Start: Rydal, Cumbria
End: Ambleside, Cumbria
Distance: Around 11 miles
Ascent: Around 4,000 feet
Time: 9 hours
Getting there: Nearest train station is Windermere, which has frequent buses to both Rydal and Ambleside.
Food and loos: Badger Inn in Rydal and lots of options in Ambleside, but nothing on the walk itself.
Terrain: Good ridge paths, with the occasional bit of minor scrambling. Only exceptions are the rocky descent from Hart Crag and the boggy sections around Low Pike. The sections around Low Pike are the hardest terrain, but these can be mostly avoided.
Difficulty: 4 – A long day on an exposed ridge with the ups and downs of climbing eight different fells. An achievable, but hard walk.
On a quest to tackle some more Wainwrights, I decided to walk the Fairfield horseshoe. This is one of the valleys that ultimately feeds Windermere, the largest lake in England. In completing the walk, you go all the way around the valley – hence the term “horseshoe”.
I booked into Rydal Lodge, which is right next to the start of the walk. The weather forecast was a little dodgy, but I thought that there was always the option of coming off the ridge early into Grasmere if conditions were really bad. The first climb up Nab Scar was steep but easy, nothing too challenging here. Looking back, after not too much time at all, you start to get wonderful views of Ambleside and the nearby lakes.
There’s not really too much of a descent at all before you are climbing up to Hero Pike. Once at the top, the views of the whole valley start to open up. The wonderful view of Great Rigg, with Fairfield beyond, is stunning. There’s also something strange about being able to see exactly where you will be walking in a few hours times on the other side of the valley.
I think Great Rigg is my favourite Wainwright so far. It looks really cool, sticking up out of the ridge with pride and prominence. It is also fairly high (2,500+ feet), but it is an easy climb and descent. I especially like it because it’s Wikipedia page says: “Great Rigg is mostly without merit”. I feel that someone has to appreciate it!
The weather by this points was horizontal rain showers. Fortunately, these were only lasting about 10-15 minutes, before the wind and rain would die down and there would be a period of calm. Visibility was excellent; occasionally I could see the summit of Fairfield becoming covered in cloud, but by the time I got there it was fine. Climbing to the top of the highest summit on the walk was easy; a nice gradual incline up from the ridge. It is a cool summit – very flat with smashed rocks everywhere.
The first bit of scrambling of the day onto and then off of Hart Crag. From the other side of the valley, this looked like it was going to be a little tricky, but really it wasn’t too bad at all. The weather by this point was lovely, actually too nice because now the sun was right in my face.
The walk to Dove Crag and High Pike was easy, with some spectacular views along the ridge and onto Ambleside and Windermere.
The real challenge came from High Pike onward! It’s not a hugely challenging descent, as long as you pick the right side of the wall. I believe that I walked on the more challenging section, by mistake rather than choice. This meant I have several hundred yards of walking on a thin, muddy, descending path; immediately to my left being a drop of hundreds of feet that was steep enough for me to think I would slide/fall/tumble all the way to the valley floor.
After Low Pike and the boggy ground, there are a couple of different options for a path. I initially went one way and encountered three cows blocking the path. I couldn’t really go around then, and I didn’t fancy trying to move then. I went back and tried the other way. I got to something called ‘The Bad Step’, which is a guess around a 30 foot scramble. I started to try and get down, but wet shoes and wet rock meant I just didn’t think I could do it. So I back tracked again, and fortunately by the time I got back the cows had moved and it was an easy stroll down to Ambleside from there.
A good day, but tough at the end. I didn’t really want to walk back to Rydal, so I got some fish and chips, had them at the bus shelter and got the last bus back to hotel.