The Alternative Fairfield Horseshoe

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The traditional Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside is one of the best walks in the Lake District (see my route 4780 'The Fairfield Horseshoe'). There is however, another Fairfield Horseshoe, that starts from Patterdale, which has all of the interest of the traditional route, but is quieter and less crowded. The distance and height gain are slightly shorter and on top of all that there is the opportunity to climb one of the best Grade 3 scrambles in the Lake District – Pinnacle Ridge.

The route starts in Patterdale, with a short stroll up Grisedale. Soon after starting, there is a parting of the ways, with the scramblers continuing up Grisedale to Elm How. The walkers head upwards to traverse the slopes of Birks, followed by a steady ascent of St Sunday Crag.

Meanwhile the scramblers have taken the path above Elm How Plantation to the crags on the north-west slopes of St Sunday Crag. The route is worth three stars, but it's no pushover and most parties use a rope. Needless to say, experience and the right equipment (a short climbers' rack and a couple of slings minimum) are also essential.

The walkers and scramblers come together again on the summit of St Sunday Crag. The route then drops down to Deepdale Hause before climbing Fairfield via Cofa Pike.

Like the traditional Fairfield round the route follows ridges and there are fantastic views of many of the Lake District hills (weather permitting). Navigation is easy until the summit of Fairfield. This 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 the wrong valley. This is especially true following this route, as there isn't much difference initially between the route heading for Ambleside via Great Rigg and the route to Hart Crag, which is what you need to follow.

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 hillwalking courses.

After the descent to Link Hause and ascent of Hart Crag, the route does a left turn to descend the long ridge running between Deepdale and Dovedale. Eventually you return to the valley for an easy return to Patterdale. The White Lion pub is handily situated for a quick celebration before heading back to the start point.

For the completist, it just has to be done.

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

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