Date walked: 10/01/2020
Time taken: 4.21 hours
It’s a good few years since I last did this walk, both times in summer, so this time I decided to give it another go, a winters walk starting at Mardale Head to pass through Swindale and the wild reaches of Mosedale before returning to Mardale and I was to be accompanied by my local walking partner Martin an escapee from Sussex and Mark the Yorkshire born Australian who has returned to his roots after spending most of his life ‘down under’.
The forecast was fair for the day although it was looking fairly grim as we parked up at Mardale Head under a cloak of thick grey cloud that was touching all but the lowest slopes of the surrounding fells. It was also cold, and looking at the thin covering of snow on the craggy slopes around us it was bound to be much colder where we are going. There were a few cars already parked up as we arrived to soon get donned up for the coming trek through these three fairly isolated dales with plenty of layers, good gloves and a warm hat that are all but guaranteed to keep us nice and warm and with not much shelter about once we leave the confines of the climb out of Mardale up the Old Corpse Road alongside Rowantreethwaite Beck we would probably need them all.
Everyone else was either taking the path to Small Water and beyond or heading for the Riggindale ridge whilst we set off northeast along the road taking the steady climb uphill and getting our legs in good working order before we started the climb up the old track between High Loup and Low Loup. But before we got to that point we took advantage of the earlier weather conditions to take some photos across and along Haweswater.
A view towards Mardale Head
North along Haweswater
Riggindale with High Street and Kidsty Pike behind
In spite of the dawdling about gawping at this glorious scenery we were soon climbing the steep zigzag path of the Old Corpse Road up towards Rowantreethwaite from where the path eases off considerably.
Martin on the Old Corpse Road out of Mardale
We were now in the snow, albeit a thin covering, but our new UK resident was thrilled to be walking in snow and it was just a shame that the clouds were down as it would have looked much better with a blue sky and a touch of sunshine. The next photo was taken at the area around Rowantreethwaite Well at the 500 metre contour.
The Old Corpse Road
It was rightly cold with a slight breeze but all in all a good start to the walk although the path through not being frozen hard was quite wet and spongy, more so than is usual on better days but we’re going to get plenty of that on this walk before we’re finished. Suddenly there was a movement to our right under Selside Pike, we had startled a small herd of deer and as we stood and watched them from below Ritchie Crag they made their way over to the head of Rowantreethwaite Beck and then started to climb up the fellside. A great sight to see on a winter’s day and the reason that Swindale has been protected in a deer proof fence.
Deer on the fellside just left of the syke
As we walked on the sun was trying its best to show itself and for a moment or two we thought that it might win the fight but apart from some brightness over Selside Pike we saw nary a glimpse of it.
Clouds over Selside Pike
There’s something to be said about walking the open fells in snow as it adds something to the wildness of the place, sounds are dulled, the scenes are muted, and there is sense of isolation with no signs of life at all apart from the deer and the prints of a fox following the path that we are on. This is a different kind of beauty, stark and raw with the blackness of the crags standing out along with the definition of the small ridges and contours of the fell sides.
The corpse road runs into the distance towards Swindale
We walked on with nothing to see but brown grass with a light coating of snow and the path getting no drier but we were approaching Swindale and soon enough its craggy western face began to show up in the distance.
Just past the wooden post that marks the start of the ridge walk onto Selside Pike the path starts to descend...
Start of the descent into Swindale
and the beautiful Swindale begins to open up before you. Even in its winter coat it is a delight to be here looking down onto the green pastures that are protected by a near solid face of crags that have such wonderful names as Gouther Crag, Outlaw Crag, Dog Crag, Ewe Close and wonder how they came upon their names.
An added bonus was that there were some patches of blue over the dale and just for a moment we were in sunlight and apart from the crags opposite having a light covering of snow there was no snow on our side or in the bottom. So far the paths have been good apart from being wet and the descent into Swindale was no different as the track is well graded and was drier than what we had just walked over. From just a short way down the track and looking south the head of the dale came into view. And what a different looking dale it was to the one that I had looked upon last summer when the trees were in leaf on a glorious summers day, harvesting was in full swing and the sight and sounds of lowing cattle and the odd dog barking made for a typical country scene of years gone by. Today there is none of that and we saw nor heard man or beast, apart from the builders at Swindale Head.
The track passes over an unnamed beck a couple of times and we were soon at the derelict farm at Swindale Head where a team of builders were busy renovating the place up. It’s been empty for a while and it’s good to see it coming back into use and although there is a metalled lane running right up to it whoever is going to inhabit the place must be sure that they enjoy isolation as the next nearest dwelling is the house at Truss Gap so no nipping to the neighbours for a cup of sugar.
Renovations at Swindale Head farm
And there is the fingerpost telling all and sundry that we have just walked 2 miles from Mardale Head and we now have another 2¼ miles for Mosedale.
Now for Mosedale
Well we’ve walked from one dale to another with one more to go that will today prove to be the hardest one of all despite its lack of any major climbs and any other difficulties.
We set off walking south along the old farm lanes...
Moss covered walls along the lane
dry for now but bound to get wet further along. We left the walls behind and moved into open pastures passing another derelict building that had all the features of being a farmhouse in its past life and one wonders what it must have been like to live in such isolation back in the day with no modern transport or amenities.
Wet underfoot for a while now
A few metres further along and the tall trees that had blocked the view was now to one side and the southern craggy face of Selside Pike was now revealed sitting above the wet area known as Dodd Bottom.
Black Bells and Low Blake Dodd at Swindale Head
We kept moving on, slowly as photos were taken and views talked about, the beauty was everywhere even though we had a sunless sky and more water under our feet than we really wanted. And then we were back between moss covered walls again and make no wonder its wet in the valley bottom when we looked at the amount of water spilling off the fell sides by way of the named or unnamed multitude of waterways.
Very wet along the lane today
If we thought that it had been a wet walk so far it was as nothing compared to what was to come as we walked the length of Mosedale, but that’s later. We were now approaching the head of the dale from where a look back along Swindale gave us a view of a long green strip laid out between the protective crags on either side. Some of the thousands of trees that have been recently planted by the United Utilities as flood prevention works can be seen along with dozens of light grey plastic wrapped bales of silage laying scattered about the fields.
Northeast along Swindale
The lane continued southwards and as we neared the head of the dale the wonderfully named Hobgrumble Gill became a lot clearer with its white gushing water running down the black tree lined gash that separates Geordie Greathead Crag and Nabs Crag to end up in the large flat brown grass filled hollow of Dodd Bottom that looks as though it could be the remnants of some age old tarn that has slowly filled in over the passing years by silt washing in from the fells above with some help from growing vegetation speeding up the process.
Hobgrumble Gill between Nabs Crag and Geordie Greathead Crag
Just a few metres further along the track we crossed over a bridge constructed of old railway sleepers that allowed passage over Hobgrumble Gill just prior to it joining up with Mosedale Beck to then follow the track as it climbed along the easy slopes of the drumlins whereupon once we had reached the top we had a good view of the shattered Simon Stone that has a ring of stunted trees around it. How did it get its name? once again an answer lost in the annals of times gone by.
The Simon Stone and Mosedale Beck behind
The white water of Mosedale Beck can be seen tumbling down over the rocky cleft between Ewe Close and Nabs Crag and even though we was quite a distance away from it we could still hear the water thundering over the many large rocks and crags whilst behind us we had a good view into Dodd Bottom.
Once on the downhill we could see the dale stretched out behind the drumlins and the other strange anomaly of The Knott, an up thrust of rock and grass that sits on the bank of Mosedale Beck.
Drumlins - The Knott and Swindale
Mosedale Beck collects its water from the many waterways that run off Selside Pike, Branstree, Seavy Side etc from where it begins to grow from just east of Mosedale Cottage cutting a long wiggly course through the soft ground of the wild expanses of Mosedale until it finally crashes down the cascade into Swindale where from the weir at Truss gap it then becomes Swindale Beck.
It was at the drumlins where we stopped for a break before making the climb out of Swindale to enter our third dale of the day. After a short but welcome dalliance with food and drink we set off to climb the soft and wet grassy slopes below Nabs Crag and were soon entering the world of meagre snow and some patches of ice that made the going rather slippery in places. This may be a decent way to climb out in dry conditions but today it was like walking up a steep slope of soft butter. Although we did get a good view into the area of the drumlins below us.
Another view of Swindale from the side of Nabs Crag
The last couple of times that I have passed this way a few years ago, I followed a path that goes up alongside the waterfalls before it swings over to the right and climbs up an easy gully to pick up the path through Mosedale. From where we started to climb there is a marker post indicating the new Swindale Valley Trail, a trail that passes below the foot of the falls via a footbridge and was inspired by the United Utilities when doing their flood prevention works in Swindale. From this post the path that we took up to Mosedale is obvious to see and I commented on the old path to my two walking pals but instead of wanting to try it out due to it being a short winter’s day we continued on this route out of Swindale.
Martin and I went back into Swindale a few weeks later to check out the new Swindale Trail and also the old path up to Mosedale, a walk that I may post in the future. On arriving at the falls once again we saw a path heading up by the side of them and followed it for a fair way up. The path is still there although now a little fainter in its higher reaches and although we didn’t climb to the top this time around we plan another visit to fully check it out and see if it’s still a viable way out of the valley.
As we slipped and fought the wet ground it wasn’t too long really before the ground eased off...
A thin wet path leads into Mosedale
and after a long look back into the peace and seclusion of Swindale we were on our way along this third dale of the day.
We were now walking in what seemed like true isolation between Selside Pike on our right side and the bulk of Swindale Common on our left. We came across a line of old stone shooting butts, tumbledown and derelict after many years of neglect, there use had finally come to an end.
High Wether Howe and Scam Matthew skyline
The wild bleakness of Mosedale was now stretched out before us, a seemingly endless carpet of lightly snow covered rough brown grass that curved up to the higher fells on either side split by the wide Mosedale Beck that collected its water from these same fell sides. The clouds were covering the higher fell tops in front of us and there was a slight cold breeze that kept us moving along nicely as we followed the obvious path as it followed the curve of the dale in a south westerly direction.
The Mosedale path with Grey Crag and Tarn Crag behind
View along Mosedale
We soon arrived at the old iron gate at Swine Gill.
The gate at Swine Gill
Swindale Common skyline
Although the paths were once again wet and soft we made good time and after passing four walkers going the opposite way to us – to Swindale – who asked if we had bags of coal in our bags – and not for the bothy – I just knew that very shortly we were in for a bit of a rough time. And so it proved to be as we reached the limit of our climb out of Swindale and as we rounded Ash Knott the wind hit us with a vengeance. Hell it was strong and cold and Mosedale Cottage was still a fair distance away and couldn’t be got at soon enough. We just had to batter on.
Sleddale Fell background
It was getting a bit darker although it wasn’t even 2pm and we were hoping that the weather would hold as this is no place to be if it’s snowing, or indeed raining with a wind such as it was blowing straight into our faces. The thoughts of this made Mosedale look even bleaker than it was today.
Wild Mosedale scene
Just after the last photo was taken we left the higher path due to it being too wet and boggy and made our way down to the hard surface of the path that passes from Longsleddale to Wet Sleddale over by Shap.
Southwest along Mosedale
Fifteen minutes of hard walking against the wind brought Mosedale Cottage into view but it was still a fair way off but nevertheless, a welcome sight.
Mosedale Cottage comes into view
There she blows...
but it would be a good few minutes before we entered the welcome realms of calm and warmth as Great Grain Beck one of the main feeders into Mosedale Beck was flooded to a width of around 2 metres, and fairly deep. After a bit faffing about and as I had on my Sealskin socks I bit the bullet and just horsed on through it never bothering to use the couple of rubble bags that I have in my bag for such occasions. As it happened no water got into my boots as a combination of tight laces and over trousers – or luck - did the job of keeping the insides dry, the other two got over as best they could independently of each other, and then we were inside out of the wind.
I remember this place being just a tumbledown wreck until a few years ago when whilst I was once again passing this way there was a team of workers – mostly volunteers – who were doing the place up. There was an all terrain wagon for transporting the workers and materials to site although it looked as though most of them were camping there. I lingered awhile and shared a drink with them as we sat on the arm chairs/couches that they had brought with them and it was good to see their enthusiasm and relaxed nature as they got on with the job. This old mine building deserved to be put back together after so many years of disuse and of course is a welcome place of shelter and rest either from bad weather, an overnight stay, or both.
Home comforts in Mosedale Cottage
Even without a fire it was – or felt – warm after being out in the wind and a break of 20 minutes with a hot drink and food made us feel a whole lot better but the wind battering outside told us that we were to still hold battle with it very shortly. A last sheltered shot before we faced the wind again.
Temporary Mosedale Cottage residents
We set off once again and for some reason I just couldn’t get going. I felt sluggish and lacking in energy as we toiled up the grassy path from the bothy. I was fine before we entered the cottage so maybe I should have kept walking as my legs seemed to have lost their momentum for a while. I was slowing the pace down as we continued to climb and was getting conscious of the time, 3pm, and we still had at least 5 kilometres - 3 miles - to go and a climb up Gatescarth Pass before we reached Mardale Head again. There was still a fair bit of climbing to do also before we got to the pass.
The bleakness continues along Mosedale
The cottage and disused quarry soon disappeared into the distance showing a blue sky that was nowhere near us and never caught up with us either.
Disused quarries above Mosedale Cottage
I picked up as we progressed along but was thankful when we started on the run down towards Gatescarth Pass...
It's been like this for most of the way
and we were soon passing the path between Tarn Crag and Branstree…
The path to Tarn Crag follows the fence
Follow the fence to Branstree summit
then Gatescarth Pass appeared in the distance along with the now disused Wrengill Quarry, just about at the point where we should meet the pass.
Gatescarth Pass now in sight
It was another 15 minutes before we saw this fingerpost inviting us to walk another two miles to Mardale Head. Thank you.
Gatescarth Pass to Mardale Head
I was feeling a lot better by now but didn’t relish the climb up the pass, as it itself and the mere thoughts of another climb can be both mental and energy sapping after a hard walk but surprisingly it took only around 16 minutes to get to the top...
Top of Gatescarth Pass
from where the wind changed tack and was now behind us but with much greater strength as it was squeezed between the fells on either side of us and I managed to take one last photo before I had to give up.
We were almost in the cloud and the light was fading but at least we only had the long walk down the rough track now although even that was proving difficult due to the strength of the wind and there were one or two dodgy moments involving some rather nifty footwork to prevent a fall in the less than adequate light.
We arrived back at the car by 16:40 hours, just light enough to see our boot laces and a moment of panic when the wind took Mark’s bag for a ride but we fortunately caught it as it went over the wall towards the water. Just before we reached the car park we met a young walker with a dog heading up the pass and wondered where he would be heading at this time of the day in such a strong wind as this that would be against him all the way, maybe Mosedale Cottage.
This has been quite a strenuous walk in places, not with the climbing but with the windy conditions, but it has been an enjoyable and varied one through three dales all of a different character from the water filled one of Mardale to the secluded but cultivated one of Swindale and finally into the bleak confines of Mosedale, a quiet and wild expanse of wilderness set between the massive fells that protect it from either side although it must have been a place of much industrial activity when the quarries were up and running all those years ago. All three of these dales have their own kind of beauty and are places where seclusion – if wanted – can be found easily enough, but just now after having concluded this latest adventure we are going to enter a place where wind and snow doesn’t reign but a place of warmth, company, and many kinds of ale does.
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- Location: Near Appleby - Cumbria
- Activity: Walker
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- Ideal day out: A good mixed walk with scrambling leading to a good ridge walk.
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- Distance: 62.1 km
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