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A Haunting Experience on Souther Fell

Rolling grassy fells offer quiet solitude and an air of intrigue.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 985ft (300m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Grassy and stony paths, open fellside, 4 stiles

Landscape Remote river valley, open exposed fellside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 5 The English Lakes (NE)

Start/finish NY 364300

Dog friendliness Under control at all times; open fellside grazed by sheep

Parking Wide verge above river in Mungrisdale

Public toilets None on route

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1 Head north up the road, following the River Glenderamackin upstream. Bear right where the road crosses the stone bridge and continue to a hairpin bend. Go left to leave the road, pass the telephone kiosk, and follow the little lane between the cottages. Go through the gate and continue along the unsurfaced track above the north bank of the river. Bear left and cross little Bullfell Beck by a narrow footbridge.

2 Bear left off the steeply ascending track and follow a lesser stony track which traces a route along the right bank (true left) of the River Glenderamackin. The going is straightforward although the path has been eroded in places and there is a steep drop into the little river. Continue along the track, which is very boggy in places, to ford Bannerdale Beck. This is not difficult and it should be possible to keep dry by balancing on the stones. Round the shoulder of Bannerdale Fell; named White Horse Bent by the Ordnance Survey, should it be White Hawse Bent? Continue the ascent until a path falls left to a flat wooden footbridge to cross the River Glenderamackin, which is hardly 6ft (2m) wide at this point.

3 The path ascends the hillside striking diagonally left to climb to the top of the high grassy shoulder. Mousthwaite Comb lies down below to the right. Bear left, following the path and ascend the long shoulder of Souther Fell. Pass a large circular cairn of Skiddaw slate topped by a rock of white quartz and continue along the level shoulder, heading north to a little rocky knoll - the summit.

4 Keep north and continue to descend the grassy nose of the fell. Easy at first, the angle steepens progressively until, nearing the base, little craggy outcrops are best avoided by following the path to their left. The path is well defined and soon leads to a stone wall near the bottom of the fell. At one time a little path led over a stile and directly down the field to the Mill Inn. Unfortunately this has now been blocked off and it is necessary to go right along by the wall. The path is extremely boggy in places. Continue along by the wall until it bends left and a steep little descent leads to a surfaced road.

5 Go left down the road, through a gate until, at the bottom of the hill, a grassy lane continues on down to the River Glenderamackin, just upstream of the buildings of Beckside. Before reaching the ford that crosses the river, stone steps over the wall on the right give access to a narrow footbridge. Cross the bridge, and then go left to exit the field via a squeeze stile. Go right, climbing the grassy bank to the road. Head left and go upstream to return to the parking area.

With an air of the theatrical, the little River Glenderamackin weaves a circuitous course around Souther Fell (pronounced sowter) passing through, on its meanderings, the little hamlet of Mungrisdale (pronounced mun-grize-dul). Whereas the central Lakeland fells are composed of hard volcanic rocks, Souther Fell and its neighbouring hills are composed of the relatively soft rocks of Skiddaw slate. The resultant smooth and rounded terrain of this mountain region gives an air of wild desolation. On this walk, a long gradual ascent following the river, provides an easy way to climb Souther Fell. The reward, once the heights are crested, are expansive views east over the plains of the Eden Valley and behind to the dark crags and combes of Bannerdale Fell and the great Blencathra mountain.

The majority of place-names in these parts are Celtic; Mungo (a Celtic missionary), Blencathra and Glenderamackin being typical examples. Indeed, the remains of a Celtic hill fort of major importance still forms a defensive ring around the nearby summit of Carrock Fell just to the north, and it is thought that northern Cumbria was still in the Kingdom of Strathclyde in the 10th century. Perhaps originally associated with this ferocious tribe of Celts, locals have long said that a ghostly spectral army of warriors marches over Souther Fell on Midsummer's Eve.

It all came to a head in 1745, the year the Jacobite Scot, Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) returned to march on England. Following reports that both soldiers and horsemen had been seen marching along the high shoulder of Souther Fell a group of 26 stationed themselves at a suitable vantage point in the valley below on the evening before midsummer, determined to lay low the rumours and speculation. To their incredulity they witnessed a rapidly moving line of troops, horses and carriages. The line spread right across the high summit shoulder of the fell in a continuous chain. Steep places and rocky outcrops neither slowed nor disrupted progress of this huge army. They couldn't believe their eyes yet only darkness put an effective end to these strange events. The next day there was nothing to be seen so, with considerable trepidation, half expecting that the invasion from over the border had begun, a party climbed to the summit, where they found nothing. Not a mark in the grass, no footprint, hoof print or wheel rut, and of an army, possibly sheltering in the valley, there was not the remotest sign.

So convinced were the 26, and determined that their integrity should be respected, that they all swore an oath before a magistrate as to what they had seen.It remains a mystery, yet Bonnie Prince Charlie was to invade in the November of that same year.

What to look for

Sited next to the road in the village and worth inspection, is the charming little church that takes its name from St Mungo - 'the loved one'. St Mungo, who also went by the name of St Kentigern, later Bishop of Glasgow, is thought to be a missionary from Ireland who preached at a number of churches in Cumbria sometime around the 10th century.

Where to eat and drink

The Mill Inn at Mungrisdale dates from the 16th century and offers bar meals and a choice of real ales. Children and dogs are welcome and there is a garden to relax in during the summer months.

While you're there

For solitude and contemplation there are few more rewarding places to visit than the tiny Church of St Kentigern (or St Mungo) at nearby Castle Sowerby. It's not easy to find, but the views of the fells from here are sublime.

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