High Street and Mardale Ill Bell

Length 9 Kilometres | Highest point 828 metres

High Street 828m, 2716ft, GR 441111
Mardale Ill Bell 761m, 2496ft, GR 447101


The top of High Street is the culminating point of a long north-south ridge along which ran the course of the Roman road from Ambleside to Penrith; a fine walk today for the superfit. The plateau near the trig point was used in more recent times as a shepherd’s meet each July for the exchange of strayed sheep and to enjoy cakes and ale and a bit of horse-racing. Although this ceased in 1820 it is still known as ‘Racecourse Hill’.

High Street and Haweswater
High Street and Haweswater

There are many routes to the top but the one chosen here is one of the finest walks in the Lake District: the long ridge of Rough Crag separating Riggindale from Mardale and the deep circular tarn of Blea Water. Although steep in places, there is a clear path and he views are superb.

Park at the head of Haweswater, an early start being advisable on Sundays. Go through the fell gate and turn right at the end of the wall on a signposted footpath. Cross the footbridge and turn right and after reaching the wooded area double back left just before the lakeside path goes through the wall. There are several false tops before the 628m top of Rough Crag is reached, with views improving all the time. From this vantage point the suggested alternative route of descent from Mardale Ill Bell can be inspected. In early summer if you are lucky the walk along the ridge can bring the rewarding sight of the golden eagles who nest in Riggindale.

From Rough Crag there is a slight descent to Caspel Gate, where there is no gate but a small tarn which dries up in drought. The ascent continues quite steeply up the rocky ridge of Long Stile where hands are needed but there is no difficulty. Near the top the path is a little loose but can be avoided on grass. A cairn marks the edge of the plateau and is a key reference point if descending this way. Continue roughly SW to reach the wall and follow this left to the trig point (4.5km, 604m 2hr 10min).

Ill Bell from Mardale Ill Bell
Ill Bell from Mardale Ill Bell

Follow the wall south along the path as far as a prominent cairn and then turn left on a well-defined path giving easy walking all the way to Mardale Ill Bell. If preferred you can follow the escarpment edge for exciting views, but this involves rougher walking and a greater height loss. The summit cairn is slightly to the left of the path. To descend by the standard route return to the path and follow it SE then east to the Nan Bield pass on which is a huge windbreak cairn. From the pass a delightful but stony path leads down to the attractive little tarn of Small Water.

The alternative way down from Mardale Ill Bell by the Northeast Spur is interesting and quite adventurous, but is not recommended in mist or for inexperienced walkers. Although described by AW 30 years ago (as an ascent route) there are few signs of use and the author has never met or seen anyone there. Care is needed as there are many crags and although it is easy to avoid them backtracking is sometimes involved. Grass slopes lower down lead to the path by Small Water. Cross the stepping stones near the outlet and follow the well-used path back to the car park (9km, 620m, 3hr 10min).

Nan Bield Pass
Nan Bield Pass

This walk is easily linked with Harter Fell to make an excellent long walk by continuing uphill from the Nan Bield Pass, walking over Harter Fell and descending to the head of Haweswater by the Gatesgarth Pass.

A pleasant way to climb High Street from the west is to start at Low Hartsop (GR 409131) and follow the path up Hayeswater Gill and over The Knott, continuing along the ridge over High Street to Thornthwaite Crag and descending either by Pasture Beck or the long arm of Gray Crag.