We’re at Naddle farm on the Haweswater RSPB reserve which will be our basecamp for the weekend. We arrived the night before so the ponies are rested for our weekend trek up the Swindale Valley to the east of Haweswater. Clare is running through the days itinerary and what to do and not do around the ponies.
We are carrying a fair amount of kit for 2 days out (tents, bedding, food and kitchen) but we have 4 ponies and each is capable of carrying up to 20% of their own bodyweight and we are well under their weight capacity.
While the grown-ups help load the pack saddles, the kids are busy leaf printing using rounded stones to hammer the leaf pigment onto a calico canvas.
It’s a glorious English summer day. The last time I as in this valley there was snow up above us on High Street but we’re not heading that far today. The beauty of the route we are taking is that we have options depending how far the little ones can get without getting tired and we already have permission from the landowner to wild camp on this route.
We are above the tree line now. Two feral fell ponies are standing from a distance watching our pack pony train pass by - interested, but not inquisitive enough to come closer. We’re soon over Rosgill moor and making our way down the fell side to a bit of flat ground so we stop for a picnic lunch, give the ponies a break and let the kids explore the dry beck for bugs and creatures.
We pass a couple of small groups out for a walk but the Swindale valley is a hidden gem and what makes it even more beautiful is it’s emptiness as we amble past hayfields, and old Westmorland barns.
We are at the foot of Nabs moor and have stopped near the waterfalls. The ponies have kept the little ones “Gee’d-up” but small people soon get tired legs so instead of carrying on up to Mosedale we make camp for the night.
The priorities when you’re travelling with ponies or horses are always grass and water so once the packs are unloaded the ponies are all tethered close by. One of the best bits of travelling with ponies is that you are always in eye contact with them - they become part of the family, part of the team - not tucked away in a stable out of sight somewhere - but they are as much part of the camp as any of us.
Then we make camp. The Robens tents are not only quick to put up but they blend in to the scenery so well it’s hard to make us out from a distance.
Just a couple of hundred metres away are some of the most beautiful waterfalls and pools. After a long day trekking, it’s so nice to soak my feet in the cool waters.
What’s lovely about these waterfalls is that there are different sized pools the further you climb, so there are shallow pools for kids to paddle but also deeper pools to swim.
Whilst Clare and some of our guests water the ponies from the beck, I start cooking a simple but tasty Lebanese stir fry recipe given to me by my old friend @Leah_Ibiza_food. We’ve managed to get hold of a Prakti stove which you find in Indian street food markets. The Prakti runs on charcoal, is really efficient and means we’re not digging fire pits. The charcoal is made locally in the South Lakes woodlands by our friends at Wood Matters.
The eating carries on well into the night finished off with the best chocolate in the world ever from Forever Cacao to the sound of horses munching away on the long grass and the flowing beck at the bottom of the valley. It is 21st June - the longest day - so as we all turn in after 11pm it is only just getting dark .
Breakfast (porridge with blueberries) is followed by 2nd breakfast (bacon end eggs) with some of Mr Duffin’s finest coffee brewed in a Mocha pot. The ponies have ben watered and we slowly beak camp.
We are heading up the Old Corpse Road (so called as there was no cemetry in Mardale until the 1700’s so dead bodies were carried over to Swindale and beyond to Shap Abbey). We are following in the footsteps of countless generations of pack ponies before us with the Cotton Grass and Skylarks.
We make a temporary camp just below a viewing point with views to High Street and Harter Fell and tuck into a picnic lunch. But all too soon we have to head home. The last hour we wind our way slowly over the fells on a sheep trod back to Naddle farm. We have ben blessed with the weather, great company and utterly spectacular views. Can’t wait to do this trek again!
If you’d like to join us on a Swindale valley trek, get in touch and we’ll take care of the rest.