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Helvellyn the Quiet Way

A little used route from Glenridding

overcast 9 °C

The very name of Helvellyn inspires one to go and climb it. That combined with its stature as one of England’s four peaks of over 3000 feet and ease of access, conspire to make it one of the most popular ascents in all the Lakeland Fells.

The Lake District is, in the opinion of many people me included, not one of but the most beautiful area of England. The immediate downsides of this are the crowds and traffic jams that can plague the region through the summer months. For this reason I wanted to find a route up to this high summit which would avoid the crowds even at busy times. Unfortunately that would rule out the well known Striding Edge route which is usually busy though it is one of the best ways up. To compensate, I planned to descend via neighbouring Swirral Edge which is arguably just as good.

Reeling from the shock of having to part with £6 for the privilege of parking at Glenridding, I followed the signs through the village towards the Helvellyn Youth Hostel by the old Greenside Mine. I don’t begrudge paying this money to the National Park Authority who own the car park as it will hopefully be spent on keeping this area looking as it should but £6 is a bit much.

The route leads away from the hikers following the signs to Helvellyn who looked at me as though I was going the wrong way. No – they were going to Striding Edge and I was going the way nobody else was! I followed the road which became a track, out of the village with the old mine buildings visible a mile or so ahead. There was no-one around at all as I passed an area of woodland and reached the mine area about half an hour from the village. The slate buildings themselves consisted of an outdoor centre, a ski club and the aforementioned Youth Hostel. Just beyond these, I turned right before a gate where the path led up steeply for a short way before emerging in a wide and deserted valley.

There now follows a fine walk with a gradual easy ascent in great surroundings. The impressive looking peak right ahead is Catstycam and I had to resist the temptation to go off up there instead. I’d visit the peak on the way back if I came back via Swirral Edge. I’d done it years before and it’s one of the best summits in the Lakes.

Where the path forks after beginning to climb more steeply, I took the right fork up and away from the river. On the opposite bank the striding edge trail also left the valley near this point. The left fork of my trail leads into the cirque of Keppel Cove.

As the track began to climb the steep slopes of Raise in a series of wide zig zags, first Helvellyn Lower Man then the summit itself revealed themselves from the cloud hanging above the head of the valley. Nearing the top of these zig zags Ullswater reappeared far below in the valley I had left, its grey-blue water framed by the green fell sides and woods which surrounded it. Distant views too opened out as I climbed above the plateau of Birkhouse Moor opposite and the trail headed, less steeply now, onto the crest of the main ridge. Below in Keppel Cove was what used to be the reservoir of Keppelcove Tarn built to supply the mine, but the dam had breached leaving an empty tarn. It was strange to see just the dam wall stood there with only a grassy area behind it.

Apart from a group of 3 fell runners I had seen nobody since passing the Youth Hostel but here on the main ridge more people were making their way to Helvellyn’s windswept summit. The first top, that of White Side revealed wide views over a rather misty Lake District to Skiddaw and Derwentwater with Thirlmere directly below while the further reaches of the Western and Southern Fells merged into a grey distance to the west. There now followed a short descent followed by a fairly steep ridge leading to Helvellyn Lower Man which looks a good peak seen from this angle. It is just over 3000 feet but is a subsidiary top of Helvellyn.

The ever present wind began to strengthen as I climbed the ridge making it difficult to stand upright at times. From this ridge there are great views down to Keppel Cove and across to Swirral Edge and Catstycam but when the wind threatened to whisk me from the ridge for a speedy descent to Keppel Cove I decided to leave Swirral Edge for a calmer day!

Indeed on Helvellyn’s summit it was too windy to safely stand on the edge to photograph Red Tarn so I opted to go back the way I’d come up. The highest point is actually the stony rise by the shelter not the trig point and it was in the shelter that I had lunch. Here I got chatting to a chap of 79 from Bolton who’d done all the “Wainwrights”- the Lakeland fells documented by AW Wainwright in the best series of guidebooks yet written on the region. He went on to tell me that he’d only taken up fell walking on retirement. I was put to shame there as I’ve not done them all and have been walking in the hills since I was a kid.

My return to Glenridding was as pleasant and quiet as the ascent and I’d had a good day out, despite not doing Swirral Edge again. Walking past the pub in the village it occurred to me that a pint would go down well but sadly a quick check of my pockets revealed that I’d spent all my money on the car park! Never mind

Posted by PeteB 14:28 Archived in England

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