‘A grand hill in a beautiful situation with a character all its own and an arresting outline,’ says Alfred Wainwright of the fierce dark pyramid called Mellbreak.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
That neatly sums up this formidable-looking but actually quite manageable hill that lowers like a grumpy, humped-backed monster over the western side of the long narrow lake of Crummock Water. Setting out from the Kirkstile Inn, the northern face of Mellbreak looked so dark, sheer and forbidding that we wondered how on earth we were to get up there. But once we’d reached the slippery screes that fan out down the mountain, it was easy enough – a bit of zig-zag, a lot of hard breathing and upwards effort, and we were standing proud at the northern summit cairn, 1300 feet higher and a lot sweatier than an hour before.
The view from the 1,668-ft northern peak of Mellbreak must be one of the best anywhere in the Lake District – back over Loweswater and north as far as the misty spread of the Solway Firth and the grey humps of Scotland’s Galloway hills; east across Crummock Water to the pink screes of towering Grasmoor; north to the great mountain spine of Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag; west to the long green ridge of Hen Comb and Loweswater Fell rising across the deep, unpopulated valley of Mosedale.
A steep, skeltering path dropped us into Mosedale. Down there a green track skirted the western flank of Mellbreak in wonderful isolation and silence. If Mosedale ever had farms, fields and folk, they are long forgotten. Here were swathes of bog grazed by Herdwick sheep, and watery dells full of orchids, sundews and flowering sedges, all caught in a cradle of shapely fells. ‘Dreary and wet’ was Wainwright’s sour summing-up of Mosedale. The Master wasn’t always right, was he?
Down on Crummock Water we turned north along the lake shore. What were the islet of Low Ling Crag and its tiny tombola beach of grey shaley stones created for, if not for swimming in the cool lake water on a hot summer afternoon? That’s what we did, and went on homeward with renewed springs to our heels.
On the grass verge outside the Kirkstile Inn sat a man with muddy hiking boots, a glass of beer and a very contented smile. ‘Oh,’ he winked as we went by, ‘it’s shocking, this is! Wish I was at work!’
Start: Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater, Cumbria CA13 0RU (OS ref NY 141209)
Getting there: Kirkstile Inn is signed from the Loweswater road, off B5289 (Buttermere-Cockermouth). Enquire at inn about local parking – official car parks at Maggie’s Bridge (134210) and Scalehill Bridge (149215).
Walk (6 miles, hard, OS Explorer OL4): From Kirkstile Inn fork right off left bend; immediately right (‘No Through Road’). Country lane south for ½ mile past Kirkgate farm. At gate, lane curves right (139202); ahead uphill between trees. On open fell, keep ahead to bottom of scree (141199). Bear left; zigzag up (steep, skiddy!) to north summit of Mellbreak (143195). Ahead into dip. In 500m path bears right to a fork, 50m before rock outcrop on main path (145190) Fork right here on faint path, steeply down to track in Mosedale (141186). Turn left (south) for 900m, to pass metal gate. Shortly afterwards track curves left and follows the lower line of the bracken; keep ahead here (144178), aiming for curved peak of Red Pike. In 350m, go through gate in fence on bank (146175); descend to turn left along track by Black Beck (146174). Pass 3 footbridges (152174; 155175; 156178) but don’t cross any of them. On reaching Crummock Water, bear left (north). Nearing north end of lake, in 1¼ miles, branch left (149197) up path through bracken which bisects angle with stone wall ahead. Reaching wall (148199), follow it to Highpark Farm. Turn right through gate in wall (145202); left through gate; on along stony lane. Cross Park Bridge (145205); fork left to Kirkstile Inn.
Refreshments: Kirkstile Inn (01900-85219; kirkstile.com)
Dinner/Accommodation: Bridge Hotel, Buttermere CA13 9UZ (01768-770252; bridge-hotel.com) – friendly, well-run family hotel
Guidebook: Family Walks In The Lake District by A Wainwright/Tom Holman, pub. Frances Lincoln