with Bob Clare of www.lancashirewalks.com
As Wikipedia has it “a ridge or a mountain ridge is a geological feature consisting of a chain of mountains or hills that form a continuous elevated crest for some distance.” Ridges have high approval ratings in the fellwalking community as they add value for all the effort of climbing up to them. The Lake District is blessed with lots of fine ridge walks but the best is a traverse of the Helvellyn Range. This runs from south to north forming a wall between Thirlmere and Ullswater. On a long summer’s day it is possible to tick off nine Wainwrights and only once dip below 2,500 feet in the seven miles between Dollywaggon Pike and Clough Head. At this time of year it is best to limit one’s ambitions to within the hours of daylight so here is an abridged version.
Note: As with all linear walks logistics need to be considered in planning your outing. Here I recommend you do as the Lancashire Dotcom Walkers did a few weeks ago. We parked the cars at Swirls car park Thirlmere and took the 555 bus alighting at the Travellers’ Rest. Nothing simpler – especially if you have a bus pass!
Start: The Traveller’s Rest Inn Grasmere LA22 9RR
Finish: Swirls Car Park
Thirlmere CA12 4TN
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 5 - 6 hours
Map: OS OL5 The English Lakes North eastern area
1.From the Travellers Rest walk north on the A591 and after crossing Tongue Gill turn right onto a bridleway signed in the direction of Patterdale. At first on a stony enclosed track commence the first climb of the walk to Grisedale Tarn. In a little under half a mile the way forks. Straight ahead leads up Little Tongue Gill but here I commend bearing right on the Coast to Coast route crossing Tongue Gill above the Force by way of a pair of wooden footbridges and continuing ever upwards on the treeless fellside. The effort is mitigated by the spectacular mountain scenery. Also wayfinding is not a problem as there are no other paths to confuse you. For most of the way up the gradient is gradual but after the hanging valley that is Hause Moss there is a short steep climb close to the top of the pass crossing the watershed into the bowl containing Grisedale Tarn.
2. You may well want a pause at this high level tarn (almost 1800ft above sea level) especially when you work out the next stage of the walk – the ascent of Dollywaggon Pike which is the great bulk on the far side. Here you have a choice of whether to contour round left to the main path up or to go straight on crossing the start of Grisedale Beck by stepping stones. This second option is shorter by ¼ mile but loses height. Whatever way you reach it the path zig-zags up the flank of Dollywaggon Pike bringing you to the ridge a little below its summit. The views are …sublime…breathtaking…outstanding…whatever! In particular the view down Grisedale towards Patterdale is particularly arresting.
3. Having bagged the summit the way ahead is obvious heading almost directly north to Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn beyond. On a clear day, as we enjoyed when we checked the route out, the traverse of the ridge becomes one of the best walks this country has to offer. Every effort made to get here climbing over 2000ft will be rewarded over the next 1 ½ miles. The next objective is Nethermost Pike which is in the top ten of the Lake Districts highest fells so really it has to be bagged though the main path passes to the left of the summit. As you continue Helvellyn’s most striking feature – Striding Edge - comes into view side on. On any given day it will be topped with a procession of walkers crossing it like an army of ants.
4. The last pull to the summit of Helvellyn takes you past a commemorative stone marking the landing and taking off of an aeroplane in 1926. Next comes a shelter where if you want a seat book well in advance as this picnic spot is always full. Finally after a rocky rise the smoothly flat summit ridge leads round to the trig point.
5. The high level ridge continues to Helvellyn Lower Man where a decision has to be made. To carry on northwards to Whiteside and Raise dropping to Sticks Pass. From there turn westwards (left) to descend towards Legburnthwaite before cutting back to Swirls car park. This is a gentler descent but adds mileage to the walk. By bearing left before Lower Man on a broad stony track a steep but direct route is picked up. This is the way I chose leading the Dotcoms and I’ve had earache ever since but not one of them will deny that the scenery was spectacular!
- Bob’s walks are now available as digital guides on the iFootpath website and App (see iFootpath.com).