Walk Date – 5th November 2016
Distance – 5.5 miles
Weather – cloudy with a very strong and very cold north wind
Well, already the bright sunny morning we had set off in is beginning to slip away, the clouds are coming over and the wind is so strong and cold that any brass monkeys who may be in the vicinity had better watch out. It only took a second or two to take this shot looking across Haweswater toward Riggindale but by the time I’d taken it my fingers were numb and I was back in the car with the door firmly shut. We’re back in Mardale today, parked in a lay-by and contemplating a walk over Selside Pike, Branstree and Harter Fell. After the feeling returned to my fingers and I was able to pick things up again we got kitted up, knowing that once under way we would soon begin to warm up.
The car is just behind me and the path we’re taking today starts just behind the gate.
A look back down to the gate and the start of the path. There’s no chance to ease gradually into the walk as it is uphill right from the start and so we begin to warm up quite quickly. We have a little bit of shelter from the strong wind as we are in the lee of the hillside but the surface of Haweswater down there has some serious movement on it.
Looking along to Mardale Head and we could see plenty of cars in the car park so we aren’t the only lunatics out on the fells today.
The first of the derelict peat huts to be found higher up the path. After being cut and dried the peats would be stored in such huts until they were needed and then transported down to the farms by pack ponies or sledges.
The second of the derelict peat huts high above Mardale.
As you can see the huts are situated very close to each other and with good views all around them. I don’t suppose the farm hands dealing with the peat had much time to enjoy them though.
Just a short way along from the peat huts the path loses its steepness as we round the bend and continue along the slopes of Brown Howe. The person in front is a young lady runner who had just gone by as I was taking the photo and she was as well wrapped up as we were. We still have shelter from the wind and are nice and snug in our winter gear, hats, gloves, fleece lined trousers, base and mid layer tops, insulated jackets, the full works, and all of it needed. Bare skin and melting Mars bars are a distant memory and will not be seen again for a good six months.
A look over my shoulder from the same spot with a view of Branstree on the left, Harter Fell in the centre, and Mardale Ill Bell over on the right.
Looking back along the corpse road and wondering how I got so far in front, as I didn’t think I was walking very quickly. Last night’s rain had resulted in a very soggy and squelchy path so it wasn’t that easy to keep a good pace going.
We have now turned off the corpse road, which you may be able to pick out below us. Its running right across the shot, just behind the dark brown peat hag patch to the left of centre, and continues on down to Swindale Head. We are now making our way up to Selside Pike and feeling the full force of the wind coming straight at us. Our one consolation is that it will be behind us when we continue, which will be helpul, and not full in the face, which definitely wouldn’t be.
As we climb over on our right is Brown Howe, in the middle foreground, below which we have just walked. On the skyline from left to right are High Street, with the Long Stile/Rough Crag ridge coming down from it, Kidsty Pike comes next with High Raise to the right of it. Walking over there would have been a bit of a battle today because there’s no shelter anywhere across there, its bad enough over here and we are much lower.
A splash of sunshine on Mardale Ill Bell and High Street’s eastern ridge tempts me to get the gloves off again and reach for the camera. I know there’s no danger of getting frostbite but its amazing how quickly the fingers go numb once the gloves are off. Putting the camera away again and getting the gloves back on afterwards can be a tricky manoeuvre, especially when its as windy as it is today. If you zoom in you might just be able to make out a light dusting of snow on High Street.
We took a very slight diversion from the path for a view down to Swindale Head where the corpse road comes to an end. Its looking very dark over the North Pennines over to the left, the weather forecast indicated that the winds would be strongest down the eastern side of the country so what they are experiencing over doesn’t bear thinking about. Once again I’m having to be stabilised to be able to take the photo otherwise I don’t know where I’d have ended up.
Just slightly to the right of the previous shot are the crags at the head of Swindale with Mosedale Beck flowing down over on the left. The beck is coming out of Mosedale which is the place to go if you like your walks remote, desolate and wet underfoot. That’s making it sound an unpleasant place to be, and in the depths of winter it probably is particularly unwelcoming, but on a good summer day its just the place for a walk well away from the crowds.
Ahead of us is this rather bleak view of the path continuing up Selside Pike. The wind is howling, the sun has gone somewhere else, everything underfoot is wet, and at times like this you begin to wonder why you aren’t at home, cuddling up to a radiator, like any normal person would be. I can only think it must be the fault of the Met. Office who somehow intimated that today would be better than it actually turned out to be.
The wind shelter on Selside Pike, although it made rather a poor job of wind sheltering today since the wind was blowing straight into it. Being resourceful souls, or more truthfully, in need of a hot drink, we sat round the back of it and had a gale free five minutes while we attacked the coffee. Have you ever tried holding one of those little cups provided with the flask whilst wearing thick winter gloves and trying to get the coffee inside yourself rather than all over the ground?
Looking around while savouring the coffee I noticed a band of bright white over to the west of us. To begin with I thought it was a bank of low cloud so I got out the camera and zoomed in on it. Through the gap created by Short Stile and Twopenny Crag, that’s the dark foreground, and beyond Saint Sunday Crag, in the middleground, I could see the flat tops of the Helvellyn range which looked to have quite a good covering of snow. Last night’s rain on those high fells has brought the first snow of the season.
Coffee stop over and done with we leave Selside Pike and continue on over to Branstree. The dark brown patch between here and there is …..
….. Captain Whelter Bog. The path is over by the fence on the left but it was impossible to go straight across at that point so we had to do a bit of a detour to find somewhere with grass stepping stones to avoid going ankle deep in the stuff. We met another group of walkers crossing at the same time as us who had a very small, and very short legged, white dog with them. The dog was hoisted aloft by its owner and carried across to safety before it got the chance to sink without trace.
Both us and them safely across the bog without misfortune striking, you can just about make out the group over on the right before they disappear over the brow of the hill.
Another look back as we approach Artlecrag Pike along the soggy path. The walk across from Selside to Branstree was one of the windiest I think we’ve ever experienced. It was coming at us relentlessly from the left hand side of the photo and there were several occasions when both of us thought we were about to be picked up and blown across the Pennines.
The well constructed cairns on Artlecrag Pike, and no shortage of building materials should anyone ever fancy creating a few more.
The view back along our route from Artlecrag Pike with the old survery pillar, used in the construction of Haweswater reservoir, just below the tarn over to the right.
Looking towards the North Pennines we thought (and hoped) that some brighter weather might be coming our way, and with that cheery thought we made our way over to the summit of Branstree which wasn’t too far away from this point.
Here we are, at the circular trig point on Branstree’s wide flat summit area, with Harter Fell just behind it.
Who switched off the light, and why haven’t we got some of that sunshine that’s glinting on the water across there? Its bleak, its windy and its no place to linger at the moment so we made our way over to the fence to begin the descent off Branstree.
As we head down straight across from us are the paths on the lower slopes of Harter Fell above which is Kentmere Pike.
Moving a little to the right brings the top of Harter Fell into view. We had considered walking across to the path over there and continuing on to Harter Fell. From there we could descend to the Nan Bield Pass by the north west ridge and then back down to Mardale via Small Water. So at this point we have to decide whether to do that, or return to Mardale down the Gatescarth Pass. Two factors influenced the decision, we were both sick to death of the battering we were taking from the wind, and the exposed nature of the descent ridge on Harter Fell where we would be right in the firing line for the wind to hurl us straight down into Kentmere reservoir. The Gatescarth Pass it is then.
The view down Longsleddale as we descend from Branstree, its sunny down there and its probably not that windy either. I was grateful to have the fence to lean against to take this or I could have been on my way down there.
We turn off and take this path over to Gatescarth where we will eventually join the path over there on Harter Fell’s slopes.
On the path going down Gatescarth which would have been a straightforward affair had it not been for the wind, which was once again coming straight at us and doing its best to hurl us back up the slopes. How can going downhill be this hard?
Some longed for brighter weather but, although it was good to have, it didn’t last long.
It turned out to be nothing more than a large gap in the cloud cover but it gave splashes of sunshine here and there as it moved across.
Straight across from us is Measand Beck flowing out of Blea Water which is hidden in the corrie just above.
Lots of cars but who knows where their occupants are. We’ve only met one group, back at Captain Whelter Bog, no-one was coming up Gatescarth as we descended, and we couldn’t see any little figures on Harter Fell either. This isn’t the end of our walk as we aren’t parked here, we still have to walk along the road, almost to the point where it begins to disappear behind The Rigg, back to where we are parked.
A look back from our section of road walking, that puddle isn’t the remnant of last night’s rain, it seems to be a permanent feature whether it has rained or not so there are probably a couple of springs nearby.
We’re back at the car now so time for a couple more shots before we leave. The wind is still blowing the water around and over to the left is the ridge on Harter Fell we would have been walking down had we not decided to descend via Gatescarth. I think we made the right choice today.
Finally, because the water level is quite low, Wood Howe now has a peninsula with part of a wall on it, and a companion islet, and look at the water, I did say it was windy!