Tuesday, July 13, 2010

High Street from Mardale Head and 2 Tales of Woe!

Date : 13th July 2010
Start/End : Mardale Head, Haweswater
Wainwrights: Kidsty Pike, High Raise, Rampsgill Head, The Knott, High Street, Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell
Distance : 9.5 miles
Height Gained : 3563 feet

The route : anticlockwise from Mardale Head
 It had been a long, hot summer in 2010. Hose pipe bans were in place and the Haweswater Reservoir was reputed to be low enough to see remnants of the old Mardale Green village. It therefore seemed like a good time to visit the region and the surrounding fells.

Looking along the Haweswater Reservoir towards the take off tower. High Street in cloud

 The story of Mardale Green is a sad one. This little Hamlet once proudly occupied the head of the Mardale valley. At the time, Haweswater was a small natural lake, about 2 miles long and divided into 2 parts (named High Water and Low Water) by a raised tongue of land at Measand. The valley itself was reputed to be one of England's loveliest and most peaceful. 

Old Mardale pre 1935 - looking north towards high water

High Water, looking towards Harter Fell

The Measand Delta and Low Water

Mardale Chapel, at the time one of the smallest churches in Lakeland

Mardale Green 1935, looking south towards Harter Fell

 Following the first world war there was a need to expand urban infrastructure throughout north-west England coupled with a state of chronic unemployment. Large civil engineering projects were seen as an ideal solution to both problems. Manchester, at the time a rapidly growing city, needed water and so plans were drawn up resulting in an act of parliament being passed in 1919 which gave the Manchester Corporation permission to flood the valley of Mardale and create a huge reservoir. 

Dam Construction 1929

 Despite much opposition work finally began in 1929 but then halted just a year later for 5 years due to the great depression. In 1935 construction resumed on the huge dam wall at the northern foot of the valley which was eventually completed in 1940. The monstrous plug was now set. 

 Mardale valley then slowly flooded over the following year, ultimately raising the water level by 95 feet, consuming the villages of Mardale Green & Measand whose residents were evicted and their buildings used for explosive practice by the Royal Engineers. Only the small church in Mardale Green was spared obliteration. It was pulled down and its stone used in the construction of the reservoir take-off tower on the eastern shore. Ninety seven bodies were exhumed from its graveyard and relocated to nearby Shap. 

The loss of Mardale was particularly lamented by Alfred Wainwright who wrote "Gone forever are the quiet wooded bays and shingly shores that nature had fashioned so sweetly in the Haweswater of old; how aggressively ugly is the tidemark of the new Haweswater!" 

Dam Construction 1935

Villagers congregate for the final service at Mardale Church

 The tiny chapel was full to capacity for the final service in August 1935 as 81 people crammed in. Hundreds of others stood outside and it is said that as they sang the hymn 'I will lift up mine eyes into the hills', their tears were the first waters of the reservoir. 
A British Pathe video and photographs of the event can seen here http://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-last-service-of-mardale

Rising waters approach the derelict village in June 1940. Pine trees, fashionable at the time, were planted on 'The Rigg' by the Manchester Corporation

The completed Dam

The Take Off Tower - constructed from Mardale Chapel Stone

 For further information including personal accounts from residents and many more fascinating old pictures see 'Mardale Green: A Jewel in a Lost Crown'

Looking over Haweswater towards Mardale Head 

 Today, the area has naturalised fairly well although the large stands of pine trees dotted around the shoreline still look out of place with the surrounding landscape. The present Haweswater reservoir is 4 miles long, 1/2 mile wide and 200 feet deep with a capacity of 84 billion litres (enough to give everyone on the planet a bath!). Now, the only evidence of old Mardale Green are the remnants of its stone walls and roads which emerged in ghostly fashion during the major droughts of 1984 and 1995 and which were starting to become visible again today.

The drought in 1995
1995 drought - The old pack horse bridge still stands

  I had planned a circular route from Mardale Head taking in 7 Wainwright's and hopefully providing good views down to the Haweswater Reservoir below. I set off heading towards the Riggindale valley. The Rough Crag ridge is apparently a superb route to access High Street but I really wanted to take in Kidsty Pike and its surrounding fells so instead crossed over the foot of the valley to ascend the opposite ridge.

Mardale Green field boundry walls visible with the retreating water

Looking back over a depleted Haweswater towards Harter Fell

Looking up the Riggindale valley

 As if the sad story of Mardale Green wasn't enough for this region, there is another sorry tale to tell. This story involves solitude & loneliness and will likely end in tragedy also, at least in the avian world. Riggindale is the last lonely outpost for England's only surviving wild Golden Eagle. Breeding pairs had resided in the valley since 1969 producing 16 young but unfortunately the female of this pair went missing in 2004 leaving the male alone. Each spring he performs spectacular aerial displays over the Riggindale valley in the hope of attracting a female. Unfortunately experts predict his efforts will be in vain, his only hope being if a lone female wanders down from Scotland in search of new territory. 

The Riggindale RSPB site

 The RSPB have an observation post there which is apparently manned during the spring and summer months. The eagle is thought to be about 17 years old (as I write this in 2014), about middle aged for the species and so he may be visible in the valley for a good few years yet. As with old Mardale though, the ultimate ending of this story is likely to be a sad one. 

(NB. The Eagle unfortunately has not been seen since April 2016)

More old walls visible in Haweswater

Looking back from Kidsty Howes

Looking over the Riggindale valley to Rough Crags

 Kidsty Pike summit is a great place to admire the Riggindale valley and a popular spot for sighting the Golden Eagle. No raptors in view for me today though, so I headed off up to High Raise and then back along to Rampsgill Head and The Knott. 

Panorama over the Riggindale valley from Kidsty Pike

High Raise summit panorama west

High Raise summit panorama east

Fairfield from High Raise

Helvellyn and Catstye Cam from High Raise

The view south towards High Street from Rampsgill Head
The Knott summit

Hayeswater with High Street beyond

The Riggindale Valley

The path to High Street

 High Street summit is a wide featureless grassy plateau, its views robbed of perspective by its expansive flat terrain. From here I followed the path towards Mardale Ill Bell and then Harter Crag. The scenic interest improved with every step. 

High Street summit view south towards Windermere

Mardale Ill Bell

Yoke, Ill Bell & Froswick

The path to Harter Fell

Small Water

Small Water from the Harter Crag ascent

The Ill Bell ridge over Kentmere Reservoir

Harter Fell summit

A low Haweswater Reservoir from Harter Fell (2010)

Views of the low water level by the car park

Harter Fell from the descent path

The Gatescarth Pass

Views showing the 1st part of the walk from Riggindale to Kidsty Pike and High Street ...

... and the 2nd part from High Street to Harter Fell

The Haweswater Dam showing the low water level - July 2010

Mardale 1935 ....

... and present day


Haweswater's drawn low by the long summer drought

Tree-crested Wood Howe stands solitary now.

The valley lies bare and untouched by the plough

Chapel Bridge bows over a hollow of ground.

Deer from Martindale Forest once reived your crops

Though many would come, only a few would return

For the last sound they'd hear was the crack of the gun.

Down from Patterdale, Martindale and Troutbeck

At the Dun Bull shepherds once gathered and met.

The Ullswater Foxhounds would muster there too

As the clamour for water from Manchester grew

And the name on their lips, poor Mardale, was you.

To the great maw of war, you would sacrifice all-

Down would come Goosemire, and down would come Hall

And your church was the last of your buildings to fall.

'We knew it was coming, our dead would be raised

And water would flood where the cattle once grazed.

We left in the morning, who cared what we said?

Like cattle to market away we were lead.'

And now comes the rain; Haweswater will fill

While the standing stones watch from a far distant hill.

As the water laps over the village that's dead

And the sheep, never once, even lifted their head.


Robert Carson


  1. Good article, though not all the bodies went to Shap, which has been the common belief.

    1. Thanks Ray. I didn't know that. I presume some of them must have been moved to other churches at their relatives requests. Fascinating story and all the more interesting that the events are not that long ago.