The Fairfield Horseshoe, nearly…

So we are here in the Lake District! I honestly thought I’d never make it.

Firstly the last week has been horribly hectic and I have been away in London (work) for four days. Therefore, just keeping up with life, the universe and everything is about as much as I can manage – being a reasonably newly single person these days is taking it’s toll! Secondly, the weather is utterly atrocious, yes even for the Lake District.

Before I left yesterday the forecast said that we could expect “the biggest storm of the year” with torrential rain and winds of 70-80mph. Perhaps not the day to tackle Striding Edge then! But I was undeterred by any of this, and I have been looking forward to it incredibly. Me and my daughter are away for the weekend together for the first time – I will be happy regardless of anything you want to throw at me.

I didn’t however bargain on the road conditions. Now the Lakes from where I live is about 250 miles or so, and should take around 4 hours with no traffic. Alllowing for picking up Becca along the way (and that it is a Friday evening) this should still mean that if I set off at about 3.30 then I should be there comfortably for 8.30-ish. Time for a bite to eat, and a pint of something nice in my favourite pub, The Golden Rule then. Wrong! As I set off in my very unpractical (for the conditions, in fact for most things) car, the rain is horrible. Nasty, wet rain it is. Then there is an accident, then there is another, and just to get onto the motorway (should be 20 minutes) takes an hour and a half. I ring the traffic update service and am told that there is another hour and half delay on the motorway due to a four car pile-up, and decide that this is almost doomed already. I therefore take a detour cross country to try to get to the M1 from the M40, and then there is another accident – a lorry has overturned in the high winds – the road ahead is closed! So to cut a long story short, three hours after I leave I am actually further away than when I started! Oh yes, and it is Friday 13th!

After a while I seriously consider turning round and heading home. I tell myself however how much I want this weekend, and what a ridiculous waste it would be to drive for four five hours just to get back where you started from and put those thoughts out of my head. I shall cut an even longer story short, and tell you that I got to pick Becca up at about 8pm, and we get to the Lakes shortly after 11pm. The rest of the journey actually wasn’t too bad – the winds were really strong and when we eventually got to the Lakes there was an awful lot of standing water on the roads, and I was so tired by that time, but we made it and that is all that matters.

So straight to bed then! No Golden Rule, no dinner (actually a snatched sausage roll and a bag of Minstrels from a motorway service station when I stopped for petrol), and not even a drink of any kind (which is let’s just say a shock to the system for my body, but I suppose I will have to get used to that by the time Kili comes around).

I woke up on Saturday morning way too early (where is my headache?:)), and half expecting to see blue skies, views of the fells and smell that lovely clear Lakeland autumn air. Who am I kidding? The clouds are so thick that you can just about see across the street, the rain is stotting (good old North eastern term that one) off the pavements, and we could be in Burnley for all I know.

Anyway, after a hearty and very tasty breakfast we asked the landlord as to what he reckoned the weather would like on Fairfield today. He said, very very straight faced, “do you have a map and a compass?”. I said I had neither, and he gave me one of those “mmmmmm, I can’t recommend this to you, because if you die up there it’ll be my fault” sort of looks. Or that is what it looked like anyway. So after going to buy a map (a compass I decided is beyond me if I am in blanket cloud, I’ll just get on my hands and knees or something and hope for the best), and stocking up on Mars Bars, sandwiches and water etc., we duly headed for the hills.

So the route was the Fairfield Horseshoe, an outline map of which is below:

 

Fairfield Horseshoe thumb

We decided to do the route clockwise, starting up the western flank, but by the time we had been walking a mile or so I realised that I was slightly lost (so much for the map then), and was off even the eastern flank by a good few hundred yards. This made it interesting, as it meant we were above a very full flowing beck, or stream, which is on the far right of the map above. The water was coming down in torrents:

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This also meant (I found out afterwards) that this would add another 900ft of ascent and about a mile and half to the walk – which at 10 miles and 3,500ft of ascent was already going to be a challenge – oh well, in for a penny….

So my main concern for the day (apart from not getting lost and drowned and swept away by 65mph winds and keeping Becca safe (which should be the other way round I reckon:)) was whether my feet would hold up! My new boots were being christened after all!

As we led our way up the path out of Ambleside the weather sort of calmed down, and it became almost warm. This was obviously (as it would later prove) to lull us into a false sense of security. So here is me at the start – note my nice new ‘waterproof’ jacket:

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And this is the path at the start out of the village of Ambleside itself:

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Which looking back to the village looks like this:

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And so we tracked on for a while and were rewarded by some quite nice, and indeed better than expected views back down towards Ambleside and also Rydal Water:

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The hills are alive.......

That is Becca towards Ambleside, and here is a shot of Rydal Water:

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Rydal Water

After a mile or two it started to rain, but we didn’t mind much. Here is a picture as we sort of reach the start of the horseshoe – the ridge in the distance over my left shoulder is the start of the Western flank of the horseshoe, and the lower ridge over my left shoulder is the start of the Eastern ridge, showing you how much we missed it by!

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The rain cometh...

So after this bit the path opens out and we were headed for the start of the ridges and peaks themselves. The rocky bit at the top of the picture below is the bit which you cab see on the map earlier in this section below Low Pike, so it will probably be at about 1200ft or so:

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Move out of my way, I am coming through....

Becca and I were the only ones on the path. In fact in about five hours altogether, we saw I think three other people all day – perhaps they had read the weather forecast…..

The next picture is of Low Pike in the foreground, with High Pike in the background. High pike is at about 2,000 feet, and you can see how wet the path was getting. We know now why this area is called the Lake Dictrict – these fells are there to make the lakes!

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Low Pike and High Pike...

The looking from here to the west is a better view of Rydal Water, showing that we had climbed a fair way already:

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High Pike was a good ‘pull’, pretty steep in places, and with water running at you from every direction (up as well as down) it was a challenge. It is 2,155ft (or 656m) and here is a view looking back towards Low Pike. You can see how the weather was starting to really close in on us:

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From the top of High Pike - the weather beckons...

As we then turned from High Pike towards Dove Crag, we were then into the clouds, and it started closing in on us. This is about as far as we could see, and I think my camera could see more than me:

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There may be trouble ahead.....

It was at this point that I was glad that the wall was there, for it was becoming obvious that we were not going to see the summit, even if we stumbled upon it, as the rain started to lash us, and the wind began to really blow hard, hail and all sorts were coming at us. This is my brave face:

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"Where did you say the pub is the pub again?....."

Shortly after this we made to Dove Crag, at 2,600ft the 47th highest mountain in England apparently. Had we made it to Fairfield, we would have been only 260ft higher, on the 17th highest mountain, but this here was going to be the end of our upward travels. The wind now was gale force, the rain and sleet in our eyes, it was freezing, my map had turned into a ball of mush, and we could not see a thing at all. Apart from that it was plain sailing up there! We had no choice but to turn round and head back the way we came. There was literally no other choice to make – to go on would have been reckless at best, especially as the time was already past 1pm, we were not halfway, and had probably only three hours of daylight left.

Coming down was very hard going at first. As we had gone up the wind was at our backs, but now it was straight in our faces, and blowing furiously. Thankfully it was not long before we had made it past Low Pike again, and from there the worst of it was over. In fact from there the wind just dropped suddenly, and the walk down from there was much calmer, to the point when we got back to Ambleside it had almost stopped altogether. Here is a shot on the way down:

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Heading the right way this time, i.e. down!

 

There was nearly a nasty moment on the way down, as Becca lost her footing on a slippery steep part, and did what she later called a “sonic happy slappy death slide” (or something like that – I am sure she will correct me later). Anyway she did go about twenty feet, and ended up putting a hole in her waterproofs:

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Apparently rocks are sharper than plastic....

As we got back to close to the bottom we stopped for a quick breather by a bridge – you can see how much of a torrent the stream is, and also you might notice that I am holding on to the fence as my legs are a bit wobbly after doing 9 miles for the first time in ages – the smile is in fact a grimace!

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"..So how far is the pub now?..."

So as we got to approach Ambleside it was very much calmer, and the clouds started lifting again:

I can almost taste the beer from here....

 

So shortly after this we got back to base. Tired and happy, (very) wet and happy. I was really pleased for one thing, in that my new boots held up brilliantly. It wasn’t perhaps the most sensible thing to break in an entirely new pair of pretty stiff walking boots for the first time on a nine mile walk up Fairfield in a gale and the rain, but hey were outstanding. Despite being in water several times up to three quarters of the way up my boots, my feet were bone dry, and more importantly blister free.

A lot lot more importantly than this was that me and Becca did our first big walk together, just me and her. There have been lots of other walks in lots of places, but this was the first one just the two of us. It was the first weekend away together that we had had just me and her. We had a great time, and it was perfect in every way.

So we didn’t make it all the way round the Fairfield Horshoe. So we got soaked. Does that matter? Not a bit of it. It was all part of the adventure, the experience, and for me the togetherness.

We both vowed to do it again, and that is a certainty. No matter how many walks I go on though, wherever they are, and whoever they are with, they may never be as special as this one.

So thank you Becca – for making your old Dad very proud, and ridiculously happy. I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

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