Mardale Ill Bell and Kidsty Pike

Mardale Head

This is a fantastic circular walk with typical Lake District scenic views of Lakes, Tarns, Mountains and the chance to see some of the Lake Districts finest wildlife. There are not many walks in the Lake District where you have a good chance of seeing both Red Deer and a Golden Eagle. This walk starts from the Mardle Head car park at the far south end of Haweswater Reservoir on the far eastern side of the Lake District National Park. It is not the most accessible starting point as there are no public transport links. The walk ascends to the Nan Beild Pass passing Small Water and reaching the col between Harter Fell and Mardale Ill Bell. The walk then ascends Mardale Ill Bell from where you can peer over the stunning tear drop shaped Blea Water nestling in the glacial hollow on the eastern side of High Street. The walk then continues to ascend until it tops out on the summit of High Street. At 828m above sea level the highest point on the walk. Heading east after High Street the walk then passes Rampsgill Head before reaching the strangely out of place cone shaped summit of Kidsty Pike. From Kidsty Pike looking down into the wide flat valley of Riggindale, sheletered from the prevailing Westerly wind, you have your best chance of spotting Red Deer. Above Riggindale on the other side of the valley is the ridge of Riggindale Crag where the lonely Golden Eagle has often been spotted. An obvious descent east down and over Kidsty Howes takes you back down to the shores of Haweswater and an easy walk along the shoreline heading south returns to Mardale Head. A challenging walk bagging four wainwright's. For scenery and the chance to see some incredible wildlife, it doesn't get much better than this in the Lake District.

Route Directions

  1. Mardale Head car park is the start of this walk. Of all the popular car parks in the Lake District this is possibly one of the most remote and therefore one of the hardest to reach. The easiest way to find Mardale Head is to get off the M6 motorway at junction thirty nine for Shap and follow the main A6 road and signs towards the village of Shap. Once you are in Shap drive through the village and before you get to the bridge over the railway there is a small road that leads off left signposted to various places including Bampton. Follow this road for several miles through lush green limestone countryside until it reaches the picturesque village of Bampton Grange. A left turn almost straight after the small hump back bridge over the Haweswater Beck is signposted to Haweswater. Follow this small road now and after a mile or two you'll come alongside the Haweswater Reservoir. The road now follows the south side of Haweswater Reservoir for a few miles until you reach the end at Mardale Head where there is a large car park.
  2. Just before you reach the car park looking across the reservoir you will see what appears at first to be a distinctive wooded island but is in fact The Rigg, a continuation of the East Ridge of High Street which has always looked unique at Mardale Head covered completely in woodland. The Haweswater Reservoir was built in the 1930's after planning permission was given to the Manchester Corporation in 1929 to build the dam and flood the valley to raise the water levels of the current lakes, known locally as High Water and Low Water, by over twenty nine metres. The reservoir is now one of the largest in Britain and supplies water using huge and long pipelines to the large and expanding towns and cities of North West England.
  3. Haweswater Reservoir was a controversial scheme. Mainly due to the flooding of such a beautiful valley and the inevitable loss of the picturesque village of Mardale Green which deep below the waters can be seen at times of drought situated close to the small wooded island that sits in the reservoir not far from the end of The Rigg. The villages of Measand and Mardale Green are gone forever is the picturesque village church and centuries old Dun Bull Inn. Alfred Wainwright once wrote "If we can accept as absolutely necessary the conversion of Haweswater, then it must be conceded that Manchester have done the job as unobtrusively as possible. Mardale is still a noble valley. But man works with such clumsy hands. Gone forever are the quiet wooded bays and shingle shores that nature had fashioned so sweetly in the Haweswater of old, how aggressively ugly is the tidemark of the new Haweswater." However do not be fooled as this is still a beautiful place, as with most reservoir valleys they are well looked after and with time blend better by year into there surroundings.
  4. From the car park at Mardale Head go through the wooded gate heading out in the direction of Gatescarth Pass. Turn almost immediately right after going through the gate and then head not right towards the beck and the other side of the reservoir instead go straight on heading in a south west direction on an obvious path towards the source of the beck Small Water. After just over a kilometre of steady ascent you'll meet up with Small Water Beck and then follow its banks to its source at Small Water. Small Water is an incredible setting, it is a typical glacial lake surrounded by steep cliffs around the majority of its back wall and then soft and level at the other end where its small beck exits. After taking in the amphitheatre of grandeur and silence at Small Water head to the right around its shores, passing on your way round the odd slate stone shelters.
  5. Once on the opposite side of the lake go up the obvious but rough path which is known as the Nan Bield Pass which heads steep straight up onto the ridge between Harter Fell on the left and Mardale Ill Bell on the right above. Once on top of the ridge there is a three sided stone shelter. From here turn right and head towards Mardale Ill Bell. The path is obvious and heading north to north west you'll be surprised how quickly you get to the summit. If you go only about a hundred metres north of the summit of Mardale Ill Bell you'll be at the top of Blea Water Crags. From here you can look down into Blea Water itself and see what I personally think is the most incredible looking lake in England. This tear shaped wonder is the best example of a glacial lake I have ever seen. Most of its sides are flanked with crumbling mountainside until its small beck leaves its eastern weakness. On a clear sunny day with blue skies this view is truly awesome.
  6. From the summit area of Mardale Ill Bell head in a north west and then northerly direction following the ever widening path towards the bulk of High Street. High Street has a wall going straight across its summit ridge so basically once you see the wall just head right along side it until you get to the highest point where there is the usual trig point pillar. On a clear day you can see most of the Lake District fells from here including Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north and Helvellyn to the west. You can also see the Howgills, Yorkshire Dales and the Northern Pennines from High Street.
  7. High Street is a bizarre name for a mountain but it does actually make sense when you know why it gets its name. The mountain is given its popular name because an ancient roman road that crosses it from north to south or visa versa. The road was built to connect the two roman forts of Brocavum at Penrith and Galava at Ambleside. At the time the romans built the road the valleys in this part of the Lake District were fairly impassible and if used they carried a risk of being ambushed so the gentle sloping fells around the High Street range seemed an ideal and safe route. High Streets flat summit was also used by people in the last two centuries as a place for holding fairs during the summer months. Among the festivities were sports including horse racing along the roman road which gives the mountains summit area its other well known name of Racecourse Hill.
  8. From the summit of High Street head west for about two hundred metres until you reach the roman road itself and then turn right heading down north off High Street and down into the col known as the Straits of Riggindale. At the lowest point cross the wall which is now on your right, there are now two paths from here, both head in a north westerly direction. One path stays to the right and heads straight across to Kidsty Pike. Take the other path that goes slightly to the left of the other and heads instead over to the cairns at the summit of Rampsgill Head. It is worth taking this route not only to bag this hill but also for the fantastic views down Ramps Gill. Once you have enjoyed the views into Ramps Gill head back east towards the other path and towards Kidsty Pike which can be seen just a few hundred metres from Rampsgill Head.
  9. By now either by looking down into Ramps Gill or by peering over the cliffs into Riggindale to the south of Kidsty Pike you will no doubt have seen Red Deer. Unlike Scotland where Red Deer roam every part of the Highlands, in the Lake District they are quite scarce unless you are in this particular area as there is only one herd in the Lake District. The Martindale Herd as they are known are the oldest in the country, widely accepted as the country's only pure bred Red Deer herd. So they may not be as widespread as in other parts of Britain but they are most certainly special.
  10. Probably the reason most wildlife enthusiasts are drawn to this area however is the enigmatic Golden Eagle. It is the only Golden Eagle in England. A pair have been nesting in the valleys here for over five decades, with fairly negative breeding success, unfortunately the female hasn't been seen for a few years now but the lonely bachelor male remains. If you are lucky enough to see what is probably the most amazing bird on planet earth then you will see it dwarfing the huge ravens as it soars above the ridges of Rough Crag and Riggindale. I've never seen it myself but have seen pictures of it taken by others and it is a huge and impressive spectacle.
  11. From Kidsty Pike follow a path that heads east and downhill towards Kidsty Howes. The valley to the left below High Raise and Low Raise can often be a good place for spotting the deer. From Kidsty Howes a rough path, not actually on most maps strangely, descends quickly down hill in a south easterly direction towards the point where the two becks enter the reservoir at Bowderthwaite Bridge. From Bowderthwaite Bridge and obvious path heads past the back of the woodland on The Rigg and then heads all the way back to the car park from where the walk started.

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL5 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 90 Map Click to buy Harveys Lake District Mountain Map Click to buy Pathfinder Lake District Walk Guides

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.