The Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside
Cumbria is a large county in North West England and contains the Lake District and Lake District National Park. It is bounded to the north by the Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, to the west by the Irish Sea, to the south by Lancashire, to the south east by North Yorkshire, and to the east by County Durham and Northumberland. Cumbria is very mountainous containing every peak in England over 3,000ft above sea level with Scafell Pike being England’s highest mountain at 978 m (3,209ft). Cumbria is also one of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty attracting mountain climbers, hikers and walkers, cyclists, runners and tourists and holds a source of inspiration for artists, writers and musicians. Cumbria consists of six districts Eden, Carlisle, Allerdale, Copeland, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.
The Lake District is an area with stunning scenery located within in the County of Cumbria. Commonly known as The Lakes or Lakeland it was granted National Park status on 9th May 1951 less than a month after the first UK designated National Park, The Peak District. It is the largest of thirteen National Parks in England and Wales and the largest in the UK after the Cairngorms. The Lake District National Park itself covers an area of 885 square miles and stretches 30 miles from Ravenglass in the west to Shap in the east and 35 miles from Caldbeck in the north to Lindale in the south. Crammed with so much natural beauty the Lakes attract visitors, tourists and holiday makers from all over the world. As the name suggests there are many lakes each with their own uniqueness, amenities and activities such as lakeside walks, sailing, waterskiing, boat trips and ferries. All of the lakes except Bassenthwaite Lake are named by water, tarn or mere and are surrounded by stunning scenery and magnificent fells. There are some wonderful towns to explore such as Keswick, Windermere, Ambleside, Kendal, Hawkshead, Grasmere and Cockermouth all with a splendid mixture of shops, cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants. There are also many museums, theatres, historic homes, gardens and many easy walks for the not so energetic visitor wishing not to climb the fells. William Wordsworth the famous British poet was born in Cockermouth and later lived in Grasmere where he wrote some of his best works before moving to Rydal Mount near Ambleside for his last 37 years. Both places are open to visitors and so is Brantwood home to John Ruskin until his death. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey and Thomas de Quincey all followed Wordsworth to the Lake District. Arthur Ransome, author of Swallows and Amazons, also grew to love the lakes and settled in the Winster Valley near Windermere. The painters Thomas Gainsborough, JMW Turner and John Constable were early visitors to the lakes but it was John Ruskin who settled here at Brantwood on the shore of Coniston Water. Farming and especially sheep farming has been historically and still is the main industry of the Lake District. The tough Herdwick breed with their stocky build and distinctive grey coat are especially hardy for the Lakeland fells and its weather. Sheep farming has probably been here since Viking times and is an important factor both to the economy of the lakes as well as in preserving the stunning landscape which attracts visitors and hence income to the region. Walking is a big attraction in the Lake District whether strolling around the low lying lakes or climbing up into the mountainous fells whichever is undertaken the scenery is magnificent. Alfred Wainwright’s famous hand written book, The Pictorial Guide to the Lake District, published in 1955 is a collection of seven books each illustrated with his unique style and charm of the 214 fells inspiring many visitors and tourists from all over the world.
Ambleside set in the centre of the Lake District at the head of Lake Windermere is a busy little market town surrounded by beautiful scenery and rich with history and heritage. The 17th century Bridge House, one of the smallest houses in Britain, built over Stock Ghyll was purchased by local people in 1926 and given to the National Trust. It is a Listed Grade 1 building and is used as an information centre for the National Trust and is part of the Trust’s Windermere and Troutbeck property. Ambleside Museum is home to many Beatrix Potter artefacts and offers an interesting insight into local life. The remains of a Roman fort, Fort Galava dating from AD 79, can be seen in Borran’s field at Waterhead. Nearby is Stock Ghyll Force which provides a stunning natural attraction. Ambleside is also home to the University of Cumbria and The Langdale & Ambleside MRT which is one of the busiest volunteer mountain rescue teams in Great Britain. Ambleside being one of the jewels of the Lakes is an ideal place for a walking holiday with easy access to the surrounding fells and for the less energetic there are strolls along the shore of nearby Windermere Lake. There are also boats trips on Windermere Lake, places to visit and a wide variety of shops both in Ambleside and Windermere town.
The Fairfield Horseshoe is a very popular circular ridge walk starting from Rydal or Ambleside that takes in all the fells that surround the valley of Rydal Beck. The circular is about 10 miles from Rydal or 11 miles from Ambleside. The horseshoe with 1100 metres of ascent includes the peaks of Low Pike 508m, High Pike 656m, Dove Crag 792m, Hart Crag 822m, Fairfield 873m, Great Rigg 766m, Heron Pike 612m and Nab Scar440m. This group of fells situated in the eastern fells of the Lake District stands to the south of the Helvellyn range. Fairfield itself has a rough stony plateau with the high point at the western end above the brink of Cawk Cove. The top is very flat and there are many cairns, including a pair of large windbreaks near the high point. The two southern arms leading from Fairfield make up the popular horseshoe which creates a circuit of the valley of Rydal where Rydal Beck flows south for three miles into the River Rothay at Rydal village. The well walked paths are easy to follow especially from Low Sweden Bridge to the slopes of Hart Crag where the path follows a dry stone wall but however the very flat plateau summit of Fairfield, in poor conditions, can be quite confusing with the danger of steep drops to the north and west of the fell. The horseshoe provides stunning views of the surrounding fells, Windermere Lake and the Rydal valley where as the descent from Heron Pike provides wonderful views of Grasmere Lake and Rydal Water. The Fairfield Horseshoe Fell Race of 8.75 miles with over 900 metres of ascent is held annually in May. Alfred Wainwright wrote of Fairfield in his book that “From the south it appears as a great horseshoe of grassy slopes below a consistently high skyline…but lacking those dramatic qualities that appeal most to the lover of hills. But on the north side the Fairfield range is magnificent: here are dark precipices, long fans of scree….desolate combes and deep valleys.”
From Rydal Road car park near the museum we make our way over the little bridge turn left then right onto the Kirkstone Pass road. We take the first left then keep heading forwards along Nook Lane following the sign for Low Sweden Bridge past the University of Cumbria and the Wynford Guest House. We pass through Nook End Farm and follow the track over Low Sweden Bridge. We keep following the path uphill and when the path splits we keep to the lower right path. The path soon splits again and we again take the right path. We pass a sheep fold and ignore the path to the right downhill to High Sweden Bridge. We keep following the path steeply uphill to the crags of Low Pike and High Pike in the distance slightly to our left. We follow the wall on our left to the summit of Dove Crag. We keep following the path and after a little scrambling we make our way over Heart Crag. From here we keep heading uphill on the wide well defined path to the flat summit of Fairfield. At the half circle stone wind shelter we turn left and follow the cairns heading towards the two humps of Great Rigg and Heron Pike we can see on the skyline. We drop off downhill then make our way up and over Great Rigg. We keep following the path as it drops down then up again to the summit of Heron Pike. We then start to make our way steeply downhill following the zigzag path to the bottom. At the bottom we go through the gate and turn right past Rydal Mount (Wordsworth’s home) then take the path on the left through the grounds of Rydal Hall following the footpath signs. At the end of the buildings we go through a gate and follow the track to the main road. We turn left and follow Rydal Road, A591, back to the car park.
This is a hard walk on good well walked paths and tracks with steep inclines and declines with a little scrambling.
Elevation: Approx lowest point 49.10m (161ft) approx highest point 868.50m (2849.5ft)
Distance and Start Point
Approx 10.7 miles allow 5 to 6 hours using OS Explorer Map OL7, The English Lakes, South-eastern area and OL5, The English Lakes, North-eastern area.
Start point: Ambleside’s main car park on Rydal Road. Pay and Display £7 for all day.
Ambleside situated at the head of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, Cumbria.
Directions and Parking
From the A66 take the A591 to Keswick. At the t-junction turn left staying on the A591 past the lakes of Thirlmere, Grasmere and Rydal to arrive at Ambleside. Car park is on the right before entering the town.
Parking: There are five Pay and Display car parks in Ambleside.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are four public toilets, Cheapside behind Barclay’s Bank, Low Fold car park on Lake Road, entrance to Rothay Park on Vicarage Road and Rydal Road car park. For refreshments there is a good variety of shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants to choose from.