chest! What a day for exploration of this fine, yet dramatic ridge.

Mardale Waters, Rough Crag, Long Stile, Kidsty Pike, Short Stile, High Raise (Martindale) and High Street from Harter Fell.

Stopping to take in the view back into the cove and beyond.
No camera trickery here it really is that steep.

Reaching the head of the gully with dramatic views beyond.
The head of the gully was reached which descended steeply via a series of steep grass rakes and rock grooves, not only did the gully look uncharted but it felt it too, so like a good boy,,,I step away!

Attempting to capture the contour of the ridge.

Descending the North ridge with views of Small Water.
With Piot Crag providing the dramatic back drop accompanied by the sound of gushing water from Small Water Beck.

Rough Crag close up.
I count four walkers.

Heading back to Mardale Head within the mighty shadow of Harter Fell.

With my heart rate just about returning to normality I reached Small Water Beck where once again I kicked my feet into the back of my boots and made some minor adjustments to clothing after the descent made me feel, and look a tad 'roughed up' I rejoined the path back to Mardale Head within shadow of the ridge I had just descended. I could see Mardale Head was still busy with more cars arriving one of which stopped me as I approached my car as the driver wound down his window and asked "are you leaving, mind if I pinch your spot" "aye that's fine I replied but I'm going to be a few minutes kitting down"

I took once last look at Harter Fell which looked still as menacing cast in shadow and located the rock knoll from which I had been stood less than an hour earlier, I gulp emotionally not knowing whether it was because I had just descended Harter Fell's north ridge after all these years or was it just the adrenalin wearing off, I think it was a bit of both.


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