Mardale Ill Bell and High Street

Walk Date – 25th October 2016

Distance – 6.7 miles

Weather – sunny morning, cloudy afternoon, very windy on tops




01 Reflections in Haweswater

Its a beautiful morning and we’re driving alongside Haweswater to Mardale Head. The reflections in the still water and the autumn colours all around were quite breathtaking so, as we had stopped to take a look, I took this shot looking across in the direction of Four Stones Hill, in the centre of the photo.

02 Kidsty Pike

The reflections were slightly disturbed by the gentlest of breezes as I took this shot, but Kidsty Pike still looks grand in its new autumn outfit.

03 Chilly in the car park but Mardale Ill Bell is in the sunshine

On with the walk now having parked up in the area at the end of the road at Mardale Head. There were only four other cars parked here when we arrived which surprised me, we had set out later than we often do and so expected more cars to be already there. It was more than a little chilly at this point because the sun hadn’t yet risen above the huge bulk of Harter Fell, which is just in shot over on the left.

04 Harter Fell still mostly in shade

Harter Fell’s eastern face enjoying the morning sun, we are still in the chilly shade as we make our way up to Small Water.

05 Mardale Ill Bell and High Street on the skyline

The forces of darkness spread their chilling fingers across the land, but cannot conquer the indomitable high peaks.

“You read too many mystery books, you do, its only the shadow of Harter Fell. “

06 Still in the shade as we pass through the gate

A look back along Mardale as we pass through the gate. The sunshine still hasn’t quite made it into the valley but its getting there.

07 Haweswater still in the shade too

On the centre skyline is Brown Howe which we considered including in a walk over to Selside Pike and Branstree today. However, once the weather forecast had been firmed up, we decided against that walk and opted for this one instead. That decision was based on the fact that there would be little or no wind, which would make the walk over High Street and the descent down the Long Stile ridge more comfortable, unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be the case.

08 A look back from just below the Small Water outflow

The outflow from Small Water begins its journey down the slopes into Haweswater.

09 Mardale Ill Bell's east ridge from Small Water

More reflections in Small Water above which is the east ridge of Mardale Ill Bell. We keep seeing the same wet footprint here and there on the dry stones as we follow the path, so at least one of the occupants of the cars in the car park is just ahead of us, although we haven’t sighted their owner just yet.

10 Crossing the Small Water outflow

Crossing the tarn outflow and examining the white foamy mass which is lodged between the stones and its definitely not a dead sheep. It looked more like the suds you get when doing the washing up, or perhaps a wild camper has been doing their smalls!

11 Shelters alongside the Nan Bield Pass path

We round the tarn and take the Nan Bield Pass path alongside which are these small shelters. They are quite tiny but it is possible to crawl into them should you wish. I have never been tempted, carpeted as they are by sheep droppings. I suppose that would be a very small consideration though if you were absolutely desperate for some shelter from the elements.

12 Another very small shelter further along the path

Further along the path is a third shelter, even smaller than the previous two. I suspect that to be able to get inside you would have to go in feet first because it doesn’t look large enough to be able to turn around in. It does extend back a good way so you would be able to lie down in it, though whether you would want to with all those rocks just above your head is debatable.

13 A look back at Small Water as we continue up the Nan Bield path

HIgher on the Nan Bield path and a look down to Small Water tarn which is looking decidedly chilly at the moment. We kept seeing plenty of splashes and ripples when we walked alongside it, so the fish, apparently small trout, were managing to find something to eat. As we turned towards the path again we managed to see the owner of the wet footprints I mentioned earlier, although he was a considerable distance ahead of us so we were unlikely to catch up with him.

14 The view back from just below the shelter at the pass

We have almost reached the top of the Nan Bield Pass so I took a look back before we lost the view of Small Water and Haweswater, with a small un-named tarn over to the left. We entered the sunshine on the way up and so the jackets had to come off.

15 Kentmere reservoir below Ill Bell and Yoke

At the top of the Nan Bield Pass where the jackets rapidly went back on again thanks to the keen wind blowing across at us. You get a good view of Kentmere Reservoir below Yoke and Ill Bell from the top of the pass.

16 The shelter at Nan Bield Pass

The Nan Bield Pass shelter where we decided to stop for a coffee break. As I put my pack down in the shelter I looked up at Harter Fell behind me just in time to see the ‘wet footprint’ owner about to disappear round a corner of the path up to Harter Fell. He must have had a longish break in the shelter too, because he was a long way in front of us lower down the path, yet there he was only about a hundred yards away.

17 A look back at the shelter as we make our way up to Mardale Ill Bell

After our coffee stop we take the opposite path to ‘wet footprint man’ and begin the easy walk up to Mardale Ill Bell summit.

18 A look aheaad at the route up to Mardale Ill Bell

The view ahead of us as we continue over to Mardale Ill Bell. The jackets stayed on despite the sunshine thanks to the lively wind keeping the temperature down. The route might look a bit steep but it really isn’t as it meanders across the slopes in a series of fairly easy gradients.

19 On our left another view of Kentmere reservoir as we continue along the path

Over on our left we still have a view of Kentmere Reservoir, with Ill Bell behind the slopes of Lingmell End.

20 Looking back at Harter Fell

From the same spot I turned around for this view looking back down our route and over to Harter Fell, where ‘wet footprint man’ will still be making his way to the summit.

21 The view to our right on the way to Mardale Ill Bell

We made a very short diversion from the path for this view back down to Small Water and Haweswater. You can see the path we followed to the left of Small Water.

22 Mardale Ill Bell summit comes into view

About fifteen minutes after leaving the Nan Bield shelter the summit of Mardale Ill Bell comes into view …..

23 A glimpse of Haweswater from the summit

….. and five minutes later I’m taking this view of the summit cairn with just a glimpse of Haweswater beyond it. Its a long way from being one of those stylish cairns you come across now and then, its just an untidy sprawl of rock and lacks any form or definition, not helped by the fact that it is hard to decide where the cairn ends and the summit rocks begin.

24 Thornthwaite Beacon in the distance from the summit

Looking west from the summit with a view of Thornthwaite Beacon across one of the summit tarns, and also noticing that band of cloud coming in so that’ll take the glow off the afternoon sunshine I expect. It won’t be long before it gets here either given the strength of the wind.

25 High Street from the summit

Two summit views for the price of one. From Mardale Ill Bell a look over to High Street and its ridge going down to the right. That ridge is our descent route which is likely to be rather trying if this wind doesn’t die down a bit.

26 Looking across to Froswick and Ill Bell

Long views to the south west were very hazy today and we couldn’t see much detail on Ill Bell and Froswick either, over to the left. To be fair though, I’ve never got a really good clear view looking towards the south from here as parts of these fells are north facing.

27 On Mardale Ill Bell summit

Another view of our High Street descent route, with Rampsgill Head beyond it, from Mardale Ill Bell.

28 Another view of Thornthwaite Beacon across another tarn

Another of the tarns on Mardale Ill Bell across which you can just about make out Thornthwaite Beacon. You can definitely make out the bank of cloud which is approaching though. The wind is still strong and ruffling the surface of the tarn.

29 The view down to Blea Water

Another slight diversion from the path for a dramatic view of Blea Water. Its situated in a glacial corrie below the eastern crags of High Street and, at just over 200′ deep, is the deepest tarn in the Lake District. Wast Water and Windermere have greater depths but they aren’t tarns so there’s no argument. Apparently the name derives from the old Norse language and means dark blue, and today there’s no arguing with that either. Its just a fabulous sight from up here.

30 Looking over to Rough Crag which will be part of the descent route

As we make our way over to High Street we leave the laid path and take a grassy one a little way below it which offers rather better views. Here the ridge in the centre is the one coming down from High Street, our descent route to be, and this section of it is known as Rough Crag, which I suppose is an appropriate name when you consider its appearance. Behind it and slightly to the right on the skyline is the rounded hump of Selside Pike. We would have been walking over there instead of here if the weather forecast last night had mentioned this strong wind.

31 A look back at Mardale Ill Bell, with Harter Fell behind, as we make our way over to HIgh Street

From the grassy path a look back to Mardale Ill Bell, behind which is the great bulk of Harter Fell, while over to the left is Branstree, another fell we might have been on today.

32 Approaching the trig point on HIgh Street

Approaching the trig point on High Street where a group of young lads had settled down behind the wall for something to eat. The wall wasn’t offering anything by way of shelter from the wind whichever side you chose so we decided to wait for our food stop until we had found a sheltered spot.

33 A bit blowy on High Street

Here I am squinting in the sun and being blown about by the wind on High Street.

34 The fells to the west across Hartsop Dodd

You need to walk a little way from the summit to get the views to the west because High Street has such a broad and flat summit area. The long ridge running across the middle of the photo is Hartsop Dodd. On the far right skyline are the fells of the Helvellyn range and just in front of them is Saint Sunday Crag. The fell on the centre skyline is Fairfield and in front of it is the long, long ridge of Hartsop above How. On the left skyline is Dove Crag.

35 Layers of fells beyond the summits of Hartsop Dodd and Gray Crag

Moving the camera a little further to the right and now we have the ridge of Gray Crag in the middle foreground, alongside Hartsop Dodd. There are too many others to mention but the highest one, towards the middle of the skyline, is Helvellyn.

36 The fells to the north west from High Street

The view to the north is very hazy too but you can pick out Skiddaw, just peeping out on the left skyline, and Blencathra to the left of centre skyline.

37 About to leave High Street as we turn for the descent

The little cairn marks the point at which we will leave the High Street plateau and follow the path behind me which leads across to the ridge and our descent route. The wind has not died down at all and there is nowhere along here where we fancy stopping for something to eat. Nothing for it then but to go across and down the ridge and find a spot somewhere down there.

38 Kidsty Pike across Riggindale

Before we start to descend I take a look across Riggindale towards Kidsty Pike with High Raise behind it. Kidsty doesn’t look very pike like from up here and you wouldn’t think it was the same fell I took the photo of this morning from the roadside.

39 The Straits of Riggindale and Rampsgill Head

The sunlit patch to the left are the Straits of Riggindale and to the right of that is Rampsgill Head.

40 Riggindale and Haweswater from the start of the descent

Immediately below us is the ridge we are about to descend, and to its left are Riggindale and Haweswater.

41 Descending Long Stile

The path is loose and slithery, the gradient is steep and its very windy, apart from that everything is just fine. At least the sun is still shining.

42 A look back at the descent so far

When I had firmer ground under my feet I took a look back up at the bit we have just descended. The walker at the top just beginning his descent we had met while we were having our coffee break in the shelter at Nan Bield Pass. He asked us where we were walking today so I told him our route. He didn’t seem to be familiar with the ridge we intended to descend by so I pointed it out to him, and after a few more pleasantries he went on his way up to Mardale Ill Bell. When we arrived at the top of this path he was sitting just to one side of it, almost as if he was waiting for us to turn up. I don’t know whether he was or not but I didn’t expect to see him again given that we spent a good ten minutes at the shelter after he left us, so he had a good head start on us from there. Maybe he just wanted to see how we got on before he made the attempt, especially as everyone on the path was coming up and not going down.

43 Blea Water from Long Stile

Even down there the wind is ruffling the surface of Blea Water so you can probably imagine what it was like up here. Thanks to the bright sun its not a very good photo but it shows how the tarn sits in the landscape and the steepness of the corrie slopes.

44 Kidsty Pike from Long Stile

Over on our left Kidsty Pike is beginning to look a little more pike shaped now that we’ve lost some height.

45 Still descending Long Stile

We’re still descending Long Stile and that band of cloud I mentioned earlier has crept closer so we’re now in the shade as well as the wind. We’re beginning to feel hungry too but at the moment there is no shelter from the wind so we carry on hoping to find something suitable further down.

46 Caspel Gate Tarn and Rough Crag from our lunch spot

We eventually find a sheltered spot to stop and eat with a view of Caspel Gate tarn and Rough Crag while we do so. As you can see we aren’t too far off the path and from this point it winds up and around behind us. There was a group having their lunch break just at that point, no problem with that, but did they have to sit right alongside the path with their feet and belongings spread all over it. Anyone wishing to get past them had to step off the path onto the steep slope below it, it wasn’t even possible to pass above them as they and their belongings were spread about up the slope too. At the point they had chosen for their break the path was particularly narrow and nothing like as wide as the section in the photo. I do wish people would sometimes show a little more consideration for others.

47 A look back from the approach to Rough Crag

Meal break over and we set off again meeting these two walkers who were coming up. I turned for a look back at how far down we had travelled and noticed that they had come to a halt. Obviously I couldn’t see their faces but the body language spoke volumes, dismay and disbelief at what lay ahead, I would imagine, especially after what they had already climbed to get to this point. They stood for quite a while just looking up, experiencing a number of conflicting emotions no doubt.

48 Rough Crag from Caspel Gate

We arrive at Caspel Gate and briefly enjoy the luxury of flat ground before heading across the next section of the ridge, Rough Crag.

49 Another look back from Caspel Gate

Before we head off from Caspel Gate I took a look back and spotted the two walkers, indicated by the arrow, I mentioned earlier. They’ve made a good bit of progress but there’s still a good distance to go. Meanwhile over on the right another group were taking a break before continuing up. As we passed I noticed that jackets were being put back on now that they had cooled down after the climb across Rough Crag. The sunshine can’t quite compensate for the strong and chilly wind.

50 Kidsty Pike

Kidsty Pike now looking more like its familiar self as we gradually lose height.

51 Rampsgill Head and Kidsty Pike

The full line of cloud has finally reached us so the spells of sunshine we have been enjoying are becoming shorter, and large areas of shade are spreading across the fells. This is a look over to the head of Riggindale with Kidsty Pike, on the right, and Twopenny Crag, just to the left of the centre skyline, still enjoying a spell of sun.

52 Blea Water's surface rippling in the wind

The hazy sunlight through the cloud isn’t helping the photo much but opposite us is Mardale Ill Bell, while below us the wind is blowing the surface of Blea Water every which way.

53 Sunlight on the beck from Blea Water

The beck down there is flowing out of Blea Water and on its way down into Haweswater.

54 Haweswater from Rough Crag summit

On the summit of Rough Crag and a good viewpoint. Unfortunately the sun over on the right put paid to any shots of the views in that direction, but you get a good view of Haweswater and an understanding of its size and shape.

55 Still more of Rough Crag to cross

From the high point on Rough Crag there is still more of the ridge to descend. Below us is the wall running across Dudderwick and beyond is the tree covered promontory known as The Rigg. Somewhere along the ridge route you start thinking that you’ll never get to the end of it and down onto the shoreline path. Its a fine ridge walk but it is a very long one.

56 A bit gloomy over Small Water

I did chance a shot over to the right of us to give an idea of the gloomy view in that direction. That’s Small Water and diagonally to the right of it, in the dip on the skyline, is the silhouette of the shelter where we had our coffee stop this morning.

57 Still crossing Rough Crag

Crossing Dudderwick now and some good, fairly level walking with a splash of sunshine thrown in just for good measure.

58 Haweswater from Rough Crag

Well, the view to our right may have been rather nondescript but the views along Haweswater as we crossed over more than made up for it.

59 Approaching The Rigg

There’s still a bit of a way to go but, with The Rigg in view, you do at least feel as though you are getting somewhere at last.

60 Looking down to Haweswater

We still have enough height to get a good view down to the head of Haweswater. The water level is quite low at present and we noticed that none of its feeder becks had a great deal of water in them as we’ve had quite a dry spell lately.

61 Still descending towards The Rigg

The Rigg is in full sight at last so now we just have to drop down over Swine Crag to reach the turn off point which leads down to the lakeshore path.

62 A look back from the point where we cut down to the lakeside path

Here we are, safely down and looking back up at Swine Crag. Beside the grassy path is the little cairn which marks the point at which you can turn off and take another path leading down to the path alongside Haweswater. If you wanted to you could continue straight on down to The Rigg and pick up the lake path from there. We took the short cut which …..

63 Mardale Head from the short cut path

….. leads us down through the bracken and gives us this view of Mardale Head. The green patch to the right of the waterline is normally covered with water. The car park is now full and latecomers have had to resort to roadside parking. To the right of the car park and below the tree line is the path we started out on this morning.

64 Harter Fell from the short cut path

Harter Fell dominating the head of Mardale as we continue making our way down.

65 Back on the lakeside path

Back on the lakeshore path we stop for a few minutes if only to give our legs the chance to adjust to walking on level gound again. Our journey from the top of the ridge down to this point has taken the best part of two hours with the legs taking a bit of a pounding for much of the way, so its hardly surprising they need a bit of time to get back to normal again. The old field walls, which were there before the valley was flooded in 1935 to create the reservoir, are showing once again. On the fellside opposite you can see the remains of a huge landslip which happened during Storm Desmond on 5th and 6th of December 2015. The pile of rocks and boulders left on the road was so high you could not see the road beyond it on the other side.

66 Harter Fell from the bridge crossing

Once across the bridge and there are just a few more yards to go before …..

67 Back at the crowded car park

….. we are back at the crowded car parking area at the head of Haweswater. Our car is tucked in behind the wall and we are hoping that everyone has parked sensibly and that we can leave without having to end the day on a sour note. Everything was fine when we got to it so our walk, and the day, ended happily. A good day, a good walk and I think we’ve earned a good cup of tea, so off we go to get one.