All the Fells: High Street

High Street – The Far Eastern Fells 2,718′ (98)

Date: 15 May 1988/12 June 1994

From: Thornthwaite Crag/Mardale Head

I made two different ascents of High Street, at different times, by different routes, but unless you, like me, are planning on accumulating Wainwrights as quickly as possible, I can in good conscience recommend only one. And whilst I have by no means exhausted the approaches to High Street and the highest point of the Roman Road, I cannot imagine that there is a better or more enthralling way up than the one I used on my return visit. The accumulating route was, of course, my Hayeswater Round, as already mentioned a couple of times. So many fells cluster around this side valley with its former reservoir, now diminished to its natural size once this latter function was removed. Certainly, those on the western side of Mardale turn their backs on Hayeswater, which is why I can’t recommend the walking. High Street lies between Thornthwaite Crag and Rampsgill Head on this route. The walking is simple and undistinguished on the approach, a stroll across a grassy plateau following on the footsteps of the long-dead glorious Legions (spellbinding memories of ‘Heros the Spartan’ in Eagle with fantastic art by Frank Bellamy). The road rises to cross the long whaleback of High Street without visiting its summit: once you reach what feels like the highest level, break off right across the wall and follow trackless grass uphill until the top is underfoot. Here you can exercise your imagination about the past. The Legions might not have come all the way up to the highest point, unless on the equivalent of a modern-day fag-break, but High Street was also the annual meeting place for the farmers and families of the surrounding valleys at midsummer: to meet and gossip and buy and sell and exchange, wrestle and run races and enjoy the ability to relax with friends. No doubt there was also courting. Just imagine this place full of the sights and sounds of the Westmorlanders of old. Little’s to be seen of High Street’s best features from here but a long walk across the short-turfed top towards invisible Mardale will bring Haweswater into view, and the long curving ridge down to the lakeside below that is a spectacular sight. No need to return to the summit from here, a beeline can be made towards the northern end of the top to rejoin the road and the wall down to the Straits of Riggindale, where the ridge narrows astonishingly, to progress to Rampsgill Head. I was still collecting Wainwrights when I paid my return visit, a Sunday out from Manchester. There was only one new top to collect, that of Mardale Ill Bell, but though I still took my progress seriously, it was very much secondary to the opportunity to climb High Street the exciting way, by the Rough Crag/Long Stile ridge, from Mardale Head. It was a glorious ascent, every step. I could have cut an early corner out, making a direct scramble to the right and cutting out the Rigg, but I wanted to savour every step of the walk. A long, narrow, curving ridge, steep and shallow sections along an airy crest, with Haweswater below seeming to turn itself through forty-five degrees as I looked down. Beautiful views down to Blea Water for so much of the way, and across to Small Water as I gained height. The final rocky crest of Rough Crag and a descent to level ground before the steep scrambling attack on Long Stile, until I returned to the edge of the summit where I had stood before, and then a quiet uphill walk on grass to the cairn. So much better an approach, so much more satisfying. These were the days that were infinitely satisfying, that I got to enjoy and my Dad didn’t, which was life at its most unfair. He’d have relished every minute of it. And that was only the first top of the day!

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