Its a Friday afternoon in early April and I am driving up the M6 looking at the snow capped fells. It’s the first time out in the new horse box. In the back are my Fell ponies Hades Hill Pat III and daughter Lucky Pearl. We’re on our way to test a new route for a 3 day trek over High Street, the old Roman Road and the place where the shepherds would meet and have trotting races on their Gallowa’s in days gone by.
The biggest challenge I have had in the last year and a half is getting permission for wild camping on the Cumbrian fells from all the relevant landowners. For the past 3 months I have been in discussion with United Utilities and the National Trust who own large swathes of Bampton Common and Mardale Common. The RSPB who have a reserve at Haweswaterhave agreed to let me use Naddle farm as my basecamp for the High Street treks this summer.
Naddle is still a working farm within the RSPB Haweswater reserve. Round the back of the farm house they have built a glass viewing room and as dusk falls I find myself in a comfy chair watching three badgers feed.
It’s 6:30am and I’m awake. It was a cold night so I’m glad to get moving and warm my body. My friends Barny and Jonah are meeting me this morning and joining me on the trek. While the porridge and blueberries bubbles away I pack down the tent. I’ve already moved the ponies onto fresh grass so by the time Barny and Jonah arrive its already 9am.
We’re away by 10am but as always on the first day there’s a bit of stop-starting to get the packs just right, We are following the lane by the side of Swindale Beck and up to the waterfalls for an early lunch break. It’s a scorcher of a day and T shirt weather. As we climb up to Nabs Moor the ponies are getting a sweat on. We stop for a breather and spot a herd of at least 50 Roe deer on the side of the fell 100 metres away.
We’re actually walking a 3 day trek in 2 days to work out stopping places for treks this summer. We pass Mosedale Cottage, a climbers hut where anyone can take refuge and we find a good place for the ponies beyond the cottage just off the marshy ground, but we press on as we want to make it over the Gatesgarth Pass and back up towards Lingmell End if we can today.
Gatesgarth is a Byway but has locked gates at each end to restrict 4 wheel drives which are allowed through on certain days. Horses and ponies are allowed through anytime and I have been given the combination for the locks. At the top of the pass there’s a nice stopping place for a brew. The bridleway carries on straight over and back down to Haweswater. Going West is a footpath to Lingmell End that could cut off 2 sides of a steep up and down triangle, but I want to check out the bridleway and see how the ponies get on so we head down.
The sun is starting to go down and we’re not going to make it even as far as Small water today so we make camp for the night looking down over Haweswater. Jonah has brought sausages and we’re trying out the Firepot adventure foods. The Firepot guys had a stand next to Fell Pony Adventures at the Night of Adventure in London last month and they gave me a few sample packs to try out. The Posh baked Beans are a hit.
We’re up late sharing stories (Barny has returned only 2 days ago from a 3 week overland adventure with his two small children through the Sahara and over the High Atlas Mountains) so we don’t get to sleep till the early hours.
The weather has been kind to us and there wasn’t even any dew on the ground this morning, but the sun has gone and up above Small Water the mist starts to gather. After a couple of cups of coffee and a fried breakfast we’re off again.
At Nan Bield we turn North heading towards the Trig point at the Southern end of High Street. The mist is getting thicker, the cold is biting and I get out my compass for the first time to get a bearing and make sure we don’t wander off course.
The snow I’d seen from the motorway is underfoot now but the ponies are coping well. We stop at the trig point and think about a cup of tea but it’s too cold to stop so we decide to move on and find some shelter. We hear voices and 2 older guys jog through the mist. We exchange pleasantries. They are surprised to see the ponies and get a photo of us. I take another bearing but we can follow the line of the wall now until the High Street bridleway.
We find a sheltered spot behind a wall next to the cairn that marks where we will turn North. Lunch consists of stuffed vine leaves, bread and cheese. I had originally planned on following the bridleway over to Hayeswater to find a spot for a 2nd night wild camp there but we are pushed for time so we head North towards Bampton. The sun hasn’t managed to break through the mist and unfortunately we don’t get any of the stunning views but as we hit the long wall at Raven Howe the mist begins to lift.
After the hard day up and down Gatesgarth and up past Small Water this morning, we’re glad of an easy path. The three of us came over High Street from the other direction about 8 years ago with 5 ponies and some more friends - a long slow ascent, but this way round is much easier, a couple pf gentle climbs and then a long descent.
Our route takes us down Bampton Common where the Drybarrows herd of Fell ponies run out and as we drop down with Haweswater in our sights again, a group of about 10 mares see us coming. The lead white mare is excited but our ponies take it all in their stride. They are all interested to see each other but we are soon past them and on our way again.
And then as we get down to near the waters edge, the sun comes out again. Its already 4pm but as we cross a cool beck and find some long grass, we look at each other and all say we’d rather stay out an hour or two longer so we tether the ponies, have a cup of tea with the last of our milk and close our eyes lying in the sun for an hour.
We have had an amazing couple of days, through mist and snow capped mountains with breathtaking views. It is an amazing route. I will come back again in the next week or two to look at a camp near Hayeswater and try the shortcut that misses out Small Water, but we have a route, an amazing basecamp and permissions for wild camping from the landowners. This is a Fell Pony Adventure we will be doing again for sure this summer.
If you would like to trek over High Street with our ponies and wild camp on the fells, we will be running treks from May to September. Get in touch and we will tailor make a trek to suit your needs.