Off Piste around Mardale and Kentmere

It’s late September, the forecast is good and I’m still capable of getting out of the door early enough to be parked at the end of Haweswater by eight in the morning.

(In fact, it’s early January, the forecast is rotten and after two weeks off work – with mostly miserable weather – I’m finding it hard to drag myself out of bed until long after eight. But that’s by-the-by, bear with me here, I’m attempting the Sisyphean task of catching-up with my blog posts. And re-living a splendid day out into the bargain.)

I’d driven up in fine weather; it looked like blue skies and sunshine would be the order of the day, but Sod’s Law was in operation and the hills around the head of Haweswater were cloaked in cloud. However, I was a man with a plan – to join up some blue bits on the map, namely Small Water, Kentmere Reservoir, the River Kent and Blea Water – and I was not to be deterred. In fact, I was feeling pretty keen, and as I set-off to execute my plan – walking towards Small Water heading for the the Nan Bield Pass and hence Kentmere – rather than losing heart because of the weather, I was distracted by the left-hand skyline heading up towards Harter Fell. From below it looked like a ridge and a very tempting one at that, but a glance at the map revealed that it was really an edge formed by the intersection of the slopes above Small Water and the steeper eastern face of Harter Fell. Still….I’d never been that way before. I vacillated for a while as I plodded upward: should I stick with the original plan or divert onto Harter Fell?

In the end I compromised. I went to Small Water first….

 Small Water

….but then took a rising line across the slopes above it to hit the edge of the crags on Harter Fell’s eastern face, following those crags up onto Harter Fell.

I was pleased I took the diversion, although the views weren’t great.

Haweswater and clag 

Indeed, I was soon in the cloud. From odd glimpses I could sense that most of the Lake District Fells were bathed in sunshine; looking directly overhead I could see clear blue sky, but all around me was clag. I was pretty confident that it would lift though, and by the time I had descended to the Nan Bield, it had. From that point on sunshine ruled.

This is the view from Nan Bield…

Kentmere Reservoir from Nan Bield 

…down to Kentmere Reservoir. On the lower left-hand side of the photo you can maybe make out the path descending across the slope. I took a more direct route beside Lingmell Gill. I was heading for the Reservoir and the Kent. I have, over several strolls and several blogposts, been following the course of the Kent between sea and source, and was keen to walk this, as yet unexplored (by me anyway) upper section.

But as I followed the gill down, it wasn’t the reservoir, or the river which feeds it, which had my attention, but the magnificent, curving, north-east ridge of Ill Bell…

Ill Bell and Froswick 

Ill Bell and Froswick. (That’s ‘ill bell’ not ‘3 in Roman numerals’ Bell)

Looks inviting doesn’t it? It’s another pathless ascent route which I haven’t yet explored and I was sorely tempted again. In the end, I decided to leave it for another time, but I must go back before too long.

I turned instead to the delights of the River.

River Kent - waterfalls and deep pools 

These deep plunge pools put a thought in my head, sunny as it was, and when I came across a slightly larger pool…

Another River Kent pool 

…I stripped off and went for a brief skinny dip. (I know: that’s created an unpleasant image for those of you that know me. I hasten to add that the valley was deserted – no innocent hikers were harmed in the making of this blog post. What’s more, in case you’re worried, the reservoir was built to feed mills further down the valley and isn’t for drinking water.) Was the water cold? Yes – and so was the breeze, but not too bad: my kids went swimming in Grasmere that same day, so it must have been a reasonably warm day.

River Kent and Gavel Crag 

I followed the dwindling river into Hall Cove where several streams meet to form it. The most prominent of those streams flows down the valley on the right of the picture below and I had thought of following that onward, but I was now drawn by the rocky shoulder of Gavel Crag.

'Gavel Crag' ridge 

The way was steep. The crags were broken, but I engaged in a little scrambling. There was probably a lot more to be had if you went looking for it, although nothing very sustained.

On the ridge 

Around the base of the crags and boulders this herb-like plant grew in profusion….

Interesting plant...? 

Can anybody offer an I.D.?

Now that I was on the plateau, the views were superb.

Hall Cove 

Looking down into Hall Cove.

Looking back down Kentmere 

Kentmere and it’s fells from Gavel Crag.

Looking West 

Another view 

I wandered over to Thornthwaite Beacon for a late lunch. There were a fair few people about, which was a bit of a shock after a virtually pathless wander during which I had hardly seen anyone.

South from Thornthwaite Beacon 

The wind was quite biting here, but I found reasonable shelter in the lea of the tall stone beacon.

With two stiff ascents behind me, I decided to take a fairly direct route back towards the car. I used the path, popular with Kentmere Horseshoe walkers, which contours round the head of Hall Cove from near Thornthwaite Beacon to Mardale Ill Bell (again that’s – ‘ill bell’).

Kent and its mountains 

Looking back to the upper reaches of the River Kent.

River Kent and the 'Gavel Crag ridge'. 

For anybody who might be thinking of following in my footsteps: that’s the shoulder I climbed in the centre of the photo (Gavel Crag is the nearest named feature on the OS map so I’m calling it the Gavel Crag Ridge). It looks formidably steep to me, but it was OK, even for a wimp like me.

Here’s a closer view of the upper part:

A closer view of 'Gavel Crag ridge' 

On Mardale Ill Bell I discovered a bonus bit of blue, a mini tarn.

Small Tarn on Mardale Ill Bell 

Blea Water 

Blea Water.

I’d picked out another off-piste ridge for my way down: Piot Crag, which is the ridge dividing the two corries containing Blea Water and Small Water.

This is the view looking down it:

Piot Crag 

Again, it was a little steep in places, but with care made for an interesting way down and would, I think, be fun in ascent.

One final view: this is Harter Fell, (seen from the path down from Blea Water):

Harter Fell

The ‘edge’ which caught my eye is the dividing line between light and shadow on the left. The lower rib might make an interesting scramble, but I can’t be sure because I didn’t take that route. I climbed the grassy slopes in the centre of the photo and then went left across the obvious large and grassy shelf to the edge of the crags, and up from there.

A top-notch outing. Three Birketts included, none of them new, but all of them by routes new to me, at least in part.

Hawewater and Kentmere Map

Now: roll on more sunshine!

Off Piste around Mardale and Kentmere

Buckstones Jump

Buckstones Jump

When we were walking by the stream in the Elan valley, and S was itching for a swim, I made a solemn promise: “If the sun shines, I’ll take you to a pool I know which is perfect for a swim.”

This wasn’t entirely honest. But – “If the sun shines, I’ll take you to a pool which I’ve seen on the telly and looked up on the internet, and often examined on the map and which I suspect is probably at least okay for a swim.” – doesn’t have the same authoritative tone, nor the desirable implication that I, the grizzled hill veteran, have an encyclopaedic first-hand knowledge of all the Lake District has to offer.

So – the main feature of the day would be a wild-swim. But first we had to get there. We made an attempt last summer which was foiled by full car-parks, so I’d bustled B and S out of the house reasonably early and we stuck the car in an almost empty Pelter Bridge car-park at about nine thirty. (I’d had in mind my friend CJ’s maxim about Lake District car parks being empty before ten and over-flowing almost immediately after – it’s an excellent rule-of-thumb.)

Rydal Hall 

Whilst we were all very much focused on the prospects of a swim, and to be honest, slightly concerned by the chilly air-temperature, the walk held several other delights in store for us. In fact, for a day out with two relatively small boys, this proved to be almost a perfect route.

First of all, they were very taken by the formal gardens of Rydal Hall. These days the Hall is a Christian Conference Centre, but visitors seem to be positively encouraged to wander at will around the gardens and the grounds. So we did. The boys enjoyed hunting out the various sculptures which dot the gardens. Then we went to have a gander at The Grot…

The Grot 

A summer house built to enable early tourists to view the Lower Falls on Rydal Beck through the security of an intervening window.

Low Falls 

There was an awful lot less water coming over the falls than there had been on my last visit.

In the woods behind the hall, this curious structure…..

The Game Larder 

….is a game larder apparently. With the addition of some sculptures it looked like a shrine you might expect to come across deep in a jungle somewhere Eastern and exotic.

Tree trunk art 

We were all enchanted by the sculptures which are dotted around the woods. The work, for the most part I think, of the designer Dianne Standen, they had me day-dreaming about stig-of-the-dump types living in harmony with the woods and leaving subtle traces with the things they had made. In the end, I only managed to drag the boys away by promising we would have another more extensive look on our way down.

We followed Rydal Beck for a while (cross the footbridge and take the path on the right bank) to a bridge which has a fall beneath it…..

Rydal Beck waterfall 

…slightly odd photo I know. It’s taken from the bridge, looking down on the stream and the waterfall. I’ve included it because I was intrigued by the metal ladder on the left-hand side. It brought back old memories of pot-holes with fixed ladders (couldn’t tell you where, because I don’t remember). Why is it there, do you think?

If you want to follow our route (and why wouldn’t you?), cross the bridge and look for a gate in the wall. Go through that and turn right on the track – that will take you to a stile above Buckstones Jump.

We left the track however, to get back to the beck. In the trees near the stream we heard an insistent, but thin piping which I thought might be nestlings calling for food. I was wrong. We scanned the trees and ….there: a pair of redstarts! I’ve never seen them before. I think my excitement communicated itself to the boys, or at least to S, who was hopping about, jumping into my legs and pulling on my shirt, none of which particularly assisted my attempts to get a photo.


The light wasn’t great either. So, it’s a pretty appalling picture….but – look at the colour of the thing! I had to pinch myself just to be sure that I wasn’t back in those Eastern jungles again. It just seems too exotic for a British hillside.

Now that we knew what to listen for, we heard several more redstarts as we followed the stream. My bird-book gives the call as ‘a soft, whistled upslurred huit’. I hope I will know it if I hear it again.

S is not entirely sold on walking as yet, and Buckstones Jump didn’t come any too soon for either of us. I was slightly surprised to find we had it to ourselves, although a heap of plastic bottles were gently smouldering over the blackened remnants of a fire.

Buckstones Jump II 

We had a bit of a swim. Then explored a little downstream, then had one more swim before eating our lunch. The pool is very deep, and cold, and the boys struggled a bit with the temperature of the water. In the case of S, this was despite the fact that he was wearing a wet-suit.

Another larger, family party arrived shortly after we did and, as we finished our lunch, two more parties arrived. One group of four changed into swimming costumes, swam once across the pool, then got out and changed again. They must have been in the water for less than a minute. I suppose it was pretty cold.

Buckstones Jump from above 

Buckstones Jump from above.

The natural 'dam' 

The rocks behind the left-hand side of the pool act almost like a natural dam: the stream turns and runs along behind the wall of rock, before slipping into a narrow cascade…

The cascade 

The sunshine we’d had earlier had rather deserted us, and at times the sky had looked a little threatening, but now gaps began to appear again in the clouds, and golden patches of sunlight on the hillsides.

Rydal Beck 

By the time we set-off down the track, the sun was shining on us again.

View down to Windermere 

View down to Windermere.

Our route down provided us with many diversions fascinating to small boys. Boulders to clamber on….


Bluebells to admire….

More bluebells 

Fallen trees…..

Ooh - did you break it...? 

With tiny, interesting….what?…inside.

Eggs? Spider eggs? 

There was a spider nearby. Maybe these were spider’s eggs. Anyone have any idea?

And whilst we doing a nature quiz, a digression: the boys dug this out of one of our flower-beds and we’d all like to know what it is…..


Anyway, back to our walk. We stopped a while to admire High Falls…

High Falls 

And some more, smaller falls below those. Medium falls?….

Falls below High Falls - Medium Falls? 

There’s a heavenly looking campsite tucked away in the woods here, with yurts and a playground which nobody was using. Well, not until we arrived anyway. A large oak by the playground had a small garden growing in its crook: ferns, a small rhododendron, and a not insubstantial rowan tree.

More art 

The boys got their leisurely look at the sculptures in the woods.

Still more art 

I particularly approved of these bookcases and hanging books….

Woodland bookshelves 

Sapling helix 

There’s a cafe in the Hall gardens and we stopped there for a drink. Although it was now really quite warm by local standards, S insisted that he was still chilled from his swim, and polished off a huge hot chocolate with all the trimmings – marshmallows, cream and a flake.

Hot chocolate face

Chocolate moustache.

I settled for tea and B wanted a cold drink.


There was more art to be admired….

Art in the formal garden 

….in the formal gardens…

Rydal Hall and garden

…which were designed by Thomas Mawson, a Lancaster architect whose gardens I think I might start to ‘bag’. Now does anybody produce a list? a logbook? Hmmm.

Back at Pelter Bridge, a strategically placed ice-cream van relieved me of the last few pennies in my wallet. Well, it would have been rude not to.

A resounding success. We’ll do that again!

Buckstones Jump

Wild Swimming

River Kent

Spot the difference.

The Kent 

So, the difference is in the addition of a couple of figures to the scene. They don’t exactly stand-out, because they’re immersed in the river….

A and B 

A very pleasant sunny afternoon. TBH read her book. A, B and I swam. S, who is a  fairly confident swimmer, contended himself with wading on this occasion…

S wading

We had a dip in another local river over the summer too, but I wanted to mention this one in particular here because, as long-standing readers will know, I’ve been exploring the river Kent from source to sea, and so it seems appropriate to report that I’ve taken that exploration one step further by plunging into its waters. .

How were they? Cool, clear and refreshing.

Wild Swimming

The Flood

And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

Pah! They got off lightly, ol’ Noah, ‘n Ham, ‘n Jehoshaphat …and Nelly…and Uncle Tom Cobley and all that lot.

Over here in the North Wet we seem to have had many more than our allotted forty days of damp. Which at least means I have some chance of catching-up on my blogging deficit since I am (as usual) weeks behind.

B and I had a walk at Leighton Moss. We hoped to see the ospreys that have been regularly hunting there, or the family of otters which have been disporting themselves in broad daylight, or the bearded tits which ought to have been swallowing grit with gay abandon. But although it wasn’t raining for a change, it was extremely windy and even the joys of grit-swallowing couldn’t entice the wildlife out from in front of Celebrity Apprentice Kitchen Wars On Ice. We had to make do with a few disconsolate gulls and a despondent heron. Oddly, perversely even, we still enjoyed ourselves and made plans to come back to not watch wildlife again.

The annual church picnic, outing, beano, junket, to Brown Howe on the shores of Coniston Water still went ahead. The kids all donned wetsuits and dived into the flooded lake. Most of the adults (myself especially) cowered under a gazebo which R had thoughtfully erected (he was out on the lake in his dinghy). I had vowed that this year I would definitely not, under no circumstances, swim in the lake this year. But I did pack some trunks, just in case, and then at round six in the evening the hills on the far side of the lake appeared for the first time, and blue sky broke out all over and I succumbed. It was absolute magic – not as cold as I had expected with marvellous views. I swam well out into the lake and watched the National Trust’s gondola steam past a couple of times.

The Flood

The Duddon Valley and Wallowbarrow Gorge

Whilst all the London based news outlets were busy telling us that we had just experienced one of the warmest, driest springs on record, we had the coldest May that I can remember. Sometimes it rained and sometimes it didn’t, but the cold winds persisted. The 1st of June was no different – cold again. But then (briefly at least) summer arrived – an amazing reversal, one day it was bitterly cold and then a mixed day, and then baking hot.

Good weather had been forecast, so we had planned a day out in the Lake District. We’d discussed several options the night before, but settled on Wallowbarrow Gorge in the Duddon Valley. We parked at High Wallowbarrow Farm, where there is a small area set aside for parking and an honesty box for donations to the local Mountain Rescue team. From the farm it’s just across a couple of fields and then into the woods and soon we were on the banks of the River Duddon. We didn’t need to cross the stepping stones, but they were far too exciting to miss as far as the kids were concerned. I can remember what a highlight the stepping stones in Dovedale were when my parents took me there as a kid.

Just beyond the stepping stones there is an arched stone footbridge – we didn’t need to cross that either, but it gave a good vantage point from which to enjoy the view upstream:

The walk along the gorge from here is top-notch – I’m surprised that it never seems to be busy (unlike Dovedale).  There are a series of little cascades and falls with deep green pools between them…

Equally as important, as far as the kids were concerned, was the fact that there were lots of huge boulders to clamber over, round and even under. We didn’t get far before we had found an idyllic spot and stopped for a picnic.

That done, we continued up the gorge. On either side the slopes are steep and wooded, with a number of crags – I think that this is Pen:

On the west bank, where the path is, there are also great jumbles of large boulders:

Eventually the path climbs up and away from the river. The path does get quite boggy in places here and the duckboards placed to alleviate the problem are often stranded themselves amidst a morass. One compensation is that bog myrtle grows here in profusion – not very striking to look at, but it makes a wonderful smell if you rub your fingers across a leaf to bruise it.

Eventually we dropped back down to the river, which we crossed at another set of stepping stones, the Fickle Steps, where there is a cable handrail to help one across.

We left the Duddon here and the kids began to feel the effects of the heat – they were tired and thirsty and was I sure that this was really a short walk?

The path took us down to an extensive bog by Tarn Beck.

A set of duck boards took us dry shod around the bog and then we crossed the beck.

 Harter Fell.

We detoured ever so slightly into Turner Hall Farm’s campsite to get some drinking water. The eaves of the barn here were plastered with house martin nests.

 Holy Trinity Church, Seathwaite.

We didn’t pop into the church, as I would like to have done, because the kids were expecting ice cream and would brook no delays. The lovely display of wild flowers in the church yard has inspired me to finally get round to reading ‘God’s Acre’ by Francesca Greenoak which I bought second-hand a while ago. It’s a description and a celebration of the flora and fauna to be found in British churchyards.

Wallowbarrow Crag

Ice-cream, lemonade and a pint of Dickie Doodle were taken at the Newfield Inn and from there we were very shortly back at the stepping stones near the start of our walk…

This wasn’t the end of our day however. We returned to the car to grab some towels and swimming trunks/cossies and then returned to the pool by where we had had lunch….

This is where we walked, this is where we swam,                                      Take a picture here, take a souvenir*

The swimming was great – cold, but not too bad – nothing like as cold as Coniston Water has been when I’ve swum in it in September in the last couple of years.

Wallowbarrow Gorge held one final surprise, but I’m leaving that for the next post….. (what a cliff-hanger!)

*from Cuyahoga by REM. Between that song and Nightswimming I always associate riverswimming and skinnydipping with REM.

The Duddon Valley and Wallowbarrow Gorge

Messing About in Boats

The church picnic was this weekend just gone. We went to Brown Howe on Coniston Water. Some people cried off because the weather looked iffy, but it turned out fine after a little drizzle.

The kids messed about in boats:

And the adults…

…messed about in boats.

S seemed to get in on a lot of the action.


How do I work this thing then? Can I take it out on my own? I won’t break anything, honest.

  There was a barbecue, and civilised things like cups of tea.

One loon even went for a swim.

It was cold.


A splendid time was had by all.

Messing About in Boats

Home Again, Home Again

Just back from an extended trip to Germany for a family get together. I took hundreds of photos, but mostly family groups and blurred shots of children on swings. Far too much to tell about a three week trip so just some impressions of our trip. We were in Schleswig-Holstein in the north. Lots of wheat fields, sometimes with poppies.

Lots of Jelly-fish, particularly in the harbours, which is something I remember from previous trips.

Less familiar were the huge numbers of Hover flies and Ladybirds. The latter due to a bumper year for aphids apparently.

The strangest sight was of seaweed washed up on the beach, red with a covering of Ladybirds. Apparently the wind had carried huge numbers out into the Baltic, but some how they survived.

Insect life in general seemed to be thriving. I’ve never seen so many Painted Ladies (although I must confess that I took this photo in the village just before we left)

We saw lots of these colourful little chaps, but I have no idea (yet) what it is.

We had a lovely time, eating and chatting with aunts, uncles, cousins and their kids. My brother and his kids were there for a few days from Zurich, and my Mum and Dad. We spent a lot of time on beaches. It’s nice to be abroad – different weather, different food (TBH is now addicted to Pork in a paprika marinade), different architecture even – brick and timber-framed buildings are common…


With huge roofs extending down to the ground floor, quite often thatched…

I highlight for me was swimming – I love swimming in the sea and our kids are of an age when even modest waves are a great excitement. We swam in a lake a few times too. It was great to see how confident A and B were in the water. It was a lake that I’ve swum in on a few occasions over the years, and the rather wonderful smell of the water was instantly familiar. Perhaps other lakes smell the same way – I wouldn’t know, it was only when I was fully immersed in the water that I was aware of it. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Roger Deakin’s book and join the trend for ‘wild-swimming’. More anon. Perhaps.

Home Again, Home Again