May 14 2011

Walk 29: Fairfield Horseshoe

The Fairfield Horseshoe

route: Nab Scar, Heron Pike, Great Rigg, Fairfield, Hart Crag, Dove Pike, High Pike (Scandale) & Low Pike from Ambleside
Date: 14th may 2011
distance: 10.7 miles
ascent: 3,670 feet
time: 7 hrs 10 mins
walkers: Dave, Leanne, Sandra & Simon

Saturday 14th May 2011 was the day we would finally get to retrace some of AW’s steps as we made our first venture in the Lake District. I had been both excited and nervous about this day but it was a day that had to come. There are 214 so called Wainwright’s and that was a list that had to be taken on at some point. We conquered the 40 highest tops in Yorkshire last year and had been ticking off some of the 54 trig points in the Yorkshire Dales throughout this year but they didn’t always offer a challenge physically. The fells of Lakeland however would provide us with much more of a challenge in every way. The journey up to Ambleside wasn’t that much further than we had been travelling but with the walking expected to take longer it was 6.30am when we left home. Two hours later we were stood in Rydal Road car park, paying the extortionate £7 parking charge and preparing for the off.

We left the car park and followed the road for a short while until we took a track off to the right hand side which would lead us to Rydal Hall. At least it would have done if we had the right path! Instead we were confronted by a couple of houses and a static caravan, but not to be thrown off track so early, we went back out to the road and fifty yards further on we saw a sign for the Fairfield fell race (taking place on this very day) and joined the track after passing through two large iron gates. We knew it was the day of the fell race so we were eager to see how far we would get round the horseshoe before getting caught, the three and a bit hours start we would have should help us in that respect. It wasn’t just the runners we were conscious of, it was the weather too. The forecast was for a clear morning before the rain came around noon and would stay for a few hours. With it being our first taste of walking in the Lakes we didn’t know fully what to expect and as the altitude was higher than we had been before we didn’t want to get caught out. We also wanted to appreciate the views rather than stare into grey mist and fog, so with that in mind, I had it in my head that if we got to Fairfield and beyond before the rain came I would be happy. That would give us a decent view of the surrounding area as we made our way there and would also stop us walking off the edge, which a few books including AW’s pictorial guides said could be dangerous when misty. As we made our way along the track towards Rydal we were soon presented with an idea of what lay ahead of us as the western side of the horseshoe came into view.

We strolled through a lovely little camp site as various occupants were zipping open their tents and taking a glance at the outside world. A short distance further we came crossed Rydal Beck using the wooden foot bridge before we immediately came to a junction of paths. The map came out for the first time and we decided the left fork was the one to take and we continued once more with the minimum of fuss.

We then passed a large marquee tent that I presume was going to be used for the fell race later on before we reached the bottom of the climb up to Nab Scar. The profile of this looked rather sharp but not too long so we set off expecting a tough climb to the top of our first Wainwright. In fact it wasn’t that bad as the climb seemed to be staggered into smaller stages and in next to no time we had reached a reasonable height and had a decent view back towards Windermere.

Minutes later we had reached Nab Scar and decided to take some pictures from the edge rather than the summit as from our present spot you could see down to Rydal Water below.

We could also see towards the west where we could see the Old Man of Coniston, Crinkle Crags and Harter Fell in the distance between the two, all sat behind Grasmere.

The initial climb hadn’t been too bad at all so I felt optimistic about what was to come rather than the nagging doubt I had before setting off. It wasn’t a doubt about whether or not we would complete the walk, I would say I was rather apprehensive at the leap into the unknown. Now that was actually here and in front of me I realised that this particular walk wouldn’t hold any fears under these circumstances. I didn’t want to be so bold as to say all the fells in the Lake District would be so comfortable but I was enjoy the here and now, and after taking our pictures we proceeded onwards towards Heron Pike.

Heron Pike became our second Wainwright of the day and ever as we went through the usual procedure of taking a vast number of pictures to make sure everything is documented for the record books. Who knows how many times we will reach the top of any of these fells so best to make hay while the sun shines. It wasn’t actually shining, but it was clear and that was good enough for me. When I initially planned the route we were going to take in Stone Arthur next but after careful consideration I erred on the side of caution and left that for another day. I didn’t want to find that it would be too much so left it alone as it isn’t like we will never be back. We looked ahead and we could clearly see the route ahead along with Great Rigg, Fairfield and Hart Crag.

Along the path we encountered what seemed to be the world’s largest crow perched to our right on a small craggy area above Erne Crag. Beaky & Ramblo went to have a nosey (after the bird flew off) as me and Wu Tang followed the clear path into the ever increasing wind. The views down to our right were fantastic with nearly 1000ft down to Rydal Beck that snaked through the valley. For a while the path was fairly level and we made good progress but as we reached our next target the path climbed more sharply, fortunately not for too long and soon we had made it.

The short stay at Great Rigg gave me enough time to eat an apple and take a few shots of the wonderful scenery that surrounded us on all sides. I kept looking westwards at the cloud that seemed to be gathering above the level of the summits and wondering how long it would take for the reasonably strong wind we were encountering to blow that rain here. With my earlier thoughts in my head we didn’t hang around and we made the final push up to Fairfield.

Upon reaching Fairfield it became apparent that it was a flat summit, covered in stones that were embedded into the ground. There were numerous cairns around and not knowing which was the exact summit we took a couple of pictures all over the place just to cover ourselves. Nobody can tell me that I haven’t stood on Fairfield, conquered it, walked it, ticked it off, bagged it or any other phrase you may want to use but where possible I like to know which is the summit cairn to be 100% sure. It turns out that after consulting my copy of Wainright’s Guide to the Eastern Fells, that we may not have taken any pics at the actually summit cairn (although he does mention the number of cairns is confusing). Anyway, as I said it is irrelevant because we covered almost all of the plateau to take i the views. To the north of us we could see Helvellyn and the infamous approach that is Striding Edge.

Looking in a more north easterly direction we had a splendid view of St Sunday Crag.

The wind was making the temperature seem cooler as we stood around so we didn’t hang about too long. This was the highest altitude we had walked to so far and in all honesty it didn’t feel any different to some of the larger Yorkshire peaks. Sure the surroundings were different but it wasn’t a whole new world or anything like that. As we said good bye to the thirteenth highest fell on Wainwright’s list we still hadn’t seen any of the fell runners come past us. It was only quarter past twelve though so it was expecting a bit much for them to be here in fifteen minutes. It looked like the Rambling Badgers could be on the podium!

We made our way along the top of Rydal Head and as we did we got our first real glance of the eastern side of the horseshoe which seemed more undulating to look at than it felt walking it.

Continuing on we dropped down a little rocky section and across Link Hause with the final ascent to Hart Crag right in front of us. I turned to look back at the distance we had covered in the last fifteen minutes or so and was presented with a lovely view of Scrubby Crag.

Hart Crag soon became another peak in the done column and we enjoyed ten minutes or so on the flat rocky top before taking some pictures next to a cairn on the southern edge. As we left we made our way through and over the large boulders that lined that were between us and the path to Dove Crag.

As we looked across at this side of the walk from our vantage point earlier in the day we thought that we would make good time during the second half of it due to there being little in the way of ascent. As things panned out the descent was in my opinion more difficult in places due to the awkward stones and rocks that you have to walk over when descending. This slowed us up considerably at times and the inevitable happened…

We were swamped by hundreds of runners that just didn’t care about their own safety, or so it seemed. There is no doubt one foot, placed in the wrong place would result in broken limbs, loss of teeth, severe lacerations or all of the above. They continued to pass us as we reached Dove Crag where we found a guy stood ticking off each runner as they went by to ensure there was no cheating going on. We took our snaps and with the chance of a medal gone, we located a sheltered spot and had some lunch where we were soon joined by Mollie. She was the check point man’s dog and she sat patiently as we munched on our goodies before allowing her a treat or two for being so good. With lunch consumed we said goodbye to Mollie and she watched as Wu Tang and Ramblo left the summit cairn behind.

With Dove Crag behind us we had two more targets for the day and they were both downhill and on the route back to the starting point so nothing in the way of a detour. High Pike was bang in front of us and with good underfoot conditions we covered the distance nice and quickly.

As we reached the cairn there was another group of walkers who I was going to ask to take a team shot of us, but as we approached they gathered their things and walked towards us, then by us without acknowledging in any way. I don’t know if this is a common thing in the Lakes but we had commented earlier that other walkers didn’t seem as friendly as we had experience in the Yorkshire Dales. I didn’t know why that would be the case but it certainly seemed that way. It may be that we just ran into a particularly grumpy group of people on this day (with the exception of a couple of nice ones). I will know more about the various degrees of friendliness as we visit more often but with the lack of an overall team shot we took our varied selection as we usually do then after a good look around (Red Screes was opposite) we carried on once again with Low Pike in front of us.

Thankfully there had been no rain as yet and there wasn’t going to be any as the clouds that gathered menacingly earlier had now dispersed. The route to Low Pike was varied but not too difficult and we made good progress. As we neared we could see some people sat up at the top and we climbed the final few yards to join them.

When we got there we intruded on a woman finishing lunch with her two children, so we took a few pictures (and she took one of us all being one of the friendly people we met) before we set off again. For today we had done our “Wainwright bagging” and we had the mile or two back to Ambleside to do before we could find a pub for a well deserved beer.

nitially the route was nice, with soft green grass being a welcome change for my feet. Then as we hugged the wall we came across a steep rocky drop which I am sure we could have avoided had we been on the other side of the wall or noticed what must have been a faint path going around it a little way back. After a brief chat with L’Autobus we agreed to take on the challenge and after Beaky dropped down he helped Ramblo steady herself as she made the final drop. I followed, before Wu Tang (who is known for her caution when descending) thought about if she could make it or if she would go back and round. After “gentle” encouragement she steadied herself as myself and beaky prepared to help her down.

In the end I turned round and I ended up piggy backing her a few strides before I could bend safely enough to allow her to jump off. We chuckled to ourselves as we moved off and commented how much easier it would have been had we used the path around. We turned to look back and found we weren’t the only ones who had missed the path (it can’t be visible). To the right the mother and her two sons were using a different route and to the left a group of four were following us down (the guy at the front is jumping down the big drop).

With us now on a flat surface we had the simple task of completing the walk which we did with the minimum of fuss. We joined up with a path that we could see running below us to our left and followed this for a while before we came to Low Sweden Bridge. We crossed this bridge and carried on to Nook Lane which led us back into Ambleside and the walk was done. Once on Nook Lane we looked back and we could see part of the horseshoe we had walked earlier.

We reached the car and after a quick freshen up and toilet stop we headed for the pub. Sometimes freshening up is a change of clothes and that was the case for some but for me freshening up meant swapping my boots for trainers. We drove back into Ambleside and headed for the Wateredge Inn as I have been there numerous times, usually when we go to Bowness for a murder mystery weekend. We bought a drink and sat inside (but it wasn’t next to the lake), then outside (too cold) then inside again and sat reflecting on the beginning of a long journey around the Lake District. We all felt proud and pleased with our efforts. It wasn’t that we had done anything outstanding more a case of we had finally got going and sampled a bit of what this wonderful countryside has to offer. Although we stayed dried today I got the impression we would get wet a lot more than we ever did in the Dales, but we were always lucky there so why not here. We headed home after a great day out and a walk lasting us 7 hours 10 mins, which was just outside the time of 1 hour 20 mins it took Morgan Donnely to win the fell race. Congratulation to him and the other 297 runners who took part, you all did fantastically well but I would rather take my time and soak up all that is around me. I would have plenty more opportunity to do that, starting with the Langdale Pikes in two weeks time. I can’t wait!

Sir Edmund


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