Rainbow en route to High Peak, Fairfield Horseshoe, Ambleside, Cumbria
Like many of us, over the years, I have put on weight. Too many treats, over-reliance on my car and not enough exercise has meant a few pounds have been added here and there. But to be honest, this isn’t about weight. It’s about being happy and healthy. It’s a quest to be fit. Me and fitness have never got on. The minute the pace gets faster, I want off the treadmill. But I’m sick of feeling sluggish, of being out of breath too easily. I want to challenge myself next year. Perhaps a fundraising challenge. Maybe a mountain. Possibly a long-distance trek. Something that will motivate me to finally become fit and healthy. And stay that way. For good. Thus begins my bi-monthly trek diary.
Great Whernside – 650m (out of 704m). Three hours
Sunday, October 22 2017
I met Simon at Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales, a pretty little village of stone cottages and picturesque surroundings. Weather was okay to begin with, which was lucky as Storm Brian had been out and about that week. But as we walked along the track towards the hill of Great Whernside, passing a large farmhouse (now a Scout’s centre), the rain began. The drizzle got worse and the stone path gave way to grass – and bog. The higher we got, the boggier the ground became, the wetter my walking boots became (thank goodness they were waterproof), the unsteadier the ground and more blustery the wind. 🌧️
I’m sorry to say we did not make it to the top. Our (roughly) three-hour walk took us to about 650m of Great Whernside’s 710m. But all I kept thinking about was tea and cake! (We had brought water and sandwiches with us but somehow we lost the desire for a cold cheese sandwich on the cold, windy moorland).
We reached the village about 1.30pm and ventured into Bluebell Inn for a delightful pot of tea by the fire, just what we needed after being soaked through to the skin. A trip to Zarina’s cafe for more tea, a sausage buttie (not very healthy, but warming) and a Yorkshire curd tart. When in Yorkshire, eat what the Yorkshire folk eat… My first time eating the delicacy, and very tasty too.
And so my training began. Oh, if only it could be tea and cake all the time! ☕🍰
1. Great Whernside is 704m (2,310ft) high. We walked roughly three hours from 10.30am to 1.30pm to reach 650m.
2. It is located on the boundary between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
3. Until 1997, there was no public right of way to the summit of Great Whernside.
Fairfield Horseshoe – Full day (eight hours) 11 miles (roughly) 873m
Saturday, November 4
Today’s challenge was a toughie. A hill walk from Ambleside, where we were staying for the weekend, up Low Pike (1,657ft/508m), High Pike (2,152ft/656m), Dove Crag (2,603ft/792m), Hart Crag (2,698ft/822m) to get to our destination – Fairfield (2,863ft/873m).
And then back down again via Great Rigg (2,513ft/766m), Heron Pike (2,003ft/612m) and Nab Scar (1,493ft/ 455m). I feel exhausted just thinking about it!
We were staying in Ambleside for a weekend and had decided Saturday would be our day for a hill walk. Laden with rucksacks and (for me) hiking poles, we headed away from the town centre. A resident told us we were going the wrong direction and needed to walk towards Sweden Bridge. A quick detour and we were on our way. Up, up, up (so it felt to me)…
Crossing Sweden Bridge took us into fields with Highland Cows, actually my favourite breed of cow with their shaggy red hair, but I always feel a little apprehensive around cows, especially if they have calves. However, these lasses were quite happy to share their fields with hikers.
Our first hill was Low Pike (1657ft), I would keep stopping and turning to see the panoramic view (a ‘look at the view’ and ‘catch my breath’ stop) of Windermere down below. The higher up, the more expansive the scenery below – Rydal, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere…
Once we reached Low Pike, S said we were a quarter of the way up. I was surprised, but I should have queried him more on this statistic. A quarter of the way up to Fairfield or a quarter of the way up to High Pike, the next fell? Needless to say the true answer would have disappointed me.
I believe it was around here where there was a short rocky scramble… and my boots got wet in the marsh.
The route to High Pike was along a stone wall, fairly gentle. It was here where it started to drizzle on and off for the rest of the day. And the place where full rainbows were seen. Will we reach the pot of gold that is Fairfield?
I regarded the rainbow as a sign of hope – completing the Fairfield Horseshoe is possible, even for me! 🌈
We continued to ascend Dove Crag and Hart Crag. Relatively gradual, happily, apart from a scramble section at the top.
At one point, Simon heard a mouse-like sound and I spotted a brisk brown blur from the corner of my eye. Silently, we ventured nearer and observed a tiny shrew scurrying amidst the rocks, before escaping into a hole.
It was hard to know when we actually arrived at Fairfield. The top is very flat, a ‘grassy plateau’ says Wainwright. There are many stone cairns which might be there to help hikers find their way in the mist although Wainwright thought the abundance could actually be a hindrance. Some ramblers were huddled in a stone windbreak shelter when we arrived.
The route down has a clear path. When there is no mist, it is easy to see where one is going.
We were descending Nab Scar when a young couple passed us. The woman was athletic looking, wearing sports clothes rather than rambling gear, and was striding along confidently, clutching a water bottle. The man, lagging behind – so much so I wasn’t sure if they were actually together or not – wore a jumper, jeans and wellies.
When it comes to hill walking, it is a case of walking boots… yes. Wellies… no. A big no.
Anyway, the pair passed us. Not long afterwards, the woman came back up and approached us, asking if we had any spare water she could give to her partner. Luckily we did. He was lying on the grass next to the path, looking absolutely exhausted. S poured water into the woman’s 1 litre container. Later, we saw them, the worn-out man sitting next to the path. S gave them the rest of the water (the man had already drank the litre Simon had previously given) and three biscuits from the B&B. They thanked us and assured us they would be fine, and sure enough, we later on saw them descending the last section.
It turned out that, while we set off at 9.30am, their hike began after 12noon – in a bid to finish before it got dark, they had no choice but to rush the Horseshoe.
Passing Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount, we opted for a wander beside the river, pleasant until it became dark, started raining heavily, and we took the wrong turning out of Ambleside. An extra mile I could have done without! Still, an exhilarating if tiring walk and I look forward to my next adventure 🏃
1. On the way to or back from The Fairfield Horseshoe, the hiker goes past Rydal Mount – the home of William Wordsworth.
2. Water is essential for hill walks! And it has a wonderful taste when you’re going uphill!
3. The Fairfield Horseshoe goes up one ridge and down another within a valley. Be careful in the mist.
Sunday, November 5
Stock Ghyll Force, Ambleside – One mile (roughly)
Legs felt a little fatigued today so we enjoyed a gentle stroll to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall. This is a roughly mile-long woodland walk, 5 minutes from Ambleside. Leaf-strewn (in autumn) paths and steps along a river and woodland takes you upwards towards the waterfall. A very pleasant town walk (although it doesn’t feel urban in the slightest) for tourists and tired-out ramblers!
1. Stock Ghyll is a tributary of River Rothley.
2. Once there were 12 watermills driven by the power of Stock Ghyll and other streams.
3. Stock Ghyll Force is a 70ft waterfall.
To read about a 2014 Hadrian’s Wall adventure, visit: https://mysabbatical2014.wordpress.com/