20090912_Helvellyn Via Striding Edge Circular Walk
Who : Me and my sister Janet
Where : Lake District, Cumbria, England
Map : OS Outdoor Leisure Map No.5 – The English Lakes – North East
Start + End Point : 389,156
Approx Distance : 11 miles, (17.5 km)
Approx Heights : 3420 ft (1040 m) both up and down.
Parking : We used Patterdale Youth Hostel’s residents only car park, as that is where we were staying. Otherwise parking is very limited. Alternatively lots more parking can be found at Glenridding just over a mile further down the valley (this would just need a small change to the start of the walk).
Summary : A high level strenuous walk starting at Patterdale Youth Hostel and including Patterdale Village, Grisedale Valley, Hole-in-the-Wall, Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Lower Man, Whiteside Bank, Glenridding Common, Past Helvellyn Youth Hostel, Glenridding Village & Ullswater, and back to Patterdale.
The main focus for the weekend was to climb Helvellyn via Striding Edge. As this is a demanding walk it was going to be dependent on the weather and we’d booked some weeks earlier in the hope rather than expectation that we’d get the opportunity. As it happened, we had possibly the best 3-days in row of the whole summer of 2009 – so there were no concerns when we awoke to settled conditions, with the promise of a cracking days walking ahead of us. In fact the main concern was how much water we’d need to carry as the forecast said it could be quite warm.
I’ve wondered how to write this walk diary for some time now, just because it’s such a classic; an icon of Lake District walking and all sorts of variations have featured in so many books and on the Television, etc., etc. etc. and I’ve wondered if there’s room for another account …. but hey, why not, my diary blog is about MY walks and it wouldn’t be complete without this in there somewhere … So, here goes, I hope you enjoy my scribblings :-
Janet and I were breakfasted and out of the Youth Hostel really quite early, hoping to be beyond the “Hole-in-the-Wall” before there were too many people on Striding Edge; We’d figured the good forecast would bring out the crowds and we didn’t fancy queuing across what’s got to be THE most famous mountain ridge in England and it transpired later on that we weren’t wrong. The early start had the fortunate side affect of getting some super low-lying mists in the valley (over Ullswater) as we walked down the road into Patterdale Village, passing the serene looking Goldrill Beck on route … What a brill’ start.
It was an easy start walking on tarmac paths and in the interests of getting the first mile or so under our belts as quickly as possible, we ignored the footpath behind The Patterdale Hotel, instead following the road, passing a church and some pastoral meadows on route to reach Grisedale Bridge; the views of the surrounding fells were so inviting, just begging to be walked up. Instead of crossing the bridge, we turned left into a minor lane heading more or less eastwards towards the Grisdedale Valley. The pretty lane started to rise a little, running parallel with Grisedale Beck (on our right) and we felt quite good shaking off the exertions of yesterdays High Street walk.
Just before Thornhow, we took a right turn on a track to cross the beck by means of a bridge. The early morning sun had reached a height were it could sparkle off the burbling stream and highlight the early autumn colours in the trees. But we couldn’t linger, we had a long climb to get underway, and the steep path ahead was a bit of a shock to the old leg muscles, perhaps I hadn’t walked off all of yesterday’s walk after-all.
The steep climb was quite short though and soon reached another path with a more gentle gradient crossing from right to left. This was to be our path for about two miles and the early gentle gradient belied the slog rising up the fell side. The views up Grisedale to Dollywagon Pike and Nethermost Pike as well as across the valley to St Sunday Crag (one of my fave mountains to walk up) were super though and gave a continuous excuse for frequent photo’ opportunity stops (rest stops really, but that would be for wimps!).
There were several groups of people making the same long rise up the fell side and virtually everyone had frequent stops as we proceeded. It was almost like a giant game of leap-frog as one group passed another; only to be overtaken again a few minutes later … we were all almost best friends by the time we reached The Hole in the Wall.
This feature in the landscape is where the path crosses the line of a substantial wall by means of a stile … and marks a change in the walk. From this point, Helvellyn’s long summit can be seen, the bowl of Red Tarn starts to become evident and the path splits. Upon crossing through The Hole in the Wall, the walk felt higher and wilder, perhaps in anticipation of Striding Edge coming next and our building excitement levels. The right hand fork in the path here heads off towards Red Tarn and beyond to climb Swirral Edge. This used to be spelt Swirl Edge on my earlier maps, but was always pronounced Swirral, so it seems phonetic spelling has won out for the time being. Swirral Edge is a fantastic airy climb up Helvellyn in its own right, but not for us today.
Our path was to head slightly to the left, up a broad rising slope towards a knoll which soon gave some superb views of Helvellyn’s summit framing Red Tarn below. Red Tarn is a bit of a misnomer, as it often looks black and at best blue …. The name reflects the colour of the crags and cliffs behind the waters rising up to Swirral Edge and Helvellyn’s summit.
The broad slope became rockier and craggier steepening on both sides and before we knew it we’d started across Striding Edge, along with a good number of fellow walkers (and a few fell runners, jogging their way over the edge). The traverse of the arête was more straight forward than I’d anticipated; a lot of the time being perfectly walkable, just needing a little concentration on where we put our feet – I certainly wouldn’t want to trip over here, with the near sheer drops either side of us. The ridge looks very sharp looking into the middle distance, but taking one step at a time it was OK. Occasionally though when the ridge narrowed the feeling of nervous airiness was very real! On a dry, warm, still day, like today, there weren’t any real problems …. unless you count standing to one side to let faster walkers pass-by from behind or others coming down in the opposite direction. In bad conditions though, this is a challenging place to be and this is borne out by people losing their lives up here – unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence.
There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe our walk across the ridge – I’ll just say it was brilliantly enjoyable, we even chose to cross on a really sharp part of the ridge where a “safer” slightly lower level path could be taken as an alternative. We really took our time, not just because we were being a tad cautious, but also to take in the fantastic views – in all directions. Towards the end of the ridge, there is a steep scramble down a crag, but before we could get there we had to join a queue of people waiting their turn to make the descent. I’d think the drop is maybe about 50 feet or so over-all and for one section I found it easiest to turn around to face the rocks and scramble my way down. I felt quite exposed as I tried to find my next foot hold, but being 6’-4” tall I didn’t find it too much of a problem. Janet on the other hand, chose to come down facing forwards, leaning back into the rocks. I think Jan’ was maybe a bit more wary than me and from below I tried to help direct her feet to safe places and she soon joined me on a small col with a steep climb now ahead of us. This was now much harder from an exertion point of view, but it didn’t take long to reach the top of the climb where the wide top of Helvellyn was reached. The view back down Striding Edge showed the full extent of our achievement – Yippee, hurrah, we’d done it!
We had thought it was busy on Striding Edge, but this was soon surpassed by the numbers of people on the top. There are several other paths up Helvellyn, all merging at the top of the mountain and all routes had a steady stream of people making the climb – almost like a pilgrimage and at the summit and we joined everyone else enjoying the views and having lunch. It almost felt like people were promenading along the front at the sea-side, but instead of looking out over watery waves, we were looking out over waves of valleys and mountain ridges in a panorama of 360 degrees.
From here, there are various ways back to Glenridding/Patterdale.
- Down Swirral Edge to Red Tarn; Hole in the Wall and retrace route above Grisedale.
- Swirral Edge to Red Tarn; Hole in the Wall and over Birkhouse Moor.
- If you loved Striding Edge so much, just turn around and do it again only in reverse to Hole in the Wall + descend via Birkhouse Moor or the route above Grisedale.
- Head south over Nethermost Pike + Dollywaggon Pike to Grisedale Tarn and then the full length of Grisedale itself.
- Head north over Lower Man, Whiteside Bank and Raise to Sticks Pass and then turn right to drop into Glenridding Valley.
- Or the way we had planned …. north over Lower Man, Whiteside Bank and then a swing to the east beneath Raise to zig-zag down Glenridding Common and the Glenridding Valley on the Greenside Road.
It was kind of sad leaving the top, but we had lingered for some time having lunch and as the saying goes “time stands still for no man”, so we had to restart our legs which after the mornings climb had stiffened up somewhat, but it was now pretty much all downhill for the rest of the walk, starting with the gentle descent to Lower Man and then a half turn right to head towards Whiteside Bank on a slightly steeper slope. This afforded some great views over Brown Cove to the shapely top of Catstye Cam and the north face of Swirral Edge rising up to the summit of Helvellyn. From the col before the gentle rise up to Whiteside Bank we could make out a zig-zag path dropping down into the Glenridding Valley heading off towards Ullswater.
We didn’t really want to leave the heights as it was so beautiful, wanting to drink in the views for as long as possible, so we decided to take another refreshment stop, as much to delay the inevitable descent from the tops as the need to take on water …. but we had to press on and after crossing Whiteside Bank and traversing the southern flanks of Raise we found ourselves dropping quickly down the zig-zag path seen earlier. A party of youths took great delight in ignoring the old pony track, instead heading straight down the fell side in the shortest route possible … and guess what, despite their boisterous exertions our longer way was quickest and we left them and their noisy bluster behind.
Eventually, as we reached the valley bottom, the landscape softened (a little), the barren harshness of the high ground giving way to grassier slopes and bracken with groups of trees somehow clinging to the rocky banks of Glenridding Beck as it cascaded down in a series of pretty waterfalls. It was here that we had to walk through the remains of the disused Greenside Lead Mine dating back to the late 1600’s. This is the setting for Helvellyn Youth Hostel, I assume housed in what were once the old mine buildings.
From here the route became really very easy and much more pastoral, taking the access track (Greenside Road) all the way down to Glenridding Village … about a mile I’d estimate. On the way down we were entertained by a bunch of off-road scrambler motor-bikers negotiating a rough course through a plantation of trees, over boulders, in and out of the stream and up and down the lower fell side. I think it was probably some sort of competition, with flags and adjudicators scattered about the valley. It was a bit of a shock to the senses though, as the peace of the high fells was replaced by the roar and spluttering of the engines, coupled with exhaust fumes wafting up from below.
At the end of the track on the outskirts of Glenridding (just above Rattlebeck Bridge) rather than taking the tarmac road into the village, we decided to stay as high as possible, taking a small track contouring around the hillside and into some woods. We got some lovely views across the rooftops to Ullswater and Place Fell beyond. Even after several hours and a good stretch of miles, we were still reaching for our cameras …. That’s how good the walk had been and still was! We soon reached the main A592 road, turned right to enter the village and promptly found a bar for a well deserved pint (or was it two?). I think it was “The Ramblers Bar” in the grounds of “The Inn on the Lake” hotel, but I can’t be 100% sure of the names now, but the beer was excellent!
After the very welcome drink, we headed down to the landing stage on the banks of Ullswater, for two equally valid reasons …
1) Just for the views, which were lovely, especially because the sun was still shining, the skies were blue and the mountains stunning in their early autumn colours, all set around what I think is my most favourite of the big lakes …. and
2) To get an up to date copy of the steamer company time-table, to be used in the planning of tomorrows walk.
We got to see one of the steamers coming in, laden with happy looking sightseers and walkers and we then set off for the final leg of the day, heading around the edge of the lake, passing some really odd sculptures sat in the shallows; partial and complete spheres made from lace parasols … really strange! ….
I must admit they didn’t do much for me, and if anything, to my eyes made the place look a tad scruffy – Maybe I’m just a philistine when it comes to art installations, but I don’t think the lake and mountain views needed any enhancements at-all! I’ve found an internet article on The Cumberland + Westmorland Herald web-site explaining the work of art – I’ll leave you to decide on its merits.
Continuing on we reached the A592 again, which we followed (on side paths where-ever possible) into Patterdale, passing the still serene Goldrill Beck again before reaching The Youth Hostel left so many hours before.
What a walk – please think of a superlative – whatever you thought, it fits this walk.
A brilliant, fantastic, super, breathtaking, beautiful, slightly scary, glorious, lovely, excellent walk … sorry did I go over the top there?! If you’ve got the impression I liked this one – You’re dead right …. and it was topped off with a saunter down to the White Lion Inn in Patterdale for an evening tipple before retiring to bed and to dream of the walks completed so far and the one planned for tomorrow.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….
Next post = 20090913_Ullswater lakeside Path Walk.