If you want some Lakeland fells much to yourself, try Branstree and Selside Pike early on a Monday morning. True, we did pass a couple of nice American visitors walking a very British dog, but that was it – though the car park at the head of Hawes Water was busier when we got back. Still, an interesting way to spend a morning. And apart from the old track leading up the Gatescarth Pass we also enjoyed a bit of the old corpse road from Mardale to Shap along the way.

The Head of Mardale

Personally, I dislike Haweswater. In fact I dislike most reservoirs with their artificial shorelines and unnatural feel – but Haweswater in particular. The original Haweswater, with the now lost village of Mardale, must have been a delight. But Manchester’s creation is a dammed disaster, drowning so much of the valley, all crammed in and unpleasant. And a village gone – centuries of slow development and human social experience all thrown away in less than a decade.

From Gatescarth

All right, people have to have water to drink, but wrecking a beautiful, iconic landscape is never the answer. When I first came into the world of Dartmoor politics, great campaigners like Sylvia Sayer were still fighting the proposed destruction by reservoir of the Swincombe bowl – a reservoir that would have torn the heart out of Dartmoor. Happily that was a successful campaign. But Meldon, probably the most beautiful valley on Dartmoor, was lost.

On Branstree

Long before there was a road between Kendal and Penrith over the Shap Fells, goods were brought over the old ways crossing the Nan Bield Pass and the Gatescarth Pass. When you walk that rough track that zig-zags up to the Gatescarth Pass, try to picture the lines of heavily-laden packhorses that once travelled that way. It’s a long, steady climb of incredible gaunt views, which the packhorse men and women, the jaggers of the north, would have travelled in all weathers.

Cairn on Artlecrag Pike

At the head of the pass you turn off, first through a muddy bit of bog, and follow the fence-line up to Branstree (properly Branstreet). An easy enough slog, enlivened by the views across to Nan Bield. The top of Branstree is not as interesting as Artlecrag Pike, just beyond with its stone-men cairns, which add some drama to this long and grassy landscape.

Artlecrag Pike

A good track then to Selside Pike, very easy walking. There’s a stone shelter on the top to shield you from the wind, and very good views across to the Pennines.

Waterfalls

Another easy track leads down to the old corpse road, along which the folk of Mardale took their dead for burial at Shap, before they got their own church. And now Mardale and its church are gone for ever, lost beneath the waters of the reservoir.

Human History in Ruins

We followed the corpse road down to the Mardale road and wandered back to the head of the reservoir, picking up odds and ends of litter as we went.

There’s something haunting and sad about Haweswater, redeemed only by the drama of the mountains at its head.

6 thoughts on “On Branstree, Artlecrag Pike and Selside Pike

  1. We were just looking down Haweswater (and missing the walking there) on the way back from a walk in The Howgills today. I always do that round the opposite way round…

    I don’t think Gatesgarth Pass would be all that bad in winter but Nan Bield would – quite a bit higher too I think? Certainly much steeper… I’ve only ever done the Small Water side of Nan Bield as I can never persuade myself down the other side as it would mean missing out Harter Fell and that’s a favourite of mine. I suppose the answer is to ascend Harter Fell and then go back down to Nan Bield and down into Kentmere.

    I prefer Artle Crag to Branstree as I love the vertical rocks just there – very odd! You can see them in your photo…

    I can’t remember the name of the gill by those waterfalls without getting the map out but I seem to remember it was quite some name!

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    1. In fact two becks meet, each with a waterfall, Rowantreethwaite Beck and Hopgill Beck, both very dramatic – the far eastern fells remain quieter than most, especially avoiding the high season and weekends.

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  2. Well, you see we get there so early there’s hardly a car. Actually, there were several gaps when we finished.

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  3. I can see what you mean about Haweswater having a sad and haunting feel. Your walk seems to have had a sense of bleak beauty about it, as the story of Mardale is indeed sad, yet the lovely landscape clearly clings onto it’s history, which you show so well.

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