The Grisedale Horseshoe is a tough walk in the Lake District Eastern Fells that starts (and ends) in Glenridding, and takes in the fells that surround Grisedale Beck aswell as the hugely popular (and to some, scary) Striding Edge ridge. A total of 8 Wainwrights can be ticked off once this walk has been completed.
Length: 13 miles
Area: Lake District – Eastern fells
GPX File: Download
Birkhouse Moor – (Height: 718m, Drop: 21m)
High Spying How – (Height: 863m, Drop: 28m)
Helvellyn – (Height: 950m, Drop: 712m)
Nethermost Pike – (Height: 891m, Drop: 29m)
High Crag – (Height: 884m, Drop: 13m)
Dollywaggon Pike – (Height: 858m, Drop: 50m)
Seat Sandal – (Height: 737m, Drop: 152m)
St Sunday Crag – (Height: 841m, Drop: 159m)
Birks – (Height: 622m, Drop: 20m)
Arnison Crag – (Height: 433m, Drop: 32m)
Other POI: Glenridding, Grisedale Brook, Mires Beck, Little Cove, Hole-in-the-Wall, Bleaberry Crag, Striding Edge, Lad Crag, Swallow Scarth, Grisedale Tarn, Grisedale Hause, Deepdale Hause, Trough Head, Oxford Crag
It had been quite a few years since I’d been to the Lake District and so I specifically set aside a few weekends this year for a few long walks in the area. To make things more interesting, I decided that I would start to tick off the Wainwrights as I summited them with the obvious ultimate goal of climbing all 214 of them. I purchased the Stuart Marshall book, ‘Walking the Wainwrights‘, which has all the Wainwrights broken down into just 36 enduring walks. I thought I’d start off with what he calls ‘The Greater Grisedale Horseshoe’ due to the fact that it includes a walk across the Striding Edge ridge – something that had been on my to-do list for many years. Conveniently, it was also the very first route described in the book.
One of the reasons I haven’t been to the Lakes very much in the past is the distance. I’m not a huge fan of camping and my budget is limited, therefore I tend to cram the walk and all the driving into a single day. With most areas in the Lake District between 3½ and 4 hours away from me, it can make for a very tiring day indeed. For this particular walk, I awoke at 4.30am for some quick breakfast and was out of the house by 5am.
The route to the Lake District is so simple that it would be impossible to get lost, and for that reason it’s not really the most stimulating of drives. Basically it’s A1 north, A66 west, destination reached! I will admit that by the time I’d got as far north as Scotch Corner, I was really struggling to stay awake. Making things even worse was the dense mist I’d been driving in for some time. And then midway along the A66, and as if by magic, the mist suddenly vanished and I was met by a brilliant blue sky and a blazing sun. It was hard to believe the sudden change. Anyway, to cut a long and not particularly interesting story short, I arrived in the little village of Glenridding at around 8.30am. I parked and went to the machine to see how much the day was going to cost me – and was greeted by a sign telling me that it was OK, I didn’t have to pay until I left. In fact, it stated that if I wanted, I could wait until I arrived back home again and then pay online. How convenient is that? I wish all car parks were like that in the National Parks.
Anyway, I promised I’d cut a long story short so moving on…
I initially followed the path up by the side of Grisedale Beck and past the Gillside campsite before veering off to the left and following Mires Beck up through Little Cove and to the first Wainwright of the day, Birkhouse Moor. To be honest, there’s not an awful lot to see here and it’s far from the most interesting of Wainwrights. Its summit is marked by a cairn, and it does make a great viewpoint – but there again, so does every height in the Lake District. What was more noticable around this area was the increase in snow. The area had been covered with a heavy snowfall one night the week before, and much of this still remained on the higher slopes despite the burning sun. It was almost like Summer and Winter rolled into one. The walk up to this point had resulted in me losing an awful lot of water in sweat, and I was hoping that the 2.5 litres of fluid in my bag was going to last me for the day considering I still had another 7 summits to go. I headed on, and followed the line of a stone wall to Striding Edge.
Striding Edge and Helvellyn
I passed the area named on the Ordnance Survey map as Hole-in-the-Wall, presumably because it’s a hole in the wall! From here, the terrain became rockier as I started to ascend to the ridge proper, over Bleaberry Crag and Low Spying How until I reached the high point of the ridge called High Spying Brow. This is actually classed as a summit on its own in the British Hills database, although not a Wainwright. Between here and Helvellyn was the narrowest section of ridge, which is the section most think of as Striding edge. For the most part, I found it quite simple to hop from rock to rock along the ridge crest. There is a path along the side of the crest for those who aren’t so confident, but on this occasion it was buried in snow whereas the ridge crest itself was exposed and dry. Looking to my left across Grisedale, I saw the huge bulk of St Sunday Crag, looking impressive and, at the same time, doom-fraught. That was to be my destination later in the day. To my right was Catstye Cam, and the ridge Swirral Edge joining it to Helvellyn. Between the two edges below to my right was Red Tarn. The only technical difficulty along Striding Edge was the climb down near the end. Saying that, it shouldn’t pose much of a problem to most, and for those that have done Crib Goch before, it will be a piece of cake. Once at the end of the ridge, the only thing that remained was the scramble up to Helvellyns summit. For this section, it’s best to stick to scrambling on the rock as attempts to avoid it will lead you to a horrible ascent up steep scree. A memorial to the artist Charles Gough, who died falling from Striding Edge in 1805, greeted me at the top. It must have been the only thing all day that I forgot to take a photo of! From here, it’s a short pleasant walk across the extremely flat summit to the Helvellyn trig point.
Nethermost Pike, High Crag, and Dollywaggon Pike
The next 2 Wainwrights (and an extra non-Wainwright summit) were very straight forward and involved only very short and undemanding ascents and descents. I simply followed the eastern edge of the range southwards, and before long I also had the Wainwrights of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike bagged, aswell as the additional summit of High Crag. As with Helvellyn, the surface made for easy walking apart from a few patches of deep snow. Again, I was surrounded by fantastic views. Down below to the west was Thirlmere, and beyond that, a whole range of impressive looking snow topped mountains that I couldn’t even begin to name. To the east was a clear view down Grisedale. From Dollywaggon Pike, the beginning of the path that descends down to Grisedale Tarn is marked with a metal pole in the ground. From Dollywaggon Pike, there was also a view across to to my next destination – Seat Sandal. The path up to the summit of Seat Sandal was visible from here too and appeared to simply run in a straight vertical line from bottom to top. I can’t say I was looking forward to that one.
Seat Sandal and St Sunday Crag
The path down from Dollywaggon Pike was straight-forward enough and zig-zagged down the side. Just before I reached the bottom, a path headed off right following the contour on the hillside, and running parallel to Grisedale Tarn. Once past the Tarn, I veered left until I had the huge lump of Seat Sandal in front of me. The path up the south slope would normally run alongside the wall, which, for the most part, wasn’t really a wall. It was more like a long pile of stones. Unfortunately, both sides of the wall were covered in a rapidly melting, yet still thick layer of snow which was becoming increasingly difficult to walk on. For the first half of the ascent, I decided to do a balancing act and walk directly up the broken wall, of which the stones were a lot more stable than they appeared. Nearer the top where the wall was still intact, I left the stones and perservered up the last section where, luckily, the grass was a bit more visible due to the increasingly large patches where the snow had completely melted. The only exercise of climbing this lump was to tick off the Wainwright and once I was up, it was immediately straight back down the western side, again loosely following the line of a wall. At least the path was visible on this side.
As I descended, I could clearly see the ascent path up to Fairfield in front of me, rising from Grisedale Hause. It looked bloody steep! I felt lucky that I was actually going to be be missing this one out and instead skirted around the side on a path that was also very clearly visible from Seat Sandals south slope. This path, had I followed it for its distance, would have taken me all the way back down Grisedale and back to Glenridding. Instead of doing this, I veered off to the right and up a track that ascended diagonally up to the col between Fairfield and St Sunday Crag, known as Deepdale Hause. This was a more difficult task than it should have been due to the snow again. I couldn’t see where the track was at all and so trusted the footprints that I could see, placing my feet in the same holes. I could only make out a couple of sets of prints so this obviously hadn’t been a popular ascent route in the last few days! Once on Deepdale Hause, I was greeted again by some spectacular views. On my left was Striding Edge and the eastern edges of the Helvellyn range south of Helvellyn itself. On my right was a fantasic view across Deepdale towards Hartsop above How. The ridge was fairly narrow at this point but it gradually widened as I steadily progressed on much easier ground until it reached the summit of St Sunday Crag. 6 Wainwrights down, 2 to go! Time to replenish my energy reserves using the traditional Lancashire refuelling technique of eating multiple Chorley Cakes. It’s not really but you can’t complain at 1000 calories for less than two quid.
Birks and Arnison Crag
It’s not always obvious which way leads off the top of St Sunday Crag, but on this occasion it was easy to see the footprints in the snow. The descent path heads in a north-easterly direction, down the main ridge of the hill. Once on the ridge, it was easy to see my next destination, simply named Birks. I simply made a beeline for the highest point – although with all the navigation around some extremely wet and boggy ground, it was more of a bumble beeline. To be perfectly honest, Birks isn’t a particularly impressive summit. It’s just a wet grassy mound. I carried on over the summit for about a hundred yards and then turned east towards Arnison Crag, following a sheep track down the steep slope alongside a wall that eventually took me to the head of Hag Beck. I crossed this and headed straight to the top of the slope in front of me, then followed the top north-east.
This was probably the driest ground of the whole walk – so much so that I didn’t worry about paths and managed to make a proper honey beeline towards the summit. The summit of Arnison Crag was a little more interesting than Birks, despite it being the smallest Wainwright of the day. I even managed to find the energy for some minor scrambling. Good old Chorley Cakes! As I was only 433 metres up at this point, the descent back down took no time at all. I dropped back down to the path and descended a short while, following a wall down the left hand side of Oxford Crag, before turning west on a footpath that headed behind the hotel and took me as far as home farm. I headed down to the main road and followed the paths back to Glenridding. Walk over!
It had been an amazing day, brilliant sunshine throughout, and I hadn’t seen a cloud at all. My face had a bit of colour as I’d forgotten my hat and probably sweated my suntan cream off quite a few hours ago. My feet were also wet due to snow getting in over the top of my boots, but it didn’t impede me at all. You kind of get used to it. Serves me right anyway for also forgetting to bring my gaiters.
Walk completed on 27th March, 2017
Map and Elevation Data:
GPX file for the walk
Photo album on Flickr
Birkhouse Moor – Wikipedia page
Helvellyn – Wikipedia page
Nethermost Pike – Wikipedia page
Dollywaggon Pike – Wikipedia page
Seat Sandal – Wikipedia page
St Sunday Crag – Wikipedia page
Birks – Wikipedia page
Arnison Crag – Wikipedia page