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Helvellyn isn’t just one of the most popular walks in the Lake District, it’s one of the most popular walks in the UK. In fact, back in 2018, on an ITV show hosted by Julia Bradbury, Helvellyn was named as Britain’s favourite walk.
At 950 metres, Helvellyn is the third highest point in England, behind Scafell Pike and Sca Fell which are also in the Lake District. There are multiple routes up Helvellyn and it can be approached from all directions. This is one of the many reasons why it’s such a popular mountain. There are routes to suit most abilities and because visitors are spread out across the range it is less likely to feel busy and overcrowded like other popular mountains, such as Snowdon, can.
12 km return
But it’s the Striding Edge route that stands out as being a firm favourite and is a ‘must-do’ for anyone who loves a good ridge walk and has a good head for heights.
Striding Edge is just short of a mile long and crossing it will involve an element of scrambling. Although it starts off gently the route soon climbs to the top of the arete where there are steep drops to both sides. It’s not for the faint-hearted but, for many, it is one for the bucket list.
Helvellyn via Striding Edge Walk
I’m the first to admit that I haven’t spent nearly enough time in the Lake District. At the beginning of last year I made some promises to myself that 2020 was going to be the year that I dedicated some more time to exploring the national park and bagging Wainwrights. Needless to say, 2020 didn’t quite go to plan and between lockdowns and local restrictions, I only managed to get up to the Lake District once.
It just so happened that the visit also coincided with the heatwave that we got at the beginning of August. I’d assured myself that the heat wouldn’t be a problem and as long as I set off at first light I’d be fine. But, just twenty minutes into the walk, with Glenridding barely out of sight, I was already sweating and taking large gulps from my limited water supply. At that point, I knew it was going to be a long, hot day.
Looking back, I’m not sure if the beginning part of this walk is particularly steep, or whether I just made hard work of it in the hot and humid conditions. Either way, I can definitely recall questioning myself as to why I hadn’t chosen to stay at home for a barbecue and a few cold beers on such a hot summer day. But then I reached the well known hole-in-the-wall where the views across Striding Edge and over Red Tarn to Helvellyn opened up and reminded me why I’ll happily take a day in the mountains in (almost) any weather.
By the time I reached the beginning of Striding Edge there was a breeze blowing too. I wouldn’t call it a cool breeze but it was certainly a welcome one and allowed me to forget about the increasing temperature and focus on the incredible ridge in front of me.
Striding Edge is a grade one scramble. That basically means that it’s at the lower end of the difficulty scale and in the right conditions it can make for a perfect first attempt at scrambling for those keen to give it a go. But, at the same time, this route is not to be underestimated. While the route is graded at the lower end of the spectrum as there aren’t many technically challenging features, the ridge still has significant exposure and steep drops to either side. And, as with any ridge walk, there can be roaring winds and quickly-changing weather conditions to contend with too. Sadly, there have been several fatal falls from Striding Edge and it should always be crossed with great care.
Despite the fact that it was a beautiful August day on the UK’s favourite mountain, there was barely anyone else around and I had the entire stretch of ridgeline to myself. Perhaps something to do with me being the only one foolish enough to be out in the heat.
I took my time, enjoyed the views, took lots of photos and generally did as much as I could to delay getting to the section of the walk that directly follows Striding Edge – a really steep walk up to the Helvellyn summit.
Fortunately, it’s not a long climb and I was soon up on the summit and enjoying the breeze again.
From the summit there are several options for making your way back down to the car park at Glenridding, but making a circular route by ascending Swirral Edge is a really good option and the one that I took.
Swirral Edge, although not as imposing as the adjacent Striding Edge, is still a great walk in its own right and again involves some scrambling. From here you can also detour up to the summit of Catstye Cam at 890 metres. It’s well worth the extra effort if only for the views across the valley and a different perspective of the epic ridge that you crossed earlier.
From there, it’s a fairly straight forward walk back to Glenridding where cold drinks and ice creams await.
When is the Best Time to Walk this Route?
This is a route that can be enjoyed at any time, but under snow and ice, Striding Edge would be a completely different beast. You’d need a good amount of winter mountaineering experience, equipment and confidence in your own abilities to tackle it in those conditions.
Although it was quiet when I visited, Helvellyn and Striding Edge are very popular and can become busy on summer weekends. If you prefer a bit of solitude in the mountains then the weekdays or shoulder seasons are a better option.
The route for this walk is fairly easy to follow and once you’re up to the hole-in-the-wall it becomes self-explanatory.
For the OS Maps route click here
The best car park for this route is Beckside car park in Glenridding.
Postcode – CA11 0PA
This is the main car park for this lakeside village and will be extremely busy at peak times, so it’s important to arrive early. It’s not cheap either and will cost you around £10 for full-day parking.
There are toilet facilities in the car park and it’s only a minute or so to walk to the nearby shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs.
Things to do Nearby
Glenridding is a beautiful part of the Lake District and there are plenty of things to see and do nearby.
The village is on the edge of Ullswater so there are plenty of options for wild swimming, kayaking or paddleboarding; and there are plenty of other mountains around if you fancy bagging more Wainwrights after your Helvellyn adventure.
The Ullswater Way is another great option for a mixture of lakeside and hill walking. I walked that route back in 2019 and really enjoyed it.
You won’t struggle to find things to do in this part of the world and you can easily make a full weekend or even a whole week of adventures here.
Make It a Weekend Adventure
The YHA hostel at Helvellyn is a great place to stay for your weekend in the mountains. It’s located 963ft up the mountain and can quite proudly boast to have the mountain range on the doorstep. It has a mixture of dorm rooms, private rooms, camping, and it even has quirky landpods that you can sleep in.
If hostels aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other accommodation options nearby.