Helvellyn by the Edges

ONE Wainwright circular walk: Helvellyn (other peaks, notably Catstycam, can be added to the route).

Walk Rating:⭐⭐⭐

Time: 6 - 7 hours 

Parking: Car parks at Patterdale or Glenridding. Limited parking is available for 'honesty box' donations outside term times in front of Patterdale School (Grid Reference: NY 394 161). Alternatively, travel by bus. 

A panorama over the 'edges' from the top of Helvellyn

The walk to the top of Helvellyn via Striding Edge, then descending via Swirral Edge, is one of the classic walks in the Lake District. As such, the route can be busier than many, but it is memorable nevertheless.  The firm rock of the edges means that, with good footwear and due caution, the route is safe, although icy conditions present a much greater challenge. 

The route outlined below takes the picturesque climb out of Grisedale from Patterdale and is described until the bottom of Swirral Edge. From there, various routes back to Glenridding can be followed, as described in the post on Catstycam.

Strava estimates a distance of around 15km for a circular walk from Patterdale

1) Start the walk by the church at Patterdale and then turn left on the minor road at the junction just before the main road crosses the bridge over the Grisedale Beck.

Patterdale Church with Striding Edge beyond

2) Follow the tarmac road around a right-hand bend and then up through the woods above the beck.

This signpost makes sure you know the road to follow

3) After about a kilometre, the road reaches a metal gate. The track continuing straight, through the gate, takes you up the valley towards Grisedale Tarn. However, for Helvellyn, take the road heading right, going down to the bridge over the beck.

The view up the valley over the Grisedale beck

4) Cross the bridge and go uphill, taking the path that continues straight on through the field and up to the gates in the stone walls beneath the woods above. Go through the top gate and then head up and left on the obvious path that climbs up the side of the valley, through the ferns and heather, towards Striding Edge.

Heading upwards through the ferns (August 2022)

5) It's about an hour's steady walk along the path, with fine views ahead towards the top of Grisedale, as it cuts between St Sunday Crag and Dollywaggon Pike, all of the way.

Dollywaggon Pike at the head of the valley as you climb

6) After a last steeper section, the path emerges at the 'Hole-in-the-Wall" stile. This stands in a small gap in the long wall that runs north-east along the high ridge towards Birkhouse Moor.

The 'Hole-in-the-Wall'

7) Ahead, and for the first time on the walk, you can see the peaks of Helvellyn and Catstycam ahead of you.

The peaks of Helvellyn and Catstycam now come into view

8) Now take the path that rises up the ridge to your left to climb up to the mound of High Spying How. To your left, there are fine views across Grisedale towards St Sunday Crag and Fairfield. To your right, you can look down over Red Tarn.

Views from the path up to High Spying How

9) From here, the hard work starts in earnest, starting with the path over the ridge of High Spying How itself, passing by the Dixon Memorial on your left (see below).

On High Spying How

10) Next comes the 'four towers' of Striding Edge itself, where the route rises and falls along the ridge. There are various points where you can either climb on the highest point of the ridge, or, if you prefer, choose to take a lower path around the side of the crests.

On Striding Edge

11) The hardest part of the walk comes right at the end of Striding Edge, a descent of 25 feet or so down the 'Rock Chimney'. A queue can form here on busy summer days and you need to patiently leave time for each walker to choose the handholds and footholds that work best for them. However, it's certainly not so difficult as to deter any reasonably fit hiker from taking this route. In winter, on the other hand, you would certainly need to be properly equipped to attempt this route.

Choosing the way down the Rock Chimney

12) From the bottom of the chimney, the path starts to climb up to Helvellyn, soon reaching a steep section rising up the rocky outcrop named 'The Castle' in Wainwright's Guide. There are excellent views down over Red Tarn beneath you.

Looking back over Red Tarn from 'The Castle'

13) The final climb, on paths that are a little loose in places, takes you up to the summit ridge of Helvellyn, bringing you out at the Gough memorial (see below).

Looking back down over Striding Edge as you climb

14) The summit plateau itself is often crowded, with many hikers having also taken the gentler routes of ascent from Wythburn and Thirlspot to the west, but there's a large cruciform wall-shelter to sit by, with a third aircraft memorial a little to its south. There's a wide vista in all directions but the best views are eastwards, down over Red Tarn.

Helvellyn Herdies high above Red Tarn 

15) To find the way down to Swirral Edge, walk on north-westwards past the small cairn marking the highest point of the mountain (3118') and the OS trig column. You will then find the large cairn marking the start of the descending ridge, about 200 metres north-north-west of the summit, from where you can look down onto the path below.

Starting on the way down Swirral Edge

16) The route down is obvious, if a little worn in places, descending the stony ridge, with fine views ahead towards Catstycam.

On Swirral Edge

17) The path makes its way around some rockier outcrops, until it reaches the depression between Swirral Edge and Catstycam. From here, you can continue upwards to Catstycam (recommended) or take the broad path down towards Red Tarn.

Looking back up Swirral Edge

18) You can return to the start of your route by descending to Glenridding on the path alongside the Red Tarn Beck or, alternatively, by returning to the 'Hole-in-the-Wall'. From here you can go back to Patterdale via your original route of ascent or take the path alongside the wall towards Birkhouse Moor, to descend to Glenridding. For more detail, see the post on this blog on the "Glenridding Round".

The path back to Glenridding below Red Tarn Beck

Worth knowing: Wainwright's Guide to the Eastern Fells points out three "Monuments of Helvellyn" to look out for while walking this route.

The Dixon Memorial

The first, the Dixon Memorial, is easily missed to the west of the ridge path, just to the north of High Spying How. It stands "in memory of Robert Dixon ... killed on this spot on the 27th day of November 1858, following the Patterdale Foxhounds".

The Gough Memorial

The second, the Gough Memorial, stands at the top of the path that brings walkers from Striding Edge up onto the main plateau of Helvellyn. This was erected in memory of the artist Charles Gough who fell to his death in 1805. His skeleton was not found until three months later with his pet dog still alive at his side, prompting Wordsworth to write a poem about his fidelity:

"Yes, proof was plain that, since the day
When this ill-fated traveller died,
The Dog had watched about the spot,
Or by his master’s side:
How nourished here through such long time
He knows, who gave that love sublime;
And gave that strength of feeling, great
Above all human estimate"

Whether Wordsworth is recognising that the dog may well have been feeding on the body of his master for those months is not entirely clear!

The Aircraft Memorial

The third, the Aircraft Memorial, is a small stone tablet on the top of the plateau itself, about 40 metres south of the summit shelter. It commemorates "the first aeroplane to land on a mountain in Great Britain" in December 1926.

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