The Pasture Beck Horseshoe

The Pasture Beck Horseshoe

ROUTE STATS (including map)

The Pasture Beck Horseshoe

The car bumbles along the bumpy road to Hartsop, wallowing like a laden elephant negotiating a tightrope. The tyres crunch over tiny stones on the surface, pestle-and-mortar-style, as we swing into a hidden, yet surprisingly well-known car park at the foot of a popular bridleway near the Kirkstone Pass.

Hartsop Dodd from the car park

The early autumn chill stings a little as we transition from the warm car and hurriedly put on extra layers. There’s the merest hint of a breeze, the air is crisp and the colours are vibrant. Frost clings to shaded grass not yet exposed to the sun. The sky is a graduated palette of blues: deeper shades giving way to a pale white hue peering over the profile of sleepy summits.

There’s a carnival atmosphere among the small crowd of walkers booting up for their day’s adventures. These perfect autumn conditions can mean only one thing: uninterrupted views across the National Park. A few cheery hellos and brief conversations about our plans and we’re on our way.

Most head east along the well-worn track to Hayeswater before dispersing among the High Street range. We leave the melee, crossing the river before heading straight up the steep northern face of Hartsop Dodd.

Pleasing symmetry

I like these more urgent starts to a hill day. Once over the shock of having to expend energy so soon after tying knots in boot laces, I relish the pumping heart and aching legs feeling as we warm up quickly and reach higher ground with minimal fuss.

Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike and St Sunday Crag (among others) behind the long ridge of Hartsop above How

The plan is to complete a mini horseshoe walk of the lofty ground cradling Pasture Beck. Hartsop Dodd leads to Stony Cove Pike, the high point of Caudale Moor. We’ll then head east, losing height to the saddle at Threshthwaite Mouth before climbing again to Thornthwaite Crag. The descent follows a long line of high ground to Gray Crag before a steep ground finale.

The route is pleasingly symmetrical on the map. The long spurs stretch out from Threshthwaite Cove like two prongs of a tuning fork. It’s a lovely little mountain day that’s big on views, high ground, ascents and descents. And we’re the only ones heading this way from the car park.

Searching for giants

Red Screes and Middle Dodd from Hartsop Dodd

After much huffing and puffing, we break the back of the climb, leaving us to enjoy views to Red Screes and Middle Dodd and the delightful Dovedale valley across the Kirkstone Pass. Hartsop above How stretches to Hart Crag on the Fairfield Horseshoe with the bulky St Sunday Crag and its cloudy crown commanding attention.

St Sunday Crag

Navigation is straightforward once we reach the wall which leads unerringly to Caudale Moor. Gaining height, we spot more of the high fells to the west: Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags; the Scafells and the huge notch of Mickledore, seemingly cleaved out of the landscape by a giant axe.

The big fells in the west

But it’s east we must soon turn, towards the stellar summit cairn on Thornthwaite Crag. Between us and it lies a down-climb of just over 150m. The scramble down is more fun that expected, with a few little crags, grassy slopes and scree to vary progress along the wall. But if it’s summits you are after, what goes down must eventually come back up and we take our time on this final push, listening to the soundtrack of red deer stags bellowing across the slopes.

Thornthwaite Crag on the start of our descent from Caudale Moor
Looking back across Threshthwaite Mouth to the descent from Caudale Moor

Higher ground

Summit cairn on Thornthwaite Crag

Thornthwaite Crag on a sunny day is a fine spot for lunch. We find some shelter from the cool breeze and look across to the far eastern fells. Windermere stretches out to the south with Morecambe Bay glistening in the distance. It’s fine fellwalkers’ country this and I’m enjoying the route more than expected.

Looking back to Thornthwaite Crag from the long spur to Gray Crag
Cairn on Gray Crag, looking west towards Fairfield and the Helvellyn range

With grassy slopes all the way now, we strike out on a pleasant yomp across high ground which descends gently towards Gray Crag. The cobalt waters of Hayeswater soon come into view, with plunging slopes from the Straits of Riggindale adding a real sense of drama.

Final steep section

The ground becomes steep as we inch north towards the bridleway alongside Hayeswater Gill. The path skirts around some crags in the latter stages, adding some perspective to the gradient of the weaving track.

Looking back to Pasture Beck valley

I feel I’ve caught the sun as I glance back up the valley of Pasture Beck, making plans for future explorations of this wild valley. Today’s walk can leave you feeling short changed. It’s short and sweet and over before you know it. But in fine weather on an early autumn day, it offers exceptional value for money.

Highs and Lowdown


Start / Finish: Hartsop

Distance: 9.5km

Ascent: 820m

Wainwright count: 4

Navigation: Generally straightforward in clear conditions with a couple of tricky parts around Barf and coming off Whinlatter.

Terrain: Short and steep ascent to kick things off with a similar descent at the end of the day. Hands may be required on the descent between Caudale Moor and Thornthwaite Crag.

Facilities: Glenridding is nearby


*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.

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