Sometimes my memory lets me down and indeed I have no idea what was supposed to be on the agenda on the 22nd October 2016, but I do recall what ended up taking place – largely due to the efficiency of my partner Jen!
Jen can recall, with confidence, what I/we have achieved out in the hills this year thanks to her meticulously filled out diary. I think my next purchase will be to ensure she has a 2017 diary in advance of the New Year so that custom may continue for at least another 12 months.
At this time of year we aren’t always blessed with good weather but on the 22/10/16 it was just fine. Good visibility expected for the most part of the day followed by potential rain in the late afternoon/evening…
I can only hazard a guess at the breakfast conversation as our best hikes are generally morphed out of an otherwise dull day. Such is the awesome nature of living within a stone’s throw of the Lake District, Howgills and Yorkshire Dales. It usually goes something like this:
“Is there anything you would like to do today?” Jen is a highly considerate individual who likes to make me think the best ideas are generated by me… I play along!
“It would be nice to get out for a few hours,” I replied, wondering how much work she may need to trawl through before the possibility can be converted into a certainty.
At this stage it is usually suggested that I take a look at the maps and come up with a proposal. Maybe readers will be label me as lazy but the truth is, put me on top of a mountain and I am happy as a sandboy. It could be anywhere in the world really so I prefer to shoot the ‘proposal’ idea straight back at Jen. Besides, we live so close to so many mountains that, in truth, I would waste most of the day looking over the contents of the seven OS Maps that cover our hiking region and probably end the day still devoid of a plan!
Within an hour Jen approaches me with OS Map in hand ready to divulge where she thinks we should head out to… On this occasion it was the popular circular route of the Fairfield Horseshoe starting out and finishing at Ambleside.
“Cracking idea!” I respond without hesitation – between you and me she could have suggested a 7 day hike in the Torngat Mountains and the answer would have been the same. It was time to throw the necessary into a daysack and head for the car.
It often strikes me, generally about 30 minutes into the car trip, that I should attempt to fill in the blanks about our imminent adventure. Generally the first question is quite standard. “So, where are we headed Jen?” My line of questioning doesn’t always gain the expected response and I have become accustomed to sitting in the passenger seat on such trips enjoying a free white-knuckle ride, which, I can only assume is the accepted medical antidote for short term memory loss…
Details painfully extracted and with the blood slowly making its way back to my extremities we arrive, shaken but not stirred, in Ambleside! It’s time to get the legs working…
The Fairfield Horseshoe can be quite a busy route, but given that we don’t arrive in Ambleside until after midday and it is after all a 16 km hike, we don’t encounter many other walkers at the start point.
We are travelling light: maps, compasses (in case!), fuel for the body, coffee, first aid (I wasn’t sure if I had been forgiven yet for not knowing our destination following an intensive pre-briefing), spare jumpers, buff, hat and gloves and of course the trusty Falcon pipe! Oh, I also had my ResQlink beacon which I rarely leave home without.
So, with the sun on our backs we head off in the direction of Rydal where we will begin the ascent up from around 60m ASL to Nab Scar at 455m ASL. It is a rather arduous climb for us, largely due to the fact we don’t hang around. The path is good but it is a relief to reach Nab Scar, the end of a flight of steep steps, as we are then back in our element. One might say we are back in heaven! The views are stupendous and Lake Windermere and Rydal Water are in sight. Whilst the climb is far from over we can see the horseshoe in its full glory and get an idea of what is in store for us. Fairfield at 873m ASL will be the highest point of the afternoon and the furthest from our starting location, and we take a moment to consider if we can make it back before dark… Dubious to say the least (and with our limited car parking time in mind!) we agree a point of no return and a time by which we must reach it. Just in case, we check to see if we have our head torches, which we do, and we move on…
Hiking, for me, is not just about getting to the next summit as quickly as possible. I am certainly not the fittest person I know but I do like to push myself. I also like to take in the views, and the Fairfield Horseshoe is a real showstopper on that score. The issue for Jen and I was what meant more to us; taking the time to soak up the incredible views, or making it round the whole loop and chalking up another classic?!
We soldier on to Lord Crag, up to Heron Pike at 612m ASL and then ascend further to Great Rigg at 766m ASL. We are almost at Fairfield (summit: 873m) when the wind begins to bite and further layers are put on. It is a confusing site with cairns dotted all over and whilst at the time the fog had not descended we could see the weather turning and once we had gained a good eyeful of the awesome Helvellyn across and to the North of us, we check times and decide to head around the full extent of the Horseshoe.
By this stage we had only encountered a few hill walkers and it was a comforting sight to see others approach from the opposite direction knowing that they had further to go anti-clockwise to Rydal than we did clockwise to Ambleside. Having seen several between Fairfield, Hart Crag and Dove Crag it was clear that we were making good time. From Dove Crag we continued the descent via High Pike and Low Pike, where we hit more boggy ground – it simply wouldn’t be a hike if we returned home with dry feet – and we finally reached the outskirts of Ambleside as the sun set and the light began to fade.
The afternoon had proven a success and I can fully understand why the Fairfield Horseshoe is such a popular walk. It made it into one of my favourites that I hope to revisit. But then again there are so many more to climb and so little time in which to do it! Whilst Jen and I whipped around in below the recommended times I would suggest any walker give it the full time suggested during good weather conditions in order to take full advantage of the outstanding views!
Recommended time for the walk is between 5-6.5 hours. Total ascent: 4,000ft. Distance: 16km.
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