As I was in Windermere for the morning I decided to take my walking gear with me and make the most of what promised to be a lovely afternoon. I knew I wouldn’t have much daylight by the time I’d finished so decided to take a trip to Tarn Hows and visit Black Fell. With such clear weather I was able to take some great photos and enjoy stunning views from the summit before returning back through Tarn Hows for sunset and early evening.
As a still relatively inexperienced fell walker I’m not planning on tackling many epic, intrepid walks this winter and with a fine day forecast the weekend before the clocks went back I decided to use the opportunity for my first long, multi-peak walk and see how my fitness was coming along.
Driving usually requires some form of circular walk and I wanted to try something different this time so took the bus. The 555 takes almost two hours for the run to Grasmere most of that time spent wending its way through every village between Lancaster and Kendal (Kendal to Grasmere takes 30 mins) none the less it is a pleasant trip watching the sunrise with a good audiobook for company.
My plan for the day was to tackle the Fairfield Horseshoe clockwise from Grasmere to Ambleside, roughly 14km, 900m of ascent and taking in eight peaks. By the time I arrived in Grasmere the morning was well underway but, from my route card planning, I knew I should still be safely back in Ambleside an hour before sundown. Of course I was fully equipped for any problems so I shouldered my heavier than usual pack and headed up the road opposite Rydal Lodge.
The first peak on the route was Nab Scar , rising steeply behind Wordsworth’s house, Rydal Mount, this would be the steepest, toughest climb of the day, allowing me to gain the ridge before continuing round the other seven peaks. The morning was crisp and cool but I was soon shedding layers as I zigzagged my way up the slope and by the time I reached the top of the main climb I was down to a base layer and t-shirt.
Because of the route the path takes the full ‘horseshoe’ is hidden from view but I could see across the valley to High and Low pikes and the return path I would be walking a few hours hence. From this distance it looked like it would be a gentle stroll along the ridge, an easy finish back to Ambleside to end the day. As it turned out, it was slow going picking my way alternately between boulders and bogs.
Past the summit of Nab Scar there is a rocky spur offering great views across Rydal Water to Loughrigg Fell and with such a still morning I was able to capture some great cloud reflections.
Peak number two was Heron Pike and my first over 2,000ft and whilst there are great views up the valley there was little reason to linger and I pushed on to peak number three, Great Rigg. The ridge between the two is pretty level until the ground starts the climb to the summit and I found myself a little spot out of the wind to have a bite to eat, recharge and enjoy the views down to Rydal Beck.
The walks I have completed to this point have all been to broad summits and ridges where the view down is less immediate and it was much more striking how high up I actually was. I was also struck by how massive the mountains are from up high, not just in height but sheer bulk and how majestic they are. I began to worry that lesser heights would no longer be enough.
Putting my odd worry’s aside I focused on the task in hand and had soon gained the summit and was pushing on along the ridge with the summit of Fairfield dead ahead. The climb is of no great steepness but is steady and long and by the time I reached the top my legs were glad of the rest.
The summit is a broad open expanse covered in rocks across which the wind had started to blow with some force and shelters were proving popular. After a brief exploration and a few photos I noticed cloud starting to form to the south west. If I could avoid it I didn’t want to be putting my low visibility navigation to the test on one of the most notoriously confusing summits and decided to carry on to Hart Crag and the return path before a cuppa.
Of the eight summits I visited Hart Crag was undoubtedly my favorite, from the point the path off Fairfield begins to turn south the ground becomes rocky and rugged before dropping down and then rising again steep and suddenly to the summit. The accompanying views are sensational in every direction and this section of the walk captured everything I love about walking the fells to perfection and I look forward to a return visit for a more thorough exploration.
Glancing back to Fairfield I was glad I had not lingered as the summit was now completely enveloped in low-lying cloud which was dropping lower still. By the time I reached Dove Crag the view had disappeared and I was walking in a still and silent bubble, though with a clear path ahead it was an enjoyable if different experience.
The remaining walk was down hill crossing High Pike, an entirely unremarkable pile of stones, before continuing on to Low Pike and Ambleside. Throughout its length accompanied by a dry stone wall following a crazy path up and down the steepest of slopes and becoming near vertical at points, though it was not the easy looking walk I imagined from across the valley that morning.
Low Pike for its diminutive stature I found a lovely place, a sudden up thrust of rock on the ridge, adorned with a small level patch of grass where I sat enjoying the returned sun and the fabulous views of Scandale whilst watching other Ambleside bound hikers detouring around its base.
By now thoughts of beer were uppermost in my mind and after a last couple of pics back up the valley I was motoring for Ambleside and the nearest pub. However, there was one final obstacle to tackle before the long easy final run into town. As the path passed through a more rugged patch of ground it unexpectedly deposited me with no warning at the top of a 7ft drop. At 6’2″ this wasn’t much of an issue and was easily negotiated. I did wonder how the guy I had stopped for a chat with some ten minutes before would fare being all of 5’2″.
I arrived back in Ambleside an hour ahead of my schedule and found myself a pub for a celebratory pint before catching the bus back to Lancaster. Reflecting back on the day I was thoroughly pleased with my progress. I think had I tried the walk when we first moved here three months ago Nab Scar alone would have been enough for me, as it was I had completed the round comfortably and although by the time I arrived back home I was thoroughly broken I had enjoyed the whole day immensely and look forward to my next epic, long distance trek on the high fells.
Becca’s friend from Uni was visiting for the weekend and wanted to see the Lakes, it couldn’t be anything too intrepid as Jo only had DM’s with her and the weather wasn’t expected to be great. Whilst they were out down the pub ‘catching up’ I put my thinking cap on, pulled out the maps and looked for something suitable. By the time they returned I had a plan. Aira Force and Gowbarrow Fell first returning via Coniston and the Black Bull Inn to sample local food and ale. Fell..tick, Lake…tick, Waterfall…tick, drive with good views….tick, booze…tick and good food…tick, plan approved and good to go.
Things were moving a little slowly come morning, it would appear the ‘catching up’ had caught up but they were both still up for a trip and the general opinion was that the fresh air could only help.
It was pushing midday by the time we left meaning we missed the worst of the days weather and by the time we reached Windermere the rain had cleared leaving low-lying cloud and fog obscuring pretty much any kind of view. I think of Ullswater as my lucky Lake, twice when I’ve visited the weather around Windermere has been foggy but, once over Kirkstone Pass, the cloud dissipates and I’ve ended up with a lovely day.
I took the longer route to the pass in deference to the girl’s hangover’s but even so by the time we reached Aira Force the twists and turns through the fog had taken their toll and B was looking a little green around the gills. A restorative cup of tea at the cafe soon had her looking chipper and we were on our way.
The mornings rain meant the paths were a touch slippy underfoot but it was a pleasant walk with autumn colours all around on the way up to the main fall. After the requisite photo’s at the base of the fall and on the bridge we followed the path past High Force and on to the base of Gowbarrow Fell. The route is simple enough, heading straight up the hillside alongside a dry stone wall with the views Ullswater and Glencoyne opening out behind. On the plateau before the final rise to the summit the fix the fells team were obviously working as every few hundred yards there were big bags of rocks sat by the path waiting to be used.
At the summit whilst enjoying our lunch I was asked the bizarrest question. “Do you have any idea where the hell we are?” Not that bizarre you’re probably be thinking however, when you consider I was being asked it by a guy showing me his OS map with a clearly drawn route over Gowbarrow on it, whilst being sat next to the trig point I think you’ll see where I coming from. When you add in the fact that the Gowbarrow trig has the name on it…..?
Given that our route up had been something of a slip, sliding muddy affair especially for Jo and her DM’s we chose to take the longer route around Gowbarrow to return to the car. It’s a clear path that contours its way around Gowbarrow at around 300m showing Ullswater and the High street range magnificently particularly from the cairn on Yew Crag.
Due to the longer, meandering return walk, there was some muttering of ‘Are we ever going to get off this mountain.’ but we eventually made it back to the car and headed back over the Pass. As the low-lying had cleared we were able to enjoy the splendid views that had been obscured first time around, it also meant I could take the fun road straight down into Ambleside. After an aborted stop over at Tarn Hows, we were there five minutes before the heavens opened and soaked us through, we made for the Coniston and the Black Bull feeling in need of a slap up meal.
Diner was excellent with hearty portions all round and beautifully rounded off with Jam Roly Poly and custard. Coniston Breweries finest provided the liquid element and the entertainment when I carelessly managed a spectacular twitter fax-pas, declaring that I was ‘Enjoying an Old Man in the Black Bull Coniston’ thereby ensuring my phone was binging merrily away during the course of the meal.
We could all have settled in for the evening quite happily but we had to make tracks but we’d had a great day and Ullswater had obviously made the right impression with Jo, she was already planning a return visit, family in tow, before we’d made it back to Lancaster.