The Kentmere Horseshoe, sometimes called the Kentmere Round, is one of the longest and most remote walks in the Lake District. Traversing all the fells bounding the upper Kentmere valley and its reservoir, it starts beside the village hall in the hamlet of Kentmere some 4 miles north of Staverley, near Kendal.
Climbing steadily to the top of the Garburn Pass and turning right to head north the first Wainwright fell of Yoke is quickly in view. There follows a fine undulating ridge walk from Yoke, over Ill Bell, and then Froswick before it terminates at Thornthwaite Crag where there is a tall beacon. This is also a good place to stop for lunch.
The very keen then head to High Street which is a little out of the way, but we traverse around the head of the River Kent to Mardale Ill Bell. We like to visit its summit as there are a couple of small tarns nearby which retain water for our dogs even through a dry summer. A drop of about
There is a slight drop and a little ascent whilst following the fence to Kentmere Pike but after a morning of hard stony paths the soft grass along much of this wide ridge is very welcome. Continuing to Shipman Knotts needs a little bit of care. Some people visit the intermediate Goat Scar but Wainwright didn't consider it significant enough for a chapter on its own, so most people bypass it. A fork in the path diverts from the ridge and misses both tops so a careful eye on the map and the instructions is needed here. Shipman Knotts itself, as the name suggests, is a complicated bit of ground strewn with bumps and outcrops of rock. Following the wall down past Wray Crag the path gets a bit rocky and steep but you soon get on to the track which takes you westwards and back to Kentmere.
The one almost constant view on the walk is down to the reservoir. It was dammed in 1848 to provide water for a gunpowder mill, snuff mill, and the James Cropper paper mill who still own it.
Parking is severely limited in Kentmere. There is a very small spot for less than half-a-dozen cars next to the village hall opposite St Cuthbert's church - an honesty box is on the wall of the hall for donations. Sometimes a farmer opens a field for parking but it cannot be relied upon. The Kentmere Rambler bus service which used to operate on Sundays and bank holidays appears to have ceased.
This walk takes you to the top of the following hills: Yoke, Thornthwaite Crag, Shipman Knotts, Mardale Ill Bell, Kentmere Pike, Ill Bell, Harter Fell (Mardale), Goat Scar, and Froswick; and includes 8 Wainwrights, 9 Birketts, 6 Hewitts, 6 Nuttalls, and 2 HuMPs.
Walk height profile
note that gradients are usually grossly exaggerated
From the parking spot by the village hall continue along the minor road, swinging firstly round to the right, and then left to The Nook.
Turn right just past the first building on the right onto a rough track signposted "Restricted Byway to Troutbeck via Garburn Pass". This soon swings left, goes through a couple of gates, and climbs steadily.
After crossing Crabtree Brow it climbs more steeply. The surface is very rough to the gateway at the top of the pass.
Go through the gate and continue on the track to the large cairn on the corner where the track turns left. Turn right and follow the clear path northwards through the knotted ground. Yoke appears ahead. The paths, the boggy one beside the wall, and the short cut through the hollows and knotts, all join up and follow the wall on a clear wide, and gravelled in places, path.
Keep to the path and climb to the kissing gate on the steep southern flank of Yoke. Go through and bear right, then swing left continuing on the clear path rising up the fellside.
At the top bear right along the ridgeline, ignore a path going off to the left, to the cairn at the summit of Yoke.
Note: during autumn 2014 a substantial fence was in the process of being erected near the top of Yoke, probably for the cattle that live up here, so be aware that new gates not mentioned here may appear on the path.
From the summit of Yoke continue along the ridge generally northwards. Just before the descent really gets going there is a small tarn just to the right of the path - very handy for thirsty dogs. Then the path bears left dropping over a bump and down to the saddle at the head of Rainsborrow Cove.
Climb up the other side, stay on the wide path. As it climbs it gets significantly more rocky and awkward to keep a good stride.
The summit area of Ill Bell has an abundance of very fine and well built cairns. The official summit cairn is the one in the middle... We weren't totally sure which one it was and visited all of them anyway.
From Ill Bell looking northwards again across another saddle is Froswick. The descent is made by keeping right of the last cairn, then descending left on a steep rough path through boulders. It doesn't last for long before the path improves and rounds Over Cove.
Further occasional old fence posts hint at a more formal boundary along the whole ridge in past times.
Continue on the now easy path, ignore a side path to the left, to the small summit cairn of Froswick.
Bear left from the summit of Froswick and descend steeply on a good path. Cross the saddle and climb the slopes the other side.
You will hardly notice the small intermediate bump on the ridge that is marked on the map.
The path soon splits, the right fork heads for High Street, take the left fork heading for the beacon on Thornthwaite Crag. This 14ft high landmark is usually hard to miss but from here it only comes in to view when quite close. It is an ideal spot to take a break.
At Thornthwaite Beacon, turn right, eastwards, crossing the broken down wall and swing on a clear path to round the head of Hayeswater Gill, then northwards towards High Street. Soon reaching a broken down wall across the path don't cross but turn right, cross a less clear path at the end of the wall and then follow a narrow trod across the grass largely contouring the fellside towards Mardale Ill Bell.
Round the great combe above the River Kent to the south, lined by Gavel Crag, Bleathwaite Crag, and Hall Cove. The path passes below the summit of Mardale Ill Bell but it's worth visiting its summit for the view to Haweswater. With a dog the summit area is dotted with small tarns that will keep water even in summer for a drink. As the path swings south bear left over the grass, largely pathless, and head for Mardale Ill Bell's summit cairn on an outcrop of rock.
Bearing right, from Mardale Ill Bell, pick up a wide path heading initially south east, then east on rough stone pitched path down to the shelter on Nan Bield Pass.
With tiredness creeping in the long climb to Harter Fell up the other side of the pass looks horrendous, but keep going as this is the last of the major climbs.
A rough path continues initially east, climbing a series of imposing crags. It zigzags easily amongst the terraces and rocky steps, without any difficulties. At the top a line of cairns continue to the old fence post decorated summit cairn of Harter Fell.
At Harter Fell stay on the cairn side of the fence and turn right, heading roughly southwards. Follow a path near the fence through the soft and very welcome grass - although it'll get a bit soggy in the rain. A small collection of stones just off the fence corner marks The Knowe.
Kentmere Pike appears to the left across another saddle. To the right the Kentmere valley appears still some way off. Keep following alongside the fence only straying to avoid occasional peat hags and boggy hollows.
Climb to the summit cairn of Kentmere Pike, with the cairn on this side of the wall and the trig point just over the stone stile.
From the summit of Kentmere Pike continue south east alongside the wall, soon becoming fence again. At the corner where the fence bears left to Goat Scar, cut the corner unless you have a strong want and a surfeit of energy, to the left-most of two ladder stiles over the wall. Beware of straying right on the path to Hollow Bank. The ladder stile you are looking for is next to the junction where the fence from Goat Scar joins. The stile does not appear particularly big on this side, but the drop the other side is considerable and almost vertical. Some dogs may have a problem with the jump down.
Again, cut the wall corner a little and stick to the well used path. Rejoining near to the wall again and climb the last bit to the top of Shipman Knotts. The official summit is an outcrop of rock the other side of the wall, but it appears most people are satisfied with the same height outcrop with cairn on this, west, side of the wall.
Continue alongside the wall from Shipman Knotts summit still heading south. Go through a gap in the broken down wall that comes in from the right, and remain alongside the wall heading south.
Just above Wray Crag another broken cross wall appears from the right, again cross it and keep left.
A good path follows close to the wall even when squeezed by Wray Crag where there is a steep drop. A nice sloping slab with a groove makes for an easy descent in the dry, but watch for it being slippery in the wet.
At the bottom of the crag the ground is a bit wet but the path is not too bad. Descend to the Sadgill to Kentmere track.
Turn right on the track, westwards, towards Kentmere.
Around the barn at Stile End there may be cows again, keep to the track and pass it on the left. Go through a gateway to continue on the track and down to the tarmac road. Turn left along the road to go through a gate across it. Carry on another 150m (165 yards) and at the public footpath sign cross the stone stile over the wall on the right. Drop through the enclosure of bracken on a clear path. Cross the stone stile over the wall into Low Lane, and again over the stone stile opposite.
Continue down to cross the footbridge over the River Kent and up through the field the other side. Turn left to Rook Howe on a clear track, and through the buildings. Keep left and drop down their driveway, marked with a yellow arrow. Meeting the road beside the church turn right back to the parking area.
If you like this walk then why not try one of our other nearby walks:
|Grey Crag, Harrop Pike, and Tarn Crag above Longsleddale||3.2km (2.0 miles) away|
|Sour Howes and Sallows||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
|Troutbeck Tongue||4.6km (2.9 miles) away|
Unless otherwise stated the text in this walk is the copyright of Hug Solutions Ltd trading as The Hug and the photographs are the copyright of Elizabeth Oldham. Hill data is derived from Database of British and Irish hills which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Maps contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011 and paths © OpenStreetMap Contributors,CC-BY-SA, 2011