Friday, 4 March 2011

A Long Walk around Haweswater

21st Feb 2011

It was an awful weather forecast for the Lake District but our usual optimism took us up the M6 to Junction 36  and Dave and Pete's bacon butty van in the first lay by on the A590 Kendal Road.

The way to start a day
The usual friendly welcome awaited us as did sausage and spam sandwiches and a brew. It certainly put the weather to shame which was intent on doing us no favours today. The wind howled around the van and we huddled as a group with some lorry drivers under the awning to shelter from the pouring rain. It did bring us closer to the griddle plate and that perfect smell that only bacon being cooked has.

We sat in the car enjoying our feast while being buffeted by the wind and rain that hammered incessantly on the roof and windows. It was certain to be a low level walk for today but where? The weather forecasts for Ambleside and Keswick both said heavy rain and strong winds and watching the traffic disappear into the curtain of gloom that was hiding the way to Kendal they were about right. Then for some unknown reason I thought of Haweswater. It must have been twenty years since I stood on the shores of that lake and Keith almost the same. So that was it, the die was cast and off through Kendal, up the A6 to Shap and then Haweswater.

When we arrived at a little car park near the Haweswater dam. NY 502155 there was a big change in weather conditions. There was very little wind and although overcast only a light drizzle fell. It seemed unbelievable as 15 minutes earlier as we approached Shap on the A6 it had been the exact opposite. We put on the wet gear for the walk anyway expecting the Shap weather to follow us sometime in the day.

We walked back down the road to Naddle Bridge NY510159 then took the path to the left which ran through the woods under the dam to the North side of the lake.

Naddle Bridge

We then followed the lake shore path. It wasn't the most spectacular path at first probably due to the low cloud that covered the tops of the fells.

Start of the walk

It was though very easy walking and the path was good. I did get the impression that this area of the Lakes is not as popular as central Lakeland. It probably gets a share of visitors from Penrith and Carlisle but I suspect that walking is predominantly the reason as there is little to tempt mass tourism. As we walked on the views began to get better. There was very little chance that we would see blue skies and our usual.

" It might get brighter later on."

Was unspoken and probably unthought. However it was still dry and the wind was hardly noticeable which after Place Fell and our soaking last week was quite acceptable.

Whelter Beck

It was after the path climbed up under Whelter Knotts  NY472135 that the route began to look more dramatic. Ahead Castle Crag aptly named as on top sits the remains of an ancient hill fort and is the start of the more rocky ridges that climb towards the High Street plateau.

Approaching Castle Crag
The panorama of the upper end of Haweswater is completely different from the lower dam area. Here the lower rounded fells give way to true mountains although to be fair they didn't offer much in terms of spectacular vistas today. The lake began to narrow and soon we had a nice view of Speaking Crag NY 472121 and the Rigg NY 475116 two headlands extending into the lake. I have tried to find out how Speaking Crag got its name but cant seem to find any information. I suppose it may have something to do with the fact that the village of Mardale lies beneath the waters of the lake flooded when the dam was built in 1939. Considered one of the great feats of engineering when it was built the dam created a reservoir to supply water to Manchester. Sometimes in drought conditions the village reappears and the old walls can be seen  rising from the mud of the lake floor.

The path leads down to Speaking Crag

There was little chance of the village popping out of the water today as the next photo shows how high the lake level was.

High Water

It would be hard to imagine just where the end of this wall was in relation to the depth of the water but it looked a long way below the surface.

The view back from the Rigg to Speaking Crag

Once past the Rigg the end of the lake appears and above the bulk of Harter Fell dominates the scene.

Mardale Head the end of Haweswater

Here the waters of Mardale Beck flow into the lake fed from the high tarns of Blea Water and Small Water. Here we took the decision that at 2:45 pm it was a little too soon to head back down the far side of the lake to the car and it would be nice to go up to the tarns. "Nice" I don't remember who said the word but if it was me I claim a momentary lack of reason.

Mardale Beck and the path on the right

Up to Blea Water using the path on the right side of Mardale Beck, cross over to Small Water and come down the Path on the opposite side of Small Water Beck. That was the plan and in truth it was enjoyable except for a slight change in the weather.

Keith on the path to Blea Water
As seems to be a regular event given last week on Place Fell it began to snow. Of course this would not be complete without the wind getting stronger so cue strong wind. Oh yes, maybe thick cloud blotting out High Street would be an addition to the afternoon so cue thick cloud. Finally the crowds of walkers leaving hundreds of footprints in the snow that covered the now buried path that we could follow. Well maybe it had been one of those days when the shops in Ambleside or Keswick seemed better than a fell side as there wasn't even the footprint of a sheep never mind a walker.

A quick look at the Satmap told us we were  about a hundred feet below Blea Water that was up ahead in the mist. We simply stuck to the beck as it was pointless trying to find a path and soon the small dam at the mouth of Blea Water appeared.

A Glacial Looking Blea Water

The thick cloud was down to a few feet above the far side of the tarn and it gave an impression that we were looking at the edge of a glacier reaching the sea. The above photo is in colour but clearly shows the black and white view we had.

It is though a pretty interesting little tarn. For a start it is 530 metres 1987 feet above sea level. It derives it name from the Ancient Norse for dark blue, bley and is also the deepest tarn in the Lake District at 60 metres 197 feet deep. How you may ask could this be that such a small area of water has such a depth.

The picture below gives a simplistic description.

When the ice age finished the bowl filled with water

On a day like today it did not matter if it was 1 metre deep or 60 metres it certainly did not invite a swim. Keith however had to get a closer look and get at water level.

Keith looks for Blea Water Monster !!!

We took a bearing for Small Water the next glacially gouged tarn out of the flanks of the High Street massive. It was snowing pretty hard and of course the paths were buried under it and completely indistinct.

Leaving Blea Water

We trudged on through the snow and climbed over the hump that is the lower slopes of Piot Crag. Soon we were sliding down the opposite side and looking down at the dark surface of Small Water.

Down to Small Water

Keith decided to record the scene while blasted by snow

Small Water was formed in the same way as Blea Water but the similarity ends when comparing the depth. Small Water is about 9 metres deep and as the name suggests it is smaller in size. It made for a pretty wild scene as we reached the stepping stones at the point where Small Water Beck drains the water from the tarn and sends it tumbling to Haweswater. Keith tried his best to fall into the beck as he crossed the stepping stones.

Keith's Leap of Faith
It was my turn to have the camera but he managed to avoid the the fate I usually have when he photographs me in similar situations. He stayed dry.

Looking into Haweswater from Small Water Beck

Below us Haweswater slipped in and out of cloud cover and as we descended the path the snow gradually turned to rain. This began to ease and the bulk of Harter Fell NY459093 clawed its way from its cloudy cape into the brightening sky.

Harter Fell
There is evidence all around of the glaciers that formed these valleys but up to the right of us is what I consider one of the best examples. This is the huge glacial valley of Gatesgarth Pass NY 474092 that hangs between the heights of Harter Fell and Branstree NY 478099 and is about 300 metres above where we stood.

Gatesgarth Pass

If you consider the glacial ice reached almost to the summits of both Harter Fell and Branstree as it formed the valley then consider how much ice would have been above us on our little path. It seems hard to believe let alone quantify. Scientific evidence points to the fact that one day the ice will return to these valleys and peaks and that the earth at present is in a period between ice ages. I know however it wont be a problem to me as I think I will be long gone when it does happen.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached the car park at Mardale Head NY 469107. Only two cars  remained from the five I recall seeing from our earlier position on the opposite side of the lake. We had not seen a person since we set off to the tarns and all the way back down was a person free area. We were about to see less as one of the cars set off down the road.

Keith had seen on the map that there was a footpath that followed the lake shore. We reckoned it was about five miles back to the car and although getting late in the afternoon we could get back before dark following the path.

The view back to Mardale Head

It wasn't the best path though. It was narrow and obviously had not had a great deal of use. This was more evidence that this area is not the most visited in the Lakes. The path did give some very nice views as the day drifted into evening.

Evening Light over Harter Fell

We lost patience with the path after a while as it was slow going and looking ahead we realised there was every chance we would end up stumbling along in the dark before long.

The car is somewhere past the headland on the far right

We heard the last car on the car park go past along the road above us and decided that the better option was to take the tarmac route back. It was now pretty fast walking and I almost put the camera back in the rucksack, convinced that it would not be used again. As a photographers Keith and I are continually looking at the light. Its the bare canvas to paint a photograph and sometimes it can be infuriating. A full day can be spent chasing a photo but the light refuses to let you capture it. Other days the light is kind and provides a memory card of pleasure and you burst to get home and download it to the computer. Suddenly the light changed for one last hurrah before giving way to the encroaching darkness and picked out the distant High Street climbing from its prison of cloud. One shot and the camera was redundant for the day.

High Street and the last photo of the day

All that remained was a nice tramp along a beautifully almost quiet road. The atmosphere was still and the only sounds were of the distant falls on the far lake shore that we had passed hours ago, and the sound of thousands of what looked like small gulls that had taken a thin line in the centre of the lake to rest for the night. We must have walked for over a mile before we saw the end of this ribbon of life.

We passed the Haweswater Hotel Ny 483139 and to our surprise the car park was full. The smell of food cooking saturated the air and the thought of us sitting in a warm bar contemplating a pint of bitter flashed briefly across our imaginations. Oh well, cars and beer do not make happy partners so the millisecond of temptation passed easily. It was just 6:00 pm when we reached the car and it was dark but another great day done. Even the M6 was quiet on the way home, cant be bad.

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