A Mardale Head Circuit

10th December 2021

Recovering from a dose of flu besides the Lemsip's the next best tonic was some fresh air in an area of Lakeland that I hold dear. With Storms Arwen and Barra out of the way Lakeland is again left licking its wounds with many homes, businesses and schools still without power not to mention the physical impact with fallen trees still blocking some minor roads.

The evidence was there to see as I drove from Burnbanks through to Mardale Head as debris littered the lane, in fact I saw one local picking up fallen branches which he loaded into a trailer which he'd attached to a ride on lawn mower, anything helps I guess.

After a dry Summer which extended into Autumn the water level at Haweswater was down to an all time low so much so you could actually walk around the Rigg and visit Wood Howe island without getting your feet wet which thankfully is back to normal levels as are the becks after recent rains which could be heard well before they were seen.

The recent storms left most of the fells above 600ft with a coating of snow, something that this time last year we could only view through webcams on our computer screens and although the country still isn't out of the woods yet it felt great to be at the mercy of Lakeland in Winter again.

Wainwright Guide Book Two
The Far Eastern Fells
Of the many excellent climbs available from Mardale Head the direct ascent of Mardale Ill Bell ranks high, the walk being favoured by two of the finest tarns in Lakeland, each set amongst crags in wild and romantic surroundings.

Ascent: 2,588 Feet - 789 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, Harter Fell (Mardale) - Mardale III Bell - High Street
Visiting: Rough Crag
Weather: A Bright Start Sporadic Sunshine PM. Max Windspeed 24.6mph Highs of 6°C Lows of 2°C Feels Like -8.3°C
Parking: Car Park, Mardale Head
Area: Far Eastern
Miles: 7
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 5 Hours
Route: Mardale Head - Gatescarth Pass - Harter Fell (Mardale) - Top of Nan Bield Pass - Mardale III Bell - High Street - Long Stile - Gaspel Gate - Rough Crag - 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


Mardale III Bell, High Street, Rough Crag, Riggindale, Kidsty Pike, Riggindale and The Rigg 08:30am 2°C

Harter Fell (Mardale) from Mardale Head.
It was a cold and blustery kit up not helped by the valley being in shade but from the car park sunlight was already starting to creep into the valley. The forecast had been for an overcast morning followed by a brighter afternoon so I planned to walk the route clockwise which should hopefully see me walking the Rough Crag ridge under brilliant sunshine but this is Lakeland in Winter where you've got to take the forecast with a pinch of salt.

After one final sweep I locked the car and threw my laiden pack over my shoulder which landed with a reassuring thud. Packed with extra layers, more gloves than you could throw a stick at and my crampons my pack was in full Winter mode which was a pity as my nose had started to run already.

Haweswater appears as I ascend Gatescarth Pass.
I'd committed to Harter Fell the moment I passed the permissive footpath sign pointing towards Nan Bield Pass and The Rigg and moments later I started to second guess had I made the right choice after looking at all that lovely sunshine over the Rough Crag ridge but there was nothing I could do except put my trust in the weather gods and hope the brightness continues.

Lots of blue sky as I head towards the top of Gatescarth Pass.
It was June 2017 during an extended Mardale Head circuit did I last walk down Gatescarth Pass but it was October 2009 the last time I actually ascended it. Blimey where does the time go.

Looking back over the top of Gatescarth Pass towards Branstree.
I was met with blinding sunshine climbing slowly above the Longsleddale valley as I crested the top of the pass where I also ran into the snow line too. The snow was deep where it had drifted and frozen underfoot. I wouldn't be requiring my crampons just yet but it won't be long until I do.

Views towards Branstree, Haweswater, The Rigg, Kidsty Howes, Castle Crag and a hint of Low Raise (Mardale)
large portions of the path were snow free while other sections I was ascending were frozen and upto a foot in depth.

Views over Haweswater.
Taken from Litte Harter Fell. Note the snow cornice on the east facing side of the fell.

Dazzling views as I look back on Kentmere Pike (left) Brown Howe (centre) and The Knowe towards the (right)
From a skittering to unavoidable the snow was as hard as ice and with the windchill continuing to build I found shelter where within the lee of a crag I de-shouldered my pack and added my crampons while a blazing sun warmed the back of my neck.

Looking south...
...towards Tarn Crag (Longsleddale) Grey Crag, the Longsleddale valley and Kentmere Pike.

Cresting the summit shoulder.
The wind had really started to build up and I couldn't but help feel pleased that I'd added the crampons in comfort rather than in a -10°C windchill. The wind was now whipping up loose snow and ice into spindrift so on went the sunglasses and neck gaiter.

Haweswater in the shadow of Harter Fell (Mardale)
Although not as strong as last week on Brown Pike the wind by now was making walking difficult and due to the sudden gust and snow cornice I sadly couldn't take in this view any longer than it took to squeeze the shutter button on the camera.

Heading towards Harter Fell (Mardale) summit.
Hard snow was blocking the gate from opening so I passed easily over the fence to the right where the snow had drifted.

Caudale Moor, Stony Cove Pike, Mardale III Bell, High Street and Kidsty Pike from Harter Fell (Mardale) summit.
The wind was blowing south which meant my right side was taking a hammering which was all fair and well except for the tiny bit at the bottom of my right ear which I'm sure had frozen completley then mummified!

Looking back towards the subsiduary, and East summits.

Caudale Moor, Stony Cove Pike, Mardale III Bell, High Street and Kidsty Pike from Harter Fell (Mardale) summit.
Cloud drifting eastwards certainly got my attention but on the whole it was nothing to worry about for now.

Harter Fell summit cairn with clear skies beyond.
The summit cairn was soon reached where I was shocked to find most of the rusted Victorian fence posts which were unique to this cairn were missing the most prominent of which used to stand proud from the cairn shaped like an old pitch fork.

Close up of Mardale III Bell, High Street, Kidsty Pike and High Raise (Martindale)
Well at least it's looking as cold over there as it feels over here!

Descending the rock band towards the top of Nan Bield Pass.
Up until now I hadn't seen anyone but all of that was about to change when I spotted a chap in descent (out of shot) I couldn't confirm it but he must have come from the direction of Kentmere Pike as there hadn't been anyone in front of me since leaving Mardale Head.

Fabulous views into Kentmere valley.
With Yoke, III Bell and Froswick not forgetting Kentmere Reservoir below while over towards the right is Lingmell End.

Looking back over the top of Nan Bield Pass towards Harter Fell (Mardale)
I soon passed the solo walker who had stopped to drink from a flask passing with 'cracking day for it' the chap replied but I couldn't hear his reply because my ears were still frozen!

The view over Small Water towards Haweswater Reservoir.
The solid snow was confined to the summits and as I passed over the top of Nan Bield Pass there was only a skittering underfoot but I keep with the crampons because the path up ahead was completely buried, in fact it looked like the snow had drifted quite high in places.

The same view from a little higher up the path.

Almost at the top.
I was right the snow had fallen so heavy between the top of Nan Bield Pass and Mardale III Bell summit it had changed the angle of the path from what would have been a steady ascent to steep, adding frozen snow which buried my legs up towards the knee my legs and lungs sure had to work hard as I made my way towards the summit.

Crikey I'm not liking the colour of those clouds.

Looking back across Mardale III Bell summit shoulder.
I crested the summit shoulder panting like a labrador on a hot day before spotting this fell walker who I assume ran across the top of the Kentmere valley before heading down towards the top of Nan Bield Pass.

I don't think he saw me and the two woman fell runners I spotted just two minutes after might have wished the same when one slipped and fell flat on her face, I heard the scream and waited for her to get up, her dog was bouncing around while her mate helped her up. She then dusted herself down and continued her run. Made of tough stuff those fell runners!

High Street, Kidsty Pike and High Raise (Martindale) from Mardale III Bell summit.
With the sun behind cloud over my shoulder and dark cloud approaching within the flick of a switch it felt like someone had just turned the lights out.

But every now and again...
...the sun would poke through the cloud even if it was just for a few seconds.

Looking back on Mardale III Bell, Harter Fell (Mardale) and Branstree.
I stopped to adjust my crampons and while I was at it I de-shouldered to tuck clothing in that had become untucked. Doing this in conditions such as todays gives you a second wind almost like you've just locked the car and are about to just set off.

It was whilst I was tightening my crampons was I passed by the chap I'd passed during the descent of Harter Fell. Turns out he was walking the Kentmere Horseshoe and we commented that at least he'd have the wind on his back as he walked the III Bell ridge before bidding each other to enjoy the rest of our walks.

Flipping gorgeous.
The dark cloud and a golden sea left the III Bell ridge looking especially moody in the low light.

III Bell angels.

High Street afterglow.

High Street summit Trig Point.
After everything I've been through these last few months it almost felt like I'd abandoned High Street but there's a time and a place when to visit. Today was the right time.

Light spills out across the snow.
Seen as I look back on Mardale III Bell and Harter Fell.

Descending Long Stile with views of Rough Crag and Kidsty Howes.
My crampons made light work of the deep snow where I made a very quick descent keeping in mind that two or three rock steps could be buried below the snow, as it turned out they weren't but it always pays to keep alert I guess.

Harter Fell (Mardale) and Mardale III Bell from Long Stile.
Good grief Blea Water is looking especially chilled down there in all that shade.

Long Stile from Caspel Gate.
The unnamed tarn at Caspel Gate is one of my favourite tarns in Lakeland where it was looking like I wouldn't be able to enjoy this view because the light was so low but as I approached the sun appeared long enough to squeeze a couple of shots before the sun disappeared behind cloud again.

Harter Fell (Mardale) the top of Nan Bield Pass and Mardale III Bell.

Long Stile and High Street from Rough Crag summit.
I left Caspel Gate and ascended towards Rough Crag summit and took in the bleak, but beautiful view back towards High Street.

Looking towards Heron Crag having descended Eagle Crag behind me.
I knew more rock steps awaited so even though there was more grass than snow I kept my crampons on until I'd descended Eagle Crag where I stopped to remove them. My crampon bag was buried at the bottom of my pack so I tied them to the side of my pack using a spare adjustable strap.

Brown Howe, Wood Howe (island) Speaking Crag and The Rigg from Swine Crag.
My neck gaiter and gloves were causing me to overheat so I remove them and hastily tucked them into my packs left pocket before continuing my descent towards The Rigg where I stopped to take this last photo. I left Swine Crag and skirted around the back of The Rigg while heat continued to vaporise away from me. By now the sun had began its descent for the day and was nestling just over the top of Nan Bield Pass and soon the Haweswater valley would be plunged into shade awaiting days end.

After all these years if walking in Lakeland has taught me one thing it's how I connect with the fells , it's not just boot on fell it's a spiritual message confirmed today in those special few minutes I spent on High Street summit while two Ravens circled over head.


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