The Fairfield Horseshoe

The walk of Saturday the fourth of July.

For over a year now I have been attempting to garner support for my bid to walk the famous Fairfield Horseshoe in the Eastern Lakes. I missed out on the opportunity to do the Kentmere Horseshoe on the 7th of June owing to recovering from my successful Yorkshire Three Peaks bid, the day before. (Who had the second paragraph before I mentioned that?)

So when Karl texted me to ask if I fancied doing this on Saturday the 4th of July, well I very nearly ripped his arm off. A colleague who had done the walk last year warned me of the possibility of a sudden mist-out (my phrase, not hers, she can speak English). When I left the house at the somewhat later-than-my-o.c.d.-would normally let me leave: 06:30 the weather seemed a tad overcast but nothing to worry about. Once I had arrived at 07:45 at Darwen (so I know it’s possible to do it in an hour and a quarter, but will that stop me from setting off ridiculously early again? Hell, no!) it was looking a bit gloomy there too.

Karl informed me that we were going in Sue’s car and that there would be another person joining us, the delightful Lynn – no it was me that labelled her as delightful, just now, not him. (Forgive me, I woke up this morning at 3.00) We got to our set-off point for roughly nine twenty and were all booted up and ready for nine thirty – ace!

The first few steps were wonderful, we had set off from Rydal Road (yup, making that name up!) and headed straight uphill. Oh my God, did it go uphill. We are not talking the steepness of Frodo’s steps at Ingleborough here or even ‘The Middle Way’ at Pendle, but by crikey was it steep and unrelenting. I started off in the lead but by about three quarters up Nab Scar I’ll admit it, I was flagging like a flagger on national flag day.

We reached the summit – one of them, in roughly an hour, maybe even less. The question was posed ‘does anyone want to stop here?’ I said that if I did I might never start again and thus we continued to the next peak…Heron Pike which at 2008′ was technically a mountain, oh goodie! And climbing up it bloomin’ well felt like one too! At this juncture I invented the new verb, To whernside, its’ definition: to drudge up the side of a hill which apparently has no summit, or if it does have a summit then it can also magically move away from you! Obviously, this is hyperbole, we did get to the summit, but it seemed to take an eternity. The mist was now properly down, whilst for the others this had the ‘oh bugger’ effect, for me it was almost homely as Pendle is almost always shrouded in mist so I felt all snug and not in the least bit bothered by the fact that we were walking over two thousand feet with visibility down to around twenty feet! Every so often ‘The Nothing’ would leave its summer house at ‘the never ending story’ and visit us, offering us spectacular views of white abyss’s (what is the plural of abyss?) at the edge of the path. Chris (partner of Fat Goat) hates me standing at the Edge of these things…so I took a few photos, they really don’t deliver the shocking effect which I was after – so they’re not pinching my drive space!

The next scheduled peak was Great Rigg, I found this a little bit alarming, as ‘Great’ anything, in the West Pennines, is no big deal, in the Lakes it usually stands for ‘Ha! Take that!’. Luckily enough for us, we’d already gone over 612 metres, so we only had another hundred and fifty four to go – that’s about 500′ – so I thought of it in metres instead, smart huh? It was a little bit of a pull, in the same way that an elephant is a bit grey and the dinosaurs are a bit extinct! We made it though, to be honest, there was no alternative, I would not fancy turning back here as in altitude we were over half way there! Great Rigg is where I had my tiny lunch of two chicken and sweet chilli wraps, with all the calorific value of…not much, about 400Kcal which when one is climbing over 3,250′ over ten and a half miles is a little under-fuelling.

We were all set now, Fairfield was our next destination, and all the folklore about it being a bit confusing in mist could be appreciated…apart from Karl had his little box of tricks with him in the form of a GPS-thingy – sorry, didn’t want to get all techie then! (and how I succeeded!) The wind shelters looked as if they might be of use…to anyone under three feet tall! Don’t get me wrong I loved this summit as much as Cross Fell, it was pretty much the same scene – minus the trig point. We walked to the highest cairn, then Karl used some kind of Jedi mind trick to communicate with the higher beings and got us back onto the right part of the curved part of the horseshoe route.

Next was a little bit of a tricky descent. It was made all the more tricky by the appearance and then disappearance, and then re-appearance (you get where I’m going here, don’t you?) of the simply stunning Deepdale Valley. You have to see it to believe it, then you still wouldn’t believe it! It had me eulogising – and that’s not even easy for me to spell, let alone do! The wind would blow the mist off the valley, the sun would beat down and illuminate the peaks, then the mist would rapidly creep back in once more. It were gorgeous, as we say in Bolton…when we’ve abandoned the concept of conjugating verbs correctly!

Whilst the other three co-walkers were busy taking photos of Deepdale, I busied myself with taking stock of our route up Hart Crag – it was alluring, steep, but alluring all the same. to be honest, the mist was playing all kinds of mind games with us/me! Everything seemed to appear bigger than it was, even the gaps between where we were and an object seemed to have the object much further away than it really was. This was hard not to like, when one believes that the next peak is half a mile away and it’s revealed that it’s only really about fifty yards. The clues could have been the giants on the tops of the peaks, these were in fact regularly sized people, just nearer than perceived, you get the picture.

We took a nice stumbly path down off Hart Crag and made our way across boulder-fields to Dove Crag. At 2,598 it felt all kinds of wrong to be walking down to a summit which was nearly two hundred feet higher than Whernside, but by this time it was a very rewarding experience. At the summit the others had the remainder of their lunch, I had nothing so contented myself with a bit of stood-up Yoga – essentially I simply stood and waited in the wind vortex that had set upon us. I didn’t really want to sit down here as I might have never got up again. They seemed to be eating in slow motion, or was I just bloomin’ freezing? Eventually we got going again. Somewhere on route we passed the summit of High Pike – I don’t remember it but Sue and Karl assure me that we did pass over it – result!

As far as the ascents go, well now there was just the one left and this would have only weighed in at around seventy-five feet, give or take a foot or ten! Low Pike is a stunning little top – you can’t class this as a hill, mountain or anything, it’s an outcrop at best. It is gorgeous though! Funnily enough I was way ahead of the others, I tend to descend really bloomin’ quickly these days and spent a good few minutes gazing up at the cuteness of Low Pike, Karl, Sue and Lynn all caught up to me – Karl having first likened me to a pipe-less Wainwright. Guess what? After me being the first within its’ shadow (so to speak) I was the last one to ascend Low Pike. We spent another few minutes having a break, the sun had come out! Then it was something of a gentle, seemingly never-ending amble back to Rydal something-or-other café for a Latté, a glass of milk and a slice of cake which was delicious.

Sue checked her logging software that reported we had climbed over three thousand, two hundred feet and a distance of ten and a half miles – I was disappointed, I’d read it was twelve!

Gushing Summary

This is a classic deserving of the name! I for one, would hate to do the route in reverse – or at least the reverse of how we went as I feel it would be such a trudge. Our way was infinitely better, I’m miming tipping my hat to Karl here for not getting us lost (wonders, never, cease, will – re-arrange the preceding into a well-known phrase or expression!). I loved Fairfield’s summit, I’d heard that it was a favourite for many people and now I can concur. I’d still have to say that standing on the col of Fairfield and Hart Crag was my highlight as all around was beauty, a certain craggy beauty in some cases agreed, but beauty all the same. I was expecting the round to be tough all the way through, it wasn’t, but then how tough can it get once the highest point has been reached? Ask a Yorkshire Three Peaker I guess (oh look; you found one!). I would love to do this round again, and it really did not bother me that we spent so long in the mist. There are other ‘horseshoe’ routes in the Lake District and I would like to achieve all of them – the Mosedale one sounds really tough! So, it might be a while before I hit Fairfield once more. Adios you great big friendly giant.

Y Adios tambien a todo, por ahora, mi atención se vuelve hacia Cataluña, hacia dónde vamos para nuestras vacaciones. Un andar a de la poderosa Montserrat, tal vez? Quién sabe?

Some things are not meant to be eternal or even none-changing for a while. So From Friday it’s goodbye to the 07:50 385 bus to Ormskirk, just for a while…

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