When: 23 September 2016
Who: just me and the mountaineering minion
Why: unfinished business
Weather: overcast but windy
Bog factor: mostly ok but one patch of megabog near the top
Post walk drink: Pinot Grigio
Post walk watering hole: The Golden Rule
It was April 2014 when I did the Fairfield Horseshoe. Well I say ‘did’. I was walking in a big group on a glorious sunny day; we started from Rydal and took in the ridge starting from Nab Scar, breaking the walk by celebrating someone’s birthday on Fairfield itself with some champagne. Mid walk drinks were a bit of a new experience! At the time, I didn’t have a Harveys map of the relevant bit of the Lake District… I did however acquire one a couple of days later, and was horrified to realise that I had bagged only 7 Wainwrights of a possible 8. Why? Because we had dropped off the ridge after High Pike on a path which contoured below the summit of Low Pike, the summit of which is underneath the ridge wall… which at that point we had been nowhere near (as I thought). It therefore became unfinished business, and had been bugging me ever since although on a few subsequent visits to Ambleside I had never quite got round to it.
We were in Ambleside for the Festival of the Fells, staying at the Salutation Hotel which has become a regular haunt of ours. We were pretty late arriving there on the Thursday night, and also knackered – it hadn’t helped that our train had been delayed somewhere in the Midlands and we were late getting in to Oxenholme, missing the connection to Windermere. Thankfully there was a 7 seater taxi at Oxenholme taking a couple of blokes back to Bowness who were happy to share the cab as otherwise we would have been stuck at Oxenholme for nearly an hour – not ideal as there is no pub within about 10 minutes walk from the station which would necessitate much dragging of gear. So normal walk protocol i.e. a transport malfunction was definitely being maintained!
The following morning we were both knackered and slow to emerge from bed – I hadn’t slept brilliantly which was also unhelpful. We had both had busy weeks and Stuart in particular felt below par – in neither case was this due to hangover as we had been very restrained on the train! After breakfast and a bit of faffing about Stuart suggested that I go and break my Lake District bogey hill, Low Pike, and he would chill out and potter around bookshops etc. I was still not feeling great so given this would be a pretty short walk this seemed a good idea; I eventually started walking at about 10.30 with the mountaineering minion strapped to my rucksack and (given it was a short walk and I’d had a big breakfast) light rations, basically just water and some energy gels and sweets in case I needed a boost.
The initial part of the walk follows Nook Lane on a metalled road which ends at Nook End farm, then becomes a rougher track which crosses the beck at Low Sweden Bridge and then starts to wind up the hill. The gradient for the most part wasn’t too bad, but I was making heavy weather of it – every step up felt like an effort and at one point I seriously considered whether to give it up as a bad idea given how bad I felt. I knew I’d be annoyed with myself if I did that though so pressed on – the reward for the effort was increasingly good views back towards Windermere.
At one point the path splits with the main path swinging right and a smaller path heading straight up behind the wall – I stuck to the main path, which bypasses the apparently awkward rock step on Sweden Crag. The path becomes pretty soggy as it gains height, and then swings back towards the wall where there is a choice as to whether to cross the wall on a ladder stile or continue up on the right hand side. Given the top of the fell is actually under the highest part of the wall it doesn’t really matter which one you take and the path looked marginally drier over the other side, so I climbed over and followed the path on the left hand side. There were a few unexpectedly scrabbly bits (though nothing that tricky) and I hit the top of the fell pretty much smack on midday. Located the highest point and peered over the wall at the small cairn on the other side (on a small rock outcrop and obviously not at the highest point) and stopped for a breather and to let the mountaineering minion also get a bit of a rest on the ridge wall.
I took a longer break than I had really intended to as I got talking to a couple who were trying to decide whether to press on along the horseshoe – it was very windy and cloud was blowing in and out. I had no real intention of going any higher and decided I would instead make a small circuit off it and go back via High Sweden Bridge. Unfortunately this ended up necessitating going part of the way up High Pike until I could find a bit of the ridge wall that was low enough for me to get over and rather inelegantly scrambled over. The descent was mostly uneventful apart from some seriously deep bog at one point, although it was rather galling to realise the path I’d taken two years before passed literally 10 metres below the summit of Low Pike and it would have been a 5 minute detour to have bagged it at the time. Oh well! Job done now anyway.
I had forgotten that the walk back from High Sweden Bridge seems to take way longer than it should and it was shortly before 2 when I met Stuart in the Golden Rule for the inevitable post walk drinks. Not a classic walk by any measure but it got the job done – it’s always good to get a bogey hill dealt with!