Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
1,566.00 m (5,137.80 ft)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
18.80 km (11.68 mi)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Mosedale Horseshoe (sometimes invariably but incorrectly referred to as Wasdale Horseshoe) is one of the Lake District’s most classic circuits, taking you in a single day up to some of the fiercest summits the area has to offer. It is located in Western Fells of Lake District National Park and makes a somewhat misshapen horseshoe around Mosedale Valley—hence the name.

Begin in the hamlet of Wasdale Head, using Wasdale Head Inn as good trailhead. For any avid climbers out there, this inn is pretty famous for being a favorite of legendary early-day British climbers back when Wasdale first ascenders fell like scree down the fells.

From Wasdale Head Inn, go north on the road, but do not cross Overbeck Bridge leading out of town. Instead, stay right on the banks of the Mosedale Beck River and head directly for the slopes of Kirk Fell, the largest and nearest peak of prominence.

This will be the hardest part of the route (but best to get it out of the way!). The route up the southern face of Kirk Fell is infamous as being difficult, tedious, and hateful. Famous British author and fellwalker Alfred Wainwright called it “a relentless and unremitting treadmill, a turd-clutching crawl, not a walk.” The truth is not far off, as you’ll climb 700 meters in only 1 kilometer, sometimes barely slogging up scree. As miserable as the ascent objectively is, the satisfaction of the summit (and the knowledge that the worst is behind you) is well worth it.

However, for those wishing to skip this peak on the horseshoe circuit, the same start is possible, but instead you’ll cross the bridge and hike up the gradual valley, following Mosedale Beck into Black Sail Pass directly. The rest of this guide assumes you have opted to do Kirk Fell (802 m).

The top of Kirk Fell is home to a little rock wall built as a barrier against high winds that frequent the area, and if you happen to ascend on such a day, you can use it to gain a brief reprieve from the roaring gusts.

Do not linger too long as you still have a long hike ahead. Just off the summit, you’ll find a fence and follow it down over the steep and Class IV Kirkfell Crags scrambles as you descend into Black Sail Pass. On the opposite side of Black Sail Pass, ascend shortly up the minor summit of Looking Stead (627 m).

The next beast with which to contend is Pillar, the second most difficult of the hike. There are two routes to get here via a fork, which occurs just after Look Stead. Go right on the “High Level Route,” which will take you first past Robinson's cairn, a tarnished copper plaque dedicated to John Wilson Robinson, and then to Pillar Rock, a technical rock climbing crag, where you may see climbers on a nice day. Alternatively, you can take a slight shortcut and go straight along the ridge. You’ll find a few false summits on either path before reaching the bald, rocky summit of Pillar, expansive and flat on the top with only a summit cairn to break the level ground.

From Pillar, continue along the ridge and drop sharply into Wind Gap (not to be confused with Windy Gap located just southeast between the adjacent Green and Great gables). This gap is so named because of the brutal gusts of wind that can sweep up Mosedale Valley and cut across the gap.

Continue to climb a short distance up to Black Crag, the northern point of Scoat Fell (841 m). Off to the right, look down into the valley at the deceptively named Great Scoat Fell (as it is lower in elevation than Scoat Fell) and Scoat Tarn, its summit marked with standing remains of the Ennerdale wall.

Red Pike (8,826 m) is the next peak on the list, and it’s a short climb compared to others of the day. It's worth noting that this is the Wasdale Red Pike, not the Buttermere Red Pike; many things in the Lake District bear similar, if not the same, names. Follow the rim path, which goes right to the edge of the crags off the east side, plunging down into Mosedale and with an excellent view of Kirk Fell in the background. Red Pike bears sharp and craggy cliffs to the east with a soft knoll slope to the west, a contrast best seen from the preceding higher summits.

Next you’ll lose much of the elevation gained on the hike, making a steep descent into the scree-filled small notch called Dore Head. From there, those wishing to cut their hike short can actually slide the scree all the way back down almost to Wasdale. To continue on to Yewbarrow (so named because it looks a bit like an upside-down boat), scramble up Stirrup Crag via a series of Class IV chimneys, often hidden until actually at the base. It’s not nearly as technical as it looks from above, but care should still be paid, especially in slippy winter ascents (though crampons and axes are hardly necessary as the Lake District really never gets enough snow to merit them).

Once at the top of Yewbarrow's grassy tarn summit (627 m), enjoy a leisurely ridge walk, on which you’ll get long, uninterrupted views of the majestic Great Gable and even Scafell Pike (978 m), the highest peak in England. After about 2 kilometers, you’ll reach Great Door, a narrow and precarious gully between Yewbarrow and the Bell Rib rocks. From the top of this crag, descend the rocky gully between Bell Rib and Dropping Crag. This route can be harrowing in icy or even wet summer conditions, but it’s always doable a—just keep a steady foot and calm mindset!

At the bottom, you’ll reach the northeast shores of Wast Water, from which you’ll follow the grassy path 2 kilometers back to Wasdale Head. This route makes for a long day, but you’ll feel quite accomplished at the end of it, having well earned a drink at one of Wasdale’s several pubs!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Spring
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Big vistas. Multiple peaks bagged. Easy access. Lots of nearby lodging options.

Cons

Exposure. High winds. Little to no shade.

Trailhead Elevation

269.03 ft (82.00 m)

Highest point

2,926.51 ft (892.00 m)

Features

Potable water
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Bird watching
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.