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High Street Mountain (Cumbria)

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Located in the east of the Lake District, High Street is the 29th highest mountain in the Lake District at a height of 829 metres above sea level. The mountain is also known as Racecourse Hill because of the 19th century practice of hosting sports days on the mountains summit.

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      16.11.2009 18:03
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      You get out what you put in - plan your route carefully

      A region the size of the Lake District is bound to contain mountains of many kinds. There are the fun, rocky dwarves: the towering, cloud topped giants: and the long, hump backed ridges. High Street belongs to the last of these groups, and is a true colossus of a hill - but does the experience really match up to its promise?

      Location

      High Street can be found in the far eastern region of the English Lake District, in the bundle of mountains between Ullswater and Haweswater. At 828 metres, it is the highest mountain of the eastern region, and mainly consists of a large, gently sloping ridge reaching up to the summit crest, Racecourse Hill. The bulk of the mountain is huge, continuing for several miles, and presents two faces: a smooth, grassy sweep to the Ullswater side, and a craggy, scree covered giant to Haweswater.

      An unexpected history

      The thing that draws many to High Street is its history. As the name suggests, the wide ridge of his fell was used by the Romans as the location for a road between forts near Penrith (Brocavum) and Ambleside (Galava). This idea does add a certain charm to the generally dull summit walk: the idea of Roman soldiers marching along the ridge, gaining height to avoid the ambushing bandits in the valley below. Later, the flat summit of High Street was used by local people for fairs, where stray sheep were returned to their owners and wrestling matches and horse races were held (hence the summits alternative name of 'Racecourse Hill'). But obviously the Romans have gone, and the last fair was in 1835. The bustling peak has fallen to marshy, cloud enclosed silence.

      On High Street Itself

      Unlike lakeland's rockier fells, the surface soil of High Street is predominantly peat and so the path along the main ridge is wide, messy and often water logged. This is not helped by the fact that the route is also popular with mountain bikers (nothing against mountain bikers, except for the fact they're a bit crazy!). The poor quality of the track, coupled with the fact that High Street is predominantly just a long, slow incline, means that once you are on High Street itself the walk descends into a bit of a trudge.

      Routes

      The first point I should make is that there is no easy route up this fell. It is sufficiently high to present a challenge, but as it is in the quieter area of the lakes, no one has yet built a direct motorway route as can be found on Helvellyn or Scarfell Pike. Therefore, routes take a little time and effort to work out: the ones suggested here are from my own personal experience, so you should feel to work around them.

      The first way we have climbed is out of Glenridding, where you skirt the head of Ullswater and walk up towards High Street via Boredale Hause and Angletarn. From here you cross the magical Satura crag and head up towards the summit itself. The plus points of this route are that it spends as short an amount of time on the High Street ridge as possible, and that it passes the beautiful spot of Angletarn: the negatives are that it is an almost non stop climb all the way, that it doesn't offer the best views and that the easiest return route is to directly retrace your steps (never brilliant).

      A second route, and one which I am very fond of, is if you drive up the eastern side of Ullswater to the car park at the foot of Hallin Fell. Behind New Martindale Church there is a track leading around the base of the hill behind, which if followed leads to the quiet valley of Fusedale. From here you climb up to a tiny waterfall, cross a marshy patch next to a ruined shepherd's cottage, and begin the climb up on to the High Street Ridge. The walking is then pretty easy as far as racecourse hill: you then track back down around Riggindale Head, across Satura Crag to Angletarn, to Boredale Hause and then down Boredale, back to Martindale and the church. This is a decent walk at twelve or more miles, and so not one for the inexperienced, but the walking is generally straightforward. At least, it should be: when we did this walk, the early easter meant that there was still snow on the Highstreet Ridge and on Riggindale Head. With the low cloud and white ground, it was an exhausting, brilliantly eerie experience.

      There are also numerous routes from the Haweswater side, which are by reputation great fun, but as I have only walked one of these and do not remember it clearly, I wouldn't describe this in detail. Check out the maps and decide for yourself which you would prefer.

      Wildlife

      The wildlife around High Street deserves a special mention for three particular species. Firstly there are the fell ponies, either truly wild or gone feral, which can often be seen on the ridge (I remember one occasion when we saw one which was entirely white, standing out brilliantly against the dark marsh.) Secondly there is the golden eagle living in the Haweswater valley - which I have still never seen and will keep going back until I do! Finally, and this is just a personal favourite, the summit of High Street has one of the greatest densities of Skylarks I have ever seen. On good days, you can just spot them singing miles off into the blue: on bad days, they will hop along the grass only a few metres from you.

      Good Points

      High Street does have good points. It has a great history, full of interesting stories: you get a good feeling of height on the summit: and you can include it in some fantastic walks.

      Bad points

      Sadly, High Street does also have its negatives. Walking along the ridge itself is crashingly boring, while the summit is more a continuation of the long fell than a distinct entity. The path itself is a bit of a nightmare, especially after rainfall when you will quite often end up up to your shins in mud. And it is not accessible to inexperienced or unfit walkers (although this does contribute to its quietness).

      Just a warning

      At the risk of sounding preachy, I'm going to add this note to all of my walking reviews. Mountain weather and mountain ground are both unpredictable: however easy your planned walk, do not go out without a good map and compass and serviceable waterproofs. Walking and the outdoors are incredible, but they are also very powerful - make sure you treat them with respect!

      Recommendation

      I wish I could say that I loved High Street: such a massive fell, carrying such evocative names and such an interesting history, feels as though it deserves affection. But the fact is that there is no thrill to this hill. Physically it is high, but it will never be the high point of a walk involving it.

      If you are a peak bagger then don't miss this one off your list, and if you are so inclined you can plan a long trudge up and a long trudge back. But my suggestion would be that to get the best out of this hill, you need to put the work in. Plan your route carefully, think about what you want to see, give yourself a whole day in the hills. Then, even if you are disappointed by High Street itself, you can still get the best out of all the Eastern Lakes have to offer.

      Thanks for reading, and happy rambling :)

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