Outline of Route
Mardale Head - Mardale Ill Bell (via North Ridge) - High Street - Kidsty Pike - Rampsgill Head - High Raise - Wether Hill - The Forces (Measand Beck) - Mardale Head (via shore path) (Grid ref. NY 469107)
Total Distance 12.4 miles, Total Ascent 2700 feet, Equivalent Distance 17.9 miles
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Details of Route
Starting from the free car park at Mardale Head go through the gate to the fellside and turn right to a footbridge across Mardale Beck. Over the footbridge, go the left and follow the footpath with the beck on your left. After about 400 yards the path starts to rise up the fellside. High up on the right is Rough Crag, the crest of which provides an alternative start to this walk - see below. Straight ahead are the crags of High Street's eastern face and below them is a moraine. The path leads to a gap to the right of the moraine where the beck outflows Blea Water. Continue up to this gap, cross the beck, clamber up onto the moraine and walk along its grassy crest towards Mardale Ill Bell's north ridge. Pick out your route up the ridge before you get to it: it is not marked in any way. I've always started to the left of the ridge and crossed over to the right before reaching climbers' territory on the left. It is steep, and a bit of a scramble, but not particularly difficult for the fellwalker. Once at the top of the ridge a cairned path will be found to the summit cairn. If you decide to do this walk in the opposite direction, this is not a sensible way down. Just descend via Nan Bield and Small Water with everybody else.
After coming up the ridge, with its views of the High Street crags, Blea Water, Rough Crag, and Haweswater, the summit opens up the south west, with the shapely Ill Bell and Froswick in the foreground (photo)and the Coniston fells and Scafells to the back. High Street blocks out the north western panorama, however and you'll probably soon want to make for its summit along the easy path. There's a fine springy turf covering the flat summit of High Street: they held horse races up here in days gone by. Wander over to the top of the eastern crags for a superior, in more senses than one, view of Blea Water (photo), Mardale Head and Haweswater (photo). On a reasonable day Crossfell and the Pennines are in sight as are the Howgills, and the characteristic top of Ingleborough to the south east.
For the alternative route to the top of High Street, instead of turning left from the footbridge over Mardale Beck, turn right and follow the lakeside path (photo) to the crest of the ridge at The Rigg (photo of Haweswater). From here a path goes directly up the ridge, through the undergrowth on the right hand side of the wall. Swine Crag looms above you, looking impassable (photo). The path crosses the wall where it's broken down and then continues on the left. This bypasses Swine Crag to the left before returning to the crest further up, following it over Rough Crag and up Long Stile to the summit of High Street. This alternative makes little difference to the distance or ascended height of the day's walk. Both routes are very high quality and I find it impossible to show preference. The peak baggers have it easy: they'll grab Mardale Ill Bell while they can.
Continue to the north, either on the path or along by the top of the crags. The unmistakeable peak of Kidsty Pike comes into magnificent profile as you progress, down to the Straits of Riggindale (photo). The path takes you up and round to Kidsty Pike (photo), skirting south of Rampsgill Head. The view from here over Riggindale and Haweswater is magnificent, the ground tumbling down a thousand feet and more below you, leading your eyes across the valley to Rough Crag and Long Stile (photo). Start retracing your path then bear right to the flat top of Rampsgill head.From here join the old Roman road travelling north east to High Raise, with its views down into Ramps Gill (photo), on over Red Crag to Wether Hill (photo) and the western panorama (photo). What holds the attention on this easy track is not so much the north western panorama, from Helvellyn round to Blencathra, fine though it is, but the closer views overlooking The Nab, Beda Fell, Rampsgill and Martindale.
Once off the High Street path the going on Wether Hill is very tough. The vegetation is thick and rough and there are many peat hags. Do not imagine there are any continuous paths up there apart from the Roman road, whatever the maps might say. The good news is that it doesn't stay that way for long. From the summit cairn retrace your steps then bear left across the scrub towards High Kop. This is at the head of the spur that descends to the east just north of Measand Beck. Keep in mind that you're going to descend to the beck from the end of the spur so keep on its right shoulder rather than its crest as you walk along it. The ground soon starts to improve and walking becomes enjoyable. Paths and the tracks of farm vehicles appear and meander off in other directions. Use then while you can but keep in mind your destination and try to keep to the right shoulder. Eventually you will see your destination, a footbridge over Measand Beck (photo). In spring and early summer there are tracks through the bracken down to the bridge but later in the season, as the bracken grows, the tracks become impenetrable. When this has happened, or if you've simply missed the track, continue to the end of the spur until you find a track that zigzags down, eventually coming out by the bridge. Cross the bridge and follow the beck downstream. There's a good view of Haweswater and your return journey (photo). Further down are at the waterfalls (photo - Upper Forces) (photo - Central Forces). Leave the stream as the going gets tough and walk down the grassy bank to the lakeside footpath. Turn right and follow this undulating path four leisurely miles back to Mardale Head. The view of Haweswater when crossing Riggindale is very fine (photo).
Rev. 02 September 2014