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Next door to the ever popular Fairfield Horseshoe, this route along Scandale to Red Screes makes a fantastic alternative, says Paul Richardson

THE HILLS THAT run south from the high fells of Patterdale are very conveniently situated on the northern doorstep of Ambleside. Although you’re spoilt for choice when picking out a route for a foray into these mountains, it’s always easy to opt for the classic Fairfield Horseshoe. Today though, I decided to head onto Red Screes via the neglected Scandale valley; to my mind, although shorter it’s an equally spectacular route.

Armed with a shiny new pair of slip-on crampons, I was hoping for snow and ice on the tops so that I could see for myself if they would cut the mustard (or the névé). There wasn’t much snow to be had as we left Ambleside and made our way along the quiet valley, passing the Fairfield Horseshoe peaks of Low Pike then High Pike above to our left. But the snow cover increased noticeably as we gained height, ascending to Scandale Pass.

From the head of the pass we caught our first glimpse of Stony Cove Pike and Hartsop Dodd, leading the way north towards Patterdale, and a little more climbing on our way up Broad Crag opened the view up even more, with Brothers Water clearly visible, seemingly hemmed in by the surrounding mountains.

The snow became thicker as we climbed the slopes of Red Screes, although soft, patchy and ice-free – not the territory for crampons. I kicked steps into the soft snow, gradually realising that today would not be the day for trying out my new piece of kit!

Red Screes is a fantastic vantage point to survey the surrounding hills. Looking north-west beyond Middle Dodd, Hartsop above How and St Sunday Crag stand out from their neighbours, while to the right of Brothers Water the peaks leading to Place Fell stand guard over Patterdale.

The summit also overlooks the Kirkstone Pass, but as we peered down on to an obviously buzzing Kirkstone Pass Inn way below, we knew it was completely impractical to nip in for a quick one. How often do you get within a kilometre of a great pub mid-walk and dismiss it out of hand?

Descending the south-facing slopes wasn’t going to throw any large pockets of snow or ice at us, so I knew now that my chances of testing the new crampons were close to nil – and then, as if to confirm it, the sun came out, bathing the hillside in a warm, melting glow. It made for a very pleasant stroll down the gentle gradient to Snarker Pike, and the views weren’t finished yet either, with Rydal Water lying down to the right and Windermere directly ahead.

A steady descent of Red Screes’ lower slopes brought us back into Ambleside with its array of cafes and plenty of time to take full advantage. I might not have tested out the crampons, but, sat in a warm café, cradling my pot of tea, I didn’t really care – they’d have to wait until next time.


  • From Ambleside centre follow the Rydal Road as far as the roundabout, where you turn right up the Kirkstone Road. Pass the Golden Rule pub then turn left onto Sweden Bridge Lane. Where the road splits, take the left hand fork and continue uphill as the road becomes a track that follows Scandale Beck, leading to Scandale Bottom.
  • Just after the sheepfold on the left, the track begins to veer right as it ascends the hillside ahead. Head NE along the Scandale Pass until it meets a junction of paths at the wall.
  • On the far side of the wall, turn right to climb the slope of Broad Crag, drifting away to the left of the wall as you ascend. Cross the wall at Smallthwaite Band and continue ahead to the summit of Red Screes.
  • Follow the ridge downhill, with the Kirkstone Pass down to your left. Leave the summit section to cross Snarker Moss before heading over Snarker Pike, keeping to the main track as it leads steadily downhill. The path soon becomes sandwiched between two walls as it drops onto the Kirkstone Road.
  • Turn right onto the road and follow it downhill, back into Ambleside.

Red Screes, Lake District


  • Distance: 12km/7.5 miles
  • Acent: 750m/2460ft
  • Start/ Finish: Ambleside (GR: NY376046)
  • Map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 90 (Penrith & Keswick); OS 1:25,000 Explorer OL7 (The English Lakes, South Eastern area); Harveys 1:25,000 Superwalker, Lakeland Central
  • Public transport: Bus service 555/556 between Lancaster and Keswick, tel: 01228 597222
  • Information: Ambleside TIC, 015394 32582
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