Great Rigg from Rydal

7th December 2012

Whilst within the mist of winter I saw it fit to set myself up another winter challenge, time again, was short – so the days at work became my dream trail of a sort, where can I walk this week?

I toyed with only a couple of routes that sprang to mind, well several came to mind but the alcohol involved routes don’t count, that’s if there barely memorable the morning afterwards. The two that did stick, was The Fairfield Horseshoe & a tour of the Skiddaw fells.

Okay, challenge met…

Has the penny dropped yet? Great Rigg? Fairfield? sorry, you may have to read on a little.

Two days before I had conflicting weather reports that bounced from one another & seemed to cancel each other out., very confusing indeed. I had a free Friday & possible Saturday, yet the Friday was my preferred day to walk.

It was while I opened up at around 8:00am at my work reception the Thursday morning did I glimpse at the TV news when I heard that high winds & weather warnings were predicted for the high fells of Cumbria & indeed much of the Pennines.

At first I paid the weather no attention, its 8:00am & I need my coffee fix.

It was only around lunchtime did I realise just how much the winds & weather warnings should be taken seriously as I read the Fell Top Assessors report for Friday 7th December, it read weather warnings of high winds of 45-55mph with 55-65 Gust.

Oh eck.

I enlisted the help of a Cumbrian friend in the name of Paul Byrne who is lucky enough to live in Ings which is just outside Windermere. I asked Paul for the road & fell conditions from his keen walking eye, everything came back glowing, even the snow that had fallen had started to fall as rain come the evening & the roads remain clear Paul tells me, Paul also added to be careful of the high winds.

I had the all clear & my mind was settled, an attempt on the Fairfield Horseshoe it was…

At this point I would normally ask you to walk to your fridge, take out a cold beer or pour yourself a glass of wine & enjoy the next ten minutes of your life as you sip away at your favourite tipple, instead I am going to ask you to drag your fridge into your living room or wherever you may find yourself at this present moment in time, lie that fridge down & open the door, now put your feet in it.

Comfy? if this makes you a tadge uncomfortable take a rummage under that Christmas tree for the crap socks you about to receive & put them on…

For the sadist, retrieve your tipple, place bobble hat on & please continue to read on…

Wainwright Guidebook
The Eastern Fells

The snow and ice and freezing stillness of midwinter: a white world, rosy pink as the sun goes down……….the supreme moment when the top cairn comes into sight at last, only minutes away, after the long climb……….the small ragged sheep that brave the blizzards……….the symphonies of murmuring streams, unending, with never a discord……….curling smoke from the chimneys of the farm down below amongst the trees where the day shall end.

It is, in very truth, a love letter.


Ascent: 696 Metres, 2,283 Feet
Wainwrights: 4, Nab Scar – Heron Pike – Great Rigg – Stone Arthur
Weather: Over-Cast With Strong-to-Gale Force Winds – Gust of 55-65mph With Severe Wind Chill – Snow & Wintery Showers, Highs Of 4°C Lows Of 4°C Windchill of -16°C
Parking: Road Side Parking, Rydal Church (Minimum Donation of £1 to St Marys Coin Box)
Area: Eastern
Miles: 7.3
Walking With: On my own
Ordnance Survey: OL5 & OL7
Time Taken: 6.5 hours
Route: Rydal – Nab Scar – Heron Pike – Great Rigg – Stone Arthur – Greenhead Gill – Alcock Tarn – Brackenfell Woods – Rydal Coffin Route – Rydal

Map and Photo Gallery



Windermere from Nab Scar 07:21 4°C

I arrive in Lakeland under car headlights as I scurry along the lanes of the A591 not lit by street lights I take my time no matter how well I know this road – those who think they know the road drive right up my backside which at first irritates me, I tuck in & let them pass, ney-mind eh.

Rydal was dark, more so in the tight lane of St Mary’s church where fallen tree branches scatter across the road from the storm like winds over my head, I choose to park my car, not under a tree.

I kit up with head-torch & take my time as I fear once on the fell side anything forgotten here will seem costly & docile on my part, nothing gets forgotten as I shoulder my pack & wonder off in the darkness still removing dead wood as I pass Rydal Hall on my right, leaves are patterned in a whirlwind as I wonder to myself if it is so windy at ground level, what the hell is it going to be like on the fell tops

I am about to find out I guess.


Rydal Water & Loughrigg from my ascent.

It was quite a slow ascent this morning as I had to negotiate thick ice so low on the path to Nab Scar, nothing to worry about at this stage, if anything, the only thing on my mind was that wind over-head, not too far from the summit now…


Wetherlam, Swirl How & Great Carrs as the sunrise creeps its way west.


Fox Tracks.

I pick up a fox track for a few yards which tells me one of two things, one is the obvious & two, fresh snow has fallen over-night, they disappear soon enough as I am left to blaze my own trail across the fresh snow


Sunrise from Nab Scar summit cairn.

Despite its beauty this mornings sunrise is marred by the strong gust, keeping the camera in any type of up-right position was going to be difficult, that didn’t stop me zooming in on that wonderful colourful sunrise though…


Sun breaches cloud.


The sun shone with truly wonderful effects over the landscape which even left that pink afterglow over white snow that A.W spoke about.


The Langdale fells taking full effect.


And so too was the Central fells.


And so too was my route ahead of Heron Pike.

The sun managed to get through & spill a little warmth on my back as I headed for Heron Pike, despite its beauty the wind-chill was touching on –14°C as I pushed along by the ever increasing gust. It was at this point I remembered to myself last year saying, I must buy ski-goggles for conditions such as today, the thought remained ‘just that’ as my face was now turning bright red as I took on the severe chill affect.

At some point between here & Heron Pike was it time to adopt the Crampons, I really didn’t fancy fitting them under such duress. They went on next, nice & tight for the journey ahead.


Fresh snow now becoming more & more compact just under Heron Pike summit.


Cramped in.

I’m not one to teach you out there how to fit a pair of crampons, but getting it right first time is essential, trust me as  I had no one to teach me & I too learned the hard way after times thinking I was fully Cramped in – then before you know it – the Crampons are like shackles around your ankles, I could think of nothing worse a situation to find yourself in.

It is imperative your boot is locked in at the back of the Crampon – this means peeling both the front & back support as far back as they will go before placing your boot within your Crampon, then lift both supports over the heel of your boot & then the front of your boot, if you don’t push, especially the rear support completely back, your boot may appear to be fixed in only to find after you walk away your heel is not being supported by the anti-balling plates, this will first appear un-comfortable to walk in & eventually the Crampon will work its way loose after a matter of minutes.

I hope this may be of some help as to fitting Crampons in the field as such, I had no help as I learned the hard way, this type of information would of been a great help back then, if you wish to know more please do not hesitate to contact me.

Is that bobble hat firmly fixed? we are about to hit our first summit & that wonderful Heron Pike / Fairfield ridge.


Great Rigg from Heron Pike summit.

This was the shot I had longed for much of the morning, yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly dissatisfied after reaching Heron Pike as I looked ahead & saw what appeared to be a weather front moving in on the left of the picture.

It’s just under a mile & half to reach Great Rigg from Heron Pike summit, on any other given day this could be done in blissful circumstances where the walker can let the mind go free & take in one of thee best ridge walks in Lakeland, I however was contemplating was I ever going to make Great Rigg at all, as the fierce wind grew stronger cutting through my clothing & what was supposed to be storm proof zips on my jacket were failing miserably.

If I am to make it to Great Rigg through this wind I need all the kit & clothing available to me, it was while at the summit of Heron Pike do I don for the first time in my walking career ‘full winter kit’

Firstly I de-pack & take out my Berghaus fleece & over-trousers, then my Mountain Equipment ski-gloves & lay them on the snow covered ground before placing my pack over the top of them so as not to be blown away.

Off comes the jacket as Icelandic temperatures freezes the sweat on my back, I hold my fleece aloft as the wind now billows it like a sail, I fight with the wind eventually placing my right arm through the sleeve & talk myself through the next procedures, the over trousers, this may seem a tadge difficult as I am still wearing my Crampons but this is done with patience & virtue, again talking to myself through the procedure helps if not, attracts the straight jackets, my over trousers are zipped from the hip all the down each leg, now back on with my Montane Jacket, the very one with the storm zips that don’t actually work but then again who test these products? It’s a times like these you have to ask yourself questions like this whilst being blown about Lakeland ridges.

Last but not least are my Mountain Equipment gloves which I tie down over the tops of my wrist, if by now I am not ready for the next hour of what can only be described as the tumble dryer effect I never will be.


Great Rigg & now Rydal Head appears.


Looking back towards Heron Pike before I make my slow attempt on Great Rigg.

I was by now determined I was at least going to reach Great Rigg summit come what may, to complete the full horseshoe however crept in & out of my mind, first strength & second safety.

Spindrift no matter how beautiful it is to watch as it cascades down the ridge is a spectacular phenomenon to witness, however, as it passes through you at 50mph plus is a different matter, the next three photos were taken as the Spindrift approached, went through – & passed me, so predictable was the phenomenon I was able to capture it on my camera.


First the Spindrift approaches from behind.


Blasting me like sandpaper.


Before making its beautiful exit.

After a dozen or so experiences you are now left with fresh coat of skin!

Time to press on, the summit beckons.


Blazing trails.

At some point underneath the summit approach I seemed to lose the path under the deep snow, I was now trudging through knee high soft snow which was extremely hard work & time consuming, never before has a summit seemed so close yet so far.


My fresh footprints as I look back suggest I am a little off course. Time to pull it in a little.


Great Rigg summit cairn deep within a snow storm.

The weather front finally caught up with me as I reached the summit cairn & gone went the views along with my legs, if it appears I am low down in this picture that is because I am just that, as I reached for the camera I was bowled backwards by the wind resulting in my being firmly planted on my backside camera still in hand, I thought why not kill two birds with one stone so I took this shot of the summit cairn.

My next decision hurt like hell…


Fairfield is out there somewhere.

I ask myself what am I to gain if I press on through the storm, my answer was nothing, I collect myself as I lick my wounds, its time to call this one a day.


Who turned out the lights?

I make my way back down second guessing my decision, I knew I had made the right call but damn it still cuts deep.

Here I am presented with a stone cairn, I have two choices, go back the way I came over Heron Pike or try & salvage a little out of the walk & take in Stone Arthur (the ridge leading off towards the right)


Heading for Stone Arthur.

Back on track & still collectively licking my wounds I make for Stone Arthur, I slow my pace down as I go over & over my previous decision, why do I have to constantly beat myself up & explain to myself?

Paul you made the right bloody decision, end of.


Easedale Tarn at close quarters.

Little had I realised that when I took a stumble back at Great Rigg’s summit did I manage to fill my camera bag with snow, before this & the last photo time was spent emptying said camera bag before I manage to drown my camera & completely wreck the whole day.


Alcock Tarn & Windermere from Stone Arthur.

The sulking was slowly fading as I looked across to Alcock Tarn from Stone Arthur summit, Alcock Tarn is a place I have never had the opportunity to visit so lets change that today.

Things are on the up I say to myself.


Heading across fell side to Greenhead Gill.

Alcock Tarn is close, so close all I have to do is reach Greenhead Gill seen ahead, I take the diagonal track across the fell side seen left before crossing Greenhead Gill.

Before I do all this as I am not within the snowline, I now see it fit to de-layer, I take a rest stop at a stone wall & use the wall as my wardrobe for the next five minutes or so, I de-layer everything & neatly pack it back into my pack albeit wet, before I re-shoulder I take out a sandwich & eat it as I traverse the path cutting through the dead bracken, its possibly the most normal I’ve felt all morning.


Helm Crag seen as I cross Greenhead Gill.


Alcock Tarn reflections.

I use a gentle path cut into the fell side via zig-zags to reach Alcock Tarn, I am first very surprised at the size of the Tarn as I struggle to fit the whole of its width in one shot.

The Tarn is quite busy despite todays conditions, I haven’t seen a soul all morning yet as I circumnavigate the Tarn I am watched by dozens of walkers shielding themselves from the wind from behind the stone wall.


Alcock Tarn.


Rydal Water as I make my descent through Brackenfell Wood & destined for the Rydal coffin route.


A rainbow rises from Thirlmere over Dunmail Raise.


Brackenfell Wood was most certainly a reflective part of the day.


The Rydal Coffin Route.

The old Coffin Route was used to carry the bodies of the deceased from Grasmere through to Rydal & indeed Ambleside.


Rydal Coffin Route.


Rydal Water & Loughrigg as I near the end of my walk.

I guess I can say that I needed this peaceful ending to todays walk, the Rydal Coffin Route is just that, I reflect upon my days work in Lakeland as the latter counteracts my morning madness along what normally is, Lakelands best known ridge walk, it is & will always be that, just not today, today I fought a fight & lost, but Lakeland being Lakeland is easily forgiven because it gave me the choice to de-route & take in the wonderful quaint Alcock Tarn, followed by a gentle course through woodland as winter sun gaped through trees & sun showers sparkled.


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