Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside

Fairfield Horseshoe

The Fairfield Horseshoe is one of the most famous circular mountain walks in the Lake District National Park. It is a popular route as it can be started from the busy and beautiful town of Ambleside. It is a challenging ten mile walk bagging eight Wainwrights with a total ascent of over one thousand and two hundred metres. This route is perfectly situated in the centre of the Lake District National Park to give stunning panoramic views to the rest of the national park. This is a serious mountain with changeable weather conditions at any time of the year. You should always be carrying the right gear and know how to use it, in particular, your map and compass. A great walk for anyone wanting a challenge but within easy reach of the comforts of a town. Peak baggers will enjoy bagging eight Wainwrights in one walk to increase their tally. 

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the National Trust's Bridge House in Ambleside at grid reference NY375046. The Bridge House is a small three hundred year old stone building built over the top of Stock Ghyll in Ambleside. Bridge House is now owned and looked after by the National Trust and used as a visitor centre. It is situated on the left hand side of the A591 as it heads out of Ambleside in the direction of Grasmere and Keswick.
  2. From the Bridge House head north west out of town along the pavement on the south side of the A591. After half a mile you will reach Scandale Bridge over Scandale Beck. Just after the bridge cross to the other side of the road to large gates outside a small house.
  3. Pass through the smaller gate on the right and head north along the track which despite appearing private is a right of way. The track will follow the Scandale Beck then ascend through Rydal Park.
  4. After a kilometre the track will reach the stunning Rydal Hall and gardens. When you reach Rydal Hall head to the left to reach the road entrance to Ryda Halll. When you meet the road at the small hamlet turn right and ascend the road.
  5. Ignore the bridleway on the left sign posted to Grasmere and continue ascending the road. Just after the farm on your left look out for the signed posted footpath just after the farm diagonally in front of you and on the left.
  6. Continue along the path with a dry stone wall on its left side. The path will cross a large wooden stile then start the ascent to Nab Scar. The path zig zags right then left up the side of Nab Scar before eventually topping out on the edge of the crag.
  7. From Nab Scar there are impressive immediate views across Rydal Water to Loughrigg Fell and the higher fells beyond. From Nab Scar continue ascending the path north. After just over a kilometre of ascent you will reach the summit of Heron Pike.
  8. The summit of Heron Pike gives you the first panoramic views of the entire Fairfield Horseshoe. Heron Pike has two summits, continue north along the path for three hundred metres to reach the higher of the two. This is also the one that gives the best views.
  9. From Heron Pike head north continuing along the ridge path. There are a few boggy sections which have to be skirted around. After a kilometre of easy level walking along the ridge the path starts a steep but short ascent of Great Rigg.
  10. Ascend the path up Great Rigg to its summit. From Great Rigg looking north you can see the southern aspect of Fairfield's wide summit plateau directly in front of you. From Great Rigg head north and ascend Fairfield's south western ridge.
  11. When you reach the summit of Fairfield you will find several stone cairns, a circular stone shelter and a purpose built stone cross shaped shelter. There is no trig point pillar on the summit.
  12. Fairfield is the thirteenth highest mountain in the Lake District at 873m above sea level. The views from its summit are somewhat restricted by its wide summit plateau. Some of the best views are the immediate views north to north west along the mighty Helvellyn ridge to Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn.
  13. For the best perspective of the Fairfield Horseshoe it is worth walking across to the south side of the mountain where there is a stunning panoramic view of the entire horseshoe with the two ridges leading off south to Ambleside and Windermere in the distance.
  14. From the summit of Fairfield head east for half a kilometre. The path descends south east to Link Hause then ascends to the boulder strewn summit of Hart Crag. The summit of Hart Crag is more narrow and exposed than its big neighbour Fairfield so it provides more expansive views.
  15. From the summit of Hart Crag descend then ascend south east for a kilometre following a stone wall on your right to reach the summit of Dove Crag. The summit of Dove Crag has a small rocky outcrop with a stone cairn on it.
  16. From the summit of Dove Crag descend south for a kilometre and a half to reach the summit of High Pike following the tall dry stone wall. It is difficult to know which side of the wall to walk along as the official right of way is on the right but the path is better in parts on the left. Hence the unfortunate damage and openings in the wall every so often.
  17. From the summit of High Pike continue descending south on fairly steep ground at first, still following the wall along the crest of the ridge on the right. After a kilometre you will reach Low Pike.
  18. From Low Pike continue descending south with the wall on your right. After several hundred metres the path bends left away from the wall and zig zags passing over High Brock and Low Brock Crags.
  19. Continue heading south along the path. The path turns into more of a track where it passes through a gate way next to a stone sheep fold. If you wish to get to Ambleside via High Sweden Bridge you can take the path sign posted off to the left here.
  20. For the easier route via Low Sweden Bridge continue descending south along the track. After passing through bracken moors and fields the track will turn sharp left to and cross Low Sweden Bridge. After Low Sweden Bridge descend the tarmac road into Ambleside and back to the start of the walk.
  21. For gear shopping or food and drink you couldn't end a walk in a better place. Ambleside is a beautiful town usually bustling with friendly tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. There are plenty of place to eat and drink to suite all tastes and requirements.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL7 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 90 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Lakeland Central Map Click to buy Harvey Lake District Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Fairfield Horseshoe from Ambleside

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.