Saturday, 5 April 2014

The East Martindale Fells

GPS Track
Date: 05/04/2014
From: Martindale

Parking: Layby at side of road
Start Point: St. Peters Church
Region: Far Eastern Fells

Route length: 12.7 miles (20.4km)
Time taken: 04:58
Average speed: 2.4 mph
Ascent: 1149m
Descent: 1153m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Bonscale Pike (514m), Arthur's Pike (533m), Loadpot Hill (672m), Wether Hill (674m), High Raise (802m), Rampsgill Head (792m), Rest Dodd (696m), The Nab (576m)

Additional summits: Swarth Fell (545m), Red Crag (711m), Raven Howe (718m)

Other points of interest: Bonscale Tower, Martindale Deer Forest, The Old Church

Route: St. Peters Church, The Coombes, Steel End, Mellguards, Swarth Fell, Bonscale Pike, Swarth Beck, Arthur's Pike, Lambert Lad, High Street, Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill, Red Crag, Raven Howe, High Raise, Rampsgill Head, Rest Dodd, Deer Forest, The Nab, Nab End, Dale Head, Thrang Crag, Christy Bridge, Martindale

As it invariably ends up, flexibility is key when planning a trip out to the Lake District. I always harbour hopes that any chosen weekend will result in a glorious, sunny day with never-ending panoramas in all directions. Alas, as it usually ends up, I was greeted by a deteriorating forecast in the week leading up to our chosen weekend meaning our carefully laid plans for a weekend tour of Ennerdale quickly became diluted into a day-long scamper around the marginally less mountainous fells of East Martindale. Not for the first time this year, the waterproofs would be getting another workout.

Home to fewer than 50 permanent residents, Martindale Common, despite being only a number of miles from the A6, is a fairly remote area located to the east of Ullswater in the north eastern quarter of the national park. Martindale itself is a tiny hamlet, nestled between Hallin Fell and Steel Knotts, positioned at the end of two converging valleys; Bannerdale and Rampsgill. Our starting point was the church of St Peter. The Grade II listed building if often referred to at the new church, despite being built in the 1880s. This is to avoid any confusion with the church of St. Martin, the old church, thought to date from the 1220s.

Unusually, our walk started with a short descent, down from the hause that provides the platform for St. Peters church before rounding the foot of the ridge that climbs up to Steel Knotts. Our target was the steep path that climbs up Swarth Fell, the 350m ascent would be one of the more challenging aspects of the day but would get a significant height gain out of the way and place us nicely on the vast moor to the east of the valley of Rampsgill.
Ullswater between Hallin Fell and Bonscale Pike
Hallin Fell and the zig zags up The Hause
Bonscale Pike and Swarth Fell, our impending climb
Steel Knotts
Initially, once we'd completed the stiff climb, our route would take us north to the two fells that overlook the northern half of Ullswater; Arthur's Pike and, firstly, Bonscale Pike. For the moment, we were treated to some reasonable views, both to the north of Ullswater and back towards Martindale, including Hallin Fell and Steel Knotts. After completing the climb (both on and off the path) we reached our first port of call, Bonscale Pike, a short grassy stroll away to the north.
Part of the steep path that snakes up Swarth Fell
Steel Knotts in a brief (and all too rare) moment of brightness
One of a number of hazy rainbows we saw
A view down the slopes of Swarth Fell
The path leading towards the summit of Bonscale Pike
Bonscale Pike rises up above the hamlet of Howtown to a height of 524m. The summit is marked by a cairn on an outcrop of rock though there is a fine pair of columnar cairns, more finely constructed than most, that are positioned on the rim of the crags. The lower of the two is optimistically referred to as Bonscale Tower though they are both similar both in appearance and height. After a quick pause to get some extra wind proofing on, we continued on, down into the valley of Swarth Beck. The erosive force of the short stream, over time, has widened the valley enough to create the two adjacent fells. After Bonscale Pike, the second of the two (when approached from the south) is Arthur's Pike.
The summit cairn of Bonscale Pike
The two columnar cairns on the slopes
Bonscale Tower is the lower of the two
Into the depths of Swarth Gill
Swarth Gill
Swarth Gill separates Bonscale Pike from Arthur's Pike
Bonscale Pike
The path we followed from Swarth Beck follows the contours around to a large cairn that sits atop the crags and commands a view of Ullswater and Pooley Bridge. This is not the summit however, which is achieved by following a noticeable path to the south east to a smaller cairn on the grassy plateau.
A fat cairn on the brink of the slope marks the best viewpoint
The summit stands a number of metres distant
The summit of Arthur's Pike
The weather was starting to take a turn now, the clouds had started to lower somewhat as we left Arthur's Pike, bound for Loadpit Hill. So much so that it wasn't long before the windproof top was exchanged for a waterproof before we strode headlong into the murk. This point marks the end of any real photography, unlike previous wet weather walks, we wouldn't be leaving the cloudbase until well towards the end of the walk. There were the odd glimpses of brightness, just enough to get hopes up that things were clearing but generally, the majority of our scenery consisted of grass and a very familiar shade of grey.
High Street (the Roman road) as it leads towards Loadpot Hill
Despite this, it was nice to be out and about and get some decent miles done. I had chosen this route partly because the local scenery perhaps isn't quite as special as other areas of the Lakes and I've visited a number of the peaks before so didn't have the nagging sense of missing out on something. After a straight forward stroll along the old Roman road of High Street, we detoured off the reach the top of Loadpot Hill.

Surprisingly, Loadpot Hill is adorned by an OS trig pillar, the only one we'd be passing today. Despite its relative lack of stature, Loadpot Hill seems to have put its efforts into being as large as possible, rather than as high. Including its ridge, Loadpot Hill covers and area of over 12 square miles. The summit of Loadpot Hill also marks the starting point of our undulating walk along the Roman road, culminating in the great meeting point of ridges; Rampsgill Head.
Trig pillar on Loadpot Hill
Wether Hill
All in all, given the weather, the stroll between the peaks of Wether Hill, Red Crag and High Raise was fairly uninteresting. Indeed the peaks of Wether Hill and Red Crag contained little to warrant more than quick, sodden photo and continuing on. High Raise bucks the trend by having a rocky outcrop with both a large cairn and windshelter marking the summit. High Raise also marks the beginning of the more mountainous areas of the Far Eastern Fells including the impressive glacial valleys of Riggindale and Mardale that sit beneath High Street.
The weather swirling in behind us
The summit of Wether Hill
Wether Hill after our descent
Another fleeting rainbow
Crossing Red Crag
Red Crag Tarn
The summit cairn and large shelter on High Raise
After a quick poke around, we continued on, bound for Rampsgill Head a short distance to the south west. Rampsgill Head stands at the junction of three ridges; ours approaching across High Raise from the north, one approaching from the south from High Street and a third directed from Rest Dodd to the north west. The proximity of the surrounding fells; namely The Knott and Kidsty Pike, lead Rampsgill Head to have a relatively small area considering its elevation. Unsurprisingly, its name is a derivation of its location at the head of the valley of Rampsgill. The last time I was here was a spectacular day earlier in the winter. To substitute the grey photos from this walk for some more pleasant ones, head on over to here.

Bypassing The Knott on account of the weather, we descended the pathless spur that leads down to a marshy depression between Rest Dodd and The Knott. We were then faced with a tiring tramp up the steep slopes of Rest Dodd in order to cross it en route back towards Martindale. With the weather remaining in its sullen state, the climb over Rest Dodd became all the more unappetising. Still, the alternative would have been a cloud shrouded traverse around the steep sides above Rampsgill or a long detour to the west, both of which would probably have been unwise.

After finally reaching Rest Dodd, the second time in only a few short months, we continued to the north east, down and impressive ridge that plunges towards Rampsgill before ending at a delicately balanced (and worryingly wobbly) stile. Finally, after a number of hours stumbling around in the cloud, we had finally dropped below the base and could see splendour of Rampsgill, despite the visibility still being quite poor. The undulating and almost indistinct summits of Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill and High Raise were finally matched up with their steep sided slopes, reaching down to Rampsgill. The hills had become mountains (so to speak).
Crossing Rest Dodd
Descending Rest Dodd's northern ridge
The stile high above Rampsgill
The next challenge would be one all too familiar with walkers who frequent the Peak District, particularly Kinder Scout. A large area of peat hags, 'some bigger than a man' to quote an article I read, stood between us and our route across The Nab and down into Martindale. It's difficult not to keep to the path here as the peat presents a considerable obstacle and picking a route across requires a bit of deft footwork and a hope that the small grassy islands are strong enough not to give way at the mere sight of a size 8 boot. After crossing the loathsome hags, we reached the washed out summit of The Nab.
Peat hags on The Nab
The Nab, modest in height and awkward to reach, is the end point of a northern ridge descending from Rest Dodd. It's more often than not climbed by Wainwright hunters and goodness knows why or even how he managed to include it in his books all those years ago. The reason being, The Nab is part of the Martindale Deer Forest. For over 300 years, herds of England's only pure-blood wild red deer have been roaming the Martindale Estate between Ullswater and Haweswater in the Lake District. In the 1950s, the fell of strictly off limits, guarded by high fences and barbed wire. Nowadays, the fell is open to all through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act though notices around do suggest a preferred route to the summit; an out and back from Rest Dodd.

Walkers generally seem to be tolerated however, except during the stalking season which appears to vary depending on what deer are being hunted. It seems a contradiction to strictly protect an area for wild native red deer yet advertise holidays to wilfully go and kill the animals for 'sport'. As I have not knowledge of the stalking industry, that's the only opinion I have or will offer. After all, we saw not a single glimpse of deer or deer stalkers on this wet miserable day.
The summit of The Nab
Though the above information wasn't to hand while we were out and about, there are a couple of notice boards that indicate the preferred route to The Nab. Maybe in a subconscious moment of rebellion (attributed to not reading the signs) we made our own way down from The Nab, directly down Nab End to the valley floor, a jaw dropping and awe-inspiringly steep descent. I'd like to re-iterate that The Nab is open access thanks to the CROW Act. There is an alternate route off the summit following a well engineered stalkers path which zig-zags up the fell and avoids any difficulties by-passing the crags of Nab End just below the summit.
Another indistinct rainbow above Martindale
The steep fall of Nab End
Dale Head and Martindale
The Nab
After making the tricky descent down the nose of The Nab, we crossed a large stile and met the lane the leads between the road through Martindale and 'The Bungalow'; a shooting lodge built in 1910 by the Earl of Lonsdale for a visit by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. Passing through a gate (with an outdated 'Private' sign and an additional notice selling The Bungalow as a holiday let), we reached the long lane that heads north back towards the new church of St. Peters.
A sultry looking Nab End
The lane leading from The Bungalow
Bannerdale Beck
A moody Martindale
The Nab pokes out from behind Beda Fell
As the sign says, The Old Church
It's a very pleasant stroll underneath the crags of Beda Fell and Steel Knotts, objectives for another time, alongside Bannerdale Beck before it joins with Rampsgill Beck to become Howe Grain Beck. Crossing Christy Bridge, we cam up alongside the old church that I mentioned earlier, the church of St. Martin. The Grade II listed building is only used occasionally and is thought to date from the 1220s. A primitive building, it would be 500 years before local churchgoers could appreciate the benefit of a good stone flagged floor, the construction taking place in 1714. Interestingly, it is thought that the font was part of a Roman altar which stood as a wayside shrine on the Roman road which crosses High Street.

A not-too-dramatic mile or so later, we finally reached the car, a welcome dry refuge from from the soaking we had endured. In fact, I'm not ashamed to admit, my reluctance to put of my waterproof trousers had resulted in a very wet pair of feet, inside my boots. Let that be a lesson to any future foolhardiness. Still, well fitting boots and socks lead to warm, wet feet as opposed to blistered and crippled ones. There was also the prospect of a nice, dry pair of Inov8s in the boot, perfect for popping on to some damp toes.

So there concludes our tour of east Martindale, not the most picturesque I'll admit, but a stimulating day out all the same. In fact, it's an ideal route for novice hill walkers as there is little danger posed by sheer crags or difficult terrain. The High Street path is easy to follow, even if the weather is naff and the scenery around Rampsgill Head belies the 'hilly' nature of the approach from Ullswater. Definitely not one to overlook, though I'll make sure the weather is a bit better next time.