Around Mardale Head

View of Haweswater by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerFor once this year there is a good weather forecast that coincides with my long overdue return to Mardale for a walk being led by Andrew Leaney on behalf of the Wainwright Society but which has turned into a meeting of members of the Online Fellwalking Club.

The small car park at Mardale Head was full to overflowing by the time I got there, a bit different to the last time I was there on a misty October day in 2002 when I had the place to myself. It was warm and dry and the mist had cleared from the hills as we set off through the gate at the send of the car park and followed the path to a footbridge across Mardale Beck.

Blea Water seen from Rough Crag by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerWe then walked northwards along the western shore of Haweswater, there certainly isn't as much water at this end of the lake as the blue colouring on the map suggests. The remains of walls and tracks are are intriguing clues about life in Mardale before it was flooded to become a reservoir. The easy start comes to an abrupt end as you reach the wooded promontory of The Rigg, turn left here for High Street.

Haweswater stretching out to the right looks like a big looking glass framed by a neat attractive shoreline, the shiny blue water contrasted by the pale tidy banks which in turn highlight the green of the bracken and trees. The eagle's territory of Riggindale is very green but a bit short on eagles, the attractive rocky summit of Kidsty Pike is very understated from this direction.

Rough Crag summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerSo the way ahead, most of the ridge is hidden by the initial climb when a good path keeps away from the ridge. Someone has gone to the effort of building a stone wall directly up the ridge, I will have to come back to follow it uphill but for now I'll stay with the crowd on the obvious path.

The higher you get the more attractive Haweswater looks, especially looking back down the interesting green ridge with its rugged wall. The way upwards is a continuous climb but it is varied enough not to feel too strenuous, even on my previous visit the lack of a view didn't spoil the interest of the ridge.

View from Long Stile by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerEventually the gradient eases for a while allowing you to see Blea Tarn in its Mardale Ill Bell corrie and the rugged outcrop that makes Rough Crag as distinguished as it is. There is a path around the bouldery outcrops but it was quite fun to take a more direct route upwards that needed the use of hands and I got a better view of Riggindale too.

At the pleasantly rugged summit outcrop of Rough Crag you can see the way to High Street by Long Stile but Riggindale looks a long way below. Firstly though you have to lose some height, passing close to the tarn of Caspel Gate, I wasn't sure if the dogs were more or less muddy after their quick dip.

Long Stile, walking to the High Street by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerLong Stile looms ahead and the view back along the green ridge is very pleasantly summery, bright and green in the warm weather. Long Stile is a bouldery climb where you can easily lose the path, making one or two awkward moments for short legs but another interesting easy climb for long ones. There were some complaining calf muscles close to the top of the climb but the gradient eases suddenly and for some the flat broad plateau of High Street was a welcome relief.

High Street summit by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe views from High Street were slightly hazy but a whole lot better than any I had seen before from there. Great Gable was obvious, all of the fells in line from Crinkle Crags to Scafell Pike were recognisable and in the middle ground Fairfield and Helvellyn were highlighted by the sun and not hazy.

It is almost too easy to find the way to Mardale Ill Bell in this visibility, thick mist certainly adds an edge to the need to navigate. It is an easy walk over grass, the Ill Bell ridge is attractively obvious and Mardale Ill Bell is a green lump ahead, just what does the name Mardale mean? I should be thankful for the good weather, on one occasion in the past I was unable to find the obvious rocky summit of Mardale Ill Bell.

View of Small Water from the ascent of Harter Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerOnce again the way ahead is obvious, Harter Fell is an even bigger green lump, there are good views over Kentmere Reservoir and Small Water, the reflection of the sky in the water making them both look attractive. A rugged but not difficult path takes you down to the substantial shelter at Nan Bield Pass.

From the pass Harter Fell looks like a formidable object, there is an easier looking alternative by the side of Small Water and some of the party choose that option but it only saves twenty minutes and probably doesn't save any energy. The climb up to Harter Fell isn't as difficult as it looks and the views of all of the sheets of water benefit from the reflection of the sunlight and the dappled clouds.

Harter Fell cairn by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAt the top of the climb is another large summit plateau giving an easy walk the the summit. The bizarre shapes of old metal fence posts embedded in the summit cairn have been hidden by a fresh cap of stones. Was it the cairn pixie that pulled one of the fence posts out of the cairn and made it stick up like a hat stand?

A short walk across the flat top brings you to another cairn full of fence posts, the view over Haweswater gets better from here. The new style reconstructed footpath, hand made by JCB, is easy enough going down but would be quite a slog going up. At the top of Gatescarth path there is a gate on the right if you want to descend to Longsleddale but the good path to the left takes us back down to Mardale Head.

The steep rugged hill that keeps you company as you descend is Harter Fell, you can see the easy path above the crags but when we were on the path we did not suspect the steep crags below.

Is there a cairn at the Haweswater Hotel or did we all stop there for some other reason in the warm afternoon sunshine?

Andy Wallace 31st July 2004

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