Making a Break for Mellbreak and Hen Comb – two Windy Western Wainwrights

A 7 mile Sunday Lakes walk up two windy western Wainwrights, with an extra advantage. You get to frequent one of Lakeland’s best country pubs, the Kirkstile Inn, where they serve proper ale. Not that I’m obsessed about proper pubs & proper ale. Well Ok I am. Anyway back to the mountains.

  • Distance = 7 miles ( 11.26 km)
  • Duration = 5 hours 10 mins
  • Total Ascent = 2,567 ft (782 m)
  • Start/Finish = Car park at Maggie’s Bridge past the Kirkstile Inn, Loweswater
  • Wainwrights = Mellbreak 1,680 ft & Hen Comb 1,670 ft
  • Date = Sun 2nd Feb 2014, start 12.20am, finish 5.35 pm
  • Click on Route Map below to zoom in/out
Mellbreak & Hen Comb route map from Maggie's Bridge, Loweswater

Mellbreak & Hen Comb route map from Maggie’s Bridge, Loweswater

At last the opportunity of a first Lakes trip this year, and with a forecast suggesting there might be interesting conditions. During the pre-trip pint on Sat night we quickly decided on a Plan A, to head west for 2 new Wainwrights, Mellbreak & Hen Comb. Neither of us mentioned a Plan B so good thing this wasn’t needed as despite driving through grim weather, on arrival in the Lakes most of the northern tops were clear and with inviting fresh snow too. Smiles all round.

Sundays Lakes Mountain Forecast

Sundays Lakes Mountain Forecast, always interesting to see how it turns out!

Mellbreak’s distinctive whale back is a very familiar sight in the western Lakes so we were really looking forward to this one. We were hoping for a pleasant snowy ridge walk with stunning views. Unfortunately we soon discovered the snow was confined to the higher central fells, so the axe & crampons had to stay in the car.  Gutted!

I’d downloaded a couple of gpx routes, one going along the shore of Crummock Water then approaching the top of Mellbreak from the north, and the other straight up. As we were straight up sort of guys we plumped for the latter.  The Kirkstile Inn car park was already pretty full and we felt it would be a bit cheeky parking there just for a pint later. So we searched for a suitable spot eventually parking at Maggie’s Bridge about 8 mins walk away.

The Loweswater car park at Maggie's Bridge

The Loweswater car park at Maggie’s Bridge

Passing the Kirkstile Inn on way to Mellbreak

Passing the Kirkstile Inn on the way to Mellbreak rising above

Mellbreak looking pointy

Mellbreak looking pointy

Back to the Kirkstile Inn, looking wecomingly

The Kirkstile Inn, looking welcomingly

A trudging Alan

Alan looking miserable

Through the trees, Loweswater & Low Fell on the horizon

Through the trees, Loweswater & Low Fell on the horizon

Alan trudging higher before the steep bit

Alan trudging higher before the steep bit

We were quickly out on the open fell before the steep ascent starts with a messy scree section. Fortunately this is short and whilst the steepness continues the ground is good.

The steep scree bit

The steep scree bit

Halfway up Mellbreak

Halfway up Mellbreak

Suddenly on rounding a bend in the path a belting glimpse opens up of the views ahead. Obviously a much photographed spot, nicely sheltered too.

Crummock Water & Grasmoor

Crummock Water & Grasmoor

Crummock Water, Rannerdale Knotts & beyond

Crummock Water, Rannerdale Knotts & beyond

Crummock Water panorama

Crummock Water panorama

After some more rocky ascent the path started to level off giving little shelter from the wind. We decided to get out the rain proofs and stick a few layers on in readiness for the elements. On reaching the north top the first surprise was that Mellbreak is like a shallow upturned boat rather than the ridge we expected. Second surprise was that the top is totally featureless, just boring boggy grass, how we wished there’d been snow up here. Third surprise was that whilst it was very windy it wasn’t that cold and I had to strip off most of the extra layers as the higher south top was still a decent walk away.

Route to the south top from the north

Route to the south top from the north erm top

The erm summit was another surprise, there’s nowt here, not sure what I was expecting but not this. Seems a bit of a misnomer calling them tops or summits, a bit disappointing to be honest, views are ok but hemmed in by Grasmoor & the High Stile ranges.

Mellbreak erm summit

Mellbreak erm summit

Mellbreak summit view

Mellbreak summit view

You have to walk out to the edges for the views which we were hoping for. Definitely better here and slightly less windy.

Robinson, Buttermere, Fleetwith Pike, High Stile & Red Pike

Robinson, Buttermere, Fleetwith Pike, High Stile & Red Pike

Better view with Crummock Water

Better view adding Crummock Water

Even better without Alan

Even better without Alan

And even better with me - across to Rannerdale Knotts

And an even better one adding me – across to Rannerdale Knotts

Final Mellbreak panorama

Final Mellbreak panorama

A quick look at the downloaded route showed it continuing south circling slowly west then down the Mosedale Beck Valley. Alan fancied a more direct approach so we retraced our steps angling down towards Hen Comb picking up a good grassy path. Steep but quick.

Starting the descent to the Mosedale Beck. Hen Comb above

Starting the descent to the Mosedale Beck. Hen Comb above

Steepish descent before swinging right to the Beck

Steepish descent before swinging down right to the Beck

Our plan hatched in 2 seconds on Mellbreak’s windy unsheltered top was to take a straight line up to Hen Comb, however the Mosedale Beck had other ideas and there seemed no easy way across. We continued to divert upstream discussing whether to get wet feet then reached something much better, a bridge. Maybe if we’d studied something called a map we would have noticed something called a bridge a little earlier 🙂

Better this than wet feet.

Better this than wet feet, that treat came later

Looking back north to distant Low Fell

Looking back north to distant Low Fell

The downloaded route now angled diagonally up Hen Comb before doubling back on itself to reach the top. We had a better idea, straight up. It wasn’t going to be pretty but seemed a good idea. So up we trudged, in a vague straight line before adding small zigzags to avoid a heart attack. With hindsight straight up was not our finest idea, it brought back memories of our first Munro, Ben More nr Crianlarich, 3,000+ft of unremitting 45 degree ascent. Luckily Hen Comb is half that size.

The direct remorseless slog up Hen Comb

The direct remorseless slog up Hen Comb

Looking back down & across Mosedale to Buttermere

Looking back down & across Mosedale to Buttermere

A higher view north with guest Herdwicks that I hellicoptered in for the shot

A higher view north with guest Herdwicks that I hellicoptered in just for the shot

Nearing Hen Comb summit at last

Nearing Hen Comb summit at last

Alan experiencing extreme wind on Hen Comb - and not due to the curry

Alan experiencing extreme wind on Hen Comb – and for once not due to the curry

Robinson, Buttermere, Fleetwith & High Stile range from Hen Comb summit

Robinson, Buttermere, Fleetwith & High Stile range from Hen Comb summit

Whiteside & Frasmoor towering over Mellbreak from Hen Comb

Whiteside & Grasmoor towering over Mellbreak from Hen Comb

On a calmer day Hen Comb must surely be a pleasant place to spend time enjoying the view. Today though it  was a bit breezy, as this video shows, if you turn up the volume you’ll understand why we didn’t stay too long.

Trying to take photos on Hen Comb

Trying to take photos on Hen Comb

Besides, we could see the small white dot of the Kirkstile Inn in the distance, always nice to have a goal in sight. Time then to head down on a very knee flattering gentle gradient straight to the pub, with only a stream barring the way. Surely there’ll be a bridge.

A knee joint's delight, the tapering ridge down Hen Comb

A knee joint’s delight, the tapering ridge down Hen Comb

Alan's buggered off down there! Loweswater & Kirkstile Inn also

Alan’s buggered off down there! Loweswater & Kirkstile Inn above

Caught the bugger, hey that pub's getting nearer

Caught the bugger, hey that pub’s getting nearer

Well I can't see a bridge down there!!

Well I can’t see a bridge down there!!

We were getting closer to rejoining the starting path below Mellbreak and just had to negotiate the Mosedale Beck again. Unfortunately the crossing point turned out to be a ford and the water is obviously higher at this time of year. So across we went, I had the clever idea of trying to wade as fast as possible to minimise the amount of water over the boot. This achieved an impressive splashing effect mostly covering my boots and whole body. Alan chose a traditional less splashy technique.

An aquatic Alan attempting the Mosedale Beck ford

An aquatic Alan attempting the Mosedale Beck ford

Soggy cold feet meant we walked even quicker back to the car, passing the pub knowing we would soon be back, in dry clothes. The beer was near.

Peaceful Melbreak with the lights of the Kirkstile Inn

Peaceful Melbreak with the lights of the Kirkstile Inn

Loweswater Gold at the Kirkstile Inn, everything a proper pub should be

Loweswater Gold at the Kirkstile Inn, everything a proper pub should be

There’s few places better to end a walk than the Kirkstile Inn and it was understandably practically full. We sat in the less salubrious rear corridor then managed to grab some comfier ones by the fire. Only downside being a long drive back so we reluctantly had to decline the food, but only after an agonising debate as it was so tempting.

It had been a few weeks since my last walk so this shorter day still seemed tiring. Interestingly I realised our decision making on the hill was done instantly as there was very little shelter up there & we just wanted to keep moving. With hindsight the downloaded route was probably a better choice so I include a link here. We missed some good views by not coming down Loweswater Fell & Scale Knott so no doubt we will return on a calmer day. Looking back over these photos I keep being drawn back to the way the light filters through the pints of Loweswater Gold.

My name is Mart & I like a good real ale. Thanks for reading 🙂

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About MART IN THE HILLS

Hillwalker with dodgy knees and dodgier sense of humour. Lover of the outdoors, Lakes, Highlands, Cheviots, nature, good food, real ale and leaf tea.
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