This fine circular walk is partly set within the better-known Fairfield Horseshoe. It takes you first to one of the Lake District’s favourite tarns and then you join the crowd heading for the Horseshoe. After a third of the walk is completed, the route turns off along an idyllic high plateau and then takes a fairly easy descent back to the start. The views in all directions are riveting.
Park in the pay-and-display car park at north end of Grasmere, GR 338077
1 From the car park, turn right to walk to the A591. Cross, and continue ahead, keeping to the right side of the Swan Hotel. Carry on uphill, ignore the right turn and, a few steps along, take a tarmacked track, on the right, which appears more like the entrance to a house than the way onto the fells. As you ascend, enjoy the dancing beck, on your right, that flows out of Greenhead Gill. Go through the farm gate and turn sharp right to cross the stream by a footbridge. Walk left and begin your steepish ascent along a good path that keeps close to the plantation wall on your right. The way is good underfoot: it is partly stepped, partly pitched, often grassy, sometimes naturally rock-stepped, and it has some foot holes in the turf.
2 Wind around, right, with the wall at the end of the conifers, and follow the distinct way. Eventually the wall turns away right again and, this time, the path goes on up towards prominent Butter Crag. Here it winds on, right, below the crag, passes a boggy area and brings you to a gate in the wall. Beyond, on a grassy shelf, above Grasmere, lies charming Alcock Tarn. Continue along the right side (west) of the tarn; if the sun is shinning look for the hundreds of small fish idling in the warm shallows. Wind around left, walking along the tarn’s small dam, and go through a railed gap in the wall ahead. Beyond stroll the grassy path that climbs steadily through the nearly dead bracken. Follow it as it winds right, still gently ascending, eventually to join the Fairfield Horseshoe path, coming in on your right, from Rydal.
3 Turn left and follow the stony path as it continues to climb through rocky outcrops. The way then eases as it attains Heron Pike. It is a pleasing grassy mound rather than a pike, though, it does have a fine retrospective view of the Coniston and Langdale fells, with Scafell Pike towering mistily above them. Head on along the clear path, with good views far down to Rydal Beck, which winds its silvery way shadowed by enclosing austere slopes. Stroll on to pass, close on your right, more outcrops, where you might wish to stop and take your first break. Then go on along the easy path, mainly grassy, towards Great Rigg, which, unlike Heron Pike, does have a fine peak. As you progress, the view of Fairfield’s wall-like southern face is formidable, its summit topping all other heights.
4 A short way up the slopes of Great Rigg, you arrive at a cairn. Here turn sharp left and follow a delightful grassy trod, along the almost level top of a spur of Great Rigg, heading towards the first outcrops of Stone Arthur. This is a glorious stretch of path, with stunning views. Head on, passing through a series of large rock outcrops until, finally, you can stand on the abrupt edge of the steep drop of the last outcrop. Turn around and, if you use a little imagination, the low walls of rock, on three sides of a grassy area, seem like a giant armchair.
5 Return along the path for a short distance until you reach a cairned path going off right (it was on your left when you continued to the edge of the last crag). Follow this as it keeps below the crags and then, as it descends a wide grassy path between the dying bracken soon comes close to a derelict wall on your right. Carry on down, with more of Grasmere and its lake revealed below. At a widening of the path, where derelict walls meet, turn right to descend a narrow, rougher way to a solitary sycamore, some way down the path. Beyond, carry on traversing the slopes, to step across a stream. Follow the path as it steadily winds left and continues on down, to come to the side of a walled conifer plantation, on your right. Press on down until you wind left and the path becomes a wide rough track. It goes on descending and comes to the farm gate taken earlier. Turn right through it and descend to Grasmere.
Distance: 5 miles
Time: 3-4 hours
Map: OS Explorer OL7
NB: Restrictions on space mean that this article provides a general summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.