Horseshoes, you have to love horseshoes. I love them, you love them, and Kentmere has one of the finest. But there are times when you might want to take a different approach. Maybe you’ve trotted around that horizon a thousand times already. Maybe the ridges are thronged with folk. Maybe it’s hot and you want to stay close to water for longer. Or maybe you’d just like to explore, close-up, this beautiful valley you’ve only ever seen in aerial view. It has a lovely reservoir (two words that rarely sit well together, but do here), many beautiful waterfalls, and good populations of deer, fell ponies, foxes, badgers and ring ouzels (a.k.a. mountain blackbirds). You could make this a valley exploration only , dropping into Hall Cove from below Nan Bield Pass. That would certainly make a sensible bad-weather option if the mist is low. But this site is all about hillwalking, and the peek over to Mardale is particularly good, so Mardale Ill Bell is included as a summit to aim for.
And the name? Well, the centre of a horse’s foot is called the frog. If I pass up a joke like that, am I even a dad?
metres / Distance
NY4562704086 Start by the church. Start walking down the lane, back towards Staveley, crossing the River Kent.
NY4582203983 Turn left up Hellewell Lane by a coniferous hedge, signposted to Maggs Howe. Note the parking field opposite this junction, as an alternative start point.
NY4595304078 Carry on up Hellewell Lane, turn right on a footpath up from the unfortunately named Kill Gill.
NY4608404087 At the top, turn left on tarmac, heading updale.The views up the valley are beautiful
After a few minutes, by a green grit bin, a bridleway sign on your left will direct you towards Nan Bield Pass and Mardale. Stick to the bridleway, heading to Overend Farm.
NY4613204388 At the farm, two tracks leave northwards. Take the one on the right. This is the bridleway.
Keep following it to where it crosses Ullstone Gill at a footbridge.
NY4639605758 From the footbridge, rise up onto a peaty moor. The bridleway can get sketchy in a couple of places where people have taken different routes to avoid squidginess. But the general trend is NNW. You'll soon attain a lovely high-level trod traversing the western slopes of Harter Fell, before the last stony zigzags up to the pass.
NY4562207035 Nan Bield is one of the most distinctive of Lakeland cols, with its stony crest and wind-shelter. Turn left and head up the good path to Mardale Ill Bell.
NY4523909589 Double back from the summit, but trend right (south) away from the path you've just come up. Gain the charming rounded shoulder of Lingmell End jutting out into upper Kentmere.
NY4473510149 From Lingmell End, there's a gnarly descent into the upper valley. Unlubricated knees might grumble but it's unlikely to be dangerous unless there's hard packed snow about. I always enjoy this steep, pathless drop into the dalehead because it feels like parachuting into a remote mountain fastness. Listen for the first bubbling in the grass of the Kent headwaters.
Keep your eyes peeled, too: you've got a very good chance of surprising deer up here.
Follow the infant river downstream to the reservoir and follow the western bank down to the dam. (Alternatively, there is also a thin trod down the eastern bank, allowing you to cross by the dam itself. From the western end of the dam, follow the good access track, past Reservoir Cottage and Hartrigg farm, all the way back to St Cuthbert's Church.
Love it up there. As a one-time caver I always enjoy poking around in the many slate quarries and caverns dotted around the dale head. Do they still do teas at Maggs Howe? It's a great place to sit and enjoy the view after a walk.