It was a beautiful drive into the valley – Haweswater is probably the least inhabited valley in the Lake District. It is managed by the RSPB and it definitely feels more wild than most of the others. Surrounded by big peaks it is a great place for walking and obviously we weren’t the only ones who thought so on this particular day! There were more cars parked up than I had anticipated, however the benefit of camping on the fells is that we tend to head up when everyone else is heading back down.
A big ramblers group were dispersing into their cars as we were getting our boots and packs on, ready to go – after that we only saw 2 more groups that evening, a family trundling down about a mile into the walk and two women also heading down about 15 minutes after that. From that point on it was obvious we had the hills to ourselves, just the way we like it.
The first section of the walk is a familiar one, the uneven rocky path winds its way up following Small Water beck until you reach Small Water itself. The first section of the ascent was warm in the sun, but we could feel that the evening air was starting to cool and we were grateful for it. Looking back down over the reservoir it was easy to see that, despite the weather getting back to normal after the unusually dry summer, the water level was still exceptionally low, a large white band ringed the dark water for its entire circumference.
They sky was blue, the clouds creeping leisurely across it. The beck crashed and tumbled down the hillside, along its steep, rocky course, offering a background noise which increased and decreased in volume as our path approached and retreated from it. Crossing the beck a couple of times we came to the brow of the hill, the land flattening out and the small body of water stretching out ahead of us. The water was dull, forever in the shadow of the peaks (our destination) looming over it intimidatingly; perfectly still it reflected the details of the fell sides rising steeply away as well as offering a little detail of its own; the rocky shore perfectly clear in the shallows.
Skirting the edge of the tarn we continued upwards, behind us the sun was beaming down on the valley, the water reflected the clouds gathering above, appearing as liquid silver against the dark land encasing it. The gradient of our winding path meant that our height gain increased significantly with every step, up and up we climbed chatting away and not paying as much attention to our surroundings. We reached the plateau, position between the two peaks we were planning to hit that evening, both of which rose up steeply either side of us.
At this natural stopping point the view opened up ahead of us, we suddenly noticed our surroundings again. There were three ridged peaks which stood tall in front of us, except we were now looking across to them rather than up at them. The sun’s position had changed, it hung heavy in the evening sky and drenched the surrounding hills and the Kentmere Valley in its warm glow. The light was softer, golden, a touch of haze on the distant hills softened the harsh details of the landscape and long shadows streaked across its contours – it was really rather breath-taking.
Our first Wainwright of the evening, Harter Fell, was at the top of the steep path climbing to our left. The path was well made, rocky and craggy but easy to walk on and after a couple of minor false summits we found the ground leveling out beneath us as we approached the cairn. We had been treated to stunning views all the way up, so it wasn’t an awe-inspiring moment of wonder – however when looking back on ourselves we could see endless peaks fading into the distance. The sun had dropped further still in the sky and the undulating horizon was back light by a vibrant orange glow. It was a glorious evening and, as I have mentioned previously, it was ours and ours alone.
We didn’t hang around at the top, at this time in the evening the light fades quickly and we didn’t fancy pitching up in the dark. We hopped, skipped and jumped back down to the plateau – admiring the deep blues and greens created by the fading light and in no time at all were ready to start the final ascent of the evening to our next Wainwright and what would be our home for the night. We were heading up to Mardale Ill Bell, the climb was much like the last, the footpath was less uneven, the large well placed flat rocks created a sort-of staircase up the hillside.
Although the day was drawing to an end the sky was still bright, we were walking in a north-westerly direction and we could see hints of an amazing sunset playing out ahead of us, the heights and gradient of the fell meant we didn’t get to see it properly until reaching the top. It didn’t take long to climb up, once again the ground started to level out beneath us and we were treated to a long reaching view across that same undulating horizon. The sky was gleaming fantastic shades of orange and the shadows a deep purple. The wind wasn’t strong but enough to keep the clouds drifting along and the sun, shining through the layers of moving cloud, would cast silver glimmers across the sky.
We dumped our bags and sat on the pile of rocks signifying the top (I would say a cairn, but this was definitely more just a pile of rocks) enjoying the light show before eventually mobilising ourselves to set up camp for the night. We had decided to leave the tent behind for this one and instead brought our bivvy bags and a tarp – the tarp is a DD one we bought with our hammocks, we had only ever used it in the trees before this but thought we would have a crack at making a shelter with it.
Using three walking poles down the centre line, a guy line at the front and folding under the closed end corners, pegging them out so the tarp stayed taught, we were able to create a pretty convincing shelter – it was spacious, sturdy and kept the worst of the wind out. We positioned the open end towards the south and I would love to say we had some clever, technical reason for this but the truth is it was the best view! We cooked a no-fuss dinner of noodles under the subtle glow of a head torch hanging above us and then got tucked up in our sleeping bags and bivvys ready to catch some ZZZs.
The wind picked up a little in the night and the temperature dropped, the moon was bright and the stars snuck out from behind the clouds every now and again to glance down on us. Neither of us stirred much, all in all a fairly comfortable night’s sleep and then came the morning, and what a morning to wake up to. Coming to, all I noticed was an intense orange light turning the green grass auburn, the sky above was pale blue and spotless. I couldn’t resist the lure and up I got to witness this fantastic morning.
I now ignored what was the best view last night and headed straight to the edge in the other direction. The flat ground dropped away suddenly, down the valley the tarns sat, nestled in their rocky abodes and further still, the reservoir, bending itself around the fells. From our vantage point those fells seemed a long way down and we looked over them, straight to the Pennines. The sun was glowing, a brilliant shade of orange, and this light drowned everything it touched, it was vivid but also mellow, subdued somehow. The air was cool, a fresh breeze diluted the effects of the sun’s warming rays. It was a beautiful morning to be up high, I can honestly say one of the most beautiful I have been witness to.
With the tarp shelter down and our bags packed and ready to go, all that was left was to have some breakfast before heading off. We had 6 more Wainwrights to hit before descending and it was looking to be an absolute blinder of a day; horizon to horizon blue skies and not a cloud in sight. With most of the height gain done the previous evening we enjoyed a ramble around the top of the fells with little climbing necessary.
Our first peak of the day was Thornthwaite Crag, the southern-most fell of our adventure. A small climb up to the cairn rewarded us with views over Windermere and the south lakes; the terrain in that area never appears to be as rugged, or high. It was becoming hazy and everything had a bluish tint, details became less distinct as the hills rolled away from us. Heading back north High Street was next on our list, there was a long gradual ascent following a dry stone wall to the top. The surrounding peaks are all at a similar height, and because of this you lose the impressive open views to valley bottoms, instead the flat ground stretches out before you, creating its own horizon, with only the very tops of the surrounding hills poking through it.
After High Street came The Knott, Rampsgill Head and High Raise – the terrain and the views were much the same, rolling grassy fell tops with the occasional rocky section, usually surrounded by a scattering of small boulders, a bright sun and a hazy blue sky draped over endless peaks. Our last Wainwright of the day was Kidsty Pike, getting there was, once again, much like the rest – a gradual incline on a rocky track up a grassy slope. We had made our way back around, back to overlooking the Haweswater Valley.
The peak of Kidsty Pike is on the edge of an almost vertical drop into the valley below, a small river meanders its way towards the reservoir and large boulders are strewn in every direction. By this point the wind had picked up significantly, it rushed up the hillside blasting whoever happened to be stood at the top… us! Despite this we lingered, not really wanted our little adventure to come to an end just yet, the views were stunning and Cal had spotted the red deer herd milling around below us, an awesome finale to an awesome walk.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed down, the steep path zigzagging between crags and grassy flats. The lower we got the warmer the day felt and by the time we were at lake level again we were cooking! Haweswater was a vibrant blue, the light made the greens and yellows of every tree, shrub and blade of grass radiate and the shade offered by the odd copse of trees was a welcome break from the sun. We ambled back along the lakeshore path, a walk we have done numerous times, chatting away as we always do and in no time at all we were on the last stretch of rocky track before climbing the wall and crossing the river to get back to the car. Unclipping our bags and taking our boots off we noticed the car park was once again filling up just as we were heading off, we avoided the crowds and got to witness some incredible views – a perfect Lake District adventure!