01-04-2015 – High Street – 8mls – Walking Time: 8 hrs – Ascent: 2506ft
It is April Fool’s Day, but it is not funny. We pass by daffodils and watch frolicking lambs, while above our heads the wind is busily ripping snow from the mountaintops, and we are fighting through a blizzard that has once again turned the fells white.
We happily walk into nature’s practical joke. We have to laugh. Just a few days ago the sun shone, it was warm, the birds whistled, daffodils and crocuses carpeted the floor, and it seemed as though the seasons had turned the corner. Now, the forecast predicts heavy snow showers, winds about 70mph, and a possible wind chill of -13C. Undeterred, we make our way up Rough Crag towards High Street. Just a few days ago, all except the highest mountains were clear of snow, now it covers the rocks we walk over. It is like stepping back into winter. The funny thing, if there is one, is that it could all be gone tomorrow.
The lost village
In the 1930’s the village of Mardale was a community of farmlands and homesteads. In 1929 the construction of a dam began in the Haweswater Valley to provide the water needs of Manchester, and the villagers were gradually relocated. Construction was completed in 1939. In times of drought – the last was in 2014 – the remains of walls and buildings can be seen. The packhorse bridge which crossed the stream still stands, and provides a great location for photographs. Today, Haweswater Reservoir covers everything.
Our route, along the Rough Crag ridge, is described in many guidebooks as a Lake District classic. AW describes the ascent of Rough Crag as,’The connoisseur’s route up High Street.’ If the sun shines, I am expecting a great day.
The awesome crags and gullies of Harter Fell’s north face – which was our first Wainwright back in January – look stunning. Small Water nestles below Nan Bield Pass, its distinctive shelter perched on the ridge connecting Harter Fell to Mardale Ill Bell. Blea Water sits in shadow next door. Spindrift, whipped of the High Street ridge, drops into these waters. Both of them fill once active volcanic craters. I imagine what this area must have been like millions of years ago, as fire and ash erupted into the air. I tell Hannah that we are walking on the edge of a volcano. “Really!”
Looking for a mate
Riggindale is the home of England’s only golden eagle. Each year the RSPB man 24 hour watches during the breeding season. Visitors are invited to come up to the observation point to observe it. Golden eagles first started breeding on this site in 1969. This eagle, which came in 2002, is the third male to nest here. Unfortunately, its partner died in 2004. He can often be seen sky dancing in order to attract a new mate, but the closest eagles are in Scotland.
Ahead of us, the steep climb up Long Stile onto High Street looks impressive. Snow flurries whip into the air and drop into the darkness of Blea Water. This final pitch onto High Street is solid ice and runs out over the edge of Riggindale Crags – a slip would be fatal. We keep to the side and kick steps into the snow and grass. Fortunately it is soft and safe, otherwise, without crampons and ice axe, we would be going back to the car. A shadow above catches my eye. At first I thought it might be the eagle, but it is just the mat I lost to the wind during our lunch stop. It whirls above like a kite, before flapping its last farewell and disappearing into the valley 1800 feet below. We climb out of Long Stile, and the full force of the wind smacks into our faces. Leaning into it we head towards the cairn which marks the summit of High Street.
In Roman footsteps
It is exciting to imagine walking in the footsteps of Roman soldiers. They used to march along this path hundreds of years ago.
High Street provided a route from the fort at (Brocavum) Brougham to (Galava) in Ambleside. The route was later used by the Scots during their raids into Cumbria.
The path to Mardale Ill Bell – our second Wainwright of the day – is a dream. We are sheltered from the north westerly wind by the bulk of High Street. It is great to stretch our legs again after three hours of ascent.
The 14 foot high wall-end cairn of Thornthwaite Beacon juts into the skyline across the fell. It will be our third Wainwright today. The wind is stronger than I had expected, and we make slow progress towards it. We meet some walkers who had come up the ridge from Grey Crag. They looked glad to have reached the beacon, after what must have been a tiring ascent.
The Roman Road passes just to the west of the summit of High Street, it is covered with hard ice, and the wind is furious. We pull our hoods further over our heads and lean into it. Many times we are thrown onto the ground. It must be gusting well over 70mph, much stronger than we have experienced so far, even on High Pike.
Ice and wind
Hannah is getting tired now, but we just have to keep going. It is not the distance, but the battering from the wind that is taking its toll. It must be tough for her. The ice makes walking difficult, and the incline of the fell by the side of the path is not easy to walk on. Many times, we step onto the ice and a gust knocks us over. I hold onto her hand all the way along the path. It is getting tedious, and we both collapse on the leeward side of a wall for something to eat.
I had intended to include The Knott and High Raise in today’s total, but the weather is just too severe. I feel it is best to get Hannah back down out of the wind as soon as possible. The hills will still be here another day, unless the volcanoes erupt again!
Rampsgill Head is not really a summit, a more accurate description would be a pile of stones on the ridge, but AW had included it in his list, so we sit on the stones looking across the valley to the ridge we had ascended a few hours ago.
The path home
The path is easy leading down to Kidsty Howes and we follow the quad tracks towards the waterfalls at the top of Randale Beck. Just after the footbridge at Bowderthwaite Bridge, there is an interesting avenue of small stones that makes me think of a mini Avebury. The reason remains a mystery, lost in the passage of time.
We soon reach the car and drive home. It has been a wild and tough day, not funny, but exciting, and definitely a classic.