Last week, a group of us got together to go for a walk in the Lake District. We had high ambitions -Great Gable and Scafell Pike perhaps?- but, given the hours of daylight available we settled on a more modest plan. The Eastern side of the Lakes would be easier for us to get to: we decided to go to Haweswater reservoir and climb High Street instead.
High Street is so named because a Roman Road runs slap bang over its 828m-high top. The existence of this Romano-British M6 adds a supernatural edge to one’s imaginings as one walks along the ridge. Also, it certainly detracts from any illusions one might have about the adventurousness of the route; but then, this is the Lake District, not the Himalayas – though even there, people have built structures and paths in what appear to mountain travelers to be the unlikeliest of places.
However, Roman road or no Roman road, it is still the case that
By influence habitual to the mind
The mountain’s outline and its steady form
Gives a pure grandeur; and its presence shapes
The measure and the prospect of the soul
To majesty; such virtue have the forms
Perennial of the ancient hills; nor less
The changeful language of their countenances
Gives movement to the thoughts, and multitude,
With order and relation.
Wordsworth – The Prelude, Book 6
We set out mid-morning from the car park at the head of the reservoir. We took the obvious route which winds up the mountainside past Small Water to the Nan Bield Pass, a short distance South of the High Street summit. As we approached the pass -and the Roman road- we found ourselves enveloped in cloud. The road at this point is simply a depressed band running through the grass. Sometime in the past a dry stone wall has been built beside it. We made our way along road to the summit where stopped to eat and consult the map, sheltering behind the wall from the wind.
We decided to descend via Riggindale Crag. Although it’s quite a famous route to and from High Street summit it was unknown to us. All we knew about the route was what we could see from the map. It promised to be rocky and spectacular.
We were not disappointed. Moreover, as we descended the rocks and scree at its steepest part, the clouds began to blow aside, revealing the steep drops on either side, to Riggindale Be
ck and to another tarn, Blea Water. Sadly, I’d forgotten to bring my camera. Fortunately, A hadn’t: he took a few photos and kindly uploaded them to my laptop when we got home.
Some way along the ridge there is an excellent little summit which, like many low level summits, affords an uncanny view of the surrounding hills, Harter Fell, High Street and Kidsty Pike. It is almost as if, if you ran a geometry compass around the ridge connecting those hills, this would be where you’d plant the needle. The camera came out again and A created a panoramic shot of the scene (click to enlarge- then click to zoom in).
We lazed there for a while, reclining, as the grass was wet, on the most comfortable rocks we could find. We could have stayed there longer but the woods along the lakeside intrigued us – and we wanted to reach them in daylight. We made our way down through the trees to the edge of the reservoir where, again, we rested a while. The reservoir had been in the news recently: the level of the water in it had dropped so low as to reveal the sunken village of Mardale. However, it must have risen again: all that could be seen of that lost valley was a few blackened tree stumps at the water’s edge.
Like the Roman road at the top of the hill, the presence of the reservoir in the valley is vaguely disconcerting. It looks so natural yet, in another way so unnatural. I suppose, if you dam a river it will, quite naturally, rise. The dam is the artificial part. But then, what is the difference between the natural and the artificial? Is a city, the creation of human animals, any less natural than an anthill? And then again, reservoir or no reservoir, it’s a conceit to imagine that the landscape around us, almost everywhere, is not as it is as a result of human intervention. That bald mountain was once a forest. Those neatly separated fields are as industrial in their way as a steelworks.