The Roman road crosses the fell on its journey between the forts at Brougham (Brocavum) near Penrith and at Ambleside (Galava). Situated in one of the quieter areas of the Lakes, the High Street range has quite gentle slopes with a flat summit plateau. It was these characteristics which persuaded Roman surveyors to build their road over the fell tops rather than through the valleys which, at the time, were densely forested and marshy thus making them susceptible to ambushes.
The fell’s flat summit was also used as a venue for summer fairs by the local population in the 18th and 19th centuries. People from the surrounding valleys would gather every year on 12 July to return stray sheep to their owners; games and wrestling would also take place as well as horse racing. The summit of High Street is still known as Racecourse Hill and is so named on maps, and fell ponies can be found grazing occasionally on its summit.
This wide ridge summit is one I have long wanted to climb but simply never got round to, or been distracted by other peaks around.
We headed up to Sykeside campsite near Brothers Water with Kermit (the Landrover) to test and play with the new rooftent, climb a fell or two, and have a bit of a break. The campsite was perfect with its own shop and an all-important pub too, so gave us all we would need without having to de-rig and drive anywhere. Also, the location meant we could walk straight from camp.
After a day or two of strong winds, tuesday brought light wind, blue sky and bright sunshine – a perfect day to go walking. We headed down the side of Brothers Water to Hartsop, the dogs seeming to be even more excited than me as they pulled us along. Due to lambing being in full flow, they had to stay on their leads which gave us a little extra momentum as the climb commenced up to Hayeswater, a natural lake sitting at almost 1400 feet, which is now used as a resevoir.
From here the climb steepened again as we continue round The Knott. Here we paused for lunch and to admire the clarity of the views across to the Helvellyn range and around.
Following a short decent to the dramatically titled ‘Straits of Riggindale’ we strode on, gaining height swiftly to the main objective of the day, Racecourse Hill. Marked not by the usual summit cairn but by a trig point, it is a very wide open fell top dissected by an old stone wall, visitors are left to ponder on the numerous pairs of roman feet who trod this ancient road centuries ago.
We did not linger long here though as the breeze had risen in this exposed spot had a cold edge to it, so we continued round to the beacon capped Thornthwaite Crag before heading north along the ridge to Gray Crag.
The descent from the final top of the day (Gray Crag) was a steep and occasionally loose and exposed one. Islay (our Springer Spaniel) seemed to sense my caution as she stopped pulling, moving gently alongside or behind me step by step through the steeper sections. We were all delighted when the descent eased as we returned to the bridleway we’d climbed earlier.
From here the rest of the day passed quickly as we returned to the valley floor and back to camp. That evening, we did the only sensible thing and went to the pub…
While we enjoyed the weather by day, and the hospitality offered by the pub in the evening, and slept fitfully by night, it is worth remembering the volunteers of Mountain Rescue teams all across the UK remain on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to keep us all safe.