Earlier this year ITV broadcast a programme listing the nation’s favourite 100 walks presented by Julia Bradbury (patron saint of walking) and Ore Oduba. The most popular walk in this survey was Helvellyn. In the programme Julia did not go into much detail on routes to reach the top of Lakeland’s third highest mountain - there are several - but if I were to guess what the great British public might nominate as a favourite route then it would include a traverse of its most famous feature - Striding Edge. Even without looking at it it is easy to imagine what Striding Edge would look like. It is in fact an arete about 600yds long that leads up to Helvellyn on its eastern side. With plunging slopes on both sides of the ridge it offers the hill walker a serious challenge demanding a fair bit of scrambling and a considerable amount of concentration. The good news its that the most exposed sections can be avoided by following a lower path. The walk described is the classic round taking in not just Striding Edge but Swirral Edge as well.
Start: Ullswater Information Centre. CA11 0PD
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5-7 hours
Grade: Strenuous. This is a serious mountain challenge and not to be attempted in anything but clear and settled weather. Do not walk across Striding Edge on a windy day!
Map: OS OL5 The English Lakes North eastern area
1. From the car park walk back to the A592 turn right and right again in front of the convenience store in the direction of Helvellyn and Mires Beck. Follow the lane passing Glenridding Public Hall and Eagle Farm as the lane downgrades to a broad gravelly track. In ¼ mile pass by the campsite then turn left following the sign for Mires Beck. A little further on, the track breaks to the right and at the next junction marked by a signpost go left. After a gate turn left and follow Mires Beck on a rocky path that climbs steeply for ½ mile to a wall. Bear right and keep climbing on a clear path that will bring you to the summit of Birkhouse Moor (2350ft).
2. From here the way along the ridge is obvious. Soon after setting out the path is joined by a wall on the left. Keep ahead (there are no other choices) to where the path from Grisedale comes up from the left. Underfoot the path becomes rockier as you climb towards Striding Edge and your rendezvous with adventure. Once on the Edge there are plenty of handholds and footholds to assist your passage and you can choose your line according to your head for heights. In the main there is an easier path below the Edge if you get fed up with scrambling. When you reach the face of Helvellyn itself you still need to keep your wits about you as you negotiate the loose fine stones of a much worn path. The higher you climb the easier this becomes until at last you have the leisure to look behind you and view the way you came. Once on the main ridge walk up to the shelter and then onto the trig point (3118ft).
3. Of course the views from here are exceptional - especially to the west and the Scafell Range. It is quite possible to spend a happy half hour working out all the hills and lakes. In his guide Wainwright dedicates four pages to this panorama alone. For the descent continue along the ridge to the next cairn above the escarpment. This marks the path down Swirral Edge. While not as long as its neighbouring Edge nor as dramatic, nonetheless a high degree of concentration is required as you pick your way down. When you reach a col where a clear path leads down to Red Tarn it would be churlish not to climb to the shapely peak of Catstycam (2971ft). Having bagged your third Lakeland Fell of the day take the path down towards Red Tarn. When you reach the main path turn left for Glenridding and keep on it until you reach a bridge over Glenridding Beck. Here you have a choice on how you complete the round. Cross the bridge and turn right passing the youth hostel and continuing on a lane that descends to Greenside Road or keep on the footpath until you intercept your outward route below Mires Beck. In terms of time there is not much in it. Scenically the second option is better.
- Walk inspired by Bryan Walker of the Lancashire Post.