Walk 1152 - printer friendly version
The Corpse Road and Selside Pike from Mardale Walk
Author - Lou Johnson
Length - 6.0 miles / 9.8 km
Ascent - 1830 feet / 555 metres
Grade - moderate
Start - OS grid reference NY479118
Lat 54.498834 + Long -2.8059627
Postcode CA10 2QT (approx. location only)
The mountains close in as you drive along the shores of Haweswater towards Mardale Head. There is a car park at the end of the road but it is better to park where the Old Corpse Road leaves the road (grid ref. NY 479118). For many years before the construction of Haweswater Reservoir the village of Mardale buried its dead in the village of Shap. The first part of this walk traces the steps of these sombre processions as they made their way over the shoulder of Selside Pike into Swindale.
You may be surprised by the relatively large number of people armed with high powered binoculars and telephoto lenses in the Mardale area. The reason for all this activity is the last pair of breeding Golden Eagles in England who nest in the crags above Riggindale. This fine u-shaped valley is on the opposite side of the reservoir from where you have parked your car. From mid-April onwards there is much excitement as the prospect of chicks gets closer.
Take the path which zig-zags upwards from the road, heading roughly east as it climbs rapidly. At each turn the view improves, giving a good excuse to pause to catch your breath! Soon the initial steepness is over and the hardest part of the walk is behind you even though you still have some height to gain. The path is clear, helped by marker posts at regular intervals. Quite quickly you reach the summit and it is here you leave the Corpse Road to turn south on a less-distinct path to the summit of Selside Pike.
It is better to trend left on this section as there are excellent views down into lonely Swindale and across to the Pennines. Reaching the summit of Selside Pike, you are rewarded with a fine panorama across to the High Street Range in the west. Less visited, the wild Shap Fells and the Howgills can be seen to the east.
The next objective is Branstree easily reached by following the path along the western side of the fence. It is easy going despite the occasional "soft" spot. You will notice on the OS map that a pillar is marked. This is worth a detour from the main path. Erected by the engineers building the Long Sleddale aqueduct, it is a reminder of the days when Mardale was a hive of construction activity as the reservoir gradually took shape.
A short way before the summit of Branstree a couple of large "beehive" cairns provide an interesting place to take in the view before reaching the actual "top". The reward for all your effort is laid out to the west. High Street, Harter Fell and Mardale Ill Bell are the principal fells in view with the tarns of Blea Water and Small Water adding interest to the scene. It is one of the finest panoramas in the far eastern Fells.
The start of the final descent of the day is always a moment of sadness as you realise that you'll have to wait for another day to visit to tops. The descent from Branstree is easy, following the fence down to Gatescarth Pass where the main bridle-path is joined for the onward route down to Mardale Head. To your left, the wonderful craggy east face of Harter Fell throws out a challenge for another day. On reaching the car park take the path that skirts the reservoir rather than follow the road and quite soon you are back at your car.
The walk as described took just over four hours at our leisurely pace. For a longer day in the hills it is quite feasible to continue from Gatescarth Pass over Harter Fell and down to Nan Bield Pass, returning from there to Mardale Head Car Park. This will add around 600 feet of ascent and a couple of miles of very interesting walking.