A Mountain Virgin!

They’re his words, not mine.

Hiking High Street

I’ve purpose designed this hike to suit a friend who’s joining me for the day, Mr Gavin Foley. Little did I know that this would be the most moving and inspiring walks I’ve been on so far.

Here’s the criteria:


We won’t be staying over because of time constraints.

We’ll be going during the week (Monday 8th June in fact) as he works shifts.

We’ll be leaving Bury after 7:30 as he’s got to drop his daughter off at school breakfast club.

The trek must be challenging but not too much to put the fella off coming out again.


I have to bag at least another Wainwright.

and finally… Gav’s a Mountain Virgin!

The Plan

My route up High Street from Mardale Head.My route up High Street from Mardale Head.
My route up High Street from Mardale Head.

We set off from Mardale Head on the unfortunately pronounced Haweswater. Around the top of the reservoir, we will head for The Rigg, the wooded outcrop reaching out onto the reservoir east from the ridge leading up to High Street. We could have made our camp here if we were to have stayed, breakfasting before we ascend.

Heading West up the ridge we’ll stop every hundred or so yards to take in the views of Haweswater and Harter Fell towering over Small Water and Blea Water Tarns. We’ll climb at a fair rate of ascent to High Street with a summit at a height of 2718 ft, then after a well deserved lunch on to Mardale Ill Bell (2496 ft) and away to the best bit of the hike…

​​A rocky climb down leads us to the Nan Bield Ridge, then a tough exhilarating 500 ft climb up the crag to Harter Fell (2539 ft) – these last two mountains I included in my Kentmere Horseshoe last weekend.

We’ll decide on our descent on the day, the choice being the long easy girlie way around Harter Fell Gully down the Gatescarth Pass back to Mardale Head or the shorter rough manly explorers route back down 500 ft to the Nan Beild Pass, following in the footsteps of Roman soldiers and down around Small Water with a nice walk along the Small Water Beck.

Overall we’ll ascend 2700 ft, walking 7 miles, with breaks and catching up almost 20 years (minus a couple of brief meetings) I anticipate our journey to take us 4-5 hours, little do I know what’s ahead!

There are not many photos so far because my camera hasn’t been there yet!

The Trek

  • Wainwrights – 3
  • Ascent – 2700 ft
  • Distance – 7 miles
  • Time – 8 hours
  • With – Gavin Foley
  • High Street – 2718ft (highest point)
  • Mardale Ill Bell – 2490ft
  • Harter Fell – 2555ft

I’m up at 4, I’m really excited about this one, probably because it’s the first adult one, a boys one, and there’ll be beer at the top!

Gav’s not getting to my house until 8:30 so apart from the hour writing this and researching High Street and Haweswater I’m going over to the workshop to take my mind off the wait and paint a customer’s front door, I have everything packed already last night. My list can be found in another blog, look for ‘kit list’.

Harter Fell from the start of the Riggindale Ridge.Harter Fell from the start of the Riggindale Ridge.
Harter Fell from the start of the Riggindale Ridge.

It’s a good half an hour longer drive to ‘Mardale Head’ than it was to Kentmere, even though they’re only 4 miles apart if you’re a the crow they talk about. Mardale does not exist on my Tom Tom or Google Maps, follow the A6 through Kendal and then use the Old Reliable OS map! Haweswater is well signposted although I have a master navigator beside me.

Here’s a history lesson…

Mardale Head in reality is a small car park squeezing a dozen (or so) vehicles at the end of the road running along the East side of Haweswater. Haweswater is a very typical Cumbrian lake, or so it would seem. In fact, a century ago there were two villages where Haweswater lies now, Mardale Green and Measand. The land was compulsory purchased and the construction of a dam was started in 1929. The valley was then flooded in 1935. Julia Bradbury would tell you there’s enough water in there to bath everybody in the world, three times! Of course, all of the buildings were demolished and the materials used around the place, there were bodies from the graveyard exhumed and moved to Shap!

Haweswater from Riggindale.Haweswater from Riggindale.
Haweswater from The Rigg.

Back to the ‘walk’

We park up, mix a protein shake, get our bags on and make our way around the head of Haweswater there’s an obvious path on the other side that will lead you to The Rigg, the wooded peninsular you see driving down (check out the really good picture I took on the way home). That’s the warm up, we’re on a hike from here.

At the end of the stone wall we take a left and make a start up Swine Crag, it’s a great walk up to Rough Crag and when you take that call on your mobile and tell the caller you’re mountain climbing with a pal, you’d unknowingly be more accurate than you think as you head on up to Long Stile. You’ll need your hands free now. The legs are really feeling it. Young children and asthmatic wives may be best left in the valley, or at home because it’ll be almost 8 hours before we return to these parts.

There are a few false peaks but there is a cairn at the top of the rocky climb welcoming you to the top, take your photos here, there’s a photo of the ridge we just came up from this point but there’s no point in you seeing it as it just looks like ‘a bit of a hill’ and I know you won’t see what I see, you had to have been there.

There’s sign of a mountain summit in the form of an Ordinance Survey trig point, we’re at 2718ft. The summit lies on the old Roman road, get it, High Street? I doubt the stones laid on it now had been put down by anyone with an Italian accent. Time for a photo and a look at the Westerly view where most of the other Wainwrights reside.

Being honest, there are two reasons we don’t spend too long here. The weather has turned, we need to get our sweaters on now, coats and hats. It’s a wee bit chilly and very exposed up here. Heading South now, then South East for Mardale Ill Bell we’re in search for a wind break, we disturb a couple of sheep to confiscate a rock but we realise quickly that we’re bigger than sheep and can’t make much of a shelter against a small rock. I apologise to the sheep, inviting them back in but they’ve moved on from what they were doing previously and are having lunch now themselves. The rock that we do find shelters us long enough to have a few chocolate brownies, Jelly Babies and on my part the best thing since sliced bread, rice pudding. The Pot Noodles will have to wait. Eating non-food like this isn’t usually on the menu but you have nothing to feel guilty about when over the space of a few hours you’ve burned a few thousand calories!

Mardale Ill Bell at 2490 ft marks half time. It’s not the most interesting of peaks but again the views are amazing and it’s our route to Harter Fell. On the other side of Mardale Ill Bell, heading South West again, we drop down the ridge 450 ft to where the Nan Bield Pass crosses our path and where the old stone windbreak will give us some reprieve from the cold and allow us to get the stove going and heat enough water to fill the pots we brought with noodles in them. Gav goes for the beef variety while I stick to the old classic, chicken and mushroom, it’s not real chicken I’m vegetarian, although I stopped eating them for 12 months when I first stopped eating chicken 26 years ago until to my delight someone pointed out that it was soya.

Looking over Small Water from Harter Fell.Looking over Small Water from Harter Fell.
Looking over Small Water from Harter Fell.

Harter Fell

I loved this next climb a couple of weeks ago when I did the Kentmere Horseshoe, 500 ft up to Harter Fell. It wouldn’t be too bad if you hadn’t already ascended 2200 ft but the calves are going to feel this one. Gav’s in front of me and I’m following his steps, I know his feet are following a secure route while he’s thinking more about where he’s stepping but the problem with this is that he’s 6ft whilst I am 5ft 6. What this means is that I’m actually taking steps that are too big for my short legs and they won’t like me for it. The views of Swine Crag, Heron Crag, Eagle Crag, over Rough Crag and then Long Stile up to High Street from The Rigg are fantastic as you ascend up to Harter. You take a moment to reflect on the work you’ve actually done to get here, it’s a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Harter Fell has a cairn at the top of the climb before you get to the true summit, enjoy the views down into the basin of Small Water below. The summit cairn has a load of old steel mixed in from a fence that lived up here on the horseshoe many years ago. Unfortunately, there’s a new fence that runs close to the cairn which spoils thing a little.

The shelter on the Nan Bield Pass col.The shelter on the Nan Bield Pass col.
The shelter on the Nan Bield Pass col.

I’m not a fan of retracing my steps on a trek but I fancy the Nan Bield Pass to The Gategarth Pass. The Nan Bield looks like a steeper path, passes Small Water and runs alongside Small Water Beck so it’s a no brainer, this is to be the most rewarding part of the day.

Climbing down is great and there are a couple of nice waterfalls but the sun has come out again now and when we get down to the stone shelters that Alfred talks of by the shores of Small Water it’s around 5 o’clock, we don’t leave for another 90 minutes.

Being in the Small Water basin is completely awe inspiring. This could possibly be the nicest place I’ve ever been.

Slate shelters at Small Water.Slate shelters at Small Water.
Slate shelters at Small Water.

The stone shelters, there are three good ones, are plenty big enough to get into and really make me think that I’ll come back for the night some time. Alfred Wainwright describes them as ‘spider infested’ but it seems that the spider ​​community at Small Water has diminished since the 50’s. I imagine camping here on a nice warm summers day, cooking dinner on the stove, sleeping in one of these man-made caves and sitting out looking up into clear night skies, wow. The water is as clear as a bell and no colder than the beach on a summers day so a morning swim would be great.

Huge rock at Small Water.Huge rock at Small Water.
Huge rock at Small Water.

There’s a massive rock about 18ft long resting on another large rock like it’s either been placed there by the giants eons ago as a viewpoint over the tarn or I’ve Photoshopped it in the picture, I could have stayed here for hours, we were here for about an hour and a half.

As we tear ourselves away and cross the stepping stones where the tarn becomes the beck, a mile from the van, the water starts falling from the skies. For the sake of it we start running down the rocky beck but waterfalls put an end to any urgency every time you pick up a rythm.

At the bottom of the beck where it meets Haweswater up to the right you can clearly see The Gatesgarth Pass swaying down the other side of Harter Fell, another day maybe but how I would give up returning to Small Water I don’t know.

Time to get changed, a quick bite and on the road. There’s one other vehicle left and that’s the minibus belonging to the group camping on a flat hiding by the side of the tarn up the beck, we saw the tents from Harter.

High Street, Haweswater and Mardale Head from Hollow StonesHigh Street, Haweswater and Mardale Head from Hollow Stones
High Street, Haweswater and Mardale Head from Hollow Stones

As we drive back up along the reservoir the sun beats down from the South-West I have to stop suddenly at Hollow Stone as we are rewarded for our 2700ft ascent, the 7 miles we walked over 8 hours (that’s less than 1 mile per hour!) and the 4000 calories we each burned. We are presented with the probably the best view I’ve seen.

11 down, 203 to go!

#Mardale #MardaleHead #Measdale #Haweswater #TheRigg #RiggindaleHead #HighStreet #MardaleIllBell #HarterFell #SmallWater #HarterFellGully #GatescarthPass #SmallWaterBeck #NanBieldPass

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