Saturday, March 30, 2013

Kentmere Horseshoe

Date : 30th March 2013
Route : Kentmere Horseshoe clockwise
Wainwright's : Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike, Shipman Knotts.
Distance : 20.1 km (12.5 miles)
Height Gained : 1142 m (3748 feet)

The route, clockwise from Kentmere

 Over the previous week there had been more fresh snow over Lakeland. Having glimpsed some of the Kentmere fells from other recent walks and having been advised that the horseshoe is a classic winters walk, I headed off to Kentmere. I arrived at first light, keen to ensure I didn't run out of daylight knowing that progress might be slow depending on snow conditions. The horseshoe route is a classic, taking in 8 Wainwright fells. Clockwise seemed best to me as I knew the terrain on the west of Harter Fell was quite steep and would rather climb up rather than down if conditions were icy. Having parked in a farmers field with an honesty box by Low Bridge in Kentmere, I headed off towards the Garburn Pass.

The lower Kentmere valley from the Garburn Pass near Kentmere

A friendly face

 At Garburn Nook I left the Pass and headed north towards Yoke, the first objective for today. Despite Yoke's impressive profile the path upwards is a fairly gradual ascent with great views east over the Kentmere valley and west over the Troutbeck valley.

The path northwards to Yoke

Looking east over deep drifts (that's a 4 foot wall) towards Kentmere Pike

 Yoke summit is fairly flat with a pile of rocks to denote the top. Views are good all round but the eyes are drawn northwards to the impressive looking Ill Bell.

Yoke summit looking north towards Ill Bell
Yoke summit panorama west

Yoke summit panorama east

 Other than a biting wind the weather was perfect and the route onwards to Ill Bell was clear and inviting.

The Langdale Valley area from the path to Ill Bell

The Coniston range from the path to Ill Bell

First glimpse of Kentmere Reservoir

Looking onwards to Ill Bell

 The summit of Ill Bell is an expansive rocky plateau adorned with 3 large summit cairns. Why three? I have no idea but the views from each are excellent. This summit is well worth exploring.

The 3 summit cairns of Ill Bell

Ill Bell summit panorama west

Ill Bell summit panorama east

 The next fell is Froswick which requires a short and steepish descent and then a gradual climb to its summit. Despite its lesser height, the views from Froswick seem superior to Ill Bell, mainly because its small summit does not impede the sight-lines in any direction.

The path to Froswick

Looking back to Ill Bell

Froswick summit panorama west

Froswick summit panorama east

A short video from Froswick summit.

 The snow deepened on the path to Thornthwaite crag making progress rather slow. I quickly learned that the best way of walking on this snow was to either high step in other peoples footprints or better still to go off to the side and walk on untouched snow which had a crust just firm enough to support my weight. Snow near rocks, grassy tussocks or drifts would collapse under foot and I would soon be labouring up to my shins.  

The snow deepens towards Thornthwaite Crag

Looking back to Froswick and Ill Bell

 Anyone who has not visited Thornthwaite Crag before will no doubt be surprised and impressed by the huge summit beacon which must stand about 15 foot tall.

The Thornthwaite Beacon on the summit

Thornthwaite Crag summit panorama west

Thornthwaite Crag summit panorama east

Troutbeck valley from Thornthwaite Crag

 After a short coffee break I followed the path, or rather a line of footprints, northeast towards High Street but having climbed it before, and discovering it is not a particularly good vantage point, I veered off eastwards towards the next objective, Mardale Ill Bell. I was now at the apex of the horseshoe and the views north over Hayeswater and south back down the Kentmere valley were stunning.

Hayeswater and Place Fell beyond.

Onwards to Mardale Ill Bell

Looking back over to Yoke, Ill Bell & Froswick.

 Mardale Ill Bell summit is a rocky area with great views to the north over Haweswater. The views south are somewhat impeded by high ground. The route onwards to Harter Fell is steep in places descending to the col and very steep in places on the ascent to Harter fell. It was at this point when I put the crampons on and donned the ice axe.

Mardale Ill Bell summit panorama west

Mardale Ill Bell summit panorama east over Haweswater and Harter Fell
Kentmere Reservoir from the Col between Mardale Ill Bell and Harter Fell

The steep route up to Harter Fell

Views looking over a frozen Small Water towards Haweswater

Yoke and Ill Bell over Kentmere Reservoir

Getting steep on Harter Fell. Axe and spikes required

Harter Fell summit panorama west

Harter Fell Summit panorama east

 Although the way south towards Kentmere Pike looked easy enough and crampons were no longer required, the snow was shin deep and with a thin crust which sometimes would take my weight and other times not. This section proved to be the most awkward part of the walk.

Harter Fell view south towards Kentmere Pike

Wrapped up warm

Panorama west from near Kentmere Pike

Sistrugi on Kentmere Pike flanks

Kentmere Pike summit panorama west

Kentmere Pike summit panorama east

Windermere from Kentmere Pike summit
 South of Kentmere Pike the snow began to thin out and the going was easier. One more fell to go, Shipman Knotts. 

The path down to Shipman Knotts

Shipman Knotts summit panorama west

Shipman Knotts summit panorama east

Looking back up the Kentmere valley and the days walking route

Panorama of the Kentmere Horseshoe

 This was a great winters walk but it took me nearly 9 hours to get round, mainly due to the snow conditions. I will have to do the route again in summer to get a different perspective of this great horseshoe walk.


  1. Wow, this couldn't be more different to where I am living now. Nine hours? What a slog in the cold. Such beautiful scenery though! It look fantastic. One day I hope to try some hiking in your land. There are so many great walks to do. Jane

    1. Yeh the lake district fells are just lovely in their winter coats Jane. Surprisingly you do stay nice and warm as long you keep moving. If you ever do get to come over then this route comes highly recommended :-)