Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Kentmere Horseshoe

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Route: Kentmere Church, Crabtree Brow, Garburn Pass, Sallows, Buck Crag, Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, High Street, Racecourse Hill, Mardale Ill Bell, Nan Bield Pass, Harter Fell, The Knowe, Brown Howe, Kentmere Pike, Shipman Knotts, Withered Howe, Hallow Bank, Low Lane, Kentmere

Date: 18/07/2013

From: Kentmere

Parking: Kentmere Church
Start Point: Kentmere Church
Region: Far Eastern Fells

Route length: 13.3 miles (21.4km)
Time taken: 5:40
Average speed: 2.3mph
Ascent: 1,360m
Descent: 1,361m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Sallows (516m), Yoke (706m), Ill Bell (757m), Froswick (720m), Thornthwaite Crag (784m), High Street (828m), Mardale Ill Bell (760m), Harter Fell (778m), Kentmere Pike (730m), Shipman Knotts (587m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: High Street (Roman Road), Thornthwaite Beacon, Nan Bield Pass

The Kentmere Horseshoe, a hillwalkers dream come true and a route that is very profitable for the Wainwright list. Nine peaks adorn the skyline in the traditional clockwise circuit with the addition of Sallows as number 10 via a brief detour. A real rollercoaster of a walk with plenty of ascent and descent made all the more challenging thanks to some blisteringly hot summer weather.

Taking advantage of some generous working arrangements, I met up with Dad on a Thursday and we travelled up to the Lakes from Wakefield early in the morning to beat any rush hour traffic. Arriving at Kentmere at 9.30am, the very small parking area next to Kentmere church already had a few cars in. Luckily for us, a shady space remained on the end so I backed the car in, we kitted up and set off. The forecast for the day was for it to be very hot in the valleys so we quickly made our way up the Garburn Pass in order to reach the ridge and its welcome breeze.
Garburn Pass rises up towards Sallows
Reaching the high point of Garburn Pass I made a quick dash off the path to climb Sallows and make it the first Wainwright of the day. Sallows is relatively small and the summit offers little in real interest other than some nice views of the Southern Fells and north towards Yoke so I took some snaps and headed back down to the pass and the path that heads towards Yoke.
Sallows summit (516m) topped by the smallest of cairns
The path up Yoke is very wide and flat and also very bright. The reflecting sun made for a very hot and sweaty climb before reaching the summit and finally benefiting from a refreshing breeze. Yoke is the southern extremity of the ridge leading up to High Street and its name is thought to derive from the Old English word "geoc" meaning, correctly enough, mountain ridge.
Yoke as seen from Sallows
The bright path made for a hot climb up Yoke
The summit of Yoke (706m), the second Wainwright of the day
Me at the summit! Ill Bell in the background presents the next objective
From Yoke, the fun really begins (if it can be called fun). A series of descents and climbs over Ill Bell, Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag. In turn, each requires a 60m or so climb to the summit before descending back down and starting it all over again; naturally the next being higher than the previous one. Setting our sights on the three cairns on Ill Bell, we set off. This would be a real test for the legs.
Kentmere valley with Ill Bell to the left
The path as it climbs Ill Bell
Two of the summit cairns on Ill Bell (757m)
A view across to Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag and High Street
Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag and High Street from Ill Bell
Ill Bell, the third Wainwright on the walk, looks like a perfectly symmetrical bell shape when viewed from most angles and it's thought it's name may be derived from 'Hill Bell' thanks to this. Ill Bell has a fine view north towards Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag but it does reveal the amount of climbing still required to get there. With midday approaching, we continued on after a quick snack and a sit in the shade of the larger cairns.
The descent and ascent required to get from Ill Bell to Froswick
Froswick is almost a carbon copy of Ill Bell, albeit being smaller in stature. Once again, the path is easy to follow and climbing to it's summit reveals the small cairn that marks the highest point. That takes the Wainwright total up to four for the day.
The summit of Froswick
Another descent and climb is required to walk between Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag, an outlier of High Street. Sighting the impressive cairn on Thornthwaite Crag, we climbed up with the objective of having lunch when we reached it. Motivation enough to get up there sharpish. Climbing Thornthwaite Crag we spotted something rather out of place; a vehicle sat at the very top. Which is cheating.
Climbing the path up onto Thornthwaite Crag
The easy way to the summit
Approaching the summit of Thornthwaite Crag, we got our first real sight of one of the features I was looking forward to seeing, Thornthwaite Beacon. A 14ft columnar cairn that makes you wonder how they built it in the first place. A perfect spot to stop for lunch and air some hot feet.
The massive cairn on the summit of Thornthwaite Crag; Thornthwaite Beacon
The undulating path the crosses Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick on its way to Thornthwaite Crag
Rejuvenated by a lunch stop, High Street was to be the next port of call and the high point of the day at 828m. The climb up to High Street is nice and steady which was thankful considering the requirements to get up and down the previous three mountains. High Street is very aptly named, Roman engineers built a road across the flat summit plateau to link the forts of Brougham and Ambleside. The very summit of High Street is still known as Racecourse Hill thanks to a history of annual fairs in the 18th and 19th centuries where locals would gather and race horses. There are some fantastic views of the Helvellyn range as you can see in the picture below. Retracing our steps slightly, we headed back to the head of Kentmere to cross the plateau to Mardale Ill Bell, the seventh peak of the day.
The trig pillar on the summit of High Street
Panorama of the Eastern Fells from High Street
Like father, like son on High Street
The route can be seen as it crosses Mardale Ill Bell and on to Harter Fell
Heading to Mardale Ill Bell, the scenery changes quite dramatically from the wide, flat summit of High Street to the deep crags that fall into Riggindale and Blea Water. Blea Water, a natural tarn in a glacially excavated hollow, is the deepest in the Lake District at over 61m deep. Mardale Ill Bell marked my 50th Wainwright (which was unknown at the time) which is a nice achievement. And what a great view to accompany it. It gives you the first proper view of the trio of mountains on the western ridge that formed the morning's workout.
The summit of Mardale Ill Bell
Blea Tarn and Riggindale form the scenery from Mardale Ill Bell
Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick form the rollercoaster-esque western ridge of Kentmere
Following Mardale Ill Bell, you are required to drop a significant distance to the top of the Nan Bield Pass. The pass was used as a connecting route between  Mardale and Kentmere until the formation of Haweswater Reservoir in the 1940s submerged the village of Mardale. The pass, however, is still extensively used by fell walkers. Back in the shelter of the ridge, the temperature quickly rose and the steep ascent of Harter Fell looked somewhat uninviting. There was a suggestion that we could drop into Kentmere along the pass to finish in the valley at Kentmere reservoir but that would miss out the eastern ridge walk so, after taking some much-needed fluids on board, we ploughed on. Climbing Harter Fell probably gives some of the best views of High Street and Riggindale and the water certainly looked inviting.
The shelter at the top of the Nan Bield Pass
Harter Fell
The superb view of High Street, Kidsty Pike, Piot Crag and Small Water from Harter Fell
Mercifully, the steepness of the path up Harter Fell flattened as we reached the summit and breeze picked up once again. Harter Fell is another fell with a wide, flat summit which forms the head of three valleys; Mardale, Longsleddale and Kentmere. The cairn in the summit contains many pieces of ironwork salvaged from nearby fences. Wainwright described these as resembling pitchforks and that approaching on a misty day has a faintly nightmarish effect. Fortunately, there would be no such trouble today.
Harter Fell's scary looking summit cairn 
A close up of the fence pieces that are intertwined in the cairn
Only two more Wainwrights remained after Harter Fell, the first being Kentmere Pike seen in the distance. Unlike the western ridge, the eastern ridge falls away steadily with little in the way of significant ascents. I was glad now that we had decided to do the round clockwise as facing the steep climbs up and down Froswick and Ill Bell would have been quite a challenge.
Approaching Kentmere Pike
Crossing Kentmere Pike, the path is obvious as it descends to Shipman Knotts. Despite being an outlier of Kentmere Pike, Wainwright devoted a chapter to Shipman Knotts thanks to its 'characteristic roughness'. Much of the view from Shipman Knotts is obscured by higher fells nearby. Climbing Shipman Knotts signified the tenth and final Wainwright of the day and we were starting to feel the strain.
The summit of Kentmere Pike shielded by Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick in the distance
Shipman Knotts from Kentmere Pike
The summit of Shipman Knotts
Obligatory summit pose; the tenth Wainwright of the day
Feeling tired, we opted to exploit the Access Land and, instead of following the path towards Brockstones, we cut straight down the hillside to meet the path that leads to Hallow Bank. Back in the valley, the temperature was again apparent and our water supplies had now started to run out. Thankfully a pleasant stroll through the farmland in the valley along Low Lane led us back to the church in Kentmere and the reward of a sit-down.
An abandoned building frames Kentmere
The River Kent
This was a fantastic walk, deserving of its status as a favourite. Not many walks have such a variety of scenery as well as ten peaks along the way including my 50th Wainwright. It's the longest walk I've done in the Lakes up until now and, given the temperature, I felt reasonably ok afterwards. A bit stiff in the legs but nothing too serious. Maybe some slightly longer routes are on the cards? We'll wait and see.