Stone Arthur

Published 30 September 2015. Last updated 17 October 2017

Sign post for Stone Arthur (and Alcock Tarn)

Want to extend the Fairfield Horsehoe by one extra fell? Add Stone Arthur into the mix. Want to do it properly? Spend an afternoon on just this delightful fell.

For many years two of the guidebooks I used when bagging Wainwrights were 1970s edition of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Eastern Fells and the Central Fells. Both had been on long-term loan from the in-laws, and were finally returned after I received a full set of Wainwrights as a birthday present. From someone else I might add.

Published by the Westmoorland Gazette who published the guides from 1963 until 1990s, they were great fantastic edition to have in your pocket. The covers were a soft plastic, giving much of the robustness of a hardback, with the flexibility of a paperback; far more preferable to carry around than the hard covers of modern editions. The 1970s versions were also narrower than the modern ones thanks to thinner paper. Yet never once did I worry about pagers ripping.

But one of the most notable features was the way it had been annotated.

An annotated copy of Wainwright’s Central Fells, with lines connecting fells together to denote ridge walks

For those not aware, every Wainwright guide has a simple map at the front showing the location of each fell in the area, along with other notable features like towns and lakes. In those 1970s copies Catherine’s dad had drawn a line to denote each ridge walk between fells. True, It made the map more complicated to read, however on the other hand also meant you could easily see how the fells linked together. All rather wonderful if you want to plan a route that bagged multiple ones in the same walk. And on several occasions I did just that.

There was just one flaw. I didn’t always look at them properly. And if I had, I wouldn’t have missed out Stone Arthur.

The tale really begins when walking the Fairfield Horseshoe in the spring of 2014. It’s a classic walk with visiting several fells arranged in a horseshoe shape, with the pinnacle being in the middle when the walker reaches Fairfield, the seventh highest mountain in England.

For most people the Horseshoe is eight fells that sit in succession; a line that bends into a horseshoe but still in a line. It’s a pretty easy walk, and one that rewards the relatively small amount of effort exerted, with great scenery. Plus you get to bag eight Wainwrights in one day. A huge boost for your fell-bagging statistics, and no mistake.

The Swan Hotel in Grasmere, with Stone Arthur behind it

The Wainwright walker who is paying attention however, realises that it’s trivially easy to increase that fell count by one, although you need to add a bit of a spike to your horseshoe. But if you do so, you can easily add Stone Arthur to your Wainwright bag count, simply by taking a mile and a half (there and back) detour along a path near the summit of Great Rigg.

That’s exactly what I would have done had I looked at the annotated map in that 1970s copy of the Pictorial Guide to the Eastern Fells. But I didn’t bother. I knew what the Fairfield Horseshoe was and simply didn’t contemplate that there would be a way to bag an extra fell.

It was only later I spotted the omission, discovering that I, as there weren’t any other fells I needed to collect nearby, I’d now need to make a special visit just to get Stone Arthur. It wouldn’t be a difficult one; Stone Arthur only 503m above sea level, and requires just a miles walk from Grasmere to get there. A couple of hours would do it, and as it happened I had a few hours on the penultimate day of my Lakeland holiday 2015 style. So I boarded a bus there and alighted outside the Swan Hotel where Wainwright’s route begins.

Sign outside the Swan Hotel saying ‘Now Serving Roast on a Sunday’

The Swan’s a 17th century coaching inn, where one William Wordsworth would sometimes eat breakfasts with his friend Sir Walter Scott. These days it’s part of a chain of 40 hotels, and a chalkboard was outside proudly boasting “Now Serving Roast On A Sunday”, which is clearly a radical innovation in this part of the world. Although, how many pubs do you know that just serve one roast on a Sunday?

The path up Stone Arthur sat at the back of a group of houses behind the pub, starting with a set of stone steps next to a wood. Bracken lined the path; indeed there was so much bracken that often it was difficult to see quite where the path was. The overgrowth also gave a suggestion that few ever used this path; indeed, despite it being a glorious afternoon, I didn’t see anyone else until I was near the top of the fell, when suddenly a Dutch family appeared out of nowhere.

Bracken surrounding the path up Stone Arthur

Yet the views from the side of Stone Arthur mean it’s a cracking little half-day walk, especially on a day as sunny as I was fortunate to be out on. With the sun shining brightly, Grasmere and Rydal Water sat against a backdrop of Central Fells, all giving subliminal messages of “Climb Me Next!” Most noticeable on that vista was Helm Crag, known by many as the Lion and the Lamb thanks to the rocks on its summit that, from afar, look like a lion with a lamb in front of it. Vaguely.

Stone Arthur’s quietness can probably be blamed on Helm Crag. The ascent of latter is the area’s de-facto go-to short walk, and Wainwright raves about it constantly. And from the valley floor its clear and dominant, whereas Stone Arthur looks a bit like an indistinct lump located behind a pub.

Approaching the summit of Stone Arthur

Even from the fell itself it’s not even clear where the summit of the fell is, as I found as I exited the bracken and headed towards a group of rocks. The problem was that I was looking for an actual summit, and when push comes to shove, Stone Arthur isn’t actually a proper fell. It’s merely part of a ridge off the side of Great Rigg, and it keeps on sloping upwards and upwards. So if you assume that the summit is on the highest point, you’ll end up half way to the summit of Great Rigg before you know it.

Naturally I didn’t do that. No. I actually made it a quarter of the way there before noticing.

I hastily turned round, and tried to work out exactly where I should be going. Looking at the maps and my Wainwright didn’t really help, so I decided to guess that the first clump of rocks I’d come to probably was the one I needed to visit. And, being closer to the fellside, it would probably have the best views too.

View from the summit of Stone Arthur

It was pretty good. Amongst rocks and builders, I sat and drank it all in. I wasn’t seeing that much wider an area than I’d seen from the slopes, but the height made it all the more majestic. And as I did, I pondered whether this was actually the best way to take in Stone Arthur. Not as “yet another fell” on some epic tour, but as its own discrete entity, giving it some time to breathe and savour. Because when it comes down to it, bagging Wainwrights isn’t a race. It’s not a competition to see how many you can do in a day, week or year. Well, it shouldn’t be.

Were it to be done as part of the Horseshoe, I decided, Stone Arthur probably wouldn’t get the attention it deserved. It would merge into the crowd, with its great views and rubbly summit easily forgotten amongst all the other summits visited on that day. It deserved better than that. No, Stone Arthur needed to be visited by itself; to be enjoyed separately. And it’s ideal to do so as well. Perfect for someone with a few hours to spend on it.

Annotated maps, after all, only tell half the story.

View all 16 of my Stone Arthur walk photos on flickr

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