Today Kentmere is a quiet, isolated spot. This wasn’t always the case. There are three passes that lead out of the valley (besides the road from Staveley) one to Mardale in the north, another to Troutbeck to the west and the third to Longsleddale in the east. So at one time, many years ago, the valley would have been a relatively busy crossroads for people and, in many cases, their animals, travelling between the Lakeland valleys. There was also industry in valley with slate mines to the north of the village and although they’ve been closed for many years now there is still evidence of the mining activity on the hillsides.
On Tuesday, the first full day of our stay in Kentmere, the weather forecast was for intermittent rain and we’d planned a low level circular walk up along the river to the reservoir at the head of the valley and back. But one thing we learned during our break was not to trust the weather forecast. It was raining heavily when I got up but by 10 o’clock the rain had stopped and the cloud was clearing. By 11 we had sun and blue skies. It was windy, though, and I expected that the wind would be much stronger on the exposed ridges of the high fells. So we set out with a plan to start out on the low level walk but if conditions looked promising to cut up the Nan Bield Pass at the north end of the valley and then loop back along Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike. For various reasons this changed plan didn’t work out but we did manage to climb to the top of the pass.
Setting out at about 11:30, we crossed the river and walked through the village, making our way along the road until we reached the well defined footpath which ran along the floor of the valley parallel to the river. There had been a lot of rain during previous weeks so the path was wet and frequently quite muddy.
We were soon into more open country with the high fells appearing on the horizon
Eventually we could see most of the high fells comprising the Kentmere Horseshoe
We had to cross numerous becks (the Cumbrian term for a stream) – only one of them was bridged so our boots got wet – not a bad thing as it washed at least some of the mud off them!
The path started to climb gradually. We passed Kentmere Pike
We spotted several old mine workings such as this one, high up on the side of the fell. What must it have been like to work here?
The workers would have lived in huts near tot he mines, making there way down the valley to spend their wages in the local pub on their day off. The mine workers were so rowdy that the local magistrates withdrew the licence for the pub in Kentmere and the village has been “dry” ever since . The nearest pub is in Staveley.
Carrying on climbing steadily up the path. To our left the reservoir constructed 1848 to regulate the flow of the river which powered mills further down the valley. Ill Bell and Frostwick can be seen towering over the lake. The steep flank of the former plunging down into the small man-made lake.
Looking further up the valley towards High Street – it’s hard to believe that there was a Roman Road up on the fells.
The top of the pass was becoming ever closer, but still some way to go. So far the path had been a relatively easy gradient as height was gained gradually, but we could see that there would be a much steeper climb to come.
We eventually made it to the top where there were views down into Mardale, the next valley to the north. This had been flooded during the 1930’s creating a large reservoir – Haweswater – to supply Manchester with water. The small settlement of Mardale Green was submerged in the process.
It was extremely windy at the top as the wind funnels through the gap, making it difficult to stand up. We’d only made a the late morning start and the the sun would start setting at 6 o’clock. It had taken longer than anticipated to reach the top. So discretion being the better part of valour we decided to retrace our steps rather than risk walking in strong winds on an exposed ridge with a chance of not making it back down before it went dark.
Harter Fell and Kentmere would be there another day! In any case, it had been a good walk through some dramatic countryside, and as the top of the pass is just over 2,000 feet high, it was a decent enough climb!