Walking the Wainwrights in 30 Walks - Walk 7 The Mell Fells to Glenridding Dodd

25th March 2016

Two weeks after having to call one of my projects walks off half way through due to poor conditions I'm back in the campaign feeling as headstrong as ever and now, a further two weeks into Spring the snow line has started to recede leaving all but the highest summits in the district completely snow free with the exception of a few sporadic patches here and there.

This particular walk has been given the green light more than once over the last few weeks only for us to have to ditch it at the last minute due to bad weather and now after so many build ups we finally have the all clear to go ahead. On paper it doesn't look like a particular exciting walk especially when walked on a Good Friday when most of the crowds are taking advantage of Helvellyn, the Scafells and Blencathra but what this walk does have by the bag full is variety and that's what first got me excited about it when I penned the route back in January.

This walk takes in six Wainwright summits along the south east ridge above Ullswater starting with the Mell Fells before continuing to collect Gowbarrow Fell, Hart Side, Sheffield Pike and finally Glenridding Dodd, its also a route that wouldn't of been completed without the use of two cars which is why David so kindly agreed to join me today after agreeing that one car would be left outside Glenrididng at Stybarrow Crag and the other at Brownrigg Farm ideally situated between both the Mell Fells. David had been speaking to Rod Hepplewhite about his own plans for the extended weekend and Rod asked would he be ok to join us which of course I obliged, after all in just over six weeks time myself and Rod will be climbing Pillar Rock so today will be a good time to catch up on Rod's final Birkett and, how us mere walkers will cope while being clipped into harnesses under supervision of course onto possibly the least climbed Birkett summit of them all.

But for now, this is how my summer weekends are going to be spent, by spending long days out on the fell, this is the Mell Fells to Glenridding Dodd.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The Eastern Fells

-Hart Side

The principle height of this spur is Hart Side, which with its many satellites on the declining ridge forms the southern wall of the long valley of Deep Dale throughout its sinuous course, its opposite boundary being the short deep trench of Glencoyne. The upper slopes of this bulky mass are unattractive in themselves, but, in strong contrast, the steep flank over looking Ullswater is beautifully wooded, while the views of the lake from the Brown Hills, midway along the ridge are of high quality.


Ascent: 4,800 Feet - 1,464 Meters
Wainwrights: 6, Great Mell Fell - Little Mell Fell - Gowbarrow Fell - Hart Side - Sheffield Pike - Glenridding Dodd
Weather: Warm Bright and Sunny to Start Turning Overcast, Brisk With Strengthening Winds. Highs of 12°C Lows of 3°C Feels Like -2.2°C
Parking using x2 cars Parking Spaces, Stybarrow Crag - Roadside Parking, Brownrigg Farm
Area: Eastern
Miles: 15.8
Walking With: David Hall and Rod Hepplewhite
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 8 Hours 10 Minutes
Route: Brownrigg Farm - Great Mell Fell - Brownrigg Farm - Jenny Hill - The Hause - Little Mell Fell - The Hause - Great Meldrum - Gowbarrow Fell – Aira Beck – Park Brow - Watermillock Common – Birkett Fell – Hart Side – Glencoyne Head – Nick Head - Sheffield Pike – Heron Pike - Glenridding Dodd – The Rake - Greenside Road - Ullswater Shore Path - Stybarrow Crag

Map and Photo Gallery


Morning light over Gowbarrow Fell 07:05am 3°C
During a phone all the previous night it was agreed that both David and myself would meet at Stybarrow Crag at 07:15am before heading north to meet Rod at Brownrigg Farm around 07:30am. I arrived a tad early which saw me lacing my boots up under mild morning air making note that even so early in the morning there didn't feel any need to add more layers. Laced up I have a wonder down to the shore line holding my camera by its strap in my right hand. A stone wall divides the road from the bay which is where I sat for just a few moments just taking it all in, its just so peaceful right now not even a car has passed since I had arrived, just take your time David...

Views south towards Caudale Moore and Red Screes.

After a wander around the bay I make my way back towards the car disturbing the silence as I pass over pebbles. Back at my car I neatly leave my gear besides the rear wheel waiting for David to arrive making sure I haven't left anything behind. My jacket for the first time this year will be folded as neatly as possible into my pack should I need it later in the day. David arrives minutes later and pulls his car up along side mine, we greet as ever with a handshake while not quite believing just how lovely this morning really is "we've earned it I explain"

It's agreed to leave my car at Stybarrow Crag and David will drive us to Brownrigg Farm a journey that should only take us around ten minutes which is taken up by conversation as the strong morning sunlight streaks through the car windows, it feel like a typical Spring morning but not any Spring morning, the first Spring morning and one that needs to be remembered.

It wasn't long before we took the left turn for Dockray leaving the tree lined shore road behind as part of our route onto Watermillock Common opens up to our left, at this stage its still undecided how we will gain the ridge but a few ideas had been thrown about last night and indeed during the short ten minutes as we headed out towards Brownrigg Farm which is soon reached to find Rod stood besides his car awaiting for our arrival.

Rod and I greet with a 'morning' followed by a handshake smiles clearly etched across all our faces which I'm putting down to this glorious morning and of course the route ahead, there's three blokes here but really, its three giddy school boys waiting in earnest to get boot onto fell. "What do you reckon" shall we leave our gear in the car and collect it when we pass later? we all agree it's a good idea and strike out gearless up the track towards Great Mell Fell soon realising that both David and myself had left our walking poles in the back of David's car, do we need em? Aye it maybe short, but its steep in places.

I'll nip back.

Possibly the most photographed tree in Lakeland.
Passing this snarled and wind blown tree as we head for Great Mell Fell summit, but first we pass through the...

Scotts Pines.
It was noted that both Rod and I had only climbed to the summit of Great Mell Fell in bad weather which made todays summit feel that bit more special, we certainly wasn't used to feasting our eyes on the windward Scotts Pines when set against such a deep blue sky, good times.

The Dodd ridge extending all the way towards a snow capped Helvellyn.

Great Mell Fell summit.

By 08:05am we had reached the summit of Great Mell Fell and were treated to a rather cool breeze but not cool enough for jackets. With the sun on our backs we each take our own summit photo most of which have our own shadows in them due to the sun being right behind us. I have a wander to the edge of the summit to take in the views over Souther Fell and Blencathra where I spent last weekend with Tim. There is a slight haze which is hampering views northwards but it looks like it will lift as the morning temperature rises.

After a few moments spent it was agreed that we should head back down much the same way we had came. Total time from car to summit and back again was just one hour five minutes, I reckon we could of done it in half that if it not been for our boyish antics.

Time to head back to the car to pick up our heavy packs.
By-eck Paul what have yer got in there! David not quite believing how heavy my pack is as he hands it to me...I really must do another check on essentials.

Heading out towards Little Mell Fell.
It was agreed during the last photo that instead of taking the footpath through Brownrigg Farm (which can be very wet) we would take the longer and just as scenic way around to reach The Hause, this way we are guaranteed of keeping our feet dry so early into the walk.

Little Mell Fell seen shortly after passing Brownrigg Farm.
Were heading for the low point in the far right of the photo, I think all of us had forgotton how hilly this road is...well, its not called Jenny Hill for nothing I suppose.

Spring has sprung.

Extended views over Great Meldrum and Gowbarrow Fell.

Under a warm morning sun we arrived at The Hause and below our second summit of the morning in Little Mell Fell, its incredibly warm made more so by the unexpected steady mile or so ascent gained in order to reach The Hause but we are still in great spirits. We are greeted by a fellow having a tea break in a coal lorry painted in traditional red and green which takes us back to our youth as David recalls that distinctive noise the coal bag would make when dropped from the coalmans shoulder leaving a bloom of coal dust, we all had coal bunkers it would seem but in our house, mine was used as my den, sorry guys I'm slightly younger that you!

We pass through the gate, then negotiate the boggy path before taking on the steep and steady ascent of Little Mell fell soon passed by a fell runner which he descends in a matter of minutes.

Morning guys.

Little Mell Fell summit Trig Point.
After a steady, and sometimes silent pull we soon arrived at Little Mell Fell summit greeted once again by a brisk wind which cooled any exposed sweat. Yet again we find ourselves looking down on Lakeland and indeed the North Pennines with summits seen in every direction as far as the eye can see, it certainly feels good to be out this morning.

Decending Little Mell Fell with views over our route ahead towards Great Meldrum and Gowbarrow Fell.

We trace our footsteps and descend steadily pausing only to take in the route ahead which is clearly seen beyond the wooded area known as Little Meldrum. Our route will see us flank the woods by a stone wall which you can make out in the right of the photo, its not very clear in this photo but there is also a narrow path which leads you through the wild grasses over the top of Great Meldrum and Gowbarrow Fell thereafter.

Topic of conversation during the mornings descent is football.

Great Mell Fell seen as we pass by the Fire Beaters whose stand had been blown sideways over time.
Still, if theres a grass fire you know were to look.

Following the stone wall towards Great Meldrum.

After crossing The Hause we pass through a metal gate and follow a farm track keeping close to the stone wall, after passing by the Fire Beaters we pass over a wire fence and start a slight descent flanking the woods by a boggy path as David points out to us that there's a little hidden gem of a Tarn in those woods.

A mental note is taken for a 'must visit' to the Tarn the next time I'm in the area.

Crossing the next fence with views of Great Meldrum up ahead.
It is agreed due to the nature of the area and how boggy it can be that we take the path besides the stone wall as far as allowed before making a pathless ascent on Great Meldrum.

Gowbarrow Fell from Great Meldrum.
A singular path navigates between summits and although a little boggy is easy to follow. We start our descent towards the foot of Gowbarrow Fell taking in a lay of the land which also included a few small re-ascents all the while taking it all in under our stride.

Not far now.

"That looks like new stone steps set into the wall, I maybe wrong but I'm sure there used to be a wooden sty here" David remarks "go on Paul you test it and we'll follow it it doesn't collapse"

Such the humour of the morning!

Wonderful views over Swinsburn Park with a glimpse of Ullswater with Arthurs Pike beyond.
Despite the fantastic views north there is a considerable build of cloud heading in our direction, the good thing is its high, the bad is that once the cloud moves in front of the sun the temperature dips dramatically and it feels like we've just walked into a freezer.

Great Mell Fell from Gowbarrow Fell summit Trig Point.

Having just passed the first people of the day we arrived at Gowbarrow Fell summit under cool winds, notably two fell walkers below us were adding jackets and I too wasn't far behind from adding my own but seeing as were about to descend I'm sure I'll stick it out safe in knowledge that down there in the valleys its going to start feeling like Spring again.

Views over Watermillock Common towards Dowthwaite Head, Hart Side and Stybarrow Dodd.
Two routes had been proposed in order to gain Watermillock Common one by means of descending to Aira Force Waterfalls and then to pick up a path through Glencoyne Park or second, which we later decided to use was to cross Aira Beck at the new wooden footbridge and pick up the path besides the stone wall that you can see in the left of the photo, the stone wall path won, it seemed a no brainer really.

The surprise view of Ullswater during our Gowbarrow Fell descent.
And it looks like the sun had back out too.

Soon the trees will have their leaves.

After confirming our route onto Watermillock Common we descended to the path along side Aira Beck not before passing one particular large group of youngsters heading for the summit guided from the front and rear shortly followed by couples and families all out for the day which was nice to see. Aira Beck was soon reached were we crossed the new bridge not been able to capture the moment due to how busy it was with more families enjoying the morning sun. After crossing the bridge we made our way up to what David describes as the top car park for Aira Force which used to accommodate free parking on one side with a National Trust car park on the other, now the layby has been filled in leaving no choice other than to pay to park on the other side of the road which seems a raw deal if you frequent this area often.

The car park is busy and there's an old National Trust Landrover parked up offering membership and general information, we slip by soon picking up the stone wall path at the start of a pretty steep ascent.

Looking back on Gowbarrow Fell from above the newly named Aira Force Cascades Car Park.

We ascend in single file with Rod up front, its a pretty steep climb and I guess after descending Gowbarrow followed by some lenient walking the steep ascent hit hard but we coped manageably even though we had to clamber over crag and below the fallen tree you see in the photo, it was one of those moments when you had to think 'now how do I get this square into that triangular hole' its only a tree but the way it had fell over the path we had to houdini our bodies and packs through the twisted branches and emerge a little higher up.

Phew, I didn't expect that.

Rod waited ahead and with the worst of the steep behind us the fell side started to take on a steady plod over boggy ground with the stone wall never far from our side.

Round How and Watermillock Common are just ahead with Swinside Knott seen right at the far end of the ridge.
Hart Side is now lost from view somewhere around the corner at the far end of the ridge, its just over a mile and a half to reach the Glencoyne Valley from were we will start the steep ascent on Hart Side but the ground here made that mile and half feel much further - all agreeing that surely this shouldn't feel as hard as it does.

Views back over Ullswater and Gowbarrow Fell.

Ullswater mono.

Still going at it...

I guess it didnt really matter which side of the wall we had walked as both sides of the wall were flanked by faint paths some of which lead through bracken which lead me to thinking that should I off chosen to do this walk in the middle of summer, well, it would of been a lot tougher than what we had experienced here today.

We cross the stone wall at Far Swan Beck which you can see were the stone wall dips in and out of the fell side by which time Swinside Knott was just above our heads.

Gowbarrow Fell just doesn't seem to be getting any smaller.
I think we'll call lunch soon.


Our path had been taking a steady ascent over the last mile and we soon round our way into the Glencoyne Valley. Hart Side still looked a distance away and it was agreed we would find ourselves a place to eat lunch before taking on the steady slog to Hart Side summit. An outcrop of dry rock became our dining area as we all eased ourselves down onto the rock and semi-dry grass. It was an extended lunch break taken under midday sun but the sporadic cloud cover made it feel much cooler at times.

After lunch we re-shouldered and continued along the path coming to stop at the familiar stone wall from were the steep tramp to Hart Side would begin. We had the choice to keep left or right of the wall and we choose right, more so because it shielded us from the cool winds that seemed to be gaining in strength by the hour, something that had been forecast to reach gale force by midnight tonight.

It was an almost silent ascent as each of us dipped into reserves sometimes stopping to pick out an alternative direct ascent over the shoulder of the fell but we all opted to keep to the wall that ascended towards Birkett Fell was the best and lenient route even though it didnt feel that way at the time. By now only Great Mell Fell could be seen through the faintest of hazes which was starting to look and feel, pretty far away.

Birkett Fell summit cairn.
Hart Side is close now.

Stybarrow Dodd, Hart Side and Great Dodd seen shortly after leaving Birkett Fell.
The steep ascent onto Birkett Fell is rewarded by the gentle rise to reach Hart Side.

Deepdale Head and Stybarrow Dodd taken from Hart Side summit.

Hart Side on a personal note was the defining fell to reach in todays walk and a feeling of accomplishment dawned over me, from here we have two more summits to visit in Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd, both easily attainable.

Its time to relax and enjoy the rest of our walk.

Pheww weee...The Mell Fells and Gowbarrow Fell from Hart Side summit.
Good times.

Looking back on Hart Side as we pass over Glencoyne Head.

By now there were lots of people coming from Stybarrow Dodd towards Hart Side, we pass with hi's and hello's as we head out over Glencoyne Head feeling that cool wind once more which is still gaining in strength.

Despite it being the first day of Spring and with the sun being directly above us there was no need to remove our jackets, in fact Rod decided to add gloves and no one could blame him.

Very brisk indeed.

Place Fell and Ullswater from Glencoyne Head.

Hart Side seen over Glengoyne Head as we start our descent towards Nick Head.

Sheffield Pike seen over Nick Head.
A laugh is shared over 'that chance meeting' at the exact spot where I met David and Jennifer while descending Glencoyne Head some years ago, I'll never forget the moment I asked Jennifer "is that David Hall" who had already passed me, Jennifer then called David back some thirty yards so we could have a chat and soon after emails are exchanged and the rest as they say, is history.

Views over Nick Head towards Glencoyne Head and Sticks Pass.
A young solo walker heads out towards Sticks Pass as we start our ascent on Sheffield Pike over boggy ground that we have all grown familiar with. Quite a few families are in descent all of which pass on their 'afternoons' as we make our way towards Sheffield Pike summit by which time the wind is starting to feel considerably stronger and much colder by now.

Ullswater from Sheffield Pike summit.
The summit cairn was soon reached right about the same time this couple decided to leave, after a brief wave to the couple we had the summit to ourselves as David decides to measure the windchill and wind speed which came back at around 25mph at -2.2°C but the wind made it feel much colder. Summit time due to this was kept brief and after a few photos are taken we dip down before heading out towards Heron Pike from were we'll start our descent before collecting our final summit of the day in Glenridding Dodd.

Descending Heron Pike with views of Glenridding Dodd.
Despite the screaming knees and the howling winds the descent of Heron Pike was done quite quickly and I think we would all agree we were pleased with the swift time it took, only stoping to take this photo of the...

The Rhino and the Shark.
And of cousre the view over Ullswater.

Glenridding Dodd from our Heron Pike descent.

Heron Pike and Sheffield Pike from Glenridding Dodd.
We soon plateaued at the col between Heron Pike and the start of the path below the summit of Glenridding Dodd, the grassy col was more than welcome as we each kicked our feet back into our boots while curling toes around in socks. Its now just a steady, but short climb to reach Glenridding Dodd summit.

Ullswater from Glenridding Dodd summit cairn.

We each jabbed our walking poles into the ground and take a wander about the summit to take in the views. By now the winds are quite gusty and sadly summit time is again kept brief because of this, more so with the chill they brought, during the brief time we did spend at the summit it was nice to reflect on how this walk has turned out to be from taking in the views over The Old Coach Road and Blencathra before ending the walk with the dramatic views over the windswept Sticks Pass and Helvellyn's satellite fells whose summits are still holding onto Winter.

All that is left is to descend from the summit via The Rake were again feet will be kicked back into their boots all the while enjoying views over the caravan parks of Glenridding and the village itself which is still recovering from Decembers floods, yet despite this, its looking very busy down there which can only be good for local business.

With the decent of The Rake behind us we drop down onto Greenside Road while taking in views over Birkhouse Moor from the old miners cottages which have been converted into Holiday Homes. A farmer patches up potholes in the road with a huge mix on concrete on the back of a trailer helped on by his small son. At the bottom of the Greenside Road we arrive back into reality by the sound of the traffic travelling to and from Glenridding. Its too busy to walk against the traffic so we head for the lake path which will soon see us out by Stybarrow Crag, we do this as the waves lap along the shoreline all the while debris from the December storms litter the shoreline from end to end.

With Stybarrow Crag reached we cross a very busy A592 and slowly walk back to my car, David finds a old wrought iron bench to sit on while he changes his boots and Rod warms down with stretches, I too ease my aching muscles lifting both feet one by one up to my backside and hold them there as long as I can. The mood is joyful. With our gear thrown into the back of my car we head out back towards Brownrigg Farm driving below the ridge we have just walked soon making the same left turn as we had eight hours earlier before arriving at a bustling Brownrigg Farm, gear is then swapped back into David's and Rod's cars before handshakes are swapped, I prepare to leave but before I do I thank David for the making this walk possible for the use of his car and thank them both for thier exceptional company, I guess the next time we see each other we would be preparing for a climb on Pillar Rock which may just have the the edge on todays walk...but only just.



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