Haweswater, with the Pennines behind

Haweswater, with the Pennines behind, seen from Harter Fell

Date completed: 2nd April 2011.

Weather conditions:  Though windy, basically very fine – remarkably good in fact considering how foul things were in Penrith at 8am this morning.

Fells climbedMardale Ill Bell (2496’, no. 107), Harter Fell (2539’, no. 108), Kentmere Pike (2397’, no. 109), Shipman Knotts (1926’, no. 110).

A new lamb in Kentmere

A new lamb in Kentmere

Distance:  17.8 miles. At the time I did it this was the longest walk I had done, and remains the second-longest, surpassed only later by walk 102.

Total ascent:  3552 feet.

Start and end points:  Started at Burnbanks, terminus of the #111 bus from Penrith, which is still running on Tuesdays and Saturdays but not for much longer – see commentary below. Ended at the Eagle and Child pub, Staveley, which has a bus stop right outside it on the #555 route.

Pub at end:  Obvious from above. Although I only had 20 minutes here it was enough time to clock the decent decor, friendly & cute barmaid, nice beer garden by the river and excellent beer – product of the Dent brewery, which is not an easy beer to track down. So all in all, recommended.

Small Water

Small Water, with the slopes of Harter Fell behind

Route: The first thing to point out is that though this is an excellent walk, with lots of variety of terrain and some magnificent views, it is a very long one. Do not underestimate the time and effort required.

Only someone of rare talent could get lost on the way from Burnbanks to Mardale Head, although the path is not a simple lakeside stroll – there are a few ups and downs, particularly below Castle Crag.

Once you get to The Rigg, go up and over it and then cross the footbridge over Mardale Beck at NY467108 (what’s this?) to reach the three-pronged signpost close to the Mardale Head car park. Follow the path signposted Nan Bield and Kentmere, which climbs up beside Small Water Beck to the tarn of Small Water at the top. A slight problem may ensue when crossing the outlet, which I didn’t find easy, although there’d been a lot of rain prior to my walk.

I took the pathless and quite steep route up Mardale Ill Bell up from Small Water which is depicted as ‘route A’ on Wainwright’s page Mardale Ill Bell 5. This was not that tricky except at one point, after the initial pull upwards, where it wasn’t clear how to continue – the easiest route lay a bit further round, behind the wall of low crags in front. But it’s difficult to describe here and you can’t really work it out on the map either. Put it this way, I never needed to put myself in a dangerous situation, so do look around for the simplest route. I wouldn’t do this ascent in mist.

The falls of Measand Beck

The falls of Measand Beck, near the Haweswater dam

From Mardale Ill Bell onwards it is fairly clear all the way down across Nan Bield, up to Harter Fell and then onwards to Kentmere Pike. I took a detour on the top of Harter Fell to the ‘third cairn’ above Haweswater to see the view of the lake depicted on page Harter Fell 10, which probably added about 1/3 mile to the whole walk – and was probably worth it – but this could of course be omitted. (There is a picture of this view on the Harter Fell page.)

At Kentmere Pike, make sure you stick to the fence that goes over Goat Scar (a good view of Longsleddale from this point) and don’t slant down to the right as this will take you down to the valley without going over Shipman Knotts (which, of course, you are not obliged to do). To get down from Shipman Knotts I just continued following the wall down until I reached the lane a NY476049 , but this might not have been the quickest route as others seemed to be coming out onto the lane further down, having presumably taken a more slanting descent from the ridge. My route was also quite an eroded and slippery path toward the bottom so it might be worth looking for this alternative.

The lane reaches the tarmac road after the farm of Stile End and by this point time and fatigue were enough to see me stick to the tarmac for the last few miles, all the way back to Staveley. However, if you don’t want to walk on the road, alternatives are offered by the lanes on the other side of the Kent; in other words, the opening passages of walk 7, in reverse. But the road is pleasant enough and not that busy.

Fellrunners on Kentmere Pike

Fellrunners on Kentmere Pike

Punctum dimidium commentary: 8am, Penrith, and it is absolutely teeming down with rain as I sit drinking tea in McDonalds – the only place near the station which offers refreshments at that time. I have caught a train up there that was running 30 minutes late and the entire rail network of North-West England appears to be shutting down anyway after noon due to engineering works virtually everywhere. (I was originally going to be doing this walk with a companion, my friend & work colleague Anne, but she pulled out as due to these works it was going to take her hours to get back to Manchester.) None of these are particularly propitious omens and had I not seen a weather forecast that assured me things were going to get better, I might have considered turning round and going back to Morecambe at that point.

Yoke and Ill Bell

Yoke (left) and Ill Bell, from Mardale Ill Bell

I am – unsurprisingly – the only passenger on the #111 bus from Penrith to Burnbanks. Chatting with the driver it seems that the council’s original plan to cut the Tuesday service from this route but keep the Saturday one is being challenged by local residents who say they need the Tuesday one more. Of course you’ve heard all my points about why it seems so stupid that they need to cut any at all. The rain stops almost literally as I get out of the bus at Burnbanks and I then have  two hours of glorious solitude all the way to Mardale Head, with no sound other than the wind and water, two hours of grey but dramatic, lonely beauty to enjoy, until arriving in the catchment area of that car park at the end of the Haweswater road where suddenly all the drivers and passengers turn up. So my journey was seen as a drain on the public purse whereas these guys are being good citizens and paying their double whammy of taxes (fuel, road) for the privilege of forcing themselves to do a round trip back to their cars so they can take them home. The cars do not serve them, they serve the cars. But it’s their journey that’s seen as the more valuable one. Mine will soon be impossible to complete.

The Harter Fell ridge

The Harter Fell ridge, from Kentmere: l-r Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike, Shipman Knotts

How sad that it will soon be nigh-on impossible to enjoy the walk I did today, for it is a brilliant one, one of the best I’ve done I think. How fortunate I did trust the forecast, for by the time I am beginning my ascent proper, up from Mardale Head alongside the leaping torrent of Small Water Beck, the clouds are lifting and though the wind blows all day the rest of the walk is done in hazy sunshine and air of remarkable clarity: the Pennines look incredibly close and the power station at Heysham, south of Morecambe, is also visible all day. The views on this walk are excellent throughout, particularly of the Ill Bell ridge, which I totally failed to see at all nearly a year ago when I traversed it on walk 12; it looks far more impressive than I imagined at the time.

But it is definitely a long walk, a very long one in fact. I am starting to feel fatigued before I’ve even reached Kentmere Pike, and there’s plenty of walking still to be done after that. The descent from there and then from Shipman Knotts is a low point, with some rather unpleasantly slippery paths towards the bottom and also one total man-trap of a little hole near Goat Scar in which I’m lucky not to sprain or break my ankle: as it turns out I just get a soaked left boot and socks which I have to spend a few minutes wringing out, but it doesn’t cause a big problem.

Sheep at Measand

Sheep watching me at Measand: scenes from an Alfred Hitchcock movie involving birds do spring mind

Once onto the lane and down into Kentmere – which is an incredibly beautiful place, possibly the most attractive settlement of all the Lakes villages in fact – I just stick to the road back to Staveley and manage to pick up the pace sufficiently to have time for two pints in the pleasant pub there and get the bus back to the in-laws’ for only just after 6pm. So the lack of train services in the afternoon didn’t really affect me either. No, there were few things to complain about today, although I’m sorry Anne didn’t make it (but I underestimated how long and effortful a walk it was, and would have felt guilty about that in some ways).

There was, of course, one other significant thing about the day. Mardale Ill Bell, the summit of which I reached at about 12.45pm (three and a half hours after leaving the bus at Burnbanks), was fell number 107 – in other words, the halfway point of the 214. I now have fewer to do than I have already done. I feel a mild tinge of regret about this, as if I am somehow already on the homeward stretch, although of course there are still many, many walks to do and things to see. But I have a feeling, thinking about the remaining fells and their general configuration, that unless I do something very ambitious to pick up some of the hard-to-reach fells around Wasdale and Ennerdale, that this will remain the longest walk of all. It was definitely worth it – but I need a rest. I think that’s the longest I’ve ever walked or run in one day.


The fell of Branstree, above Haweswater


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