With our holiday coming to a close we had decided, weather permitting, to hit a ‘high one’. We’d had a little wander up Wansfell a couple of days before which to be fair is only a tiny hill, but a decent thigh burner if you walk up from Ambleside. However, we’d decided to hit a mountain that’s been on our minds for some time, Fairfield!
Waking up at the cottage we had already packed our car and waved good bye to Bruce the German Shepherd who was giving it the big puppy dog eyes to join us. But as we drove off up the drive the sun was out and we were looking forward to getting above 800 metres. So as the daft hound became a small dot in my rear view mirror we headed for Rydal to try and find a parking space. We joked “Should be ok, as long as there’s not a fell race on ha!” as we drove up the A591 we passed our usual parking spot in this area, the cricket club near Crow How but we had our sights on the small road between Rydal Hall and the lovely little church near Rydal Mount. Turning right up the road we saw our dreaded nightmare, tall skinny men and women stretching on the rear bumpers of their cars wearing tight running shorts and trainers, fell runners… da da daaaaa!! Damn them and their effortless ascents up mountains that make me suck in air from Sheffield. To be fair I do admire them, I was like that once many years ago but it gets to a point where you’re joints really can’t take much more.
The good thing about my little Aygo is you can park it in a grit bin. So we decided to tuck it in just the other side of the cattle grid at Pelter Bridge, not blocking the gate of course. Boots on and we headed up back to the road packed full of fell runners to fight through the smell of Deepheat and our start of the Fairfield Horseshoe.
Like all Kel’s routes we have to start with a steep ascent and luckily we did not have to stop too early to remove layers. We were heading North West for Nab Scar and as we drew nearer the top the views were changing by the step and revealing more and more of the glorious lakes and fells that make this all worthwhile. There were a few walkers on the route, probably a mixture of good weather and it being a Friday. The small rocky outcrop of Nab Scar was insight before long and the view included the shimmering joys of Grasmere, Rydal, Coniston and Windermere. Plus a Smörgåsbord of mountains and hills making leaving the spot very hard to do. I love the high summits but sometimes some of the best views come from smaller peaks, look at Latrigg!
Oh well time to crack on over a small wall towards Lord Crag and a display by the RAF flying low up the Grasmere valley also making the most of the high cloud. I had a few trips abroad with these guys when I was in the forces, they had the likes of the Grand Canyon to train in but always said the Lakes gave the best views, then I didn’t know what they were going on about as I’d never been to the lakes, now I see their point. We were lapping up the sun and were down to base layers as we clambered up Heron Pike and more and more blue sky. We could now see a great view of our decent down High Pike as all low cloud had ‘done one’ and now Fairfield itself was looking good. We could see the Helvellyn range now and we knew by the time we were on Fairfield a good portion of the Wainwrights would be in our sights. Dropping slightly off Heron Pike we came across a couple taking photos near the small water on route to Great Rigg. Kel offered to take one of them together and they agreed and the pair stood near the water and their magical moment was captured by my wife. We started to chat about where they’d been staying and where they’d been etc. After about a minute of the usual chat you generally have with happy hikers on the fells, I started to hear a rumbling sound, well more of a bubbling sound. I had a quick look to see if the RAF were doing another fly past, but there were no jets in sight. A few seconds past and again, the same sound but louder. It started to sound more like bodily gasses being expelled but there were no sheep in close proximity. It became apparent to me, the bloke we were stood talking to had a serious wind problem and while Kel made polite conversation, I was suppressing the laughter to a point where I near to bursting. I tried to grab Kel’s attention to make her laugh, don’t ask why. The conversation with the lovely couple started to close but not before another chorus of the poor lad ‘piping us aboard’ and me turning to face Grasmere with watering eyes, confirming the fact even though I might be approaching 50, I’ve still got the mental capacity of a 15 year old when it comes to flatulence.
Thank god, we set of for Great Rigg and left the, to be fair, lovely couple taking more piccys whilst we headed higher towards our goal. Great Rigg brought great views but also an increase in wind, not from our mate, but nature just letting us know we were getting higher. Before we set off on our adventure Kel’s sister Alison asked me if I had a compass. I have near enough everything in my daysack and a compass is one. I explained that the route was basic and I shouldn’t need it. Alison is a Duke Of Edinburgh instructor and has topped most of, if not all, the peaks in the lakes. She said I may need it at the top of Fairfield and left it at that.
Kel and me landed on Fairfield not long after we’d left Johnny Farty Pants and discovered a vast expanse of flat(ish) land with cairns all over. There were other hikers milling around but we needed food and as the wind had got up (he he, see I can’t stop even now) and we searched for a sheltered cairn to have bait, and feed the massive crows that circle making pig sounds in their quest for ham and cheese butties. Taking in the view and finishing up, plus emptying the remainder of my crisps for the crows we stood up and looked for the Rydal valley which I knew would be my navigational aid, without looking at the map, back down. I looked, and looked again, Windermere and Coniston had vanished and I was confused. I’d paid close attention to the definition of Hart and Dove Crags on the way up but I couldn’t see them from the summit of Fairfield. Hartsop, St. Sunday, my head was battered; I had to get the compass out.
On our way down Scrubby Crag and back on track I couldn’t stop thinking that if hikers had been on the summit of Fairfield with a decent covering of cloud, trying to get off without heading towards Helvellyn when you should be dropping down the other side of the Rydal valley would be a problem and if the cloud was very low, costly. Hmmm it goes back to my thought that no matter what, you have to respect the fells.
Hart Crag and Dove Crag went by following the dry stone wall which would accompany us near enough to the bottom. Time was getting on and we could clearly see walkers heading up towards Fairfield on our way down, they’re cutting it fine! The long dry stone wall appeared to go on forever, I wasn’t complaining as the descent was steady and wasn’t pounding the joints to a pulp like some return journeys. The wall has a path either side, but we decided to stay on the right hand side as the views looked better and the wall was quite big so I wouldn’t be able to see the route we went up. High Pike and Low Pike passed quickly leading us to High Brock Crags, now if anyone every follows the map and they are elderly or with any serious ailments I advise you to take the left path around Low Brock Crags. If you go straight on following the wall you come to a cheeky little slab that needs climbing down. Looking at the map it’s called Sweden Crag, it’s a bit of a test if you’re not into using your hands to scramble anywhere, and could be quite dangerous if the clouds low and you fall off it so take care. As we negotiated the drop and after we regained our thoughts we cracked on down the hill as the end was not far. We were about 50 metres away from the Crag when I looked back at I and saw a small fluffy white dog at the top of it. I showed Kel and we gave it the usual awwww. The little dog’s owner appeared and looked down the slab and I saw his face, he didn’t look happy. He turned and walked behind the rocky outcrop on the top followed by the pooch. Moments later they both re-appeared and prepared to negotiate the climb down. I shouted up if he wanted to pass the dog to me while he climbed down and he agreed. I ran back up the hill to carry out my good deed of the day, but as I approached the bloke had shimmied down and as I got within a few metres, the dog took a brave leap off the top to land in its owners hands. Brave pooch!
Our pace picked up as we began to hear the trickle of Scandale Beck as we headed to Low Sweden Bridge and into the ground of Nook End farm and tarmac. Kel’s mobile rang and I heard her discussing food, it could only be Alison (sister) on the other end. The small road took us down the back of what looked like ‘halls’ for the university building which is opposite the nick, eerrrm sorry, police station. These digs looked nice, Ambleside must be a great place to study, and the views must very inspirational.
The route was nearly at an end and all we had to do is walk up the main road back to Rydal but not before we had a very important visit to make, the Golden Rule! I love this little pub, the staff are canny and it’s quite welcoming. As I watched Kel snort her pint of cider I refolded my maps and placed them nice and neat in my daysack. I wrung out my buff and finished my pint, being watched closely by my wife who’d finished her pint about five minutes ago. We decided to just make it one drink and walk back to the car which was still a good mile away. Ambleside looked packed, well it was Friday and the crowds were building and it was coming alive for another weekend being packed with tourists. Ha, I make myself laugh sometimes, I live in Durham but don’t consider myself a tourist when I visit the lakes but obviously I am. There have been times when we’ve been driving through Keswick and it’s been absolutely ramming with people wandering across the roads in front of cars. I’ve forgotten how many times little Miss Short Fuse has blasted some poor unexpected holiday maker for crossing in front of our little Aygo near the Booths crossing (we all know it) shouting “FFS tourists do my head in!” It seems just because we’re here for the fells, we’re not tourists!
We arrived back at the car thinking of our tea, the drive back to Outgate and a warm welcome from 8 stone of German Shepherd who will no doubt have his well gnarled piece of stick covered in dog snot. On arrival we weren’t disappointed as the big daft hound came bounding over with wagging tail and ‘the stick’.
Ok, I’ve bored you enough but I have to finish on one note. If you’re thinking of doing this route and when planning you think, “nah, we don’t need two maps” and just go up with OL7 tucked into your daysack. Please think again, the top of Fairfield is quite a big expanse and it’s easy to lose your bearings at the top. For the space it takes, pop OL5 into your daysack unless your familiar with the mountain as it will, especially if the cloud drops, get you down the right route, if you can use a compass that is!