Fairfield from Grasmere

13th January

I guess as a fell walker I can't complain after having a continuous run of blue sky walks which I knew would have to come to an end soon and that it did on todays walk. I'm often asked why I walk and what enjoyment do I take from it especially during Winter when on a walk like today the cloud was down and it was bitterly cold, so cold in fact we changed the route if only to avoid the severe windchill.

Todays walk can only be described as a typical British Winters January day with little to no view and little to stir the mind but walks like this don't do this report nor its pictures any justice. Some people wouldn't get out of bed after looking at todays forecast and I won't fall out with them but for me it's this very type of walk which gets the nerves you never knew you had tingling.

Ok I know there was no view but there didn't have to be, this walk is the other side of what we experienced last weekend, the total opposite but as a fell walker you don't always have to have blue skies overhead to experience the harshness of the Lakeland fells during the bleakest of January days to still get those nerves tingling, you just have to experience it for yourself.

Wainwright Guide Book One
The Eastern Fells


The whole mass constitutes a single geographical unit and the main summit Is Fairfield, a grand mountain with grand satellites in support.


Ascent: 2,906 Feet - 886 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, Stone Arthur - Great Rigg - Fairfield
Weather: A Murky Day, Feeling Cold At All Levels. Highs of 6°C Lows of -5°C Feels Like -9°C
Parking: Parking Spaces, A591 outside Grasmere
Area: Eastern
Miles: 6.5
Walking With: David Hall
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 4 Hours 30 Minutes
Route: A591 - Greenhead Gill - Stone Arthur - Great Rigg - Fairfield - Hause Gap - Tongue Gill - Mill Bridge - A591

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: LA22 9RF
Grid Reference: NY 337 408
Notes: Possibly the most convenient, and popular layby in Lakeland! The layby is found just outside Grasmere in between the village and the Swan Hotel. Despite this being a rather long layby parking here is very popular mainly because of the position and access to Helm Crag, Far Easdale and the Fairfield fells. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


Helm Crag seen as we approach Michael's Nook 8:30am 6°C

We had arranged to meet at the parking spaces north of Grasmere on the A591, at an empty layby I span my car around (so it was facing the right way for later) and started to kit up behind the car instantly feeling the chill. After speaking to David the evening before he had mentioned that he and Jeniifer had been for a walk around Thirlmere yesterday and he also mentioned how bitter it felt, well it looks like today the theme will continue. Having kitted up I sat back in the car and wait for David who arrived shortly afterwards, the topic of conversation soon turned to how cold it felt but hopefully whislt on the move we should at least be able to walk the cold off.

I found myself standing on my tip-toes, hands in pockets whilst waiting for David to kit up, I just couldn't shake how cold the morning air helped along by the wind, felt. During the week the mountain forecast spoke of the likley hood of possible inversions above the summits but the chances of that grew slim as we gazed over and beyond Stone Arthur's summit. The cloud was hurtling along the Heron Pike and Great Rigg at a right pace but with limited views from valley level we couldn't confirm how high the cloud was. With the cars locked we crossed a deserted A591 and headed towards Michael's Nook from where we'll begin the steep climb alongside Greenhead Gill towards Stone Arthur's summit.

Following the path past the familiar tree up ahead.

With the first part of the steep climb behind us we followed the path which or sometime has been in need of repair. Up ahead large bags carrying stone have been flown in by helicopter to start the repairs which you might be able to make out just prior to the tree in the distance. We mentioned what a treat it must have been to have seen the helicopter doing the drop so low onto the fell side.

We follow the stone wall, passed the tree then head left and up the grassy ridge towards Stone Arthur summit.

Views towards the top of Greenhead Gill.
Ahh...now we can see how low the cloud level is, it's roughly just skimming over the ridge between Great Rigg and Heron Pike at around 2,300ft (700m) It's from here the wind starts to strengthen and with it, the severity of the windchill.

Looking down on Stone Arthur summit.
Despite the windchill, gaining Stone Arthur was done mostly in conversation, and when the wind got too strong we simply stopped to chat over the top of it...With Stone Arthur reached we knew that soon enough we'd be walking in to cloud which seemed to be getting lower by the minute. Notably there is no snow around at all and with semi frozen ground underfoot it was a pleasure to start the steady ascent on Great Rigg, even if it mean't losing our mirky views.

The cloud level had lowered to around 1,800ft (550m)
Onwards and upwards.

Just below Great Rigg summit.
Gaining the ridge just below Great Rigg sure came as a shock to the system instantly feeling a sudden dive in the windchill, within moments I was experiencing brain freeze and for a second I had to stop to compose myself. The wind had picked up to around 30mph with gusts reaching 35mph which kept us on our toes during the ascent where we noticed the ground remained frozen underfoot along with signs of frost affecting the east side of the summit.

Great Rigg summit cairn.

The original plan was to summit Fairfield then double back passing towards Nab Scar from where we'll descend towards Alcock Tarn, with the wind howling in from the south this would mean the walk back would be done face into the wind, a prospect we had to change. I asked David what he thought about descending Fairfield to Grisedale Hause then to descend via the Tongue Gill route instead.

David didn't need much persuading, we both didn't.

A sudden break in the cloud allowed this view into the Rydal valley.

Gaining the shoulder of Fairfield.
We left Great Rigg and gained the shoulder of Fairfield soon reaching the snowline at around 2,600ft (793m) where conditions were probably at there harshest. The snow underfoot had compacted and patches of ice made going treacherous at times. Visibility had dropped to around sixty yards but this closed and opened all the time. We kept spirits up by keeping with conversation noting that "we'd be surprised to find anyone else at the summit" Soon enough the first of two summit shelters appeared out of the gloom.

Fairfield summit.

We passed the first summit shelter which was filled to the top with snow, I gaze across the frozen summit plateau and raise the camera eye piece to my eye when I heard a noise from David's direction soon finding a dog staring up at me, bloody hell! The dog startled me and I stepped back, the dog barked and ran back to its owners who from nowhere appeared from the cloud, over the wind I heard a 'morning' and we each shouted one back. I walk over to David and inevitably say "where the hell did they come from" David looked as stunned as me but a quick look back told us they were fell runners which explained it all. They appeared to walk off in the direction of Link Hause before checking a map, we were only twenty yards away and could just make out the outlines of their bodies such the visibility, they seemed to second guess their route before heading back in the direction of Great Rigg, a wise choice.

Despite a recorded windchill of -9°C and with 35mph winds we hung around the summit as long as we could both mentioning our last visit during David's Fairfield project last Summer, back then the whole summit was packed with folk eating lunches and enjoying the views, today Fairfield had to be treated with the upmost of respect.

Looking back up at Fairfield from Grisedale Hause.

We left the summit but soon fell foul to the ever deteriorating conditions and ran wide off path, experience told usand even through the murk we knew we were off path and after checking our location we trekked northwards which corrected our mistake soon finding the succession of stone cairns which would descend us to Grisedale Hause. The snow was still an issue more so during descent but with thought. could be avoided. It was during the descent did we pass a young couple wearing tracksuit bottoms and shockingly no gloves, we were almost out of the snow line but the windchill still had a severe affect on my hands which I could feel through my gloves, we both could. The couple were polite and nothing was said, but we knew they were both in for a shock.

Next, we pass two equally polite Geordie lads who asks of the conditions at the summit, we told them straight how icy it was and how harsh the windchill felt, equipped they thanked us and continued their ascent.

The wind continued to howl despite the drop in altitude, infact it strengthened the lower we got noting the hypnotic patterns the wind was creating over the surface of Grisedale Tarn which we stopped to admire.

Grisedale Tarn.

Descending towards Tongue Gill.

Two walkers were seeking shelter behind the wall at the top of Grisedale Hause while two more start an ascent on Seat Sandal, we watched as they navigated around the rock walls which were rimmed with ice, further up the path having just left the summit a solo walker will have to do the same. Conversation soon returned to the topic of which was of course the conditions back on Fairfield and indeed, Great Rigg. It was David and I who only one week ago had enjoyed the delights of a perfect Winter walk and here we were explaining to one another how despite the vast contrast our morning on the hill had been as equally, if not more satisfying.

It's fair to say our senses had took a fair bashing this morning.

Looking back on Grisedale Hause with Seat Sandal (L) and Fairfield (R)

Back into civilization, The A591

The solo walker who we had seen earlier whilst descending Seat Sandal turned out to be a spriteful young chap who soon overtook us and gained good ground on us until he disappeared half way along Tongue Gill. With dinner time approaching we agreed to stop which we did whilst overlooking Tongue Gill from the old concrete reservoir. The wind had completely subsided and feeling sheltered we broke out lunch which in David's case was porridge mixed with fruits and yoghurt, I was suitably jealous. The river bank had been badly eroded most possibly due to the storm of December 2015 but it still made for a decent view. A line of mountain bikers totalling around twenty descend Tongue Gill and pass over the footbridge, some pass with an eh up others not.

With lunch packed away we re-shoulder packs and cross the footbridge before emerging back on the A591, looking back the cloud still hasn't lifted and looks to be in for the day now. Only the odd car passes as we trace our way along the footpath before arriving back at the parking spaces which are full from one end to t'other.


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