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One Minute Mountain: Fairfield

© Nicholas Livesey

Alex Roddie takes a lightning tour of Helvellyn's equally worthy neighbour Fairfield, focus of two classic horseshoe walks, and a fell with hidden depths.

Fairfield  © johnhenderson
© johnhenderson, Nov 2014

Height: 873m

Personality: Fairfield is a fell of massive presence and stature, the highest point in a sprawling, multi-ridge massif incorporating many other peaks, dales, coves and crags. Its complex north face is as impressive as any you'll find in Lakeland, with Greenhow End a sharp rocky bastion jutting out above the bracken of Deepdale.

What's in a name? Fairfield is believed to mean more or less exactly what it sounds like – a 'pleasant pasture or area of open land'.

Looking to the Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike  © Nicholas Livesey
Looking to the Fairfield Horseshoe from Heron Pike
© Nicholas Livesey, Nov 2011

Best route: Due to its complexity, several classic routes reach the summit of  Fairfield, and two big horseshoes compete for the crown. The Fairfield Horseshoe above Rydal takes in  Heron Pike,  Great Rigg, Fairfield,  Hart Crag,  Dove Crag, High Pike and  Low Pike. The Deepdale Horseshoe is a rougher route that starts from Patterdale, then steeply ascends  St. Sunday Crag before crossing Deepdale Hause and scrambling over Cofa Pike to Fairfield, traversing Hart Crag, then descending the long ridge of  Hartsop Above How back to Patterdale. Both routes are excellent, but the latter arguably has better views. St Sunday Crag is a fine perch for observing the eastern coves of Dollywaggon and Nethermost Pike, not to mention the rugged northern side of Fairfield itself.

Fairfield from the head of Deepdale  © Ratfeeder
Fairfield from the head of Deepdale
© Ratfeeder, Feb 2015

Most unfrequented route: The Greenhow End route is one for adventurous walkers, and requires careful route-finding to avoid accidentally heading into treacherous terrain, especially in poor visibility. After following a sometimes vague path alongside Deepdale Beck from Patterdale, the route climbs steeply towards the impressive prow of Greenhow End, then skirts to the left before climbing a steep series of grassy rakes and terraces in rocky surroundings. This is borderline scrambling in places (although approved by Wainwright, so it can't be that bad), and there are some graded scrambling routes in the vicinity: Light Slabs, Grade 2**, and Dark Slabs, Grade 3*.

  • For details of the Deepdale approach, see this Route Card:

Summit landmarks: The summit is a slightly domed plateau covered in stones, and there are several ramshackle cairns, plus a low stone windbreak. It's a good view from the top, including an end-on look at the great north-south ridge of Helvellyn, a view straight down into the moody waters of Grisedale Tarn, the Langdale fells in profile, and a glimpse of distant Windermere.

Sunlight in Deepdale  © Jane Toothill
Sunlight in Deepdale
© Jane Toothill, Dec 2017

Hidden gem: Walkers who choose the Greenhow End route will find their way into Link Cove, a fine example of a hanging valley caused by glacial action. From the steep haul up into the cove there's a good view down to the drumlins in Deepdale – another landform created during the last ice age. Link Cove Gill itself is one way to access Link Cove, but it's a challenging gorge scramble at Grade 2 or 3, best tackled in dry conditions by experienced scramblers. Bring a rope, harness, helmet and basic rack for one technical pitch.

A flinty grave: The inquisitive might wonder who is buried in the 'flinty grave' marked on OS maps near the summit of Fairfield, but it's more mundane than it sounds – this is the name of a shallow gully. Fairfield has more than its fair share of curious names, including Hog Hole, Black Tippet, Scrubby Crag, Hutaple Crag and Cawk Cove (which I always think must be named after the call of a raven).

Panorama: St Sunday Crag from Fairfield  © RuthieB
Panorama: St Sunday Crag from Fairfield
© RuthieB, Mar 2013

Where to stay? This is the heart of Lakeland, so you're spoiled for choice. On the northern side, Patterdale makes the best base. Options include YHA Patterdale and Side Farm Campsite. To the south, Rydal is most convenient (Rydal Hall is a quiet campsite in beautiful surroundings) but Ambleside is also nearby, where there are numerous hostels, bunkhouses and hotels to suit every budget.

Local pub: In Patterdale, it's got to be the White Lion Inn, while the Badger Bar at the Glen Rothay Hotel in Rydal is the perfect place for a drink and a meal after coming down from the Fairfield Horseshoe.

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