5 great horseshoe walks in the Lake District
- Credit: Vivienne Crow
Get away from it all and hit the heights with these great (but challenging) Lakeland rounds
There’s always something special about ridge walking, about having the ground at your feet dropping away on both sides.
It’s an invigorating sensation; and once you’ve set foot on that arched spine of risen earth, soaring above the everyday world, you’ll never want to come down.
So how can we make it last? The answer lies in the great Lakeland rounds, or horseshoe routes – linking together the ridges on either side of a valley, usually via a col. These are tough walks, but they’re perfect for long summer days, when you can stride out along the high ground for hours and hours.
Bow Fell and the Mickleden Round
This grand day above Langdale has a variety of terrain and scenery that makes it hard to beat. It completes a high-level circuit of the valley through which Mickleden Beck runs – 9¼ miles with 3600ft of climb.
The Band provides a relatively easy way on to the high fells, from where it’s a short but stony climb on to Bow Fell (2978ft) for a breathtaking perspective on the Scafells. Dropping to Angle Tarn, the walk then ascends Rossett Pike (2106ft) at the head of Mickleden. Coming off this boulder-strewn ridge, it crosses boggy, featureless moorland and then heads for the Langdale Pikes, finally descending via the Mark Gate path.
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The Kentmere Horseshoe is one of Lakeland’s classic rounds – and one of its longest. It gives walkers an opportunity for sustained and spectacular ridge walking in wild, remote country on the south-eastern edge of the National Park.
Covering 12 miles and with more than 3500ft of ascent, it visits Yoke (2316ft), Ill Bell (2483ft), Froswick (2362ft), Harter Fell (2552ft) and Kentmere Pike (2394ft). Highlights include the airy summit of Ill Bell with its view of the lonely head of Kentmere, and the dramatic gap of Nan Bield Pass, one of the highest passes in Lakeland.
The 10-mile Newlands Round, which starts near Keswick, is another superb roller-coaster route. Striding out along high, breezy ridges with far-reaching views throughout, walkers take in Cat Bells (1479ft), Maiden Moor (1889ft), High Spy (2142ft), Dale Head (2470ft) and Hindscarth (2385ft).
There are lots of ups and downs along the way – slightly more than 3500ft of them in total – and the terrain includes some clambering on bare rock, so it’s a rugged undertaking, but one that should leave you with some magnificent fell memories that’ll last a lifetime.
Like the Newlands Round, the Coledale Horseshoe starts near Keswick. There are many ways to do it – summits that can be added if 9¼ miles and 3880ft of ascent isn’t enough; summits that can be bypassed if it’s all a little too much – but my favourite version climbs Barrow (1492ft), Sail (2535ft), Crag Hill (2752ft), Hopegill Head (2526ft) and Grisedale Pike (2595ft).
Whichever way you choose to do it, there’s always that wonderful feeling of being totally immersed in the mountains as you follow the long ridge lines on either side of the steep-sided valley carved by Coledale Beck.
Using Patterdale as its base, this is the Fairfield Horseshoe’s quieter and, in my opinion, far superior cousin. Like the popular Ambleside-based round, it reaches its highest point on Fairfield (2863ft), but it approaches the fell via St Sunday Crag (2759ft) and the exposed, rocky Cofa Pike, both of which provide a chance for gazing across Grisedale to the secretive coves and crags of the Helvellyn range.
The return is via Hart Crag (2696ft) and then along the secluded ridge of Hartsop above How, a grassy spur where you’ll want to linger – if only to delay that moment when you have to return to the ‘real world’. A total of 9½ miles with 3370ft of ascent.
Vivienne Crow is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer, specialising in all things to do with the outdoors. She has written more than a dozen guides to Cumbria and the Lake District.
All the walks mentioned here are described in full in Vivienne’s book, Lake District: High Level and Fell Walks. Priced £9.99, it includes detailed route directions for 30 graded walks, OS mapping, colour photographs and information about facilities en route. Available in shops, tourist information centres and online.