The Fairfield Horseshoe

One of the Lakeland walker’s favourite circular walks, the Fairfield Horseshoe really is a classic. Where you start, not getting lost on Fairfield and how to complete the round can trip a hiker up. Spend five minutes with me on this blog, and you won’t go wrong.

Summer holidays – the Lake District

Our second week away this summer brings us to the Lakes.

Fairfield Horseshoe over Windermere
Fairfield Horseshoe over Windermere

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this day until we get to Low Wray, set up the tent and take a walk along the ‘beach’ on the Western shore of Windermere when it becomes very obvious!

I love to look up at Wansfell and remember the time in May when I stayed here at Low Wray with Jack. We worked out that that lovely lump above the marina at Waterhead was the fell we would be heading up the next day. It was our first Wainwright.

To the left of Wansfell in this view is The Fairfield Horseshoe, looking all lovely and welcoming. My day’s leave from the clan will take me to Fairfield.

On The Fairfield Horseshoe

I wake naturally at 5:15, and I’m dressed for half passed. It feels like a while since the last walk, so I’m anxious to get over to Rydal as soon as I can to get some early morning photos. It pays off.

Nab Scar ascent
Nab Scar ascent

There’s no car park so I’m parking near St Mary’s church Rydal. A short walk up this side street takes you to the cottage that William Wordsworth lived in, Rydal Mount, where you turn left. There’s a sign there showing the way up.

Nab Scar

I’m heading up Nab Scar at 6:30. Nab Scar is the crag at the very end of the ridge, the summit adopting the name. The views from the ascent are great already, having a fantastic view of Windermere and the morning mist.

windermere from the nab
A misty Windermere from Nab Scar

It’s so nice to be on the summit of a fell after what seems like so long.

As you get to the top of the crag, you get a full sight of Rydal Water, the sun’s shining; it’s incredible.

Rydal Water from Nab Scar
Rydal Water from Nab Scar

Grasmere comes into view as you pass the Nab Scar summit. I head on for Heron Pikes. With the sun coming over High and Low Pike, the other side of the horseshoe, it’s quite a sight.

Which on is Heron Pike summit?

Alfred says that the true summit of Heron Pikes is the Southern peak. You can easily tell that the upper peak is higher. I check the book. As the Southern peak is ‘the Wainwright’, I get my photo there.

Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike
Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike

The view from the upper peak (of Rydal Head) and more importantly, the south side of Fairfield, Black Crag and the tops – it’s spectacular as you follow the Horseshoe round to its end – Great Rigg is next, then Fairfield at the valley head, down the col and up to Hart Crag, Dove Crag, then I’m guessing that the two small lumps near the end must be High Pike and Low Pike.


Great Rigg is next along the ridge walk. However, Stuart Marshall’s ‘Walking The Wainwrights’ suggests you drop down the tongue to Stone Arthur.. You can’t make out the cairn that you assume marks the spot on the OS map.

You either bag this one now in the next hour or so, or spend half a day travelling and climbing from Grasmere another time. Down we go.

The walk is quite pleasant, and I feel like I have all the time in the world. However, there’s a niggle in the back of your head. You have to ascend back up again, 900ft, to Great Rigg.

Stone Arthur

Stone Arthur has no cairn to mark the top, it’s actually not a peak at all, just some really big rocks on the end of the tongue. If Alfred did the marketing for Grasmere in the 1950s, this was probably why he included Stone cold Arthur in the green book. It looks grand from below. Indeed, it’s a good hill to climb from the A591, but the going is steady, and you wouldn’t know you were at a ‘top’ until you reached Great Rigg.

Teresa's Rest on Stone Arthur
Teresa’s Rest on Stone Arthur

Funnily enough, there’s a rock along the trail with my wife’s name on it.

I think it best to have a snack with Arthur and a small rest. You need ‘new legs’ for the 900ft ascent back up to Great Rigg!

Great Rigg

Great Rigg summit cairn
Great Rigg summit cairn

The climb is great, and the views are getting better, especially looking back down the ridge on what you’ve done already.

Summit of Fairfield

Coniston Water from the Fairfield Horseshoe
Coniston Water from the Fairfield Horseshoe

Fairfield is a wide flat top; it’s sunny as you would like, and the skies are clear. Four spurs are heading off this summit. I wonder how many walkers with little navigation skills have got lost here and ended up in Patterdale.

Cofa Pike St Sunday Crag
Cofa Pike and St Sunday Crag from the Fairfield Horseshoe

I’m at the highest point of my trek, so it’s time for my rice pudding. I love rice pudding when I’m out hiking. I have a wander round to get an even better photo of St Sunday with Cofa Pike in the fore.

Looking at my Helvellyn walk

It’s waiting for me, a walk I planned weeks ago – up Birkhouse Moor to Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon, Seat saddle, over St Sunday and down over Birks and Arnison Crag.

It’ll be a long one, but I’ll probably ascend Helvellyn then camp back down at Red Tarn, a morning swim before starting again. The options are endless. I love seeing the next walk from the one you’re currently on.

Black Tippet from the Fairfield Horseshoe
Black Tippet from the Fairfield Horseshoe

Back to the scheduled programme – there’s a fantastic view of Black Buttress and The Step from the cliff face near Fairfield’s summit cairn. This view will disappear when we get to Hart Crag of course.

Fairfield Horseshoe Map

You must be very careful on the Fairfield Horseshoe that you don’t get caught out without a map. The problem being, you need two maps! Some is on the Ordnance Survey OL5 map and the the rest on OS OL7. I would strongly recommend you take both maps, even if you’re using your phone or a GPS unit.

Fairfield’s flat summit in cloud is an easy place to get lost, there are four spurs from the top and you want to make sure you take the right one. If you’re following my escape route back to Rydal later in the blog, you really need the map.

Hart Crag

Down to the col and I’m wondering, have I missed the top of Hart Crag? Eventually, though, I come to the cairn that marks the summit. On to Dove Crag, from where I will get one of the most amazing views of the Lakeland fells to the West.

The Priest Hole cave

It’s here you would take a detour to the Priest Hole cave. I didn’t, but in between Hart Crag and Dove Crag summits is Dovedale. It’s only a 50m descent into the valley North East before you get to the cave, perched on the side of the crag.

Priests Hole Cave views
Priests Hole Cave views

Somebody who walks the Fairfield Horseshoe has a cracking opportunity to have a wild camp in the cave. Two of you can comfortably sleep in it, or four at a push.

On to Dove Crag

Dove Crag is my 35th Wainwright; it’s Summer 2015. I still have 179 to go. Most of them are behind me in this photo. I speak to a fellow Wainwright bagger on the top, and he swears that Dove Crag has the best view in the Lakes! At this moment, I’m likely to agree but hardly qualified to be right. Let me know what you think.

Alfred’s book gives you diagrams of the views from Dove Crag, he excludes I think, the fells if you can’t see the summit but most of the big ones are there patiently waiting for our meeting, one day. I’m looking forward to the contrast, Autumn, then Winter.

Dove Crag summit cairn
Dove Crag summit cairn

The guy who took this photo has five Wainwrights left, and it’s taken him years, he lives down on the South coast, I forget where.

I’m running out of water again. The BBC forecast (now I would recommend the MET Office app or MWIS) has said all week that there would be cloud from 10 am today. As you can see, it was incorrect. There was one cloud all day, it’s in one of the photos, by the time I get to the car I will have carried a hoody, bob hat, gloves, scarf and a coat 14 miles, applied factor 50 at least six times and still got sunburned. I really must come out more prepared for all weather from now on.

High Pike and Low Pike

My face has had enough now even with the factor 50 protection, and I need a can of 7-up. I set off a run down the East ridge heading for High Pike, down, down, down, High Pike done, down down, Low Pike? Ah, this must be it, let’s see the photo, number 37 and 177 to go!

Straight down the ridge takes you down into Ambleside. Balls to that.

Getting back to Rydal

I consult Alfred’s book about the route to Ambleside but don’t fancy the two-mile walk back to Rydal. There must be a way through to the church I started at. The map looks promising, I’m heading for Rydal Bear Grylls style.

As Bear says, ‘a stream will take you to a river and the river will lead you to civilisation’, in this case, my car. As you come down the hill from Low Pike after crossing the wall via a gate, keep going until a wall crosses your path and heads off to the right, West toward Nab Scar. Follow it down through fern to an old red gate.

Through the red gate cross a field of heavy fern, it gets heavier, and you meet a stream. Watch your step as you follow the stream South-West to open access woodland. There’s a wall here to scale, not on the OS map. As the wall now no more than an 8-inch pile of stone, it’s nothing to write about. I’ll delete that bit then.

Follow the stream through the wood until it meets a wall. Head South and you’ll find a way through.

Meeting a path, you’re tempted to carry on South, but I think it heads back over to Ambleside so double back downhill along a trodden path through the grass. This leads to a bigger stream, cross this and pass through a hole in a wall.

Rydal Falls waterfall
Rydal Falls waterfall

As you go through the woodland, you should hear heavier water ahead, follow your nose and come to a forestry track heading South. However, before heading down over a lovely bridge to the Rydal Tea Room at Rydal Hall, look for a trail that will lead you to the Rydal Beck Falls, a really nice waterfall, a pool and bigger falls, a great place for a dunk of the head on a hot day like this.

If I’d had a change of clothes, I might have been tempted to take a swim. Now for that can of pop.

Fairfield Horseshoe Route

Here’s my Fairfield Horseshoe map.

Fairfield Horseshoe map
Fairfield Horseshoe map

Fells – x 9

Ascent – 3600 ft (1100m)

Terrain – Rocky, easy scrambling

Distance – 9.5 miles (15km)

Time – 10 hours

With – Solo

Fairfield Horseshoe Map – OL5 & OL7 (see above)


  • Nab Scar
  • Heron Pike
  • Stone Arthur
  • Great Rigg
  • Fairfield
  • Hart Crag
  • Dove Crag
  • High Pike
  • Low Pike

Keep adventuring…

The Coledale Horseshoe

Lake District caves wild camping

3 thoughts on “The Fairfield Horseshoe circular walk”

  1. Absolutely fantastic guide!
    I walked 1/3rd of this route as a shorter trip, I was always wanting to bag the rest of the summits on a circular walk
    Many thanks for this, I will keep an eye for other similar guides ???

  2. Hi there

    Ive been thinking about doing the Fairfield loop for a while and yesterday set about it.
    Im not a map reader so watched a few videos online to get som reference points.
    about a mile from the the top I hit a point where I didn’t no which way to go.

    Fortunately I spotted 2 other walkers about 1/4 mile ahead of me on the route to the left.
    Once I caught them I asked if this was the wayand they confirmed it was.

    The lady confirmed that when you look to the right its really is quite straight forward.

    onward I went until I hit the mist and rain.

    `Eventually I managed to get back on route over some rocky climbs.

    On my way I met a lady who also conformed I was on route.

    About 1.4 mile on I bumped into an elderly couple who against my got feeling convinced me that I was heading for ulswater and needed to turn around, which I did and ended up going down a different route but somehow brought me back to rydal hall.In my mind I was sure I was on route and that was confirmed by a chap I spoke to on the main rd.


Leave a comment