Classic Lake District Walks – The Fairfield Horseshoe
Classic ridge walk with panoramic views across almost all of the major Lake District fells.
Start and Finish: Ambleside
Distance: 17.3 km
Ascent: 992 m
Time: 6 hours
Timings are approximate and depend on the individual. Calculate the time using Naismith’s Rule and factor in your own pace.
There are toilets (20p charge) in Rydal Road Car Park and plenty of cafes, pubs and shops in Ambleside. The Rydal Hall Tea Shop is towards the end of the walk.
Plenty of buses come and go from Ambleside during the spring and summer including services from Chorley (X8), Kendal (505), Bowness / Windermere (599) and Lancaster (555). After the end of October, services become more limited.
There are a few very short sections where you will need to use your hands to scramble up. The route can be particularly boggy.
Remember that we cannot outline every single hazard on a walk – it’s up to you to be safe and competent. Read up on Keeping Safe on the Wales Coast Path, Navigation and the Gear and Equipment you’ll need.
Scafell Pike Guidebooks:
We recommend the The Near Eastern Fells: Walking Guide to the Lake District (Lakeland Fellranger) guidebook from Cicerone or the usual Wainwright’s Walking Guide to the Lake District Fells Book 1: The Eastern Fells
Recommended Scafell Pike Maps
Classic Lake District Walks – The Fairfield Horseshoe Ordnance Survey Map and GPX File Download
Download file for GPS
Classic Lake District Walks – The Fairfield Horseshoe
The Fairfield Horseshoe is understandably one of the most popular ridge walks in the Lake District.
It’s a more straight-forward hike than, say the Coledale Round or Newlands Horseshoe and it’s easy to access with the walk starting in Ambleside. Although the majority of the route is fairly straightforward, Fairfield summit is notoriously difficult to navigate, especially in poor weather.
The walk can be completed in either direction, but I would recommend hiking the route anti-clockwise as described below; the scrambles are then done head-on and you can take full advantage of the views over Ryder Water on the way down.
Fairfield Horseshoe Route Description
1. From Rydal Road Car Park in Ambleside, cross the road and turn right. Continue alongside the main road to reach the mini roundabout. Turn left, following the signpost for Kirkstone. Almost immediately, turn sharp left onto Nook Lane.
2. Continue along the lane to reach Nook End Farm. Go through the green gate directly ahead and keep left at the fork.
3. Follow the track through the wooden gate and bear left across the footbridge. Stick to the main, wide gravel path to weave up across the hillside.
4. Don’t forget to look back every now and then at the great views across Windermere.
5. As the route approaches High Sweden Coppice, leave the main track and take the left hand grassy footpath (map reference NY 37615 06196). Continue following the path as it runs alongside the stone wall. The path leapfrogs the wall before reaching Low Brook Crags, which is a short scramble up.
6. The path continues with the stonewall to the left. After a short climb, use the stone stile to cross the wall.
7. Keeping the wall to your right, follow the well-defined path to climb to Low Pike.
8. Continue uphill to reach a wooden gate on the left. Go through the gate and follow the path to High Pike, which is marked with a small pile of stones on the right.
Go through the left hand wooden gate and turn right. Keeping the wall on the right, follow the path through a particularly boggy patch.
9. Go straight across the wooden stile. The path runs close to the wall to reach Dove Crags, which is marked with a pile of rocks to the right.
10. From Dove Crags, bear left, following the remains of a low stone wall. The rocky path, which is very faint in places, runs just left of the wall.
As the path approaches the scattered boulders below Hart Crag summit, cross over the wall and continue uphill. In-between the loose boulders, there is a rocky pathway, marked with a few cairns to help you find the way. The summit is a low-lying pile of stones a metre or two on the left.
11. From the summit, return to the path and continue north-west. Take either path at the fork; the paths re-join shortly. The route becomes clearer as the path descends along Link Hause.
12. Bear right and climb across a few short sections of rocks. Continue straight ahead. The path is well defined here and climbs towards Fairfield summit.
13. At the fork, turn right. Fairfield summit is marked with a cairn and shelter. A quick warning that Fairfield summit is wide, rocky and in poor weather the paths can be very difficult find.
14. From the summit, head in a south-east direction, retracing your steps to the fork. Take the right-hand path and follow the wide, grassy footpath along the ridge to Great Rigg.
15. Ignore the faint right-hand path and keep left. Continue following the ridgeway, passing Heron Pike summit on the left. The pathway becomes increasing well-defined (with great views over Rydal Water and Windermere).
16. Cross the stone stile to weave across Nab Scar.
17. Continue into Hart Head Farm and bear right to join the road. Follow the road downhill and take the left-hand turn, marked with a public footpath sign for Ambleside.
18. With the teashop on the left, cross the bridge and bear right to reach a four-way junction. Turn left, following the sign for Ambleside. The wide gravel track runs for just over ¾ of a mile before reaching the road. Carefully cross the road and turn left to return to Ambleside.
We’ll be adding more Lake District Classic Walks to Walk up Scafell Pike in due course including the most scenic and most famous walking routes in the national park. These will include Helvellyn, Blencathra, Skiddaw, Langdale Pikes, High Street and Coniston Old Man – just to name a few!