5 Great Little Fell Walks in the Lake District

5 Great Little Fell Walks in the Lake District


It’s the question facing those taking on two distinct challenges in the Lake District. Let’s deal with the “easy” one first, the Fairfield Horseshoe. This is the prominent horseshoe-shaped ridge which dominates the head of Windermere, an interlinked series of eight classic summits which, joined together, provide one of the most enjoyable and popular walks in the whole of Cumbria.

Most walkers start and finish in Ambleside, aiming ultimately for the summit of Fairfield itself, at 2863 feet one of the giants of the Lakes. It’s a full day’s outing, taking anything from five to eight hours depending on your pace and your need to sit down regularly for tea and sandwiches.

Once on the ridge, the routes between the summits are not technically difficult, nor are they hard to follow…on a clear day. But this is walk that really must not be attempted without a map and a compass, and the ability to use both. So be wise, and take a look at the Wainwright Guide (you’ll need the Eastern Fells) for advice.

But where to start climbing? The instinct is to head for Low Pike, the first summit beyond Ambleside and one that can be reached by taking the delightful path to High Sweden Bridge. There follows an occasionally-tricky rock path to High Pike, and then the easy wall-route to Dove and Hart Crags. The descent, from Fairfield over Great Rigg and Heron Pike to Nab Scar, is easy walking with no technical problems and terrific views.

But from Nab Scar there’s the sting in the tail, a steep and never-ending series of rock steps all the way down to Rydal Mount, just when your knees were begging for mercy. And then there’s another mile back along the valley bottom (fortified, perhaps, by the spirit of Wordsworth and the good folk who serve cakes in his old house).

Start with Nab Scar, then? Take that extra mile at the beginning, and take a deep breath because that climb is a monster, especially on a hot day.  The choice is yours alone!

But far fewer people will be making the other choice, whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise. It’s a 66-mile circuit of 42 Lakeland summits, starting and finishing at Keswick’s Moot Hall, and the challenge is to tick them all off in 24 hours.

Clockwise you start by climbing Skiddaw; the alternative is a road run out to Newlands church before the real climbing starts. Most seem to choose the clockwise route these days, but start times vary; is it better to start at midnight and run into the morning, or better to get a night’s sleep first and set off at breakfast time?

In all cases it’s a very serious undertaking. Since Bob Graham first made the journey in 1932, just over 2000 people have completed the challenge. (Bob did his round in tennis shoes, long shorts, and pyjama jacket. His food was bread and butter, a lightly boiled egg and plenty of fruit and sweets for energy.)

There have been some remarkable achievements over the years. Billy Bland’s record time of 13 hours 53 minutes has stood since 1982. Jasmin Paris holds the women’s record of 15 hours 24 minutes, and Nicky Spinks went round twice, in 43 hours 30 minutes.

But the one that delights us most is the recent successful round by Ken Taylor of Rossendale Harriers. At 71, he became the oldest person to complete the challenge, and in a very creditable time of 22:18.  There are no excuses left, folks: get out there and climb a hill.

But it doesn’t have to be an extreme one. There are five wonderful little fells within easy reach of our hotel:

1: Orrest Head is literally just across the road, a lovely stroll before dinner, with spectacularly rewarding views

2: Wansfell Pike. You really feel you’ve climbed a mountain tackling this one, especially via Stock Ghyll Falls from Ambleside. Then have an easier amble down to the delightful village of Troutbeck.

3: Loughrigg is only just a mountain, at 1100 feet, but its massive bulk provides a web of wonderful grassy paths, a splendid summit cairn, and two gorgeous tarns, Lily and Loughrigg itself.

4: Gummers Howe is another superb viewpoint near the foot of Windermere. Come in June and watch a crazy race to the summit which also involves rowing across the lake.

5: Helm Crag: Probably the most notable summit outline in the entire Lakes, the Lion and the Lamb (from one side), or a woman playing a grand piano from the other. And a proper rock climb to reach the true highest point.

And if you don’t feel the need for strenuous exercise, walks to Easedale Tarn, Alcock Tarn and around Rydal are also great days out which are easier on the legs and lungs.

You can have a chat with Jonathan before or during your stay for route advice, mapping and tips for any walks in the Lakes.

For more information:


And for armchair adventure, read Richard Askwith’s classic book about the Bob Graham round, Feet in the Clouds

Picture is Loughrigg summit looking down on Grasmere with the Langdale Pikes, Helm Crag and Steel Fell all in the background

Share This Post: