Ridgewalks, as amazing as they can be, are not everyone’s cup of tea, and understandably so. The more well-known ones, such as Crib Goch on Snowdon and Striding Edge on Helvellyn, have seen more than their fair share of mountain rescue call outs. Even the most confident of walkers can freeze up once the wind picks up or the weather turns unexpectedly.
Helvellyn offers some of the very best views of any peak in the Lake District. It’s the third highest peak, pipped only by Sca Fell and Scafell Pike. However, Helvellyn’s location gives the walker a chance at some amazing views across some of the most scenic parts of the World Heritage Site that is the English Lake District. The most direct and popular route up Helvellyn is across Striding Edge, a sometimes intimidating ridge walk which overlooks the Red Tarn lake. To avoid this route, and take in a more accessible path to the top does mean adding distance and time, but it will give you more chance to soak in the spectacular panoramas and less time to constantly look at your footing!
This is a circular route, and there are positives and negatives from going in either direction. Anticlockwise is the way I took on my scouting walk. This gives you the beautiful Grisedale valley to walk down as opposed to up, meaning when you’re tired the hard work is done and all you need to do is plod along a scenic flat walk. Going the other way means a fair amount of descent and perhaps not the most scenic of areas to finish with.
We set off winding through Glenridding and heading up Greenside Road towards the YHA. You won’t be able to see the peak of Helvellyn for a little while as Catstye Cam dominates the initial views. You’ll gain height quickly as you head past the disused mine, note NOT to take the path leading towards Red Tarn, although this gives another
enjoyable route up it will mean walking across Swirral Edge, another ridge walk which is what we’re trying to avoid.
Shortly after the mine, you’ll come to a steep zig-zag ascent. This is one of the toughest parts of the day, but it does mean you get a large part of the day’s ascent done and out of the way early in the walk (something I’m always a fan of doing). Slogging it out here brings you around to the views both of Helvellyn’s peak but also back down the valley towards Glenridding and on a good day much further into the distance.
We do have a little more work to do, as we dip down on the approach to Lower Man shortly before we reach the top of Helvellyn. It’s over quite quickly and by now you also start to have the views to the East across Thirlmere Reservoir and beyond to take your mind off of the uphill walk.
Atop Helvellyn, there is a small cross-shaped shelter if conditions are less then ideal. The wall offers some little protection but if conditions are bad you’re best dropping back down into the valley as oppose loitering on the exposed plateau. If the conditions are good however you may find yourself up here for some time, as the views in every direction can be simply beautiful.
When you’re ready to drag yourself away we head off down towards
Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike. Before going too far though make some time to visit the famous memorial of Charles Gough and his incredibly loyal dog (the story is on the memorial itself). It’s reasonably easy going past Dolloywaggon, however, we do then descend past Grisedale Tarn. This is a long descent but good solid steps all the way down, and a lovely view when the legs call for a break. Again, like the ascent, it gets the hard work out of the way early, as from here we enjoy a slow gradual descent all the way down the gorgeous Grisedale Valley back into Glenridding.
I can absolutely understand why Helvellyn recently got voted the top UK walk. It’s accessible, presents both challenging and easier routes, and offers views like nowhere else in the Lakes. This is just one of a multitude of routes you could decide to take up this mountain, and providing you’ve a head for heights on the ridges I don’t think there’s a bad route amongst them.
Route Name: Helvellyn – Avoiding a ridgewalk
Start / Finish: Postcode for car park (Ullswater Information Centre) – CA11 0PD
Distance: Approx 20km
Time: Allow 5 – 7 hours