High Street and Mardale Ill Bell

Walk date – 9th September 2020

Distance – 6.2 miles

Weather – a sunny start, gradually clouding over, strong north westerly wind


With a decent forecast for today and the majority of holiday makers having departed we decided it was time to return to the fells once again. We’ve left them alone for the past few weeks due to the poor weather and the overcrowding and have contented ourselves with local walks for a couple of hours or so as and when the weather conditions were suitable, which hasn’t been all that often. I didn’t bother taking photographs on those walks either since they were partial repeats of some of those done earlier in the year so there wasn’t much point in taking more shots of the same, particularly as the skies were usually so grey and uninviting.  We had planned on doing this walk last month but having arrived at Mardale Head at 7.00 am one morning and found the place full to bursting and not a parking spot to be had anywhere, even along the roadside, we gave it a miss and decided to walk elsewhere until the rush died down. It was much better today and despite not arriving until just gone 9.00 am the parking area was not full and we parked up with ease. The better weather had obviously tempted people out because it was much busier when we arrived back, though absolutely nothing like it was on our previous attempt.


Mardale Head – Rough Crag – Caspel Gate – Long Stile – High Street – Mardale Ill Bell – Nan Bield Pass – Mardale Head

A close up view of Mardale Ill Bell as we made our way down the hill from the parking area to pick up the path along the western shore of Haweswater.

 Branstree’s huge bulk  was still casting a very chilly shadow across the parking area so it was a quick scamper down the hill to get to the sunny side of the street. What a difference that couple of hundred yards made, instant warmth which was only slightly offset by the strong wind funnelling down the Nan Bield Pass. Here’s a look back towards Harter Fell nicely illuminated by the morning sun.

A lovely view along Haweswater as we begin to climb. We took the short cut from the shore line path up to the ridge rather than going all the way over to The Rigg and starting the climb from there.

Its a steep climb and tough on the legs, on the plus side though you do gain height very quickly as can be seen from this shot looking across to Harter Fell. The sunlight is muted as the heavy cloud drifted over.

Just after beginning the ascent a look back offers this wonderful view along Haweswater. Something to keep you going as you tackle the next part of the climb.

A dizzying view down to the bridge over Mardale Beck which we crossed at the start of the walk just under an hour ago.

Beyond Swine Crag there’s a brief respite while J removes a layer so I took a quick shot looking along the Gatescarth Pass rising between Harter Fell and Branstree.

With J now feeling much more comfortable on we go, over towards the next rocky hump of Heron Crag. As we climb a look to our left reveals Small Water Beck and the Nan Bield Pass.

The ground levels out a little before the next bit of up so we can take it easy for a while. Here I took a look back over to Selside Pike, on the left, and Branstree on the right.

Haweswater come back into view as we continue on across the ridge.

Another short section of easier walking between Heron Crag and Eagle Crag where we almost had a sunny view of Kidsty Pike summit. The higher we go the more ominous the clouds begin to look.

Blea Water is just beginning to come into view. Shortly after I took this shot a strong and unexpected gust of wind blew across from the Small Water side knocking me sideways and almost taking my cap clean off my head. Thank goodness for walking poles and very large hair grips.

J contemplates the next rocky mound of Rough Crag and I wonder if those clouds will be dumping their contents on us before we reach the top of High Street.

Blea Water and its outflow again.

Beyond the soggy area of Mardale Waters and Blea Tarn Beck the east ridge of Mardale Ill Bell gets a splash of sunlight. A smidge of Small Water has come into view on the extreme left of the shot.

A look back towards Haweswater and Selside Pike from the summit of Rough Crag …..

….. and then a little to my right for this view of Selside Pike and Branstree.

Also from Rough Crag a view of Harter Fell showing up well in the bright sunlight.

Looking ahead to Long Stile and High Street before we drop down to Caspel Gate Tarn …..

….. which soon appears as we begin to descend Rough Crag. Long Stile looks deserted but we know there are a few pairs of walkers ahead of us, they just keep disappearing behind the assorted humps and bumps.

A look back at Rough Crag and Caspel Gate Tarn from the ascent of Long Stile.

Below us Blea Tarn shimmers in the sunlight. I was hoping for sapphire blue but I had to make do with gun-metal grey.

Looking along Riggindale down to Haweswater from the climb over Long Stile. Before heading over to the trig column we each added an extra long sleeved layer before putting our windproofs back on again. I intended to take a look back when we reached the marker cairn at the top but we got talking to a chap about to descend by this route. As we parted company I clean forgot about taking a retrospective shot.

High Street summit where we were met by a strong and very cold wind with all the fells to the west greyed out as the shot shows. When we started the walk we hadn’t decided in which direction we would go once we got to the top, but as we reached the summit plateau the full force of the wind decided things for us. Had the north westerly wind not been so keen and strong we would probably have walked over to High Raise, back to Kidsty Pike and returned to Mardale from there, but as neither of us relished the thought of doing that with streaming eyes and noses we turned our backs to the wind and decided to return via Mardale Ill Bell and the Nan Bield pass. I didn’t bother taking any photos of the greyed out fells to the west and it was much too windy to linger so it was a quick shot of the trig point and then we were off again. Not many people were out and about and those who were were well wrapped up and only stopped to take a photo before quickly moving on.

Given a helping hand by the strong wind we head over to Mardale Ill Bell. The clouds have pretty much joined forces now, the temperature has dropped a few degrees and everything looks decidedly gloomy at the moment.

A few seconds worth of sunlight landed on the Rough Crag ridge as we crossed over to Mardale Ill Bell, and only the odd sunny patch everywhere else. I mention to J that we’re getting to that point in the year where its time to start thinking about packing hot soup and coffee, its definitely not cold drinks weather at the moment but that’s all we’ve brought today.

A very short stop on Mardale Ill Bell just for this shot of the outcrop and the cairn perched on it …..

….. and then looking the other way from the cairn where the tops of Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick can be seen. We were walking over them at the end of July this year on a very different weather day, cold drinks were  definitely needed then. In the distance on the right the tops of Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam were covered by cloud.

A glance over towards Haweswater as we make our way down to the Nan Bield Pass …..

….. and another view of it, this time with the addition of Small Water. Now that we’ve re-joined the main path we began meeting a few more people making their way up to Mardale Ill Bell.

Steadily dropping down to the shelter at the top of Nan Bield pass where we’ll stop for a lunch break, providing its unoccupied …..

….. which it wasn’t, so we carried on straight down towards Mardale Head and looked for somewhere suitable to take a break.

Our view from the ‘somewhere suitable’ spot where we had a break and got the lunch boxes out. Nice to have something to pleasant to gaze on as you munch your lunch.

After our break it was back to the path and the descent to Small Water. It wasn’t a pleasant descent, the path was running with water making things a little more hazardous than usual and we saw a chap take a tumble some distance below us. Fortunately he was already holding onto some rocks with his left hand so it was more of a sideways slip than a full on fall. He did have someone with him, probably his wife, and she didn’t seem too concerned since she just waited until he felt able to get going again.

It was a relief to reach dry ground as we passed by the old shelters beside Small Water although I was already wondering about …..

….. the state of the crossing at Small Water’s outflow. Some of the stepping stones were below the water but with a little care it wasn’t too difficult.

Every beck and stream was full of frothing white water today as water rushed down the slopes of all the surrounding fells. Here’s one of the falls in Small Water Beck, and a couple of shots of the ones further down …..

We’re almost back down to Mardale Head now and easier walking again. The water pouring down the fells has managed to find its way into Mardale Beck leaving us with a much drier path for the very last part of our walk.

I didn’t take any shots after this one, the clouds became very dark and spits and spots of rain began landing on us. As we reached the car park the spits and spots turned into larger and more frequent drops and I felt sorry for those getting out of their cars, who had obviously just arrived for an afternoon walk, who were now zipping up jackets and pulling up hoods. It had looked ominous for much of our walk but at least it held off until the very end. It was good to be back on the fells again despite the chilly weather.