Brock Crags and Bannerdale

View of Hayeswater and Gray Crag from Brock Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt was very windy at home with plenty of cloud so I was expecting a bit of a buffeting, although I wasn't planning to climb the highest hills. I parked the car at Hartsop village; it wasn't raining but it certainly looked as though it would as I set off towards Hayeswater. There is a new notice on the gate at the start of the path regarding Access Land; Dalemain Estates now welcome you to the Martindale Deer Forest including The Nab, although their preferred route only goes one way to the summit.

Once you get through the gate there is a good track to walk on, although it is a bit muddy as you pass some sheep sheds. Just before the track splits you pass a signpost and notice saying you are allowed to use a smaller path to visit the ruins of the village mill and an old lead mine. Where it splits, the right hand track drops down to cross Hayeswater Gill before skirting around the base of Gray Crag on its way to Hayeswater; I went up the green track on the left, rising up in the direction of the Filter House.

View of Brotherswater from Brock Crags by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe wall on the left that I had been walking beside suddenly turned uphill and there were signs of a faint path following it upwards. I followed the grassy path by the side of the wall until just past the top corner I came across another green track coming up from the Filter House. The tracks to and from the Filter House are marked on the map and I was hoping to find them; I turned left along the track hoping again that the footpath on the map was equally as obvious. After passing through a gap in a wall a small footpath branched off to the right away from the track; shortly after crossing a small stream I found a very obvious path going uphill.

The path was no trodden, flattening of the grass, it was a substantial, deliberately manufactured path; it was green with not being used very often and took as gentle a route as possible up the steep fellside. I passed through the wall again, the track and path combine to make a zigzag route; having gained height quite quickly I had a good view of Hayeswater with the sun reflecting off its surface. Gray Crag looks quite elegant from this direction, a handsome partner for Hayeswater; High Street and Caudale Moor form the boundary walls of a fine mountain view. There was also a view of Brotherswater behind me and I could see a big shower of rain coming my way from the direction of Helvellyn.

Brock Crags summit tarn by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe gradient eased as the path carried on in the direction of Rest Dodd; a partially demolished cairn told me that it was time to leave the path and take a more direct route upwards. I followed a shallow green gully uphill until I reached the remains of a wall and I could see what I took to be the summit outcrops of Brock Crags on the skyline over to the left. As the heavy shower reached me I headed directly towards the outcrops on gently rising grassy ground; I crossed a line of wooden fence posts before climbing up to higher ground and crossing another ruined wall to reach the summit of Brock Crags.

It is a fine little summit having views of Hayeswater, Angle Tarn and Brotherswater with a glimpse of Ullswater and a horizon full of mountain tops; the rain had passed too. There is an obvious enough path heading across a boggy plateau in the direction of Rest Dodd; the views across Brock Crags' two small summit tarns can be made to look as though they are on different hills. The path rejoins a ruined wall leading to the main Patterdale to High Street path, turn left and almost immediately you pass through a gap in the wall. The path splits here, the main path bearing right towards High Street and if you are not paying attention you will end up on the smaller path to Rest Dodd. I wanted to be on the smaller path but two other walkers realised their mistake when they saw the more obvious one below.

Brock Crags summit tarn by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerRest Dodd lies ahead, the path is obvious enough if a bit muddy in places; it is a typical Dodd a big green lump. The flat grassy top has two cairns either side of a shallow, swampy depression that probably contained a summit tarn a long time ago. There is another good view from the summit; Catstycam's conical profile being obvious after the clouds had lifted and it looked nicely sunny over Bonscale Pike and the far end of Ullswater. I followed a faint path northwards; beyond an attractive green hummock you can see the patchwork of peat and bog that awaits you on The Nab.

Once you get to the top of the small hummock you can see just how steep the descent is going to be; you should also make a note of the route of the path to avoid the worst of the bogs. After a steep descent where the grass can be slippery even when it isn't wet you reach a substantial stone wall; there is a stile these days at the right hand end of the wall just where it starts to plummet down to Ramps Gill. Dalemain have helpfully attached another reminder of the open access areas and their preferred route to the stile. It was around this time I started to hear the noises, reminiscent of a bull bellowing but different; of course it was Red Deer stags, it was the Martindale Deer Forest in rutting season.

Descent from Rest Dodd view of The Nab by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path through the peat hags and bogs is obvious enough to follow most of the time but you can't avoid getting your boots muddy in places as you negotiate the hags. You could easily get into a muddy mess if you don't keep checking the route of the path; I suspect that a more direct route would not be an enjoyable one. Once you get past the mud you have a relatively easy walk on rough grass to the summit of The Nab. There isn't really much of a view from The Nab's summit; the Helvellyn horizon is very distant, the Wether Hill to High Raise ridge is just a high grey wall on the other side of Ramps Gill and everything else you can see is just green.

There is a faint path going north from the summit and soon you begin to get a view down to the valleys either side and to Martindale ahead. It's a long time since I was on this side of The Nab and I thought the path must have developed as a result of open access; it seems to know where it is going. Suddenly the path just disappeared as I reached the edge of the summit plateau above Nab End; the ground fell away steeply on three sides and I seem to remember there are crags in some places. I decided to make my way down the steep green slope on the left; it is about the steepest grass slope I have ever come across but the vegetation was good enough to grip with my boots as I made a careful, ankle-wrenching descent to the path I could see below.

Peat hags on the ascent of The Nab by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe path is marked on the map and there is a more direct route to it from the summit that I would have preferred to find. The path contours around to the front of Nab End where it becomes practical to descend again; there is a wall just below where a new stile has replaced the hurdle that used to block the gap. There are signs of a path continuing straight down from there but where the ground levels off the path just vanishes again; I carried on downwards and aimed for another new stile to get over the wall and on to a vehicle track. This track is the one that leads to The Bungalow from the Martindale valley road, which is where I wanted to be.

Eventually I passed through a gate to get to the road and I was surprised to see the notice on the gate that was definitely not in the spirit of open access; the new walking man sign with a diagonal red bar across it. It seems that Dalemain Estates have adhered the letter of the law in terms of open access land but haven't quite accepted the spirit of it; they tolerate open access land but won't allow you access to it. I have tried to contact them and asked for a permissive path and waymarker signs for The Nab; it seems the best way of minimising any disturbance to the deer herds (which was always their excuse) whilst allowing access to the hill.

Descent from The Nab by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOnce I was on the road I turned left and walked back towards Bannerdale; you have to bypass the Dale Head farm buildings before getting onto a green path rising diagonally up the valley. There are two paths in Bannerdale; one along the bottom of the valley that leads to Angle Tarn and the one I took on an easy gradient up to Bedafell Knott. On the way up I passed people who were deer watching; even without binoculars I could there were a lot of deer in the valley and the stags were continuously roaring at each other.

As I reached the start of the Beda Fell ridge I bumped into Lorraine, Carolyn and Hayley who I hadn't seen for ages but who were also out to watch the deer. I hadn't really decided what to do next so I accepted their invitation to join them on their deer-spotting expedition. We walked over towards Angletarn Pikes but made no attempt to climb its summits; instead we stood behind the wall running across the top of Bannerdale head looking down at the deer, I hadn't realised there were so many.

The Nab by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWe climbed back up onto the path and made our way over to Rest Dodd; there can't be many people who climb that hill more than once in a day. Rather than climb to the summit, we went through the gap in the wall overlooking Bannerdale and walked down a narrowing shoulder, running parallel to my earlier descent from Rest Dodd. As we walked down through the pathless tussocks of grass we noticed a stag further down the ridge who, after he saw us, went down to the valley to a chorus of roars. We continued downwards over untrodden ground around the head of Yewgrove Gill; we had considered walking down the gill but it descended a bit too suddenly so we headed across the contours to a shallower gully.

As we reached the top of the gully we saw a large herd of deer running up towards the summit of The Nab; it just isn't possible to get anywhere near deer but I have never seen such numbers of the in the Lake District. The gully was indeed shallower and less steep than Yewgrove Gill but it was still quite steep and I was glad that the bracken was well rooted when I needed to steady myself. We descended in a direction that would bring us down to the valley away from the deer at the head of Bannerdale and also away from the large herd gathered near the wooded area at the base of The Nab.

Yewgrove Gill by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerEventually we reached level ground and headed for the wall corner at the edge of the open access area; we had a slight pause and some hesitation before we found a place to leap across Bannerdale Beck. We reached the path coming down from Angle Tarn and walked back down the valley passing more deer watchers. After all the effort of getting off Rest Dodd we saw what we were looking for; we stopped to watch a big stag roaring out a warning before chasing off a couple of other males who got too close to his hinds.

It is an easy walk back to Dale Head to rejoin the road for the final mile back to Martindale.

Andy Wallace 7th October 2006

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