Coniston walk

ROUTE: Map of Coniston walk

ROUTE: Map of Coniston walk

First published in Walks in the Lake District Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by

This walk is longer and more strenuous than most I have described.

It is, however, well worth the effort but it does need careful planning and should be done slowly and on a good clear day.

Haweswater is not a natural lake, but a reservoir constructed to satisfy the then insatiable thirst of the city of Manchester.

A pipeline was constructed to feed water from the reservoir to the city.

Before its construction this was one of my mother’s favourite places.

She told me of visits to Mardale village and church before 1940.

Manchester Corporation then built a huge dam across the valley and the village was submerged.

In 1984, the dry summer meant that the water level dropped so low that the ruins of Mardale could be seen.

I had visions of this happening again in 2010, but the dry spring was suddenly interrupted by heavy rain and Mardale was once more confined to the deep.

The area is difficult to get to and is only reached by one narrow cul-de-sac which runs on the eastern side of the reservoir and ends at the Mardale Head car park at the southern end.

1 From the car park, turn right and pass through a gate to reach a junction of three footpaths.

Be sure to take the footpath on the right, and follow this around the head of the reservoir, with a plantation on the right.

Keep your eyes open here because this is a haunt of the red squirrel.

2 Approach a stone wall (where I saw a weasel in one of the gaps) and turn hard left and almost, but not quite, double back on yourself.

Then comes a very steep path.

Ascend this and look out for the spectacular views all the way along the four mile length of Haweswater.

Follow an obvious ridge, with Mardale on the left and Riggindale on the right.

This route is craggy and rough so in the planning of the walk, solid footwear is essential.

The well-named Rough Crag leads towards the summit of High Street.

Look to the left to see Blea Water and the slopes of Harter Fell. Stop to get your breath and look out to the right to see Riggindale and Kidsty Pike.

3 You are now approaching the 2,719 feet (829 metres) summit of High Street.

Along the top of the well-named High Street is the highest Roman road in Britain, which linked the forts of Ambleside and Brougham.

The flat summit has been used for all sorts of sports, including wrestling, dancing, drinking and horse riding.

There are magnificent views from the summit. I was lucky when I did this walk in June.

With the sun shining I could see the Langdale Pikes, Coniston Old Man and as far as Morecambe Bay.

The walk continues to reveal splendid views and soon the panorama of Windermere comes into view.

Descend gently but climb again to the 2,496 feet (766 metres) summit of Mardale Ill Bell, with Small Water tarn visible to the left.

The track then leads to Nan Bield Pass, which is a 16th Century packhorse route linking Mardale with the Kentmere valley.

Continue ahead and climb steeply to reach the third summit on this strenuous walk.

This is the 2,539 feet (780 metres) of Harter Fell. From a cairn at the summit, descend to Gatescarth Pass, another of the network of packhorse routes — this one connecting Mardale and Longsleddale.

4 Turn sharp left at this point and follow a track which winds downhill, alongside Gatescarth Beck. Turn left across the dam wall to return to the starting point.

Distance: Seven miles Time: At least five hours Terrain: Strenuous — take a picnic because there are no refreshments available in this remote area Map: OS Outdoor Leisure No 5 - The English Lakes North East.

NB: Restrictions on space mean this article provides a summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.

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