The Deepdale Horseshoe
There is a grand sense of scale to the peaks that circle the aptly named Deepdale. Poised high above Patterdale this trench like declivity cuts deep into the heart of the Eastern Fells and forms the northern precipice of Fairfield’s lofty summit. Its northern side is made up by the great whale back bulk of St Sunday Crag and its southern side is bounded by the tight rope edge of Hartsop Above How. It’s secretive interior faces northeast giving it a sombre aspect and the towering crags that lurk within have a particularly impressive and almost gothic appeal.
The circuit of the Deepdale has become something of a classic amongst experienced walkers. Its darker interior will not appeal instantly appeal to everybody, but for those with plenty of peaks under their belt it offers an exciting twist to the horseshoe style walk. The best way to do the walk is to climb St Sunday Crag first. This gets the least interesting bit done first, and the stepped nature of the terminal ridge allows you a bit of a breather between steep slopes. Once on St Sunday Crag the route opens out in front of you in all its magnificent glory and make your way along the crest walking into a succession of stunning views. There are a couple of bits but these are fairly easy and greatly add to the high mountain feel of the outstanding walk.
Distance 15km (9.3 miles)
Total ascent 1040m
Time 6-7 hours
Start/finish Patterdale GR NY395159
Terrain A high-level fell walk with potential for some challenging navigation in poor visibility and a couple of rocky sections where you might need to use hands for balance
- OS Landranger 90 (1:50 000)
- OS Explorer 5 (1:25 000)
- Harvey Superwalker XT25 Lake District West
- British Mountain Maps Lake District (1:40 000)
- NY395159 To the right-hand side of the Patterdale Hotel take the path that climbs steadily southwest then west through the trees and up the fell side. Follow the path through one wall then at the second (after 300m). Turn left and climb the path south beside the wall to pop out on a levelling beside the rocky knoll of Arnison Crag.
- NY392149 The path now becomes a bit vague lost on the open fellside. Head south-southwest across the expanse of grass to the broad col of Trough Head. From here the slopes to the west are climbed directly. This steep ascent delivers you onto the rounded summit crest of Birks.
- NY380143 Birks is a lovely spot with good all round views, but it’s no place relax too much as there is still one more chunk of ascent to do before you hit the first main peak. Follow the narrowing summit ridge southwest taking time to peek over the northern edge down into the long valley of Grisedale. As the gradient eases you reach the edge of St Sunday Crags extensive summit plateau. The summit cairn lies off towards the southeastern edge overlooking Deepdale marked by a small cairn.
- NY369134 If it’s clear it’s worth exploring the whole of St Sunday Crags summit plateau so that you don’t miss any of the surrounding views. Once you have finished head southwest and descend the narrowing ridge down to Deepdale Hause. If the weather is bad you can escape the route at this point by either descending east into Deepdale or west down to Grisedale via Grisedale Tarn.
- NY360125 The narrow rock crest of Cofa Pike rears up dramatically above Deepdale Hause, this is the next section of the walk. Essentially you follow the crest direct but the one or two exposed sections can be bypassed on the western (right-hand) side.
- NY358117 Fairfield’s summit is set in a magnificent situation its distant views are extensive and varied and cover almost the entire range of Lake District mountains. The view north down into Deepdale is also very impressive and can be taken in as you relax at the summit cairn. It’s notoriously easy to take the wrong route of Fairfield even in clear weather if you are unfamiliar with it. A compass bearing southeast for 200m then east will get you on to the correct path. Follow the path down and across Link Hause then up on to the summit of Hart Crag.
- NY368112 Hart Crag marks the start of the descent. From the summit a narrow path descends east-northeast onto the upper shoulder of Hartsop above How. Again it is worth taking a bearing as the ground is a little confusing to start with and it is easy to drop off into Houndshope Cove.
- NY377117 once you reach the rock knoll of Blake Brow the ridge of Hartsop above How becomes clearly defined. It’s crest offers one of the best descents in the Lake District as it gives a combination of easy gradients, narrow ridge and stunning views over the drops on both sides. Stick to its crest until you reach the trees at its terminus.
- NY399139 At the trees the path splits, take the left-hand path and follow it down through the trees and pasture to join the A592 at Deepdale Bridge. Turn left onto the A592 and follow it carefully back to Patterdale.