Selside Pike and Branstree

Walk Date – 2nd January 2019

Distance – 5.5 miles

Weather – overcast, dry, no wind


Yesterday’s Met Office forecast for the cloud to have cleared, followed by a hard overnight frost and then a cold but sunny day turned out to be very wide of the mark and it was irritating to look out of the window and see the all too familiar blanket of cloud still hanging over us and another overcast day in store. There were no sparkling frosty fields glinting in the morning sun or any sign of clear blue skies, we didn’t even have to scrape any frost off the car windscreen. So much for anticipating a cold, frosty and sunny walk. Two out of ten for Met Office then, on the basis that they did say it wouldn’t rain and it wouldn’t be windy, but the rest of it was way off. We grumped and grizzled a bit, well quite a lot if truth be told, but nevertheless we dipped into our bucket of forbearance, managed to find a few dregs of the stuff and did our planned walk anyway.


Mardale – Old Corpse Road – Captain Whelter Bog – High Howes – Artlecrag Pike – Branstree – Branstree North Ridge – Hollow Stone – Mardale

We had just parked in the lay-by close to Rowantreethwaite Beck on the road to Mardale Head when a car came hurtling round the bend behind us and then pulled in fairly rapidly just a few yards away from us, almost as if the lay-by had arrived sooner than the driver had anticipated. J had turned the car round so it was facing the right way when we eventually returned so we were parked back to back and we didn’t take a great deal of notice once it had stopped. While waiting for the gps to spring into life and tell us where we were I got out to get my pack out of the boot and by now the two occupants of the car were also at the back of their car. One of them, a young man, stood ready and waiting, while his dad or possibly grandad, and the older of the pair by a good number of years, pulled off his track suit bottoms to reveal the most unusual pair of legs I’ve ever seen on a bloke. He still had clothing on underneath I was relieved to see, but this only added an extra dimension to the overall effect, clad as he was in a pair of thick black tights. Over these he was wearing a pair of very old and very baggy navy blue shorts which looked as if they’d been bought about the time Noah started building his Ark, and his feet were encased in a pair of heavy boots which only served to emphasise his, how best shall I put it, slender lower limbs. I’ve seen walkers dressed in stranger outfits over the years  but he certainly cut an interesting figure as the pair of them headed for the gate and went on their way. By now the gps was up and running so we hoisted our packs, extended the walking poles, locked the car and then set off in the same direction. The climb up the zig-zags of the old corpse road is steep right from the off so you get nothing by way of lead-in time. The shot above was taken from one of the flatter sections on the way up with Haweswater and its surrounding fells looking very sombre in the flat light.

A peep into Rowantreethwaite Beck as we climb, a steep descent of the lower end of the beck will be the last part of our return leg later on. As we were climbing we saw the two men who had started out just before us disappearing over a low rise a little higher above us. We fully expected to be seeing them ahead of us all the way over to Selside Pike but this sighting was the last we saw of them so they must have had a different destination in mind today.

Looking back towards Mardale Head from the corpse road over Mardale Banks. I didn’t experience any sluggishness, lethargy or muscle aches on the climb up so my fitness levels are definitely improving which is a huge relief, as is the reduction in the coughing and spluttering. A quick stop just to remove my jacket as by now I’m generating quite a bit of heat and I have to let it out. I don’t enjoy climbing while feeling like a steamed pudding.

Another look towards Mardale Head as we reach the neat little pyramid cairn close to the old peat huts. Every so often a car would go whizzing along the road up to the parking area so there will still be plenty of walkers out and about on these fells today. Just to the left of the cairn is the north ridge of Branstree, our return route today.

The view towards Riggindale and the Mardale skyline beyond the two roomed peat hut. Between High Street in the centre and Kidsty Pike on the left are the Straits of Riggindale beyond which we can see just a smidge of brightness to the far west.

Just a little higher up is another old peat hut with a view of Harter Fell and Mardale Ill Bell beyond it.

Beyond the pair of peat huts is the long ridge of Whelter Crags, overlooking Whelter Bottom, the bowl shaped depression to the right of them. Legend has it that one Captain Whelter and a company of Kendal Archers ambushed a group of Scots raiders up there and buried the bodies in the depression. The name Whelter will be cropping up a bit further on in our walk so the chap seems to have had a bit of an impact on the area.

The steep climb doesn’t last long and before very long we are crossing the flatter land at the top and enjoying a good steady tramp across the moorland.

There’s not a soul to be seen anywhere as we follow the old route which heads over to Swindale. The ground is firm but not absolutely frozen solid, the air is still and although the temperature is low it isn’t cold enough to have me reaching for my jacket again. We stopped here for J to remove his jacket too.

Eventually we reach the old wooden pole which marks the turn off for the path up Selside while the path continues down to Swindale Head. We turn off to the right and begin climbing once again.

As we start to climb the Mardale skyline is now on our right in the distance and below it is Brown Howe. The old corpse road keeps to the drier area just below Brown Howe, although there is nothing to stop walkers taking a short cut across the rougher middle area although it might be a bit on the soggy side at this time of the year.

We keep to the well trodden track until we reach Low Blake Dodd to which we make a short detour for the lovely extensive view along Swindale. Its only a few yards from the track but is easily overlooked so its worth looking out for. The long line of the smoky grey north Pennines is in the distance and, according to last night’s weather forecast, is where the cloud bank should have ended leaving everything to the west of them in the clear. Perhaps one of the weather satellites transmitted duff data because it obviously didn’t come to pass and the sky above us is as dull as ditchwater.

Still on Low Blake Dodd and looking down into the marshy mire of Dodd Bottom. On the left are the lovely waterfalls, slides and cascades of Mosedale Beck dropping down the steep chasm and on into Swindale, and back come some lovely memories of the walk we had up there during the hot weather of last summer. Another glimmer of brighter weather appears a long way to the south-east of us.

From Low Blake Dodd we turn our attention to Selside Pike which one has to admit doesn’t have a lot going for it from this viewpoint. Two paths are coming in from the right of the shot the lower of which leads over the crags of Selside Pike and Nabs Moor and across to Mosedale Beck and the waterfalls. We take the upper one and carry on up to the summit.

There are numerous pools and small tarns dotted around up here, some frozen solid while others lacked even a film of surface ice. On the right as I take a look back is the hump of Low Blake Dodd from where the previous shots were taken and to the left of that is Mardale Common, home of the Haweswater Nature Reserve, which offers an abundance of lower level walks and plenty of solitude when you want to get away from the crowds.

The summit shelter on Selside Pike is only a very short distance from Low Blake Dodd and we plonk ourselves down, put our jackets back on, get the coffee out and put the world to rights for ten minutes or so.

We keep our jackets on as we descend Selside Pike after our coffee stop. The temperature has dropped a degree or two and the remainder of the walk doesn’t involve much by way of steep climbs so there’ll be no likelihood of overheating. Below us is Captain Whelter Bog which eventually drains down into Captain Whelter Beck, whoever he was this chap certainly made his mark.

A look back at the descent route off Selside Pike as we cross the bog. It didn’t present any problems today as it was firm underfoot but it can be very messy indeed during wetter periods.

We crossed the fence at the bog and headed up to High Howes with a quick look back as we leave Selside Pike behind us.

Another look back at Selside Pike as we tramp across and …..

….. over to our right, beyond the Straits of Riggindale, the tops of Nethermost Pike and Saint Sunday Crag have come into view. I’m taking AW’s words for that of course, being some ten miles or so distant and greyed out under the cloud they were barely discernible never mind identifiable. Far to the west of them the weather seems to be much brighter.

From the little cairn on High Howes a view to the south east with Tarn Crag over on the left while across the gap created by Longsleddale are Shipman Knotts and Kentmere Pike. Plenty of folk will no doubt be enjoying that sunny day down yonder in the south.

Ahead of us is Artlecrag Pike and Branstree so off we go for another steady tramp across the deserted landscape. We natter on about the likelihood of that brightness in the west reaching us before we get back to the car and try to convince ourselves that it has actually got closer. Our combined opinion was that, as so often happens, we  would only get some sunshine the minute we got back to the lay-by. Not that we care, we are just pleased that we can walk across here in comfort unlike our crossing of Watermillock Common in the ferocious wind on New Year’s Eve.

Approaching the two tarns between High Howes and Artlecrag Pike J spots a lone walker in the distance. He’s coming towards us having just come down off Artlecrag Pike but he doesn’t make for the path we are on. Instead he keeps to the path alongside the fence just below us and makes for Selside Pike via that route so we didn’t have the chance to make any contact with the only walker we saw on our walk.

One unfrozen tarn …..

….. while the one opposite was frozen solid.

Between the two tarns stands the old survey pillar, forever gazing towards Haweswater which it helped to create in the 1930’s. It won’t gaze across there forever I suppose, the elements will eventually get the better of it and one day only a heap of stones will be there to remind walkers of the creation of the reservoir.

J stands beside it to give a sense of scale. He’s 6′ tall so I suppose it would have been about twice his height when it was first  constructed.

From the survey pillar we make the short climb up Artlecrag Pike where the spiky rocks poking upended from the ground always bring to mind images of sliced loaves flopping haphazardly out of their cellophane wrappers. Artlecrag Pike also possesses two fine cairns, this nearest one probably looking rather like many of us did after our Christmas Dinner as we just about managed to get from the dinner table to the sofa afterwards.

It looks a little more well balanced from this angle as I move position slightly to include Selside Pike in the shot.

Another look west as we carry on up to the top of Branstree. Is that westerly brightness coming closer or is it just that we can see more of it now that we are so much higher? Something is happening anyway because all the south facing slopes of the fells around Haweswater have become much brighter than they were. Will we get a sunny walk back?

Just follow the path from Artlecrag Pike and you’ll bump right into the familiar circular trig point on the top of Branstree. Any dog rushing up to it today would have been stuck for a drink, and physically so I would imagine, since the minute its tongue touched the solid ice it might have proved quite painful to remove it again. The tip of Selside Pike pops up in the distance. Our return path begins immediately from the trig ring, on the left of the shot, so away we go to make our way down the north ridge and enjoy the surrounding scenery …..

….. first up is this shot of Harter Fell’s craggy north face with part of Mardale Ill Bell’s north-east ridge catching a little sunlight.

Quite by chance we reached the ridge just as a few breaks in the cloud appeared so Mardale Ill Bell, on the left, and High Street’s east ridge to its right just happened to be in the right place at the right time. From this vantage point we can pretty much see all of the route we took on 18th October last year when we walked up to High Street via Blea Water. Only a smidge of Blea Water is on view in the shot.

Walking down the ridge was very enjoyable, despite their roughness the grasses were springy and we bounced, rather than walked down, and of course you have the ever so slightly changing and lovely views along Haweswater for company all the way. Even the sky is beginning to look a little brighter.

A closer look down to Randale Beck, on the left of the stand of trees, Speaking Crag jutting out into Haweswater, and Whelter Crags up above them.

It never quite got the full treatment but High Raise did at least get a sunny patch and more than a hint of blue sky above it as some of the cloud began to disperse. Kidsty Pike’s ridge just below wasn’t quite so lucky and remained in the gloom.

On we go, bouncing down the ridge with Selside Pike over to our right. We didn’t actually get a sunny walk back but an occasional thinner patch in the cloud did help to make things a little lighter now and again. J tramps on in the middle of the ridge while I stick closer to the edge for the views.

Yep, that bright patch has definitely moved our way and there are more breaks in the cloud now.

A peep into Riggindale, which wouldn’t get much light at this time of the year even if it was a gloriously sunny day, sandwiched as it is between the east ridges of High Street and Kidsty Pike.

Lower down now and we have the full length of The Rigg, with its patchwork of green and brown conifers, in full view below us.

The view up to Mardale Head. I took a quick look through the zoom and counted about thirty cars up there. A lot less than in the summer of course but still more than I thought there would be given that the Christmas and New Year holiday period is just about over.

Brown Howe and Mardale Banks ahead as we continue to make our way down towards the deep gorge of Rowantreethwaite Beck whose tree tops are just peeping over the slopes. At the bottom left is the road with three cars parked there, one right at the front belongs to the pair of walkers I mentioned at the beginning so they are still out walking somewhere.

The little island of Wood Howe in splendid isolation once again now that the water level is back to normal. During the heatwave in 2018 the water level was very low and consequently Wood Howe gained a next door neighbour. As the water level dropped a low hill connected to Wood Howe eventually appeared alongside it and the level stayed very low for months so this new neighbour spent long enough above the water for grass to grow on it once more, with even a couple of baby trees managing to get a foothold and begin growing. We had a couple of walks down there during the warm summer evenings but as I didn’t have the camera with me I don’t have any photos to display but a quick Google search will no doubt come up with dozens of pictures.

Another peat hut appears in the lower half of the shot …..

….. and here it is from a different angle as we approached it, and …..

….. a little lower down, and just around a bend, there’s another one. Both buildings looked to be sited at roughly the same height as the two on the other side of the gorge, which begs the question, why? There will certainly be a reason why they are all located at this particular height but I can only guess. High enough for the peat to dry out thoroughly in the summer but not so high as to be too much of a chore to fetch it down ready for the winter? I suppose that’s as good a theory as any but I don’t know if its correct so don’t quote me.

Selside Pike starts to disappear as we follow the path alongside Hopgill Beck with some very eye-catching falls along its course.

The path on this side of the gorge is just as steep as the one we climbed up on the opposite side when we first started out, and descending is no easier than ascending, if anything its a little harder. Damp grass, hidden stones, trailing bracken and a very long drop all keep the mind and the senses firmly concentrated on the job in hand.

Still descending carefully and a little further down from here is a feature mentioned by AW in his Far Eastern Fells guide on Branstree 3. That feature is Hollow Stone which isn’t shown on our gps route map but is indicated on OS maps. Its located near the foot of the crags and is one heck of a huge boulder which came to rest on a tiny ledge who knows how long ago. The boulder itself isn’t hollow but it does have a large chunk missing, which presumably broke off when the whole thing tumbled down to begin with, but with the boulder landing on one of its ends and the broken section located towards the bottom end a little hollow has been created which creates a small shelter, probably more used by sheep than any walkers. Like so many boulders it doesn’t seem to be resting on very much so the whole thing looks a little precarious. I would have liked a shot of it but its quite big and I couldn’t find a suitable, or safe enough, place far enough away from it on which to stand so I had to do without. If anyone want to see what it looks like then its either AW’s Branstree 3 or a nip up there to see it in the flesh so to speak.

Another small break in the cloud gave the sun a chance to shed some light on Lady’s Table at the bottom of the Whelter Crags ridge, and opposite Lady’s Table, almost on the right hand edge of the shot, is Castle Crag on which the whitish stones of the ancient hill fort which once stood there can just about be picked out.

J takes in the view as he waits for me to catch up. We could look at it every day of the year and never get tired of gazing at it, it just has that little bit of something special about it.

Care is needed all the way down but eventually …..

….. we reach the bridge over Rowantreethwaite Beck and make our way down to the handgate which is out of sight just below the grassy edge.

We drop down to the beck where the water flows under the bridge to complete its journey into Haweswater. There will be thousands of people down Manchester way who will be turning on their taps and flushing their loos right now and I don’t suppose many of them give much thought to the remote moorland sources from which that water sprang or the wild rugged beauty of  the surrounding fells. So if you’re in one of the urban conurbations in that area this is where some of the water in your next cup of tea might well have come from. Well, that’s the first walk of 2019 over and done with so we strolled the short distance back to the car. The car belonging to the pair of walkers mentioned at the start has now gone so presumably the older chap has changed his boots, put his track suit bottoms back on and is on his way home for a nice cup of tea. Wonder if he’s from Manchester way?