Monday, 27 October 2014

Sutton Bank, Boltby Scar and Gormire Lake (North York Moors) - September 2014

Autumn...the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.  At the end of September, when the first signs of autumn had begun to appear, we returned to Sutton Bank on the western edge of the North York Moors National Park.  This area has always been a particular favourite of ours, and although there wasn't really any mist to speak of, there was certainly plenty of mellow fruitfulness all around us.

Our walk began at the North York Moors Visitor Centre, at the top of Sutton Bank.  From here signs direct to you to "the Finest View in England".   Opinions naturally vary as to whether this claim is accurate (and I can certainly think of many other views which I'd consider to be finer), but nevertheless there's no denying that what awaits those who follow the direction signs is nothing short of stunning.

This way to a very fine view...

Following the signs from the visitor centre led us along a clear pathway that winds its way through shrubby undergrowth.  At the start of the path we were greeted by a woodland sculpture, expertly carved from a tree stump into the form of a wise old owl, resting sleepily amongst the autumnal foliage.

Sutton Bank owl

As the path wound its way through young conifers, saplings and grasses, we noticed that the ground was dense with bramble briars in full fruit.  Freshly rinsed by morning dew, we picked and ate the berries as we walked, blowing on them first, to remove any resident insects. 

Gathering some of the mellow fruitfulness

These were the sweetest, juiciest, most flavoursome blackberries I've ever tasted and I regretted not having some kind of container with me so that I could have gathered enough for a pie.  Instead we grazed our way along the path until it brought us out to the edge of Sutton Bank's escarpment and the "finest view".

Delicious!

This is a view I've gazed out over many times in my life and it never fails to impress and inspire.  It may lack the drama of the view from the summit of a Lakeland mountain, or the Limestone splendour of the Yorkshire Dales, but even so it is without doubt a panorama to savour.  Gazing out over the Vale of Mowbray it feels as if there is before you a space into which your mind could flow.  And on a clear day, if you're lucky, you can see the hazy western outline of the distant Pennines.

The view

We had now joined the Cleveland Way and from the edge of the escarpment we followed the route of this National Trail in the direction of Boltby Scar.  The view was now obscured for a short time as we passed through an area of woodland with a distinctive primordial feel.  Many of the trees were still in leaf, with the beginnings of an autumnal carpet of fallen leaves lining the edges of the path.

Primeval looking woodland

Emerging out of the woodland I stepped towards the edge of the scarp to take a closer look over to Whitestone Cliff, a massive slab of Lower Calcareous Grit formed in the Lower Jurassic period.  It's an awesome sight which, to me, as I gazed upon it, seemed to call out "Jurassic".

The Jurassic Whitestone Cliff

As we walked a little further along the cliff-top path we had a clear view of Gormire Lake down in the woodland below.  This is one of only a few natural lakes to be found in Yorkshire and it was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when boulder clay was deposited by retreating glaciers which subsequently trapped a quantity of water.  There are several local legends connected with Gormire Lake, one of which alleges that it is bottomless (although, as I was to later discover, it is actually quite shallow).  Another tells the tale of a knight who was challenged to a horse race along the top of the escarpment by the abbot of nearby Rievaulx Abbey.  The knight had to borrow a horse from the abbot who promptly forced both horse and rider over the edge of the cliff, whereby they plunged to their deaths into the so-called bottomless depths of Gormire.  As the knight was falling, his last earthly sight was that of the abbot who had transformed into the devil.   Looking down from the top of the cliff, I think the horse may also have sprouted wings, because a fall from this height would by no means have deposited horse and rider into the lake.  However, it is a landscape with something of an otherworldly feel, and I can see how this almost ethereal setting could easily give rise to legend and superstition.

Legendary Gormire

The day was overcast, but pleasantly warm, as we followed the line of the cliff and the Cleveland Way in the direction of Boltby Scar.  Occasional stray beams of sunlight broke through the cloud cover, lighting up distant patches of the countryside.  The light had a soft quality which suited the mellow shades of the landscape and the hints of autumn's approach.

Autumnal scene

Ahead of us I caught my first glimpse of Boltby Scar.  Like Whitestone Cliff, Boltby Scar is an area of exposed Upper Jurassic rock which has been undermined by erosion.  It is also the site of an Iron Age hillfort which has been the subject of recent archaeological excavations (at the time of writing the findings have yet to be published).  From the course of our walk, however, I was unable to distinguish any visible earthworks.

Looking across to Boltby Scar

Just after Boltby Scar we left the Cleveland Way and began our descent in the direction of the village of Boltby, our destination suddenly conveniently highlighted for us by a patch of sunlight.

The sun shines on Boltby

The route downhill was steep to begin with but soon levelled out into a short, pretty section of holloway which then led us on to field-side paths which skirted the margins of lush pastureland.

A pretty little Holloway

The hedgerows along this section of our walk were heavily laden with sloe berries.  The fruit looked plump, juicy and ripe and it was hard to resist tasting a couple.  These were rapidly spat out!  They were as bitter as battery acid and definitely best reserved for the making of sloe gin.

Bitter fruit

Crossing a stile brought us out onto a quiet country lane which led downhill into the village of Boltby.  A refreshment break would have been welcome at this point, but sleepy little Boltby doesn't have a pub (which is probably a good thing, seeing as I've been doing so well with my diet!) and so we turned to follow a footpath which left the main street after crossing a bridge over the stream. 

The beckside path at Boltby

What followed was a pleasant and straightforward walk for a couple of miles, following Sutton Beck over fields before eventually joining a country lane which led us to the village of Thirlby.   Here a ford crossed the beck and although we could have avoided this by following a path over a bridge, the water was shallow and I opted to wade across, thereby rinsing the dust from my boots.

Thirlby ford

From Thirlby we continued to follow the lane in the direction of Gormire Lake.  Approaching the lake provided us with an excellent view of Whitestone Cliff which seemed to rise up out of the trees, once again giving me the sense of a primeval landscape, well defined by the term "Jurassic".  I wouldn't have been surprised to have caught sight of a pterodactyl soaring overhead.

Below the Whitestone Cliff

So far we had only encountered two other walkers and a couple of cyclists.  Now though, as we entered the woods that surround Gormire Lake, the sound of voices rang out from all directions.  The lake is easily accessible via a path which climbs downhill from the visitor centre, providing a short and pleasant family walk.  It was clearly very popular and although we couldn't actually see anyone, we could hear their voices and the sound of children's laughter echoed around the lake's basin.  As we walked along the shore I peered into the water, which really did look quite shallow.  Because the tree cover extends right up to the water's edge, it was rather difficult to get a clear photograph.

On the shore of Gormire Lake

Perhaps the lake had distracted me, because at this point I made a small error in my route planning.  Instead of consulting my map, I blithely led us on, following a public footpath which passed by the side of farm buildings.  Our route, however, should have branched off to the right.  My error meant that we emerged onto the busy A170 road at the foot of Sutton Bank, at the point where most drivers are accelerating to get a good run at the hill's 1 in 4 (25%) gradient and double hairpin bend.  At almost a mile long, Sutton Bank has a reputation for blockages.  In July 1977 no fewer than 30 vehicles became stranded and, according to the warning sign we passed, there had been 74 blockages in the past year alone.

Should any of my readers wish to follow our route, you would be well advised to ensure the correct path is taken from Gormire to the A170.  Otherwise, like us, you will find that you have to walk along an uneven grass verge by the side of a busy road.  Which is exactly what we had to do, for what seemed a lot longer than the couple of hundred yards it actually was. 
The road approaching Sutton Bank

Once we were safely off the road again, we headed across a field in the direction of a farm that nestles beneath the distinctively shaped Hood Hill.  The hill is believed to have been formed towards the end of the last Ice Age by water eddying between the escarpment and the retreating glacier below.  In the medieval period the top of Hood Hill had been crowned with a motte and bailey castle, constructed by Robert de Stuteville circa 1086.  In 1106 de Stuteville rebelled against Henry I and subsequently Hood Hill passed into the ownership of the monarch.  The castle fell into disuse some time after 1322, which is the last time it is mentioned in any historical record.

Approaching Hood Hill

Our route continued past the farm and out to the edge of a field which was in the process of being ploughed.  Thankfully our route didn't have to cross this field, but instead skirted round its edges before turning into the woodland to take us along the foot of Hood Hill.  Above us to the left we could see the cliff face of Roulston Scar which, after something of a climb, we would soon be walking along, back in the direction of the visitor centre.

Autumn ploughing

Leaving Hood Hill woods, we climbed steeply up by the side of the famous landmark of the Kilburn White Horse.  The largest and most northerly hill figure in England, the Kilburn horse is 318 feet long, 220 feet high and covers approximately 1.6 acres.  It can be seen from the northern outskirts of Leeds (approximately 28 miles) and is said to be visible from as far away as 45 miles (in Lincolnshire).   Originally cut in 1857 the work was financed by a Kilburn resident called Thomas Taylor, with the cutting being undertaken by a local school master called John Hodgson aided by 20 helpers.  During the Second World War the white horse was covered over so as not to provide a landmark for enemy bombers.  At close quarters though, very little of the horse's shape can be determined...it's definitely best viewed from afar!  I paused for a while, looking over the horse's ears, across to the village of Kilburn and over the Vale of York beyond.

Looking out over the ears of the horse

Roulston Scar is home to the Yorkshire Gliding Club and all along this section of the cliff-top signs warn walkers to beware of planes landing and taking off.  The gliders are towed off the cliff by light aircraft, which is a fascinating sight to witness.  As they come into land, however, they are almost completely silent and, if you're not paying attention, they can take you by surprise.  I waited a while as I spotted one approaching and snapped away as it gracefully, and yet almost stealthily, glided over my head.

Glider coming in to land

A little further along the path a memorial stone commemorates two aviation tragedies which occurred in this area.  In May 1943 a Halifax returning in fog from a raid on Dortmund crashed onto Hood Hill, killing five of its crew members (a further three members of the crew survived with injuries).  The second crash occurred in September 1954, just a few hundred metres away from the first, killing the pilot of a F86 Sabre from RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Sutton Bank memorial

The sky was darkening as we approached the end of our walk, but before we left the escarpment to head back to the visitor centre the sun momentarily broke through the clouds, sending shafts of light onto the land below Hood Hill, as if to shine a spotlight on the path we had taken just a short while before.  The view was very hazy but as I gazed westwards and through the sunbeams, in that perfect moment I had to agree...it was indeed a very fine view.

A very fine view indeed


Directions for this walk:
From the Visitor Centre at the top of Sutton Bank follow the signs for the "finest view" out onto the edge of the escarpment and then turn right, heading in a north-westerly direction along the route of the Cleveland Way and in the direction of Sneck Yate (Boltby Bank).  Once you have passed Boltby Scar and are approaching Heskett Grange, follow the public bridleway steeply downhill and then across fields to emerge onto the road which will take you into the village of Boltby.


Once in the village of Boltby, turn left after the little bridge to follow the public footpath which runs along the side of Sutton Beck.  This will emerge onto a quiet country lane which will take you to the village of Thirlby.

Take the road out of Thirlby in the direction of the escarpment and into the woods by the side of Gormire Lake.  At the southern end of the lake be sure to take the right hand path towards the A170 across which a stile leads to a path down to Hood Grange.  The footpath from here takes you along the valley between Roulston Scar and Hood Hill to emerge onto the road at the foot of the White Horse hill.  Cross the road where you will find a footpath to take you up to the car park from where steps climb very steeply up the side of the white horse.   At the top of the bank turn left and follow the escarpment all the way back to the visitor centre.

Total distance - 11 miles.


Coming soon...We set off to walk a 12 mile circuit around the North York Moors, but actually end up walking for 16 miles, distracted by the wonderful steam trains travelling along the North York Moors Railway.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Settrington, Wintringham & Thorpe Bassett (Yorkshire Wolds) - September 2014

As much as I'd like to be able to, I can't go walking in the Lake District every week.  It's just a little too far to travel there and back in a day.  And the Yorkshire Dales, whilst closer to home, also entails just a little too much travel time to make regular walking there feasible, particularly as the hours of daylight decrease.  Although we seem to favour the North York Moors for most of our weekend walks, the Yorkshire Wolds occasionally provide us with a contrasting alternative. 

In mid September, on a calm, mild and overcast day, we decided to revisit a section of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, with a circular walk beginning from the village of Settrington, near Malton.  It had been raining heavily when we had walked this section of the Wolds Way, back in May, and the low cloud had robbed us of any kind of a view from the higher ground.  So, although the light was far from crystal clear, I nevertheless hoped to at least catch a glimpse of what we had missed the last time we had passed this way.

Starting the walk from the pretty village of Settrington appealed to me, because I have strong family connections with the place.  It was here, almost 80 years ago, that my father had been born, in a little York stone cottage by the stream.  His grandfather (my great-grandfather) was the village blacksmith and as a child I had visited his cottage and forge, fascinated by the anvil and the tools of his trade, and the antiquated interior of his home.  When my father died, 15 years ago, my family briefly considered scattering his ashes in the stream which passes the door of the former forge, but instead we opted for a burial in our local churchyard, with an anvil carved on his headstone as a symbolic reminder of his birth.   I have rarely revisited Settrington since my childhood.  My great-grandfather died when I was a child, and his house and forge were sold and converted into a family home.  As we walked towards the former blacksmith's shop, I paused for a while, looking over the stream towards the cottage, enjoying  clear memories of playing in the stream and my father driving through the ford. 

Looking across the ford to the Old Blacksmith's Shop, Settrington

Our route from the village took us past the entrance to Settrington House where I stopped for a moment to look at the gates.  I recalled that my great-grandfather had made a set of gates for the house, but the ones in place today were obviously much newer replacements, and so we pressed on, up the hill, before turning to join a track towards a farm called Low Bellmanear.   After the farm we crossed a couple of fields, heading towards the higher ground and to join the course of the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

Crossing the fields at Low Bellmanear

As the path climbed uphill, a hazy view of the Vale of Pickering became visible.  It was quite a dull day and the landscape was poorly lit, but even so the view was very pastoral and pleasant.

View over the Vale of Pickering

One of the fields we passed through was thick with dandelions in flower and in seed, providing a splash of sunny colour on an otherwise fairly drab day.

A splash of sunshine on a dull day

At the top of the hill we met up with the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  I recalled this section of the walk very clearly indeed.  There had been no view whatsoever as we had passed this way in May, on the fourth day of our long distance walk.  The cloud had been so low, even the tree in the middle distance had been obscured from view.

Joining the Yorkshire Wolds Way

From this point we followed the Wolds Way for a couple of miles, passing through the farm of High Bellmanear where a large heap of recently harvested grain lay stashed against the side of a barn.

At High Bellmanear

At Settrington Beacon we crossed a road and entered woodland which I remembered had provided us with some welcome shelter on the day we had passed this way along the Wolds Way. 

The route through the woods

The woodland ended at a gate with a view over the Vale of Pickering towards the North York Moors beyond.  We had a slightly better vista to look at this time, although the line of the distant moorland was hazy. 

A hazy view

Even so, it was a nice spot to pause for a while and enjoy a drink before continuing along the route of the Wolds Way in the direction of Wintringham.

The path downhill

Our intended circular route should have turned back in the direction of Settrington before we reached the village of Wintringham, but I was keen to pay a return visit to the Wolds Way Lavender Farm, and so we headed into the village, crossing a field which had recently been harvested.  In May this path had been high with corn, now the route was much clearer. 

Crossing the fields to Wintringham

We entered the village of Wintringham by the village's Millennium Pond, a flash of iridescent blue catching Tom's eye as we approached.  It was a kingfisher, which had darted into the reeds as we approached and we sat for a while, hoping he would return to his recent perch on a stake in the centre of the pond.  As a group of walkers approached in one direction, and a couple of horse riders emerged from the other, we realised that the lovely little bird wasn't going to return any time soon, and so we continued along our way, through the village, and along to the lavender farm.

The Millennium Pond

In May we had spent a happy hour at Wolds Way Lavender Farm, sheltering from the rain whilst sampling the cakes and shopping for lavender products.  On this occasion my diet prevented me from enjoying any of the delicious sweet treats on offer and I restricted myself to a black coffee.  I was happy though to be able to purchase some more of their wonderful soothing foot balm and also a pot of lavender cooling gel, which is excellent for relieving nettle rash and insect bites.

Wolds Way Lavender Farm

From the lavender farm we retraced our steps to the Millennium pond and back over the field path to cross the Wolds Way again and head off in the direction of the village of Thorpe Bassett.  As I walked I munched on an apple, congratulating myself on my willpower.  To date I had shed ten pounds and I wasn't about to spoil that for the sake of a lavender scone...as tasty as they may be! 

As we crossed the Wolds Way we met up with a couple who were walking the long distance trail and we stopped for a while to chat with them, providing directions for the next part of their route and generally agreeing on what an excellent walk it is.  This was their fifth day on the trail and I have to confess I felt a little envious at the wonderful weather they had enjoyed.  Even on this day, as overcast as it may have been, at least it wasn't raining and the temperature was ideal.

The village of Thorpe Bassett was just a mile or so from the Wolds Way, along a distinct and broad farm track.  The map showed a ford and footbridge close to the village which turned out to be something of an obstacle.  The ford was a little too deep and muddy to wade across and the footbridge could only be accessed by walking over a very muddy verge, ducking under a hawthorn tree and then jumping onto the bridge.  Thankfully some long grass a little further along the path enabled us to clean the thickest of the mud from our boots.

A flooded path

From Thorpe Bassett the walk was mostly a tramp along field headlands and hedgerows, climbing all the while until once again we had a view across the Vale of Pickering towards the North York Moors.

Looking over the Vale of Pickering

From the higher ground we followed a quiet country lane downhill and back into Settrington, having walked a total distance of just over 12 miles.

Perhaps it was the overcast day, or maybe the fact that just one week before we had been clambering up the Lakeland fells, but I must admit that this walk seemed a little flat, in more ways than one.  Maybe one day we will follow this route again, on a brighter day, and finally get to see what I'm sure, on a sunny day, is a very nice view indeed.



Coming soon...On a much cheerier day we enjoy a wonderful walk on the very westernmost edge of the North York Moors, along Sutton Bank passing Boltby Scar, Gormire Lake, Hood Hill and returning via Roulston Scar. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

High Street, Haweswater & Penrith (Lake District) - September 2014

When I first began my mission to climb all 214 Wainwright Lakeland fells (just over a year ago), I also started my own sub-list with the heading "Lakeland Priorities".  Let's face it, 214 hills/mountains is very ambitious, particularly for someone like me, who until quite recently had struggled to get up Roseberry Topping.  And although I am something of a completist, I'm by no means bagging hills and mountains just for the sake of putting ticks in boxes.  To be honest, if I don't climb all 214 Wainwrights it won't really bother me.  My main objective is enjoyment.  And so with that in mind I started a list to prioritise the hills and mountains I'm especially keen to climb. 

In early September we decided that we would like to become better acquainted with the Cumbrian town of Penrith.  It's one of those places I've passed through many times in my life without ever actually stopping to take a proper look around.  Over the past year we've often stopped on the outskirts of the town, to visit stores such as Go Outdoors or Morrisons, but we hadn't ventured into the town centre.  When it comes to visiting the northern part of the Lake District, Keswick has thus far taken precedence.  Penrith, however, seemed to be perfectly positioned to be the base for the next mountain on my list of "Lakeland Priorities"; the fascinating and enticing High Street.

Rather surprisingly, finding accommodation in Penrith proved to be something of a challenge.  Mistakenly I thought that because Penrith isn't in the National Park, and because we wanted to visit after the school holidays had come to an end, then we would be spoilt for choice.  Not so!  As regular readers will know, we're not particularly keen on staying in guest houses and much prefer a pub, where we can relax after a walk with a few drinks and a meal, blending in with locals as opposed to feeling as if we're staying in someone else's house.  When it came to finding accommodation in Penrith, however, after a couple of hours of fruitless searching I had to abandon the idea of staying in a pub,  Instead I somewhat reluctantly booked a room for two nights at the Brandelhow Guest House, which is located in the centre of the town.   Although I didn't realise it at the time, this turned out to be an excellent decision.  The Brandelhow was a fabulous place to stay, with a very comfortable and spotlessly clean room, and the most amazing choice of breakfasts ever.  It was also within easy walking distance of a good selection of pubs, eateries and shops.

We spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon getting to know Penrith, which included a visit to the Rheged Centre on the outskirts of town - a strange place which seems to combine a visitor centre with a large delicatessen, cafe, specialised cinema and a small number of retail outlets.  Sadly, we arrived a little too late to see the screening of "Scafell Pike: A year in the life of a mountain", which is a film I'd very much like to see.  Instead we spent a happy few hours browsing the shops, both at Rheged and in the town centre, and then in the evening we embarked upon our very own Penrith mini pub crawl.  (Observant readers may recall that I had recently put myself on a diet.  Prior to this trip I had lost 8lbs and I therefore felt entitled to a short break, particularly where beer was concerned!)

I was both surprised and relieved to wake on Sunday morning to discover that not only did I have a clear head and bags of energy, but also that the sun was shining brightly.  Fortified by a wonderful breakfast of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, we set off on the short drive from Penrith, along the shores of Haweswater to the small car park at Mardale Head.

Today Haweswater is a reservoir, but originally it was a lake - the highest in the Lake District.  In 1935 all the farms and buildings of the villages of Mardale Green and Measand were demolished and a dam was built which raised the water level by 95 feet, flooding the valley and creating the four mile long Haweswater Reservoir.  On the way into the valley we stopped for a short while to take a look at the dam, which was partly constructed from stones taken from the dismantled Mardale Green church. 

Haweswater Dam

Even though it was still reasonably early, by the time we arrived at Mardale Head the car park was almost full and we were lucky to find a space.  Looking across to the head of the reservoir from the car park I could just make out the outline of what looked like a road disappearing into the water.  In dry periods I understand that some of the remains of the buildings of Mardale Green appear out of the water, which is something I find a little eerie. 

Mardale Head

Our route from Mardale Head was to take us up to the summit of High Street, from where I had planned a ridge walk round the valley head, taking in two further Wainwright fells - Mardale Ill Bell and Harter Fell.  We started out by crossing a stream which fed into Haweswater before climbing steadily along a rocky path above the western side of the reservoir.  Looking back we had an impressive view of Harter Fell and our eventual return route to the car park.

Mardale Head with Harter Fell

As the path gradually ascended more of the walls of Mardale Green became visible in the water below.  The waterline hadn't receded sufficiently for us to be able to make out any discernible buildings, but I still thought it was a bit spooky.

Remains of farm walls

After walking for half a mile or so above the shore of the reservoir, our path turned back in the direction we had just walked, but all the while ascending the fellside.  Before we began the climb though, I paused to enjoy the view down Riggindale to the peak of Kidsty Pike on the right.

Riggindale and Kidsty Pike

A short climb later and we were rewarded with a magnificent view of Haweswater, with the little promontory known as Speaking Crag in the foreground.

Haweswater

As we climbed I had one final, bird's eye view of ruins protruding from the waters below.  I didn't know what it was I could see exactly, but it appeared to be a boundary wall.  I thought for a while about the church which had been dismantled and all the bodies from the churchyard which had been exhumed and reburied in the churchyard at Shap.

Ruins under water

Now the climbing proper started as we began the ascent of Rough Crag - the route which Wainwright had described as "the connoisseur's route up High Street".  We hadn't been climbing for long before I realised exactly what he had meant.  It was stupendously good!  Below us to the north-east the view of Haweswater and the distant Pennines became increasingly spectacular with every few feet of ascent.
  
View from Rough Crag

On the map and from the lower ground Rough Crag looked rather sharp and precipitous, but in actual fact the walking was straightforward, with stretches of relatively level ground punctuated by easy and highly enjoyable scrambles.  I absolutely loved it and wholeheartedly agreed with Wainwright's assessment. 

Rough Crag

Eventually we found ourselves looking down upon Blea Water, one of two small tarns we were to encounter on this route.  The water was sparkling in the sunlight and looked quite inviting, although as Blea Water is the deepest mountain tarn in the Lake District (200 feet or 61 metres), I should imagine it's very cold indeed.

Blea Water Tarn

As we climbed it suddenly dawned on me that I was finding this ascent noticeably easier than previous climbs, which must have been due to having shed a few pounds.  Eight pounds doesn't sound much, but it's actually the equivalent of four bags of sugar and I was already noticing a difference.  Mostly I was stopping to admire the view and not really needing to catch my breath as often as I would have done previously.  And what a view it was!

Higher up the crag

A little higher up the ridge provided us with a lovely view over Blea Water to our second intended peak of the day - Mardale Ill Bell.

Blea Water and Mardale Ill Bell

As the summit approached I paused and looked with some trepidation at the final section of our ascent, known as the Long Stile.  From where I was standing it was hard to make out a discernible path, apart from a faint line towards the very top.  Apart from that, the way ahead seemed to mostly entail climbing up bare rock.  Feeling a little concerned, I pressed on.

The Long Stile

I really need not have worried.  Although there were a few scrambles, and the last portion of the route was a very steep, shale-covered path, it really wasn't difficult at all and we soon found our way onto the broad summit of High Street.

High Street's broad summit

At 2,717 feet High Street is the highest of the Far Eastern Fells and is so named because of the Roman road which crossed the top on its journey between the forts at Brougham (near Penrith) and Ambleside.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the spacious summit of High Street was used for summer fairs and sheep sales and was also the location for a horse race, which has led to the alternative name of Racecourse Hill.  The views from the summit were wonderful and as we took a break for our lunch I was able to identify a distant Blencathra.

View to Blencathra

And over to the west, beyond the Helvellyn range, I could clearly see the unmistakeable profile of Great Gable along with Scafell and Scafell Pike.

Great Gable in the distance

After lunch I went off in search of the line of the Roman road, but as I wasn't entirely sure what to look for, I'm not convinced I found it.  It didn't really matter though, as the views all around were so spectacular.

Walkers on the summit of High Street

As we set off along the ridge of Racecourse Hill in the direction of Mardale Ill Bell, I suddenly caught sight of a distant Ingleborough, its distinctive shape clearly visible on the horizon.

Looking across to Ingleborough (the bump on the right of the horizon)

Over to the south we had a clear view of Windermere and beyond across Morecambe Bay.  I squinted into the sunlight to see if I could make out the shape of Blackpool Tower, but the light was just a little too hazy.

View across to Windermere and Morecambe Bay
Walking along to Mardale Ill Bell provided us with an excellent view across to Rough Crag and our recent route of ascent up to High Street.

Rough Crag from Mardale Ill Bell

After Mardale Ill Bell (2,496 feet) we descended to Nan Bield Pass, looking down to Kentmere Reservoir.  We could have descended to Mardale Head from this point, but I still had plenty of energy to spare and so we continued, with an ascent of Harter Fell.

Nan Bield Pass

Towards the top of Harter Fell I paused to look down on Small Water Tarn and beyond to Mardale Head where sunlight was glinting off the parked cars.

Small Water Tarn

The summit of Harter Fell (2,539 feet) is marked by one of those quirky little cairns made up of rocks and rusty metal. 

Harter Fell summit cairn

Before we began our descent I walked out to the edge of the fell and was treated to the most magnificent aerial view of Haweswater and beyond to the distant Pennines.

Haweswater from Harter Fell

Our route down from Harter Fell led us in an almost easterly direction.  I could see Ingleborough again on the horizon and, for a time, it didn't look too far away.  It almost seemed as if our path would lead us straight there and I felt as if I could keep on walking.  The Howgill Fells were also visible on the horizon and, not for the first time, I resolved to go walking there before too long.

Path down Harter Fell (looking towards Ingleborough)

Our route down to Mardale Head soon came into view, snaking its way between Harter Fell and Branstree.  This was a very pleasant, reasonably gentle descent, leading us directly back to our car and the end of what had been a truly memorable walk.

The descending path

Our weekend in Penrith had been highly enjoyable.  The town isn't as tourist-orientated as the likes of Keswick or Ambleside but we liked it very much and wouldn't hesitate to return.

Coming soon...We return to the Yorkshire Wolds for a walk from the village of Settrington including a short section of the Yorkshire Wolds Way.