Mosedale Horseshoe

Recommended Maps Ordnance Survey Maps:

Outdoor Leisure Map 4 - North Western Area (1:25,000)

Outdoor Leisure Map 6 - South Western Area (1:25,000)

Land Ranger Map 89 - West Cumbria (1:50,000)

Total Distance:

16.8 kilometres (10.44 miles)


7 to 8 Hours

Maximum Height Achieved :

892 metres (2926 feet)

Total Ascent :

1174 metres (3852 feet)


The Lake District has several Mosedales and several horseshoes, but the Mosedale Horseshoe - left - off the northwest corner of Wasdale is something special, even by Lakeland standards.

This is a connoisseur's route describing a huge arc mostly above 2000ft with views over some of the region's most scenic valleys. To the east iconic mountains dominate with Great Gable and the Scafells drawing the attention, while to the north deserted Ennerdale leads the eyes out to the Scottish borders. To the west, the Lake District hills merge into coastland views out towards Snaefell, the highest mountain on the Isle of Man.

Section 1 - Wasdale Head to Pillar

Distance: 3.8 miles (6.2km)

Height Gain: 4521 ft (1378m)

Start from the car park at Wasdale Head with a short section up the road to the pub, and Ritson's Bar entrance. Join the start of the path alongside Mosedale Beck as it heads north. The path starts along the valley floor, rising slowly to a gate as it emerges onto the open fells and Mosedale opens out in front of you.

After a mile and a quarter a small cairn marks the point where the path divides, and the right fork starts the climb to the hidden Black Sail Pass.The climb is never more than steady, and after a further half mile you cross the stream at Gatherstone Head with Looking Stead high up to the left.

Resist the temptation to cut straight up Looking Stead - the Black Sail Pass route is just as quick and has its own attractions. Two and a half miles from the start you finally reach Black Sail with the impressive Kirk Fell Crags to the right and Haystacks directly ahead over Ennerdale.

A line of rusting iron fence posts marks the path off to your left over Looking Stead and onto the ridge. Half a mile along the ridge the path splits again, with our route to the right hand side, starting the classic High Level Route. This is not the simplest or easiest walking routes on Pillar, but it is one of the most spectacular in Lakeland. It ascends and descends along a stony shelf that leads to Robinson's Cairn and finishes at the base of Pillar Rock. Although not always obvious from a distance, there is a well defined path to follow. Robinson's Cairn is approximately two-thirds of the way along the path.

From here the path descends slightly before turning left and upwards to the start of the Shamrock Traverse which turns up sharply to the right. This rising rocky shelf can be seen from Robinson's cairn, firstly perhaps with incredulity, but is not as bad as it first appears. A couple of flat rock slabs, usually with running water trickling over them are the most awkward parts; but it is a secure path and requires none of the heroics of Sharp Edge or Jack's Rake. At the top of the traverse, just past a Mountain Rescue box with the top of Pillar Rock ahead, the path turns sharply left and continues up the rocky ridge to the summit. Before making this turn it is worth pausing to admire the view North over Ennerdale with the twin buttresses of Pisgah and High Man standing proud in the foreground.

Section 2 - Pillar to to Red Pike

Distance: 2.1 miles (3.4km)

Height Gain: 798ft (243m)

From the summit of Pillar, with its extensive views, head south west down to Wind Gap, then up the other side where the path meanders through rocks as you climb steeply towards Scoat Fell. Off to the right the views of Ennerdale open up beyond the impressive cliffs of Mirk Cove.

Swing right as the path splits for the ascent up to Steeple, again clambering over rocks as you search for the summit cairn. The cairn marking the highest point is amongst the smallest in the Lakes, sitting on top of the wall that provides a handrail to the top.

From here retrace your steps down to Scoat Fell and the easy walk south east to Red Pike. After the steep ascent of Wind Gap at the start of this leg the climb to Red Pike feels easy. The summit cairn sits on the very edge of the cliffs with a straight drop of 2000 feet down to the valley floor of Mosedale, while to the right the eye gets drawn over Scoat Tarn to Haycock, and further right to Seatallan.

Section 3 - Red Pike to Wasdale Head

Distance: 4.5 miles (7.3km)

Height Gain: 752ft (229m)

The leg from Red Pike to Wasdale Head begins with a descent to Dore Head, with the striking cliffs of Yewbarrow constantly dominating the view ahead. The climb up to them starts after a mile where the path meets a junction at the head of Gosforth Crag Moss.

This is decision time, with a choice between heading alongside the stream to approach Yewbarrow from the south after skirting its flanks or a more exciting alternative taking on the cliffs of Stirrup Crag - above. The path up to Stirrup Crag starts off easily enough, but all the time the dark vertical rocks ahead dominate the view. When the path ends abruptly at the foot of the cliffs you need to take a little time to work out the route, but in reality it's not as hard as it appears on the approach.

Head up left, following the combination of crampon marks and tell tale deposits of small stones to swing round the north side of the crag, with Mosedale far below. A few final pulls up bring you out once more onto grass and a pleasant walk up to flatter ground - with a sense of achievement at having taken the direct route. Now the path follows the ridge over a couple of false crests to emerge finally at the summit cairn of Yewbarrow.

Although the highest point has been reached, a mile and three quarters from Red Pike, and Wasdale looks impressive below, Wastwater is partially hidden by bumps in the ridge ahead. As you reach the top of Bull Crag the view opens up, with the full length of Wastwater visible and off to the left Burnmoor Tarn sitting below the Scafell range.

The descent from Yewbarrow leads to Great Door, where the path trends right to avoid the dangerous drops of Bell Rib. The descent here is something of a knee wrecker as it drops steeply over scree and rock before finally emerging once more onto grass as you reach the wall.

Cross the wall using the stiles provided and descend to the car park at Overbeck Bridge. All that remains now is the tiresome two mile treck back along the road to the car park and your starting point.