High Street to Corpse Road - Photo Gallery
There were some encouraging signs when I parked the car at Mardale Head; there is nothing like blue sky and bright sunshine for creating optimism. Haweswater is very full at the moment, there was no chance of taking the short cut across the head of the lake with it being several feet under water. At the far end of the parking area, you go through a gate to get onto a path that bears right; it takes you around the head of the lake, well above the high water mark. After crossing Mardale Beck by a substantial wooden footbridge you can follow the path on the other side of the lake.
There was a good view of the brightly illuminated Mardale Ill Bell sitting at the head of the valley; the smooth surface of the lake gave a clear reflection of the shaded side of Branstree. The path takes you to just above the trees on The Rigg, there is a short cut up to the ridge before you get there but you would miss the view up the length of Riggindale. You follow the wall uphill, it's an interesting looking ridge as the wall keeps to the rugged crest; as you gain height you have a good view along most of the length of Haweswater, I have never seen it look so blue.
After the initial climb on the right hand side of the wall the gradient eases for a moment; you cross to the other side of the wall just before it shoots up a steep section of the ridge that is too rugged for comfortable walking. The Right of Way on the map keeps to the right hand side of the wall, I must try that sometime; the commonly used path keeps to the left of it. The path leaves the wall while it climbs steeply up grass with occasional rocks and boulders getting in the way; after a bit of a strenuous pull you rejoin the wall where you have more work to do before the steepness ends for a while.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of freedom when you walk along the crest of an airy ridge on a sunny day, surrounded by hills and lakes. For the middle of February the sun was quite warm and by that time I was walking in my tee shirt and wishing I had got my shorts with me. The walking is easy on a slightly undulating ridge that gains height slowly until you climb up to the cairn on the highest point on Rough Crag. There are good views either side of the summit to Riggindale and Blea Water, an indication of how steeply the ground falls away.
I walked a short distance from the summit to get a better photograph of Blea Water and its corrie; when I looked at the photo later I noticed I had captured a flight of midges, obviously brought out by the warmth. By now the wall is left behind and after descending from Rough Crag you reach the flatness of Caspel Gate with its shallow but ever-present tarn; now you can see the task ahead, the ascent of Long Stile. The clamber up the crest of Long Stile is my favourite kind of walking; a rough, strenuous route with some big steps required and plenty of opportunity to turn round and admire the view.
After the rugged climb there is a final eroded path, complete with loose, sliding stones that takes you to the summit plateau of High Street. As I got there the summit became misty and chilly enough to have to put on my pertec wind shirt; fragments of last weekend's snow were still lying either side of the ridge wall. An easy walk over soft, grassy ground takes you to the summit where a couple of large cairns and a triangulation column next to the wall all seem to be at the same height. I thought I might have to navigate once it got misty but, a short distance after leaving the summit, a faint path appeared on my left heading towards the hazy shape of Mardale Ill Bell.
There really isn't much of a boundary between High Street and Mardale Ill Bell; after a short, easy descent on the faint path I was out of the mist and I could see where I was heading to. There is not much of a path from High Street to Mardale Ill Bell but from the summit there is a big, rugged and eroded path taking you down to Nan Bield Pass. The sun was shining again as I walked down to the pass but there was a chilly breeze that prevented me from becoming as warm as I had been on the ascent of Long Stile.
After reaching the shelter at Nan Bield Pass you carry on uphill again on the climb of Harter Fell, another pleasingly strenuous climb. There were good views back down the ridge and across Small Water to Long Stile although High Street remained covered in mist. The climb ends fairly suddenly at a large cairn and you have another walk over soft, grassy ground to reach the summit of Harter Fell. The summit is at a slight bend in the ridge fence and the summit cairn would be unmistakeable if it were not for at identical one at the other end of the summit ridge.
Old iron fence posts have been embedded in the cairn and it looks like it has pitchforks sticking out of it in clear weather; in mist, when they suddenly appear before you, they can be startling. Turn left and follow the fence along the broad summit ridge and you will come across another large cairn with built-in pitchforks; apart from it containing more iron, the only way you can tell them apart is that there is another large cairn at that point. To be honest it is impossible with the naked eye to tell which of the two decorated cairns is the summit; according to the map the pair of cairns is one contour line lower than the solitary one.
The descent from Harter Fell is a reconstructed path, not a pitched one made with stones but it has the appearance of a gravel path having been created by soil-inversion using a mechanical digger; it's fine for walking on. The descent from Harter Fell to Gatescarth Pass is the best place to view Haweswater; it looks especially good when the sun is shining. Rather than follow the path down to the pass I walked by the side of the fence to the small subsidiary summit of Adam Seat; I had to step over the fence to get to the solitary boundary stone. The are quite a few of the boundary stones with “L” and “H” carved into either side to show the boundary between the Lowther and Haweswater estates.
I followed the fence downwards until a junction with another one that went off to the right; I stepped over the fence again and followed it down to the pass. I carried on ahead, more or less anyway; I had to make a wide diversion to avoid the wettest parts of a swamp before rejoining the fence as it climbed Branstree. That climb up the steep grass slopes of Branstree is probably the dullest trudge up any hill I can think of; it isn't the hardest or steepest but it definitely lacks interest. The fence leads you its junction with a wall near the summit of Branstree; a faint path takes you to the summit itself where a small cairn sits beside the base of an Ordnance Survey Trigonometrical Station without its triangulation column.
A faint path then takes you to Artle Crag where there are some proper cairns although I'm not quite sure what use they are in that position. In order to avoid the extensive bog on the way to Selside Pike I stepped over the ridge fence and made a beeline for the old survey pillar and found a faint path. The path took me past a tarn that looked like it was on a slant from a distance, and up to the summit of the unnamed subsidiary summit. The path carried on past the grassy summit and descended to a col where the ground was swampy in places but nothing like as bad as the bog on the usual route.
From the col I rejoined the fence and followed it up the steep grassy slope to the summit of Selside Pike; the fence had to be stepped over again to get to the huge cairn. There is not a stone anywhere to be seen between Artle Crag and here so somebody must have worked hard to bring so many stones to this plain grassy top. A small path takes you down the grassy slope to Selside End and across to a small path running between Swindale and Mardale. The path is the old Corpse Road and really not as substantial as you would imagine; turn left for Mardale. The path is wet and muddy in places until you start to descend; you go past a couple of derelict stone buildings high above the valley before you descend on a good zigzag path down to the road.
Turn left for Mardale Head, a twenty minute walk along the road but it's an easy downhill slope so not too bad for a tarmac end to the day; there is a lakeside path marked on the map but I've never bothered to try to find it.
Andy Wallace 17th February 2007