20081020_Grasmere, Helm Crag Ridge, Easedale Circular Walk
When : 20th October 2008
Who : Me and My Sister Janet
Where : Lake District, Cumbria, England
Maps : 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map no.7, The English Lakes – South East
1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map no.6, The English Lakes – South West
Start + End Point : 336,079
Approx Distance : 9.6 miles, 15.4 km
Heights : 2830 ft (about 870m) up and down
Parking : As guests we parked in the Youth Hostel Car park, but there is parking in Grasmere village
Public Transport : Yes, Grasmere is on a main bus route with regular services.
Summary : Grasmere Village ; Helm Crag ; Gibson Knott ; Calf Crag ; Far Easedale Waterfalls ; Far Easedale Valley ; Easedale Tarn ; Sourmilk Gill Waterfalls ; Return to Grasmere Village.
We’d half planned for and hoped to “do” Helvellyn on this the second and main walking day of our 3-day break (the other two days being by default shorter because of the travelling involved), but you’ll have noticed that this post doesn’t include Helvellyn in the title at-all. That’s because the forecast was for 60+ mph gales and we decided discretion was indeed the better part of valour so we chose this lower level walk, but which would still give us some good reasonably high-ish fell walking. I anticipated, that after all the rain the day before, we could get to see some pretty spectacular waterfalls (more of that later).
I’d taken my family up and down Helm Crag a couple of years earlier and had always fancied returning to extend the walk along the full ridge from Helm Crag to the head of Far Easedale and back down to Grasmere. So I had this in mind from the moment Janet suggested spending some time around the Grasmere area. It wasn’t too disappointing therefore when we abandoned the Helvellyn idea … I had this ready made alternative straight away.
It was indeed a stormy, blustery morning and looked like we could get another drenching just like the day before. Dark clouds were scudding across the sky, but glimpses of blue could be seen in little snippets which got our hopes up for an OK day weather-wise. Taking no chances I donned over-trousers, waterproof coat and gaiters and we set off chatting as we went, well fed after having the excellent Youth Hostel Breakfast. They’ve recently revamped their breakfasts to a buffet style and there was a choice of Cereals, fruit, fruit juices, tea, coffee, continental breakfast (croissants etc), and the traditional English hot breakfast including sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns, baked beans and toast. All good stuff for a day on the hill.
The walk starts on Easedale Road heading away from Grasmere village, This involves a little road walking, but a path can soon be accessed which is separated from the road by a hedge. At the oddly named Goody Bridge we stayed on the road continuing straight on towards the Easedale valley, ignoring the side road heading north towards the second Grasmere Youth Hostel (Thorny How). Where the road bends sharply to the right, we also ignored the bridle track on our left (crossing Easedale Beck in a little stand of trees) as I wasn’t sure how we’d re-cross the very full stream again to get to the hamlet of Lancrigg.
This gave us our first good view of Helm Crag and our first climb.
Upon reaching Lancrigg, we turned right up a cobbled pathway heading past attractive Lakeland buildings. It wasn’t long before the path evolved into a running stream forcing us to splash on upwards. The reason soon became apparent; a mini waterfall was feeding excess water straight down the path.
The path then headed right, then steeply up the hill side.
It was quite strenuous Zig-zagging onwards looping around white crag and then onwards through the crag-lines in another loop up to the summit with super views opening up as we climbed.
It was certainly a little breezy to say the least and storm clouds were punctuated by shafts of sunlight illuminating select areas of fell side particularly back down towards Grasmere.
This pseudonym is taken from the shape of the rocks, that, with just a little imagination, look like the outline of a seated lion with the lamb just in front.
The top gives superb vistas all around, including :-
Northwards to Dunmail Raise where the A591 passes between Steel Fell and the Helvellyn massive.
All-in-all you get a very impressive 360 degree panorama, and all from a top of only 398 metres high.
To the north of the ridge, the fell drops into the Greenburn valley, to the south it drops even more quickly through crags into Far Easedale. The path hugs the edge closer to Far Easedale, at times feeling quite airey but never overly exposed.
Continuing along the ridge, the wind was indeed very strong, oddly, buffeting us more as we dropped into the lower areas between each slightly higher craggy top (including “Moment Crag” and “Calf Crag”). I guess the wind was funnelled over the little saddles and swirled around by the slightly higher tops. Bits of airborne bracken were sent scudding overhead indicating the strength of the breeze which at times tried valiantly to blow us over; at one moment gusts hitting us from behind, the next from in front and then switching yet again. Predominantly however, the direction of attack was from the south west. It was hard work but enjoyable (in a perverse kind of way). It was always threatening rain but luckily it never quite materialised.
Swinging more westerly, the ridge broadened out even more and became more peaty, the crossing of some of the wider boggy bits aided by lines of stepping stones. The shallow peat groughs at times felt more reminiscent of The Dark-Peak or The High Pennine than classic Lake-District, especially near the bleak Brownrigg Moss and its small tarn. At times it seemed the wind was playing games with us, as it would ease off, just to pick up again as we got half-way across a line of steppings stones, trying to catch us off-balance and dump us in the bog … luckily both of us managed to resist it’s best efforts !
Soon after negotiating the southern edge of Brownrigg Moss we picked up a line of boundary posts at the head of the Far Easedale valley and very soon afterwards we picked up an obvious path to now head pretty much eastwards down into Far Easedale, quickly descending towards Moor Moss. The converging streams from the surrounding fell sides form a series of waterfalls and small gorges. The OS map makes no mention of these falls, but they were quite stunning after being swelled by all the recent rainfall. Even in the very overcast conditions of our walk they were extremely picturesque and we stopped for some lunch in a sheltered spot.
I liked it here as it was quiet and a little wild; we only met one other couple climbing up from the lower reaches of the Easedale Valley. In fact we hardly saw anyone all day. Despite the strong wind we’d made good progress time-wise and as the path approached Stythwaite Steps we decided to ignore the main bridle way down into Easedale, instead choosing to branch right on a path climbing up by the side of a wall not far from Stenners Crag.
After not too long a climb, the path levelled out to skirt a flat boggy area by the side of Sourmilk Gill. The way through the worst of the bog was aided by some very well placed stepping stones. It must have been a major task getting each stone into place in such a wet location.
Eventually the path steepened again, rising up by the side of Sourmilk Gill to its outflow from Easedale Tarn. The stream was very full and moving extremely quickly and had completely obliterated any chance of crossing the stream at this point, where I’d hoped we’d be able to pick our way across as a convenient fording place … What to do ? … We wanted to drop into Easedale via the main waterfall seen from a distance earlier in the day, but we couldn’t find a place to cross to the other bank. We umm’d and arrr’d for a while, not wanting to retrace our steps back into Far Easedale. Eventually we decided to circumnavigate the whole of Easedale Tarn (in an anti-clockwise direction), to pick up the path along its southerly shoreline.
This was easy at first, the path obvious as it wound in and out of hummocks and bays around the north shore. However, to the western end underneath the Slapestone Edge crag line, the path petered out into a boggy area and we had to pick and splash our way ahead until we reached the in-flowing stream to the tarn.
Although considerably smaller than the outflow, this stream was also un-crossable (if we wanted to maintain dry feet and legs), so we walked upstream (away from where we wanted to be) until we’d passed a largish converging side stream. This meant the main flow had reduced enough for a big jump from one bank to the other …. Yippee, crossed and with dry feet. A quick climb up the bank and we’d reached the desired path.
This path is very well walked and felt like a motorway in comparison to where we’d just been and we were soon back at the outflow of the Tarn, just a few yards from where we’d been about an hour before!
The path becomes a bridle-track at this point, dropping quickly in an easterly direction, next to Sourmilk Gill as it tumbles out of Easedale Tarn.
Soon the path branches away from close proximity to the river as the stream makes a big loop through a boggy area, but they meet again just before a big step down into Easedale near Ecton Crag. It’s here that Sourmilk Gill plunges as a spectacular waterfall in a boiling streak of white (hence its name I suppose). In times of less rain, the cascades are prettier than the day we were there, but what was lost in prettiness was more than made up for in thundering impressiveness.
The path meets the stream yet again, now called Easedale Beck, this time to cross it via a footbridge to rejoin Easedale Road and then the easy retrace of the morning walk along the road back to Grasmere village.
We’d done the whole walk with out getting wet; a bit wind battered yes, but dry. However, conditions were showing signs of deteriorating as we approached the hostel. Despite this, we decided some extra provisions were needed for the evening’s meal and we continued down into the village.
The extra time was enough for us to get caught in a sharp hail shower giving us a drenching just a few hundred yards from the hostel entrance. Still it wasn’t enough to spoil the day ….
A super walk … good views, reasonably strenuous, some great waterfalls and a good distance for late October … One I’d certainly repeat in the future.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
Some other bits you might like to look over = https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/20081021_a-wander-around-grasmere-in-the-rain/ …. and …. https://tothehills.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/20081021_a-drive-from-grasmere-to-elterwater-a-little-moan-at-the-yha/