Fairfield Horseshoe

Date: 22 Sep 2016 Weather: 14’C, cloudy, light wind
Height gain: 3,240 ft Distance: 9.4 miles
Time taken: 8 hours 15 mins Wainwrights: 23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30 of 214

Route:  From Rydal Mount bus stop up to Nab Scar then to Heron Pike, then Great Rigg then up to Fairfield.  Then headed east to Hart Crag then south to Dove Crag then down to High Pike and Low Pike and back into Ambleside via High Sweden Bridge and Low Sweden Bridge to main car park. 

I’ve been steeling myself to write up this one – eight Wainwrights in one walk, the most we did in one day on our first round and likely to be the most again on our second round.  I’m also writing this just over three years after we actually did the walk with photos I may have planned differently had I known I was going to set this website up back then.

We’ll see how we get on …….

So – the Fairfield Horseshoe – a classic and the most challenging walk we’ve done in quite some time in terms of length and height gain.  We last did it in May 1996 – my third trip to the Lakes and the second walk of that holiday two days after we did Scafell Pike.  It was wet and cloudy in 1996 and I hated every minute of it – and almost certainly ruined it for S with all my whinging and complaining.  It’s one of two walks I’ve always said I wanted to do again and enjoy the next time (the other was Skiddaw which had already been re-done and enjoyed).

So – 20 years of anticipating and we decide today is the day.  We decide that we’re going to do it anticlockwise – not the traditional direction – because last time the final descent off Nab Scar was near vertical, very eroded scree and we want to avoid meeting that at the end again.

We’re up early and park up in the main car park in Ambleside and collect pasties and cakes from the Apple Pie bakery to fuel us for the day – we’re so early that we have a 15 minute wait for the shop to open and fidget around as time ticks by.  We plan to get a taxi to our start point in Rydal to keep the mileage under double figures but when we get to the taxi rank there’s none around.  We give it five minutes before deciding to head for the bus station to see when the next bus is due.  There’s a bus waiting when we arrive – due to set off for Rydal in 5 minutes.  We pile on board and feel very lucky.

By 9.30am we’re at Rydal Mount and set off up the steep road to reach the footpath and the start of the climb up to Nab Scar.  The path has been completely re-engineered since we were last here and is a very straightforward, although steep, climb up well laid granite steps.  We’re both feeling surprisingly good and make the top, 1,300ft of ascent, after only an hour and seven minutes:

1 - Nab Scar

There are a few people around but most of them bypass this summit and head straight for Heron Pike so we have the top to ourselves.  We look down at the great views over Grasmere before heading for Heron Pike, 570ft above us.

The pull up feels steep but it takes us less than 45 minutes to get there  I haven’t taken a picture of the summit, only the great views from it – here looking down on Easedale Tarn:

2 - Heron

And the views down to Grasmere:


The sun is starting to shine now and the conditions are near perfect for us.  We can see a lot of what’s coming next ahead of us:


We don’t spend long here before heading to Great Rigg – another 500ft of ascent and a mile and a half away.  The descent from Heron Pike seems to be a long way down before we start climbing again towards Erne Crag then down the other side.  We’re starting to lose energy so decide to stop here for our first lunch of the day.

We don’t feel full of beans as we set off again and the 500ft of ascent feels like hard work.  Finally, now three hours into our walk, we arrive at the top of Great Rigg:

6 - Great Rigg

The extra height gain enhances the views even more, although the wind is picking up a bit.

Great views to the west with Great Gable’s distinctive shape just off centre and the Crinkles and Bowfell to his left and Pillar to his right:


We can still see Easedale Tarn with Bowfell and the Langdales behind it:



And we can still see Grasmere, now with Coniston Water visible behind it:


Now we’re heading to our highest point of the day – Fairfield itself – a mile and yet another 500ft of ascent away.  The path up is wide and well used and not as steep as the ascent up Great Rigg but the legs are starting to feel the work they’ve put in so far.

There’s a man who must be over 70 slowly making his way up the path ahead of us and we gain on him very slowly before passing him with 100ft to go – not often that we’re faster than anyone else no matter their age.

Finally we reach Fairfield:

12 - Fairfield

It’s a wide and stony expanse with lots of cairns and shelters and also lots of people.  It’s really quite windy up here now and getting cooler – I have to stop to put on my waterproof.

Great views northwest towards the Helvellyn ridge:


And further west we can just make out the Keswick fells – Grisedale Pike, Eel Crag and Grasmoor with Ullscarf the lower ridge on the left:


We wander around for a while and take photos before deciding it’s time to head for Hart Crag – a mile away but only 150ft of ascent.  We make the turn and start heading east.  The going soon becomes a bit tricky – 330ft of descent down a craggy and well used path which is quite exposed on one side.  We’re getting quite tired now so what would be straightforward on fresh legs feels almost overwhelming at this point.  Most people are coming towards us, doing the round in the traditional direction.  We decide we need to take a breather and find a comfy rock away from the main path to enjoy a flapjack.

A rest and some food does the trick and the final bit of descent and ascent is soon done and we’re at the top of Hart Crag:

15 - Hart

It’s rocky up here and the top is away from the main path – it took some careful footwork to get here.    We look back at Fairfield, most the path between the two now hidden:


Helvellyn and Catsycam look good from here:


Crowds with dogs start to arrive en-masse so we don’t spend long before heading for Dove Crag.  It’s three-quarters of a mile away and 260ft of ascent – this should be our last ascent of the day.  It’s a steep and craggy descent off the top again and lots of people are doing it at the same time – we’re all arms and legs everywhere as we all find our own route’s downs the rocks.

It takes us 30 minutes to arrive at the top of Dove Crag, now five hours into our walk:

18 - Dove Crag

To the east we can see part of the Kentmere round – the wave formation of Froswick and Ill Bell distinctive in the distance:


We take a few photos but don’t waste any time before setting off for High Pike.  We can see our route in front of us – that wall will be our companion for quite a while now:


We set off following everyone else and the ground is boggy.  We start to walk away from the wall, like everyone else, but soon realise we’re heading for High Hartsop Dodd in error.  We turn around and head back to the wall and follow it down the 470ft to High Pike:

21 - High Pike

Nice views down to the Scandale valley towards Windermere:


We don’t hang around before starting to negotiate the 600ft of descent down to Low Pike.  The going is tough – steep, rocky in places, churned up hillside in others – the path builders haven’t made it to this side of the horseshoe.  We need to stop for another refuelling break to keep us going, but eventually, and with a good degree of relief, we reach our eighth and final top of the day, Low Pike:

25 - Low Pike

We’re not actually sure where the top is – it’s somewhere along this wall and this looks like the highest point.  We look back at the route we’ve taken down from High Pike – it looks nicer than it felt at the time:


And we can see Ambleside not too far away below us now:


We carry on following the wall and the going carries on being hard work but we feel like we’re making some progress.  After another hairy section we finally leave the wall and pick up a much better path heading down to High Sweden Bridge.  The going is easy now with a kind gradient and good gravel path and we soon arrive in Ambleside and make our way through town to the car park.  It’s close to 6pm and the walk has taken us just over eight hours in total – about an hour longer than our first round.

Did I enjoy it this time?  Very much so – we felt good for a lot of the time, the weather was perfect and I have a great sense of achievement.  The only thing I would have changed was to have done it the traditional way around again – that churned up descent would have been much easier in ascent and the new path down Nab Scar would have been a good and speedy end to the day.

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