Monday, 28 May 2012

A Lap of Haweswater

Sitting on the far eastern side of the Lake District National Park, Haweswater is one of the trickier lakes to get to and because of that it’s usually one of the quietest. To get there by road you’ll need to head up through Shap and follow the signposts down to the lake.  Well, technically it’s a reservoir supplying the people of Manchester but, as I’m writing about the Lake District and not the Reservoir district, I shall be referring to it as a lake.  In fact, here’s a challenge for you; which of the lakes in the Lake District is the only one that is actually called a lake (as opposed to a mere, tarn, water or reservoir)?  Answer at the end.

Haweswater is just over 4 miles long and a full lap comes in at around 10 miles.  It’s an easy walk with a clear path the whole and perfect for the very hot and sunny day we attempted it on.  We parked up in a layby at the northern end and set off for an anticlockwise lap.  The dam itself is an impressive structure and was the first hollow dam of its type in the world, though when work started in 1929 it was massively controversial.  This was due to the fact that by building the dam and creating the reservoir the villages of Measand and Mardale Green would be flooded and lost forever.  The dry stone walls disappearing into the lake at the water’s edge are a clear reminder of what was once there and, during periods of drought, many of the old village buildings reappear from their watery resting place.

First up on the walk is the village of Burnbanks which was built to house the dam workers.  It fell into disrepair but has now been restored and is a very pretty little collection of small bungalows.  The footpath is clearly signposted out of the village and the first thing we saw as we made our way towards the lake was a red deer, but you’ll have to trust me on that one as the pesky thing moved too quickly for me to get a photo.

According to those protesting about the flooding of the valley it was one of the prettiest in Westmorland; well they may have flooded it but it’s still very pretty.  As you hike southwards looming up ahead of you are Branstree, Harter Fell and High Street and you’ll be hard pressed to find many finer views.  As we walked we noticed a lot of strange loud booming noises; we’re guessing this has something to do with the reservoir, but would welcome any suggestions as to their origin.

After a delightful pause for lunch we arrived at Riggindale; home to our very own Golden Eagle.  The RSPB has a manned station along the valley where they train telescopes to help you spot the elusive resident.  I can’t claim to have seen him clearly, but I can claim to have seen a blurry eagle like shape perched in amongst the scree.  The poor thing has been alone for the past 7 years; well apart from several dozen people spying on him on a daily basis.  Hopefully he’s enjoying his bachelor lifestyle and won’t be deserting us to seek companionship further north.

Passing the car park at Mardale Head we started on our journey north.  The footpath here is a little trickier to navigate as for the most part it traverses the steep grassy banks of the lake.  It’s one of those paths where could really do with your right leg being about 6 inches shorter than your left.  There are so many spectacular viewpoints along this stretch that it was really hard to pick out the few key photos which really do it justice.  Technically if you look at the photo of Riggindale valley then you should be able to see a Golden Eagle in there, it’s highly unlikely though.

The last major landmark along the route is the Pier and whenever I see stuff like this I’m impressed at how ornate they are.  Back in the day it wasn’t enough for things to just be functional; they also had to look good too.  Long before everything simply went to the lowest bidder people weren’t afraid to jazz things up a little and I’m jolly glad they did too.  The three stone arches and final turret blend into the landscape of fields and dry stone walls in a way that a purely functional structure never could.

Continuing north it wasn’t long before we passed the hotel where those of a weaker constitution can stop for a nice cold beer and a rest.  Please don’t think I’m implying that we are in anyway made of sterner stuff than the rest of the population, I’m simply implying we forgot to bring any money with us.  Thankfully it wasn’t long before we were back at the car/ greenhouse desperately trying to cool it down a little before heading home.

This hike was an important milestone for us as we finally broke the curse of Haweswater; on each of our previous visits we’ve had to abort or change our plans mainly due to my overly optimistic faith in the prevailing weather conditions.  This time, even though clear hot weather was forecast for every part of the UK for today and the coming week, I packed my waterproofs, just in case, and it clearly did the trick.  Oh, and the answer to the question at the start is that Basenthwaite Lake is the only “lake” in the Lake district.  Might come in handy next time you’re in a pub quiz. 

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