Walk Of The Week: High Street, Cumbria

Follow in the Romans' footsteps along Britain's High Street
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The Independent Travel

It has the makings of a riddle: which high street in England has no shops at all? The answer is the hill of that name - High Street, the great eastern outlier of the Lake District fells.

It has the makings of a riddle: which high street in England has no shops at all? The answer is the hill of that name - High Street, the great eastern outlier of the Lake District fells.

The Romans built a road along its crest. They would have been marching at an altitude of more than 2,300ft for mile after mile, as it was the loftiest highway in Roman Britain.

Today High Street is both the name of the old, supposed route between forts by Ambleside and Brougham, near Penrith, and the highest fell it crosses. At 2,700ft high, it is an exhilarating mountain walk. Rather awkward to get to from the honeypot valleys of central Lakeland, it is something of an aficionados' outing, particularly by this route from Mardale.

Except on summer weekends, when a bus operates from Penrith station, the only practical way of getting to the start of the walk at Mardale Head is by car. Minor roads lead from Penrith through the villages of Askham and Bampton to Haweswater reservoir. A lane hugs its eastern shore for five miles, ending at a small car park.

One should not be too prescriptive about walks over High Street and its neighbouring fells. Weather, energy and the length of the day are determining factors. But if you are going for the top, the most enjoyable route is up the airy spine of Rough Crag. Wear boots and carry full waterproofs, warm clothing, food and drink. Take the footpath around the head of the reservoir, cross Mardale Beck and turn right on a path above the reservoir. After a third of a mile, branch up the hillside to the crest of the ridge.

The way ahead could hardly be plainer. Geological time and the glaciers have left a remarkable stairway, two miles long, leading directly to the summit of High Street.

Crags tumble to each side of a worn track, but although you have to scramble up rocky steps there is no sense of exposure. Instead there is a fine aerial view of Blea Water encircled by its dark cliffs. Watch the skies too, for these hills are home to the only golden eagles resident in England.

The summit of High Street, marked by an Ordnance Survey triangulation point, is an anti-climax, an almost flat top with a stone wall along its length. It is also known as Racecourse Hill, from a time when dales folk raced horses along its broad back.

There is one more hill to go: Mardale Ill Bell (2,500ft), almost a mile to the south east. Skirt the cliffs above Blea Water or, in bad visibility, follow the stone wall south to a large cairn where a track branches left. Descend south-east from the summit cairn to Nan Bield Pass where a stone windbreak makes a good place to snack and gaze over Haweswater.

The last leg down to the car park skirts the delectable Small Water. Look out for three igloo-like shelters as you pass the tarn. Low-roofed and solidly built as a refuge from bad weather, they are a reminder that Nan Bield Pass was once a regular thoroughfare for travellers, long before the village of Mardale was drowned so that Manchester might drink.

Approximate distance six miles; total ascent 2,100ft, allow four to five hours. Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure 5, The English Lakes, North Eastern area; price £6.50.

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