Britain's Best Walks - Helvellyn

Britain's Best Walks - Helvellyn


A love affair with a mountain

Legend and poetry, a lovely name and a loft altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance; and thousands of pilgrims, aided by its easy accessibility, are attracted to its summit every year.

We make no apologies in using the words of Wainwright to introduce our favourite mountain. He says exactly how we feel, and says it so much better than anyone else ever could.

We’ve been up there in all weathers, watching summer sunrises and feeling our way with ice axes in deep snow, always amazed by how many people will make the effort to get up there whatever the time or the conditions.

The views are wonderful, when there are views, that is. Often we’ve climbed up into the clouds, leaving behind a warm and sunny valley, but that just adds to the air of excitement. Helvellyn really does feel like a proper mountain.

It’s one of only four over 3000 feet high (3118 to be precise), coming in third place behind Scafell Pike and Scafell, and just ahead of Skiddaw. And last year it was voted Britain’s favourite mountain in a TV poll. 

But while we recommend it to our visitors as the most easily reached of the big names, we would add, of course, that the “easy accessibility” refers only to climbs from the western side. Hop on a bus outside our gate and you can get off at Wythburn Church or Thirlspot or Swirls for good but safe walks to the top.

Want a slightly longer adventure? Then start north of Grasmere and walk up to haunting Grisedale Tarn, then take the ridge over Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. (The names around here are sheer poetry).

The eastern approaches can be daunting and sometimes forbidding, but it’s here, in the Red Tarn basin between Striding and Swirral Edges, that you see the true mountainous nature of Helvellyn. This is the approach we recommend to those visitors we know will be well-equipped and have enough experience to cope with what Helvellyn can throw at the unwary. You need a map and a compass, and the knowledge how to use them. And on a good day on Striding Edge, you need patience to follow the queue.

Above all, you need Wainwright. He’ll provide the ultimate inspiration and motivation, and even the poetry. And you never know who you might meet up there….

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