Start: Swirls car park, Thirlmere, Cumbria
End: Grasmere Common, Cumbria
Ascent: Around 3,000 feet
Time: 6 hours with plenty of breaks and photos
Getting there: 555 bus – every 30 minutes in the summer
Food and loos: Loos at the Swirls car park, nothing else on route.
Terrain: Steep stone pitched paths, wide paths on the ridge.
Difficulty: 2 – an easy route up and down the third highest mountain in England.
This had been on top of my “to walk” list since the Coast to Coast in 2016. Even on that walk, Helvellyn is mythical. Anyone who takes this route of the walk from Grasmere to Patterdale is given legendary status. On the C2C, a couple of other walkers talked about a guy who had climbed Helvellyn and down Striding Edge in the dark. A few days later I met him – and he told me in detail about the whole pant soiling experience.
In other words, I had heard a lot about this fell. I was never going to tackle Striding and Swirral Edges – I’ve seen the GoPro videos and it simply is not something that I would ever do. But there are so many different approaches, and the ones from Thirlmere are particularly easy going.
I got the bus from Ambleside to the Swirls Car Park – about a 30 minute journey. The ascent is immediate, steep and consistent. It’s essentially like walking up a 2 mile long staircase. Fortunately, the heat and the sunshine were tempered by a cool gusty breeze, which made the walk up rather pleasant. I think this is about as easy an ascent of a 3,000 fell as you could possibly get.
Once on the ridge, and go up the side of Helvellyn Low Man, before following the ridge line of the main plateau summit. The views are stunning. Red Tarn, framed by Striding Edge and Swirral Edge, must be one of the best sights in the whole Lake District. A place to linger, even if the breeze was now strong.
The ridge walk to Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike is straightforward, and they offer stunning views back to Helvellyn and to St Sundays Crag. I actually climbed up Hight Crag by mistake – it’s not a Wainwright, but is it, apparently, a Birkett, Synge and deleted Nuttall.
Then comes the inevitable descent. The switchbacks down Dollywagon Pike make easy enough work of what would normally be a very steep slope. The constant of Grisdale Tarn gives you a lovely reference point as you get nearer your goal. I met lots of weary walkers on their way up to Helvellyn. One of them asked me if they were nearly there. On reflection, perhaps I should have sugar coated my reply of “You aren’t even a quarter of the way there yet!”, because a) they looked devasted at the news and b) I really didn’t have a clue how far they had to go.
The walk down to Grasmere is a bit of a slog. Sections of the path on the slopes of Seat Sandle are very poor, but the walk back is steady and straightforward. All the views are behind you here, so it is worth stopping every five minutes to take in the view back up the valley.
At the end of the walk, I confused myself by thinking that I was going to end up back in Grasmere. I’d stayed in the village during the Coast to Coast, but this is half a mile or so off the main path. It just meant that I was expecting to look familiar was actually totally unfamiliar, and I ended up taking a detour through a farm and some cow shit.
A great day’s walk, and definitely one that I would recommend to anyone.