The Fairfield Horseshoe

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If you are a keen mountain-walker it's probably just a matter of time before someone asks you if you have done the Fairfield Horseshoe. It's not the only long horseshoe walk in the Lakes (see my Route 4579, The Kentmere Horseshoe, for another) but it is probably the most accessible and the most popular. The route starts in Ambleside, a short distance from the shops, cafes etc.

From the main car park a short road-walk picks up the footpath round the back of Rydal Hall. Soon the path rises towards Nab Scar, then Heron Pike. A lovely ridge continues north to Great Rigg, then Fairfield Summit. From there it's Hart Crag, then Dove Crag, before a long steady descent to High Pike and Low Pike, followed by path, track and finally lane to head back to Ambleside, arriving pretty near to either the car park or the Golden Rule pub as you prefer.

As the route follows ridges you are guaranteed fantastic views of many of the Lake District hills (weather permitting). It also makes for easy navigation. In fact, in common with many hill routes, the hardest part is navigating the profusion of paths, bridleways and rights of way before you get to the open fell.
However, the summit of Fairfield is flat and featureless, with a confusion of mini-cairns and other heaps of stones. In mist it's easy to take the wrong way and it's amazing how many people end up in Patterdale instead of Ambleside. You have been warned. To make life more predictable I've included compass bearings in the relevant section of the route, to help you off Fairfield should the mist come down. Please note, these bearings are grid bearings and you will have to make adjustment for magnetic variation, which changes year by year (you'll find that in the margin of your OS map). You will also need to know how to estimate distance walked; if you don't know how to do all this, it's perhaps a good idea to sign up for one of Walkingworld's hill-walking courses.

Remember also that you are walking long, exposed ridges. If the weather is bad you will need to carry good kit, because there's no shelter on the route. If the weather is hot you will need to carry water, because there's none of that on the route either. There are escape routes if things turn unpleasant, but some of these bring you down far from your start point.
Enough of the negatives; this is one of the best days you will ever have in the Lakeland hills – enjoy!

England - North England - Cumbria - Lake District - South East

Features

Great Views, Hills or Fells
03/10/2016 - lee holmes

WALKED 02/10/16 Normally take the ratings of walks with a pinch of salt due to people having different levels of fitness, but wow I found this hard very good walk but tough,

31/05/2011 - John Holden

We did this anti clockwise in late May. Getting to the top is a long, steady slog. Not too hard and it even levels out a bit once you near the top. The best views are from the top and going down the Western leg from where you can see Windermere, Coniston, Grasmere and Rydal Water as well as more tarns than you can shake a stick at. The final descent into Rydal is tough on the knees. I'd rather do it this way round though. Don't miss coffee ana cake in the Old School House at Rydal as a reward. And finally remember that the weather on top will be VERY different to that in Ambleside. It was blowing a gale up there and perishing cold if you weren't properly equipped. The last time I went up all I saw was the inside of a cloud, so be prepared.

01/07/2009 - Paul Belcher

I have just started walking again after a 13 year absence. Me and my two pals thought we could pick up where we all left off and decided to do the horseshoe as our first walk before attempting a sponsored 26 miler in September. We are so glad we did if only for the views. It was tough but for regular walkers that have not done this route before, we would highly recommend it. We went the other way round and are now thinking would it have been easier if we had started at the other side. Doesn't matter. It was a belting day.

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