11th August 2012

Walking the Lakeland Passes - Walk 21 - Mardale Corpse Road and Mosedale Crossing

Walk Overview
Time 08.00 to 18.35
Duration 10 hr 35 min
Distance 22.8 mile
Ascent 4400 ft
Walking with Rod Hepplewhite
Mardale Corpse Road - Swindale - Keld - Shap - A6 - Wet Sleddale - Mosedale Cottage - Brownhowe Bottom - Sadgill - Brownhowe Bottom - Mardale Head
Fells visited
Directory places visited

Starting Point Information Centre
Roadside, Haweswater, bottom of the corpse road

Prior to the church at Mardale Green being consecrated, what we now refer to as the corpse road, was the route used by the people of this valley to take the bodies of their dead to Shap for burial. Thankfully the gruesome purpose of this route has been consigned to the history books and what we have now is a wonderful stretch of Mooreland footpath, which despite it's closeness to Mardale and Swindale, has a feeling of remoteness about it.

There aren't too many spaces here, but there never seems to be more than a couple of cars parked, so I'm probably right in saying this is somewhere you'll always get parked.


Route Map

I'm pleased to say that after weeks of delaying it because of the weather, I've finally managed to complete the last walk in my Walking the Lakeland Passes project. When I started this I didn't put any sort of time scale on it, but the weather was quite good early on and I seemed to be working my way through the walks much quicker then I'd imagined. Then, with only three walks left to do, we went away on holiday and when we returned, the weather went completely down hill. Never mind; the fells didn't go anywhere and as it turned out, I'm please I waited for a decent day instead of just getting the walk done.

Today's walk saw us following the route of the Corpse Road between Mardale and Shap. And I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that I'm not going to try to offer a history lesson here because I'm sure most of us are already familiar with events that took place at Mardale in the 1920s and 30's; the building of the dam, the destruction of the village and the drowning of this most beautiful of Lakeland valleys to quench the ever increasing thirst of Manchester. We all know how the dales folk used to strap their dead onto the back of horses to transport them over the fells for burial at Shap, and how in 1729 the tiny church yard was finally consecrated to allow burials to take place in the valley itself. Incidentally, the first burial in Mardale church-yard was that of John Turner of Mardale Green. The last body carried over the corpse road was John Holme of Brackenhowe, on 7th June 1736.
Alright, that's a bit of a history lesson, but I'll also give you an alternative glimpse into the old valley of Mardale by showing you some old pictures and telling you what a few other people said about the place long before and also leading up to the flooding.

A section in Thomas West's 1770s book "A guide to the Lakes in Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire" conveys to us what a Mr Young had to say about the lake during his 'tour'.

The approach to the lake is very picturesque: you pass between two high ridges of mountains, the banks finely spread with inclosures; upon the right, two small beautiful hills, one of them covered with wood; they are most pleasingly elegant. The lake is a small one, above three miles long, half a mile over in some places, and a quarter in others; almost divided in the middle by a promontory of inclosures, joined only by a straight, so that it consists of two sheets of water. The upper end of is is fine, quite inclosed, with bold, steep, craggy rocks and mountains; and in the centre of the end, a few little inclosures at their feet. The fourth side of the lake is a noble ridge of mountains, very bold and prominent down to the waters edge.

Thomas West himself says:
Above the chapel all is hopeless waste and desolation. The little vale contracts into a glen, strewed with precipitated ruins of mouldering mountains, and the destruction of perpetual waterfalls 

Jonathan Otley:
A Descriptive Guide to the English Lakes and adjacent Mountains (1842)
This lake is well stocked with fish of various kinds; but they are chiefly preserved for the table of Lowther Castle.

Lying beyond the usual circuit of the lakes, and at a distance from the great roads and places of entertainment, Hawes Water is often omitted. But, tourists, who can contrive to visit it without hurry or fatigue, will find it a sweet retired spot.

There is a public house at Mardale Green, about a mile above the head of the lake.

Harriet Martineau:
Guide to the English Lakes (1855)

Near this point is the little village of Measand, a pleasant, quiet place where lodgings may be had, and whence the ascent of High Street may be made. Round the head of the lake cluster the great mountains of Harter Fell, High Street, Kidsty Pike, and others, leaving space among the skirts for the exquisite little valley of Mardale. Those who are able to obtain one of Lord Lonsdale's boats for the traverse of the lake may think themselves fortunate ; for this is, of course, the most perfect way of seeing the surroundings of so small a sheet of water : and all other persons are deprived, by prohibition, of the means of doing so.
There are some good houses on the shores and at the further end ; but the occupants who live on the very brink are not allowed to keep any sort of boat. His lordship's boats are said to be procurable for the asking ; but the preliminaries are a hindrance. The walk along the lake-side is, however, easy and agreeable enough. The road skirts the western bank. The crags which are sprinkled or heaped about the head of the lake are very fine. They jut out from the mountain-side, or stand alone on the green slopes, or collect into miniature mountain-clusters, which shelter tiny dells, whence the sheep send forth their bleat.
There is a white house conspicuous at the head of the lake which is not the inn, however the tired traveller may wish it were. The inn at Mardale Green is full a mile from the water; and sweet is the passage to it, if the walker be not too weary. The path winds through the levels, round the bases of the knolls, past the ruins of the old church, and among snug little farms, while at one end of the dale is the lake, and the other is closed in by the passes to Kentmere and Sleddale; and the great pikes tower on either hand. The stream which gushes here and pauses there, as it passes among rough stones or through a green meadow, comes down from Small Water, reinforced by a brook from Blea Water on High Street, which joins the other a little above Mardale. The hostess at Mardale Green Inn, (the Dun Bull) will make her guests comfortable with homely food and a clean bed; and the host will, it necessary, act as a guide up the passes.

E. Lynn Linton
The Lake Country (1864)
It is a grand walk all along the edge of Hawes Water, under the eaves of the mountain ridges, with that great Wallow Crag on your flank, and Harter Fell and the other rough Mardale mountains before you. And none the less delightful for the unwonted simplicity and primitive lives of the people. Very little of distrust here ! If you ask your way, they will, perhaps, lead you right through the house to save you a few steps; and certainly no new fashion of wealth or luxury or even beauty has yet found its seed-bed at Hawes Water.

Henry Irwin Jenkinson:
Practical Guide to the English Lake District (1876)
The lake is 3m long, 1/2m broad, and height above the sea 694 feet. It is the property of the Earl of Lonsdale, and contains trout, char, perch, eels, skellies, and salmon. If a boat, or a day's fishing be desired, application must be made to the steward at Lowther Castle.

When the Measand Beck and hamlet are reached, the road skirts the shore, and at the head of the lake is seen a lofty cluster of mountains, including Harter Fell, High Street and Kidsty Pike. The beautiful view from this point will win the admiration of the tourist.

Following the course of Measand Beck, part of Haweswater is presently seen. The rivulet forms a few cascades and then flows into the lake, 1m from its foot.
A good cart road will be entered which traverses the shore, and leads to the Dun Bull Inn, at Mardale Green.
The best view of Haweswater is from the Measand promontory, 1m from the foot of the lake, and the walk thence to Mardale is remarkably fine. It is therefore advisable to take the route above indicated. 

Arthur L. Bagley
Holiday Rambles in the English Lake District (pre the flooding of the valley)

As regards the ordinary tourists, the vast majority of them enter Lakeland by way of Windermere, Keswick or Coniston. They keep, as a rule, to the beaten tracks, which do not lead to Mardale, and Heaven forbid that they should be encouraged to flock thither to spoil the peace.

And now all this peace and seclusion will soon be destroyed for ever. Manchester has laid a sacrilegious hand on Haweswater. Before long an army of navvies will descend upon this lovely valley. And when their work is done, the dale, of course, will be spoiled for all time.

All was peace, quiet and tranquil this morning as we set off to walk the Mardale Corpse Road. The route which would have been used by the dales folk all those years ago as they took their dead over from Mardale for burial at Shap. This picture was taken from what is now recognised as the bottom of the Corpse Road. Prior to the flooding, the road would have continued down to Mardale Green which would have been in full view from this spot.

Higher up now and looking back across to Riggindale and the High Street fells.

Looking back as Haweswater disappears from view.

Looking across the highest section of the moorland between Mardale and Swindale. Swindale is down to the right.

Walking down the hillside to the farm at Swindale Head.

Hay time in Swindale.


Although there's now a bridge over Swindale Beck, the old stepping stones can still be seen a little further up stream. Just this side of the tree. We might have given the stones a go, but one of them was missing.

A view back through Swindale.

The path traverses Blaze Hill which turned out to be the wettest section of the whole route.

Over on the left is Tailbert Farm and from here the views take on an altogether different appearance; much gentler and much more distant.

Off the fells now and we pass through Keld. What a lovely spot!

Looking back down the lane to Keld.

Journey's end; St Michael's Church, Shap.

Just up the road from the church is the Mardale Burial Ground where the tomb stones from Mardale Cemetery and other memorial plaques are found.




Main Street Shap, , , AKA the A6.

Making Hay while the sun shines.

The final 'pass' of the day and indeed of the whole project is the route used by the ancient packhorse trains and the drovers between Shap and Sadgill in Longsleddale or visa versa. The exact route between Shap and Sleddale Hall may be open to some speculation so I've simply taken a route which is convenient and to be honest it cannot actually be too far from the original. This is the road that runs from the A6 to Wet Sleddale Reservoir.

Wet Sleddale Reservoir.


Looking back to Sleddale Hall and Wet Sleddale Reservoir.

Taking into account the remoteness of the place, several sections of the route definitely hint at it being more widely used in the past than it is today. If this had never been anything other than a modern walking route, there would have been nothing more than a narrow strip of trampled grass along here.

As you round the base of Scam Mathew (what a fantastic name) you catch your first sighting of Mosedale Cottage. The white spec in the distance; left of centre.

Looking down to Mosedale Beck. The beck drops down into Swindale, where we walked earlier in the day.

Talk about eagle eyed. As I was taking this photo Rod spotted the orange 'thing' on this side of the bridge. It turned out to be a tape measure and two things sprang to mind straight away. What an odd thing to find all the way out here, and why would anyone bring a tape measure out here anyway.

Heading to Mosedale Cottage, , , ,

, , , , where unbeknown to us, the guy in the doorway had been watching us with his binoculars. Considering how far we'd already walked and how far we had left to go, it was reassuring when the guy commented that we were walking quite fast. "I've watched you all the way across and it normally takes people ages to walk that far"

At Brownhowe Bottom; for the first time today.

Down to Longsleddale we go.


Almost there now.

Time for a sit down before we made our way back over to Mardale.
It seems insignificant at the moment, but the statement on the van says "Bringing environmental understanding to all".

From Sadgill, the packhorse route had two options, straight ahead through the valley to Kendal or across this bridge and over to Kentmere.

A view ahead to the head of the valley. The track can be seen winding its way up to the low point on the skyline.

Trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, I thought perhaps they really do try to bring environmental understanding to all, and in this case they're lost.

Actually, what the driver and his mate did was drive a little further along the road, park on the grass verge and then walk as far as Brownhowe Bottom where a group of youngsters were camping. No, they weren't carrying camping equipment or anything they just walked up.

Must be in a rush to get somewhere.

Flood damage on the way up to Brownhowe Bottom.
That's the two blokes out of the van up there.

Whoops, , windale should be Swindale and vet Sleddale should be Wet Sleddale. Next time I'll stand half a pace to the right.

Looking down to Brown Howe Bottom.

The Mardale side of Gatescarth Pass. The clear views had completely gone as it turned incredibly hasy.

If you've followed the progress of these 21 walks you'll have seen me cover 328.5 miles and ascend 79,800 ft. I've visited some truly wonderful areas of the Lake District and undertaken some lengthy walks by some out of the ordinary routes. Needless to say every walk was enjoyable, but if I had to choose a favourite route I think it would have to be what was arguably the most unusual of them all, Garburn Pass and Threshthwaite Mouth. This one took me to so many fantastic places which you simply wouldn't think of including in the same walk, and it even visited two fell tops.
As for the actual day out I enjoyed the most. Without a doubt is had to be Sticks Pass and The Old Coach Road. This was done on a lovely hot and sunny spring day with cloud inversions above Ullswater at the start, a thoroughly enjoyable walk over the full Sticks Pass route, St John's in the Vale was at its absolute best and to finish off I had the seclusion of The Old Coach Road. A truly memorable day.

So, to draw the project to a close, all I can say, is if you fancy an out of the ordinary walking project, feel free to have a go at this one. The routes and distances are already worked for you, you can do them in any order you want and the pictures even show you what to expect. If you only end up enjoying it half as much as I did I'm sure you won't regret having a go. Don't forget though, walking over a pass means exactly that. There should be no nipping up to visit the fell tops found on either side of the passes otherwise that defeats the whole idea behind the thing. The decision, as they say, is yours.

David Hall -
Lake District Walks