The Coledale Horseshoe is one of the classic Lake District walks. Including Grisedale Pike, leaving from the Braithwaite campsite, it’s a good long days hike. Read why it takes me two days, what it feels like to camp at -10c and why I believe this is one of the best walks in the Lake District.
The Coledale Horseshoe
What an experience the extended Coledale Horseshoe is – 19 miles, 12 Wainwrights, 7608ft of ascent, a wild camp, three cries and one migraine. This was an experience I will never forget, one of my favourite Lake District walks, and a weekend I learn so much about hiking and wild camping. I’ll recommend it to everyone who loves Lakeland. I’ll tell you how you can get this route done in one day and why leaving from the Braithwaite campsite, or one of the Braithwaite pubs is a must.
The Extended Coledale Round
I’ll be taking on 12 Wainwrights this weekend. The standard Coledale Horseshoe is about 13km (8 miles) and takes in Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head, Crag Hill, Sail then Outserside, returning to Braithwaite through the rest of the valley. This is also the route of the Coledale Horseshoe Fell Race.
Walking the Wainwrights, and an avid wild camper, I feel like I would be daft not the get the spurs in. Therefore, my round is a little longer.
The long walk
I spend the night at the Braithwaite campsite. Scotgate Holiday Park is in a great location for this walk being just off the A66. Not only are you at the start of the route, but you also have facilities to make your camp more comfortable, and you have the Braithwaite pubs, for refreshments and a meal afterwards.
Heading West into Braithwaite, you pass the Royal Oak. I look forward to getting back to it, but I have an adventure ahead. Around the corner where the road squeezes through the old houses, there is a sign suggesting a route for Coledale but I head up the hill towards Whinlatter. I get to the little car park on the left, at NY 227 237. This is actually a good starting point, but when you come back through the valley off Barrow, you’ll have a little ascent that you will no doubt resent.
I’ve been up this road so many times and spent the night up here in the camper van in a large layby near Knott Head. I’m at the foot of Grisedale Pike, the start of the Coledale Round. I’m really looking forward to getting out and away from it all for a couple of days.
From the car park, you head North West for a few hundred metres then hook round to contour South, avoiding a steep ascent. You’re now on the main track hiking along a ridge that will take you over Sleet How marked on the Ordnance Survey map. The 2400ft rise takes you to Grisedale Pike summit, it’s just under three miles and a right slog, but the views going up and the panorama is so worth it.
On the top I meat a lovely couple from Ormskirk, Rupert and Pricilla, who are on their second round of the Wainwrights. I’m only halfway on my Wainwrights journey at this point. I could chat for hours about these hills, especially when they’re offering their knowledge of the fells I haven’t done.
The views are seriously stunning at 2595ft, but you’re in the right place I think as well, photos can’t do it justice but I’ll keep trying.
My route today takes me around the usual Coledale Horseshoe plus a few spurs to add the spiky Whiteside, the mighty Grassmoor and the beautiful Whiteless Pike, 12 in total. Hence, as it’s not a long summer’s day and I haven’t set off early I’m wild camping ‘somewhere when it gets dark’. When you have confidence navigating it’s ok to be sketchy with your plans now and again. I know I’ll be camping roughly around Coledale Hause.
Hopegill Head on to Whiteside
Past Grisedale Pike leads to Hopegill Head (which is stunning from the pike because of the awesome Hobcarton Crag), the exciting craggy spur takes me out to Whiteside, the highlight being the sight of the massive Grasmoor and Crummock Water.
The Mighty Grasmoor
Returning to the side of Hopegill Head, I run the scree of Sand Hill, which takes me up to the Coledale Hause. I leave the bag at the crossroads, not something I recommend but I have essentials in a smaller bag; first aid kit, water bottle and some food. Heading out again, this time to Grasmoor, it’s a long trudge.
The view ok Grasmoor from Red Pike over Buttermere are stunning, it’s enormous. However, views from Grasmoor summit are limited because it’s so rounded. It’s ticked off regardless and off I go back to the crossroads.
Out to Whiteless Pike and back to Wandope
I pick up the bag and take it out to leave it again along Whiteless Edge for a little trek out to Whiteless Pike for some gorgeous views of Crummock Water and the ‘Western Fells’ as the sun is fading. This is a perfect opportunity to have a sandwich and get the stove on for a brew. There’s something magical about watching the sun go down while you’re up a mountain in the Lakes.
Most people, even hikers, don’t have the confidence to watch a sun setting from the top of a mountain summit. Navigating and walking down takes skill.
Returning to pick up the bag I fork right up to Wandope. The highlight here is the view of the Southern edge of Crag Hill, my 7th of the day. The sun drops behind the fells as I open my bag to retrieve my wild camping gear.
Wild camping on Crag Hill, -10c and a snowstorm
By late teatime, the tent’s up and I have a wonderful vegetable soup on the heat, granary bead at the ready. I’m on a very intentional journey tonight to get warm. Vicki’s told me to eat loads, Simon advised a hot water bottle, Danny a coat and Richard has ordered us all to go naked!
I ate plenty, cooked using my new AlpKit BruKit, which is awesome for £35. Similar to the Jetboil, It heats water so quick, the wind doesn’t get to the flame, as it’s protected. Connected with a bayonet fitting, the pan is easy to take off, but stable while cooking and it’s non-stick so cleans easily after the rice pudding dessert.
The temperature’s dropped dramatically. After reading the temperature as -10c at 8 pm-ish, I batten down the hatches and shimmy into my sleeping bag. I do believe I could sense a full moon, but it was too cold out to even check.
Trying the naked thing in my down Alpkit sleeping bag, I get too cold; I’m told that you heat the air in the bag and then that keeps you warm. I don’t want to heat anything but myself, so I get every item of clothing I have on, layer up and selfishly keep my warmth to myself. My coat get’s stuffed in a bag for a pillow.
Eventually, I get warm, and the thermometer tells me it’s 30c in my sleeping bag, this is a success. This was all long before I wrote my blog on How To Stay Warm At Night Camping, nights like this made me a master.
The sleep app on the phone tells me I got 6 hours of great sleep. I wake cold at 4:30 though and next time I will bring a flask so I could have a brew at this time to heat me a little. It’s early days in my mountain wild camping career.
If you must know, I don’t have to leave the tent to pee thanks to my investment in an ‘Innocent’ orange juice bottle. This doubles as a hot water bottle. It works guys, don’t knock it until you’ve spent the night in a tiny tent on a mountain summit at 2753ft.
It’s snowing, and I figure I have a couple of hours at least to go before I can get out. I can’t risk the morning walk in the dark as it’s straight out to SAIL over the arête which I’ll need light to negotiate safely.
Day two – migraine, cloud, snow and a jaw-dropping scene
I didn’t freeze to death, but I did wake with a migraine, something I suffer from since having a brain haemorrhage 20 years ago. To add insult to injury, I unzip the tent to see only cloud and snow on the ground; my tent has frozen solid.
After starting the day with a Redbush tea, I pack up and set off from a very cloudy Crag Hill. As I clamber down the steep bank, heading East, the arête looks a little scary in the cloud, an abyss.
After I take a selfie in the cloud on Sail, the strangest thing happens.
The cloud completely clears to reveal the most beautiful mountain scenery. Crag Hill, my camp for the night and descent over the last hour appears, and considering how I fell, it takes my breath away. I’ve cherished this photo ever since, not just for it’s magnificence but for what it physically did to me that day, rewards you just can’t get sat in your pyjamas at home.
Sail to Scar Crags
Coming down from Sail, having no water and no stream at this altitude, I break some hard snow with my boot and scoop a little into the AlpKit stove pan.
I melt a little on the heat and top the pot up. After a couple of minutes, just enough time to eat a bag of tuna and sweetcorn, I’m activating the protein with what I now consider the best cup of tea I have ever drunk.
It’s sweet to just sit on a bank overlooking the Newlands Round, nobody around, chilling out and peaceful.
Sitting on the side of this snowy hill heading down to join the zig-zag path up to Scar Crags a mile away, the long slender spine of Ard Crags, now visible in front of me to the South, I feel sad. It’s a shame not to share this fantastic experience with somebody; I really wish my wife could be here going through this with me.
My first Wainwright, Wansfell, I did with my son Jack. The Troutbeck Tongue I did with Amber, and took Teresa out to Sour Howes after a beer and a small bottle of wine on the summit of Sallows, at 9:30 in the morning. All wonderful.
When I started walking in the mountains I wanted to lose weight, get fit, relieve stress and six months ago, my head was in a mess. I needed the hills; I was addicted. God knows what I would have done these last nine months without getting up into these hills – nervous breakdown, divorce, who knows.
Now though, I would love to share them.
Anyhoo. Down the zig-zag to strip off.
I have loads of clothes on, and the sun is now beating down on me, I’m roasting. I strip down to the skin and start again, stuffing damp thermals in my bag. There’s something very freeing about being completely naked on a snowy hillside too early for anybody to be around. I’m at the crossroads before Scar Crags, where on the Coledale Horsehoe Fell Race, you would veer left to head for Outerside and ‘the end’.
I feel like I’m only half way!
Scar Crags and Causey Pike
I’m much lower now, and I’m on the last few fells. The next two are an extension to the Coledale Horseshoe, but as Wainwrights, they need ticking off. Scar Crags is a bimble on the way to Causey Pike. I leave the bag at a junction so I can come back and head for the two little ones in the middle of the valley.
Returning from Causey Pike, I fork right, off the fellside, slip on the ice running down the sheep trod. The trekking pole takes my weight and breaks in two. I believe I might have gone tumbling down the side if one of the cheap £5 Go Outdoors walking poles hadn’t saved me.
Water, or lack of it
The ‘Water-To-Go’ filter bottle is really needed here, but it’s all frozen up; so it’s useless. I need water, so I resort to drinking straight from the stream. I’ve not done this much since, having the Sawyer filter, but bacteria couldn’t survive in this water, it’s almost too cold to drink. I’m confident that I will live.
The two little ones in the middle
Outerside, Stile End in between and Barrow bring the extended Coledale Horseshoe to an end. They are easy low hills, but I’ve clocked up a few miles, outdone myself with regards the ascent and I have had a migraine since waking. The cold mornings don’t agree with the arteries in my head; I’ve regrettably had a very emotional day. I should have brought one of my inhalers which would have given me a chance.
I’ve not looked at the Satmap all day and I’m a bit surprised that it tells me I’ve done 19 miles and over 7600 ft of ascent. Imagine the calories used! How can you put enough calories in you on a hike like this?
It’s a short, painful wander out of Coledale, the village, Braithwaite campsite and back to the van.
What comes my way – rough with the smooth
I’m here to experience whatever comes to me. The fun of course, but also fear, excitement but also sadness, even misery. When you’ve had a day like this, you need comfort food. I decide to sack The Royal Oak meal and head into Keswick.
“Fish & chips with mushy peas, and the biggest cup of coffee you can muster.”, this was my order to the lady upstairs in The Kingfisher. I must say that since I started eating fish last year to aid with the protein, the haddock in The Kingfisher was the best I’ve had.
I get home and have a fantastic sleep in what feels like the most comfortable bed on the planet, the cosiest pillow that I’ve ever laid my head with the most gorgeous woman I’ve ever met.
The Coledale Horseshoe – 106 down, 108 to go!
Coledale Horseshoe Route
This is my 19 mile extended Coledale Horseshoe route.
Fells – x 12
Ascent – 7608 ft (2318m)
Terrain – Rocky, scrambling, safe arete
Distance – 19 miles (31km)
Time – 30 hours
With – Solo
Map – OL4
- Grisedale Pike (2595ft)
- Hopegill Head (2526ft)
- Whiteside (2320ft)
- Grasmoor (2795ft)
- Whiteless Pike (2165ft)
- Wandope (2553ft)
- Crag Hill (2753ft)
- Sail (2536ft)
- Scar Crags (2205ft)
- Causey Pike (2090ft)
- Outerside (1864ft)
- Barrow (1493ft)
I stayed at the Scotgate Holiday Park campsite. Prices start at £13 for a single camper.
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