Sunny Swindale Common

Walk date – 15th April 2020

Distance – 6.6 miles

Weather – sunny and very warm


The good weather is still with us so we took another local walk this afternoon. The area around Swindale is very familiar to us but, contrary to the saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ there is always something different to be experienced in even the most well known of places. For a start the ground was 99% bone dry, with brittle heather and arid twigs and stems crunching like broken biscuits beneath our boots. It was very warm with only the slightest hint of a breeze brushing against our faces and bare arms every now and again helping to cool us down a little. The sunlight landing on the winter bleached grasses turned them dazzlingly bright, the fresh greenery of spring growth has still to break through, but what little colour remained after the winter barrage appeared strikingly intense in contrast. All of which results in seeing a familiar landscape in a very different light, quite literally, and there’s something special in seeing something you’ve never noticed before simply because the last time you came this way the sun happened to be lurking behind a thick  grey blanket of cloud and kept it hidden from view.


Parking area on the Swindale/Bampton road – Scalebarrow Knott – Harper Hills – Hare Shaw – Powley’s Hill – Harper Hills – Scalebarrow Knott – parking area on the Swindale/Bampton road

From the parking area above Swindale a look across to the first of today’s ‘mini’ climbs where, to the left of the wall, Scalebarrow Knott awaits our arrival. From here we could also see the tops of a couple of vehicles, parked down in Swindale and glinting in the sun, so others were out enjoying the warm afternoon too.

No coats and all painted up ready for pastures new, rather like a group of young lasses hitting the town on a Saturday night, the freshly sheared ewes crossed in front of us as we headed off towards the path for Scalebarrow Knott.

As we left the Haweswater dam road and turned left onto the Scalebarrow Knott track the rest of the flock were making their way down to join the front runners in the previous photo. Here the lead ewe stopped in her tracks and, Paddington Bear style, gave the pair of us a very hard stare. Being unaccompanied by a dog we obviously passed muster so she passed the ‘all clear’ message to the rest of them and they carried on down the hill to join the others, no doubt pleased to have had their ‘jackets tekken off’ in this warm weather.

From the dam road the track to Scalebarrow Knott is easy to find and easy to walk on, although in a few places where natural springs occur it can be very puddly, even in a dry spell such as the one we’re currently enjoying.

The track provides a good firm surface and easy walking as it twists and turns and heads towards Scalebarrow Knott. In the dip just ahead is one of those natural springs just mentioned.

We left the track temporarily to begin the climb up to Scalebarrow Knott. J has remembered to swap the winter weight trousers for his light weight ones and a summer weight jacket but …..

….. by the time we reached the top of Scalebarrow Knott his jacket was off and stowed away, and both our faces needed a good mop down. From the cairn some of the far eastern fells can be seen on the skyline. The darker hump to the right of the cairn is the area known as Naddle Forest although there is more open land than forest across there nowadays.

Beyond the cairn, to the right of the shot, are the Harper Hills which we are about to make our way towards. In the dip below the cairn is a straw coloured reedy area, Scalebarrow Tarn, which was once full of water but over time the reeds have gradually taken over and the tarn has more or less dried out.

Leaving Scalebarrow Knott we pick up the path alongside the wall and get the tiniest glimpse of Haweswater on our right. The whiteness of the stones along the shoreline indicates not only the dryness of the weather but also the noticeable lowering of the water level. When we walked above Haweswater on 1st March this year the ground was sodden, the becks were overflowing and torrents of water were pouring over the dam wall. Now, just over six weeks later, the difference is remarkable. Looks like a lot of hand washing is taking place down in Manchester.

There are no problems with navigation across here, the wall is very long and is a constant guide and companion, the track is wide and well trodden and, especially on a day like today, can be seen for miles ahead. To our right we have a view of Naddle Forest which has a high point with a very intriguing name, Hugh’s Laithes Pike. I can’t find any information about Hugh or his laithes so we will all remain ignorant of the roots of this unusual name.

On we go, still treading the wide path alongside the wall. The path rises and falls, fairly steeply in one or two places, along its route …..

….. as this look back along it shows quite clearly. Scaling one rise after another made for very warm work  especially with the sun directly ahead of us, and our faces were definitely glistening as we reached the top of each one. We could have worn shorts today and by this time I was wishing I had. Other than walking around in my underwear, which wouldn’t have mattered in the least because there was absolutely no-one else to be seen anywhere, there was nothing else to do but roll up my trouser legs and let my legs cool down that way.

This little reservoir forms part of the Swindale aqueduct. Water taken from the Naddle and Swindale becks is carried by underground pipeline down to the Haweswater reservoir into which it is discharged, more or less directly below Hugh’s Laithes Pike. The aqueduct was opened by the chairman of the waterworks committee, one Alderman William Onions, and became operational on 5th October 1957. At that time AW was busy working on Book 3 – The Central Fells. Was he was aware of the construction and opening of the aqueduct and what were his thoughts about it? He does mention it in his Outlying Fells guide, which he completed in November 1973, commending Manchester Corporation because the work had been carried out with little disturbance to the surrounding landscape. Indeed, but for this tiny reservoir you would not know of the aqueduct’s existence at all.

The occasional patch of snow still clings on stubbornly in gullies on some of the far eastern fells.

Across Naddle Forest a zoom in for a closer look at Kidsty Pike and High Raise.

The undulating and snake like nature of the track which, even after a couple of rain free weeks, was still boggy in several places thanks to many little becks coming to a halt in some of the hollows, and those natural springs which keep popping up from the ground.

A look back over my right shoulder for this shot over towards Hugh’s Laithes Pike.

At the point where the wall bears right over to Naddle Forest we turned left off the track and began the steady climb up to …..

….. Hare Shaw, which stands at the modest height of 1650′ or 503 metres whichever you prefer. There’s no established path but there are plenty of sheep trods to make use of as we make our way up over the rough tussocky grass and withered heather. Hare Shaw has two summits, the one in the photo is only very slightly lower than the other one, which is out of shot over to the right.

From the top of the first summit a look ahead at what will be our return route. To begin with we’ll head over to the right and cross Powley’s Hill and then descend over to the left and cross over the Harper Hills.

Before we start the return journey we take the short walk over to the second summit for a few shots of the skyline ahead of us. In Chris Jesty’s revised edition of AW’s Outlying Fells he mentions that the two cairns on Hare Shaw, and the one on Harper Hills, were built by Jesty’s walking companion, Mark Richards, on 10th March 1973. Mark Richards is a well known and well established writer of books about the Lake District fells and many other mountain areas and I believe he features in ‘Helvellyn – Life of a Mountain’, Terry Abraham’s latest film in that series although I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t say for certain. As usual I’ve strayed from the matter in hand so I’ll get back on track now. As the fells over there were to the south of us the bright sunlight resulted in hazy and shaded views but here we have Selside Pike and Branstree …..

….. next up are Harter Fell and Mardale Ill Bell …..

….. then Mardale Ill Bell again and High Street …..

….. and finally Kidsty Pike and High Raise.

From the second summit we wandered a little further to the Swindale side for this view of Gouther Crag and Outlaw Crag across the Swindale valley. The high point on the skyline beyond the crags I think may be Seat Robert but I’m not absolutely certain of that.

I can be certain about this view though as were looking down into a place we’ve been to many times, Swindale Head, and above it, the valley of Mosedale from whose beck the lovely Forces Fall flow down into Swindale Beck. Our walk on 27th May 2018 will give you some idea of the charms of the falls.

Some of the many summit rocks on Hare Shaw as we begin our walk back over the hill tops.

We’re making our way over to Powley’s Hill but that’s not it in the shot …..

….. that’s it, in the distance over to the right so there’s still some way to go before we set foot on it.

There is a narrow trodden path across these largely unfrequented tops, probably made by the feet of local residents like us wanting something a little more demanding than a completely level excursion but not wanting to toil up higher fells on a very warm day, or very keen walkers who are intent on bagging all of AW’s outlying fells as well as the other 214 he wrote about. Here we’re approaching Powley’s Hill after a very entertaining (plenty of mushy bits and outcrops to avoid) and undulating walk across to it.

Another look over to the crags above Swindale from the top of Powley’s Hill, height 1555’/474 metres.

There is no cairn on Powley’s Hill just a collection of outcrops, of which this one appeared to be the highest, and from where I took another look towards Swindale Head …..

….. a look back towards Selside Pike …..

….. and a look across to Naddle Forest and Hugh’s Laithes Pike, the wall we walked alongside to begin with has come back into view.

From Powley’s Hill we begin descending over to Harper Hills, heading initially for the wall of rock in the middle distance towards the right of the shot …..

….. and here it is but between it and us is a very marshy patch so we veer off round to the right to avoid wet boots. We’ve had quite enough of those for the time being and I’m wearing my lightweight summer boots which I don’t want to ruin by sinking ankle deep in smelly green squelchy stuff.

Skirting around the boggy bit to pick up the path again beside the rock wall which will lead us over to the fence, the posts of which can just be made out over to the left.

We cross the fence, no stile but there is a gate, which crosses the path we walked on the outward leg, out of shot to the right. Here’s a look back at Powley’s Hill from just above the fence line.

From the fence line we cross the ups and downs of Harper Hills via this quad bike track …..

….. and visit the cairn built by Mark Richards on what I take to be the highest point of Harper Hills., height 1378’/420 metres. The little reservoir for the aqueduct can be viewed over a fence in front of those trees just a short distance away.

Still following the quad bike track, which can be seen stretching ahead of us, which will take us all the way back to Scalebarrow Knott and onwards to the hard track leading back to the intersection of the Swindale and Haweswater dam roads and the parking area.

We didn’t go up to the cairn on Scalebarrow Knott again, keeping instead to the quad bike track which skirts around it …..

….. and deposits us quite nicely back onto the hard track and back to the parking area, in front of the trees to the right, and indicated by the black dots of our car and someone else’s, which wasn’t there when we arrived. There was no-one in it either when we got back there, and one of the rear windows had been left open so perhaps the occupants were out walking the dog. After another ten minutes walking we will have come to the end of another very enjoyable afternoon excursion in very pleasant weather. We are used to not seeing another soul anywhere when we go out walking, especially during our out of season walks, but what was striking today was the complete absence of bird calls. We did not hear any at all while we were out the result of which was a complete silence which was very unusual. The only reasons I could think of were: that they’re all busy building nests, sitting on nests, feeding chicks, or that they just didn’t care all that much for Swindale Common.