Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Deepdale Horseshoe

GPS Track
Date: 03/06/2012
From: Bridgend

Parking: Layby next to phone booth in Bridgend
Start Point: Bridgend
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 8.7 miles (14km)
Time taken: 5:20
Average speed: 2.3mph
Ascent: 910m
Descent: 909m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Hartsop above How (586m), Hart Crag (822m), Fairfield (873m), St. Sunday Crag (841m), Birks (622m)

Additional summits: Gale Crag (512m), Cofa Pike (823m)

Other points of interest: Dove Crag, Scrubby Crag, Deepdale Hause

Route: Bridgend, Low Wood, Deepdale Park, Bleaberry Knott, Gale Crag, Hoggill Brow, Hartsop above How, Blake Brow, Hart Crag, Link Hause, Fairfield, Cofa Pike, Deepdale Hause, St. Sunday Crag (The Cape), Birks, Glenamara Park, Patterdale, Bridgend

Deepdale lies on the quieter, northeastern side of Fairfield and unlike the more famous Fairfield Horseshoe, Deepdale doesn't draw quite so many people yet gives a much better view of the abrupt rocky faces of of Fairfield and Dove Crag as well as running parallel to the great Striding Edge athwart the valley of Grisedale Beck. It's not a particularly long walk and neither is it amongst the highest, but the extreme steepness of its surroundings generate an awe-inspiring mountain feel as the steep expanses of rock fall away on all sides and the great dark crags of Fairfield loom ahead of you for much of the ascent. Thanks to the Queen's Jubilee, a long bank holiday weekend gave Sara and I the opportunity to tackle the seemingly lofty route, starting in the hamlet of Bridgend at the foot of Hartsop above How.
There's room for 3 or 4 cars in the layby in Bridgend
With the car nestled into one of only a handful of spaces next to a red phone box, we followed the cart track across Deepdale Park and into the northern tip of Low Wood, a 2 mile extent of woodland that reaches from Hartsop above How into the valley of Dovedale. The wooded section is short lived however as the path quickly re-emerges onto the sweeping ridge of Hartsop above How.
The end of Deepdale with Place Fell overlooking Ullswater
Sara striding through Deepdale Park

Crossing the drystone wall
It must be pointed out at this point that Hartsop above How is in fact the northeastern ridge of Hart Crag, stretching out from the summit on curving around to the northwest. However, as with many subsidiary peaks included in his guides, Wainwright included Hartsop above How in a separate chapter, cementing its place as an individual fell worthy of climbing. The fact that it's a ridge descending from Hart Crag makes the climb fairly gradual, slowly rising out of the surrounding valleys and up towards the fortress of Dove Crags and Fairfield.
Sara casts an eye towards the Kirkstone Pass
Gavel Pike and St. Sunday Crag across the valley
The path is easy to follow, running largely parallel to a dry stone wall that extends from Low Wood to Hoggill Brow, a boggy depression along the ridge, before it dives away, returning to Dovedale. A steeper section that requires the occasional use of your hands marks the top of Gale Crag, a small Birkett summit enroute.
Gale Crag
Passing Gale Crag and continuing across Hoggill Brow, the summit of Hartsop above How can clearly be seen and it wasn't long before we made it to the top, though there is little of interest to prolong the visit. It was obvious from this point that we would be spending the highest part of the day in the cloud, not an ideal situation given the wide flat summit of Fairfield. After crossing the summit of Hartsop above How we climbed Blake Brow and began the steep part walk/part scramble up onto Hart Crag, alongside the gloomy rocks of Scrubby Crag.
Hoggill Brow and the path up to the summit of Hartsop above How
Hartsop above How looks more impressive from the foot of Hart Crag
Sara emerges onto the summit of Hart Crag
After the steep climb up Hart Crag, it was on to the summit cairn and time for some dinner and a brief sit down giving us a chance to survey both the valley of Rydal and the route into the gloom on to Fairfield. Back to Hart Crag though, an outlier of Fairfield, it stands on the ridge that leads down to Dove Crag and eventually into Ambleside. It is also at the meeting point of a trio of valleys, though the fell does not actually for the head on any of them. The depression of Link Hause connects Hart Crag to Fairfield and that was to be our route to make the gradual climb into the clouds and onto the summit.
Sara atop Hart Crag
A view into Rydal and the western arm of the Fairfield Horseshoe
Deepdale from Link Hause, Hartsop above How is the the right
Sara climbs out of Link Hause onto the summit plateau of Fairfield
The going on the summit of Fairfield was quite demanding; a combination of the wide flat featureless landscape and lack of prominent paths make for a challenging navigational exercise in the clouds. Edging along through the gloom, we came across something typically British, a small Union Flag defying the elements after being carefully perched on top of one of the navigation cairns. While I wouldn't admit to being a flag waving patriot, it was nice to see someone had taken the effort to carry it up with them and place it there for everyone else to enjoy (at least until the wind decided it would take it elsewhere). After feeling our way to the summit and with little in the way of a view to entertain us we continued on to make the seemingly perilous crossing of Cofa Pike.
Sara ventures onto the summit of Fairfield
Great way to celebrate the Jubilee!
Being a subsidiary peak to the mighty Fairfield should make Cofa Pike a straight forward 'up and over' to get across it but it was easily the most challenging part of the day. With the entire peak surrounding in cloud, the narrow path and precipitous falls to either side made it a bit of a daunting task. Without being able to see much either side of the rough path we were unable to tell exactly what lay in wait should one of us take a wrong step or a stone decided that it didn't want to rest where it was anymore. Fortunately, we didn't have to find out and a sweaty, pulse racing few minutes later, we'd managed to reach Deepdale Hause and the base of the clouds. I'm sure on any other clear day Cofa Pike would have been an unmemorable necessity but it will linger in our memory thanks to its unexpected challenge.
Oblivion awaits on Cofa Pike
Deepdale Hause forms a low point between the valleys of Deepdale and Wythburn and the fells of Fairfield and St. Sunday Crag. Despite the popularity of Fairfield, the hause sees little traffic using it as a pass from Deepdale to Wythburn however, the routes between the fells are heavily eroded. After carefully picking our way over Cofa Pike, we were thankful to reach not only some wider ground but also a substantial path we could follow once again. The next stop of the tour of Deepdale would be St. Sunday Crag, the highest point of Fairfield's eastern ridge. Now that we were out of the clouds, the views the southern section of the Helvellyn ridge began to open with Striding Edge being the highlight.
Clouds linger on St. Sunday Crag
Cofa Pike
The crags of Fairfield; specifically Hutaple Crag and Greenhow End

Sara crossing Deepdale Hause with Fairfield, Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike visible
A two mile long fin of rock, St. Sunday Crag falls swiftly away on both sides, reaching a maximum height of 841m before gradually descending into Patterdale. The path to the summit is easy to follow and we made short work of the climb up to the summit from Deepdale Hause. For a large, rocky fell the summit is surprisingly green and grassy, with a set of cairns marking the highest points. It is thought that its name stems from Saint Dominic, the patron saint of astronomers whose local name is St. Sunday though it's unclear why his name has been attached to the fell. Perhaps it was a popular haunt for the local astronomers? Perhaps.
An ominous looking Helvellyn
Sara at the summit of St. Sunday Crag
Descending the path towards Birks and Patterdale
The views from St. Sunday Crag towards Helvellyn are excellent and Striding Edge looks fairly perilous thanks to the silhouettes of many walkers still making the crossing. They were joined by an RAF Sea King as it bothered Catstye Cam's summit like an angry yellow wasp before making a pass down Grisedale and settling to land on the nearby Birks. As we descended towards it, a large group bundled out of it and were left on the hillside. I can only assume it was a training day for the local MRT team. I'd love to have a ride in one one day though not under the watchful eye of the MRT.
The Sea King bothers the summit of Catstye Cam...
... .before setting down on Birks
Birks, the final fell of the day, is fairly unassuming when viewed from the higher St. Sunday Crag to the south however, the rocks of Harrison Crag and Black Crag give the hill suitable definition when seen from Patterdale for Wainwright to include it in his guide. Being surrounded by higher fells on most sides, the views from Birks are not that extensive however, the view the the north along the southern end of Ullswater is definately worth the climb (or slight detour in our case).
Sara on the path back to Patterdale
Rejoining the main path back towards Patterdale, we were met once again by the Sea King as it circled around before landing gracefully on the local cricket pitch, in my opinion, a far better use for it than actually playing cricket. The path down the flank of Birks is glorious, perched over the steep drop of Harrison Crag and giving a birds eye view of the Grisedale valley. Unfortunately, at this point in the walk, something elese was dominating my mind. Wet feet. The absence of any rain made this all the more concerning as the most of the moisture we had experienced was coming from the wet grass. Either Gore-Tex of Salomon we're holding up their end of the bargain.
The Sea King tales pride of place at the local cricket club
Grisedale
Sara above Patterdale
Reaching the foot of Birks, the path sticks closely to the base of the hill as it makes its way to Patterdale, passing through Glenamara Park and underneath Oxford Crag. Reaching Patterdale, Sara and I both agreed we should have left the car here as we were faced with a dull half hour plod alongside the A592 back to Bridgend. This could have been avoided by crossing Goldrill Beck and following the path on the opposite side of the valley, however, it would have added a bit of time to the walk and we had agreed we were both looking forward to getting back to the campsite. Plus I had wet feet as well, which hastened our stride.

All in all, a very entertaining walk and not hugely demanding, despite climbing one of the largest hills in the district. Deepdale seems not to attract many visitors for some reason, obviously to the benefit of us at the time and I'd highly recommend it, so much so, that I'd very much like to repeat this walk (partly to take in Arnison Crag). It is however, an excellent introduction to the Lakes and well worth considering for people without much hillwalking experience.