Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Fairfield Horseshoe & Stone Arthur

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Route: Under Loughrigg, Rydal, Hart Head Farm, Nab Scar, Lord Crag, Heron Pike, Rydal Fell, Stone Arthur, Great Rigg, Fairfield, Link Hause, Hart Crag, Dove Crag, Thack Bottom Edge, High Pike, Low Pike, Low Brock Crags, High Sweden Coppice, Low Sweden Bridge, Nook End Farm, Ambleside, Rothay Park

Date: 21/11/2015
From: Ambleside

Parking: Roadside Parking on Under Loughrigg
Start Point: Rydal Mount
Region: Eastern Fells

Route length: 12.5 miles (20.1 km)
Time taken: 05:41
Average speed: 2.2 mph
Ascent: 1,193m
Descent: 1,199m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Nab Scar (455m), Heron Pike (612m), Stone Arthur (503m), Great Rigg (766m), Fairfield (873m), Hart Crag (822m), Dove Crag (792m), High Pike (656m), Low Pike (508m)

Other Summits: Rydal Fell (621m)

Other points of interest: Flinty Grave, Scrubby Crag, Low Brock Crags

Winter is starting to peek its head over the horizon and the first dusting of snow has landed in the Lake District, reason enough to warrant an impromptu day out. The effort this time would be focussed on a pair of fells that have remained elusive until now and are the final pair of fells from the Eastern Fells book; Nab Scar and Stone Arthur. The ideal way to incorporate them into a day out would be to repeat a Lakeland favourite, the Fairfield Horseshoe.

It's a walk I've done before, though we started from an unorthodox place, visiting Alcock Tarn and emerging on Heron Pike. This explains why Nab Scar has remained unclimbed for so long. Stone Arthur on the other hand stands somewhat isolated though can be joined to the horseshoe as I did today.

I arrived early in the morning having weaved a path through a trail of fallen trees and powerlines from a previous storm, parking the car on Under Loughrigg, a road that provides a reasonable number of free spaces. No prizes for guessing where it is located. The sun was out in force as I set off along the road though, despite appearances, it wasn't going to be a warm day. A stiff northerly wind brought a forecast windchill of -20C on the fell tops so there were plenty of layers in the pack waiting in reserve.
A bright morning in Ambleside
Under Loughrigg leads to Rydal Mount, the family home of William Wordsworth, the renowned Lakeland poet. It marks the start of the only significantly strenuous climb of the day, the steep path up Nab Scar. It was steep enough to reduce me to a baselayer for a short period before it emerged into the wind on the top.
Under Loughrigg
Looking across to Nab Scar
The footings of Nab Scar
High Pike and Low Pike on the opposite side of the valley
The interesting Loughrigg Fell
The view across Rydal
Though only a termination of a ridge leading from Heron Pike, Nab Scar is a fine vantage point overlooking Rydal Water and Grasmere with a distant Windermere reflecting the low sun. I almost missed the summit as the distracting dome of Heron Pike drew my attention northwards. A small sheltered spot allowed for a moment of boot maintenance before I continued on.
Looking over Silver How to Crinkle Crags
Looking right into the sun over Windermere
Silver How with the high fells of Great Langdale beyond
Nab Scar's summit
High Raise
A superb panorama from Nab Scar
The path climbs steadily for a mile or so to Heron Pike, with a slightly steeper section towards the end. The snow and ice made some areas a little slippery but they were easily bypassed. A few more snows and I think crampons would be required. Heron Pike has two tops, the lower Wainwright top (Heron Pike) and the Birkett summit (also called Rydal Fell). Both have their merits; the lower top has a tremendous view of Ambleside and Windermere where as Rydal Fell looks along the ridge to Fairfield. I much prefer the latter.
Looking across Blind Cove towards Rydal Fell and Fairfield
The view into Grasmere
Helm Crag, Gibson Knott and Tarn Crag
The view from Heron Pike
Looking back to Heron Pike
The summit of Rydal Fell
The view across the valley to High Pike
Great Rigg, Fairfield and Hart Crag
Now that I was at an elevation over 600m, the wind really carried a bite to it. It was a lazy wind, content to drive straight through you rather than go around. After adjusting all the cords on my jacket to seal it out, thick pile-lined gloves did their utmost to keep my fingers warm and fared rather well.

A very short descent from Rydal Fell leads to a long, broad and largely flat ridge that connects Heron Pike to Great Rigg. Branching off this is the ridge that falls away to Stone Arthur, some distance below. I left the well established path ridge top path to follow the contours across the top of Greendale Gill, meeting the path that leads between Stone Arthur and Great Rigg before, oddly, walking down to the summit.
Fairfield at the head of Rydal
Dove Crag
Great Rigg
Greenhead Gill
Greenburn Bottom and Steel Fell
Stone Arthur, as well established in Wainwright's book, is nothing more than an outcrop of rock along the ridge though its looks pretty dominant when viewed from the valley below. Despite this supposed shortcoming it has a breathtaking view of Grasmere and the fells surrounding Easedale and Greendale which were looking near-perfect with a light dusting of snow. Seat Sandal and Grisedale Hause also make an impressive appearance.
The summit of Stone Arthur
Grasmere
Helm Crag
Blea Rigg
Seat Sandal
Grisedale Hause and Dollywaggon Pike
Having soaked up the view it was time to return back up the ridge towards Great Rigg. It's pretty tedious climb along the rough path, until it reaches Great Rigg where a large loose cairn, called Greatrigg Man, marks the summit. Ahead is the huge mass of Fairfield, still some distance away along a long and steady rise.
Looking up towards Great Rigg
After what seemed like a very long time placing one foot in front of the other I reached the busy summit of Fairfield and had a short wander around. Over the crags of Flinty Grave is the head of Deepdale and the imposing St. Sunday Crag while Black Tippet and Hog Hole fall steeply to the valley floor. The north side of Fairfield really is magnificent and worth a visit.
The view down to Grasmere and Windermere
Stone Cove
The summit of Great Rigg
The high fells make an appearance
The summit of Fairfield
St. Sunday Crag and Deepdale
The summit cairn on Fairfield
The crags on the north face of Fairfield
The plateau of Fairfield
Looking down Black Tippet
I took a moment to shelter out of the wind to grab a much needed bite to eat where the warmth of a down jacket was more than welcome. Crossing Link Hause, a short climb reaches the top of Hart Crag, one of the more interesting fells on the circuit. A rim of crags guard the northern slopes and the view back to Scrubby Crag is particular exciting. The Far Eastern Fells can also be clearly seen. It was already mid-afternoon and with the short hours of daylight there was no time to hang around, it was on to Dove Crag.
Link Hause and Hart Crag
Rydal Fell
Hart Crag
Looking down Hartsop above How
Great Rigg
Hart Crag's summit
Dove Crag is reached by crossing a shallow depression that separates it from Hart Crag and making an easy climb to the summit. The summit is actually quite wide and flat and limits much of the view though Great Rigg can be well seen from the climb. Dove Crag will always remain the first fell that Wainwright committed to his books and is often the first objective for many Wainwright baggers.
The broad Dove Crag
Looking back to Hart Crag and Fairfield
Caudale Moor
The summit of Dove Crag
Dove Crag marks the end of any significant climbing for the day as its southern ridge drops all the way back to Ambleside. I admit, this part of the walk can be a bit dull and seems to last a long time, at least until you reach High Pike and views of Scandale eventually emerge. The drystone wall that follows the ridge however, is quite magnificent. A real feat of construction.
The largely flat ridge leading from Dove Crag
Thack Bottom Edge
High Pike and Low Pike share similarities with Stone Arthur, namely the fact they are merely outcrops along a long ridge. Both have very similar views and neither of them are particularly memorable, hence why I passed them by fairly swiftly.
Little Hart Crag
Red Screes
High Pike's summit
Scandale
The view to Low Pike
Heron Pike
Looking up at High Pike
Low Pike
Low Pike, Fairfield and Great Rigg
Summit of Low Pike
The last leg of the walk does harbour a bit more excitement with a clamber down High Brock Crags and the subsequent Low Brock Crags. There's a choice of two routes here, drop down to High Sweden Bridge or keep high along the drystone wall which is what I did. From here you get a good view back to Heron Pike while the imposing Harrison Stickle appears on the horizon, the low sun picking it out of the shadows.
Rydal, Loughrigg and the Coniston Fells
Low Pike and High Pike
Ambleside and Windermere
Nab Scar
Rydal Water
Still the path descends over Low Sweden Bridge to Nook End Farm which stands at the end of a lane leading back into Ambleside. There was one last treat in store as the whole horseshoe can be viewed from ground level as you cross Rothay Park to get back to Under Loughrigg.
Scandale Beck
The Fairfield Horseshoe
Ambleside seemed curiously busy when I made my way through the town, it turns out it was Christmas lights switch on day which consisted of a parade along the main street. So much for a quick getaway. Those who frequent the Lake District will know how important the route through Ambleside is in order to reach the M6 and, with the prospect of the high street being shut for an hour or so, there was only one alternative - a quick mooch around the shops. It is nearly Christmas after all.