Just below Helvellyn Summit

As we leave Grasmere village heading towards Ambleside along the southern side of Grasmere lake, I can’t help feeling that spring is here, and summer is not far away.  There’s real warmth in the air and the sun frequently escapes through the high cloud. Its rays flirt with you…they are never out for long but the burst of light on my face heightens expectations of warmer months to come.

I peel off layers and wonder why I’ve brought all my winter walking wear. I then look up. I can see snow-capped peaks all around me and know that additional layers will be needed later in the day.

It’s around three miles to Ambleside.  It’s gentle and easy walking; part road, part track.  At Ambleside we stop and sit out at a café for a morning coffee and then stock up on provisions for a full day out on the fells.

From Ambleside we head directly north towards the rather unimaginately named Low Peak (508 metres) and then High Peak (656 metres). The ascent is steady. Our route bears north. The path is well defined and follows a low dry-stone wall which slowly rises with a seamless constance from the foreground into the distance. We look around behind us to see lakes Windermere (to the right) and its smaller cousin Rydal (to the left).

As we climb, the warmth of the morning is soon forgotten.  By lunch we have passed the snow line. Whilst not yet icy, the air feels colder and crisper. Our breathing becomes heavier as  the path  tightens and steepens.  The clouds seem lower but the fragmented rays of sunlight still seem to find a way through, spotlighting the subtle greens and browns of the fell-sides we see in the distance.

We pass Dove Crag (821 metres) and then Hart Crag (821 metres) before the path veers westwards towards Fairfield (873 metres).

When we reach Grisedale Tarn some of our party follow the famous Fairfield horseshoe route, heading south back towards Grasmere via Great Rigg (766 metres), Heron Pike (612 metres) and Nab Scar (440 metres).

Fuelled perhaps by high spirits and misplaced confidence, the rest of us press on.  We scan the still water of Grisedale tarn and the sight of Dolly Wagon Pike (852 metres) behind it.  We decide to climb it knowing that the  summit of Helvellyn (950 metres) lies hidden further behind its peak.

The ascent of Dolly Wagon Pike is abrupt and harsh.  Tired limbs are truly tested. The climb seems endless and unrelenting.  With no end in sight we follow the path, trapped in what seems like a timeless purgatory for aching and exhausted limbs.

Finally the path evens out and we reach the top. As we begin walking  towards the summit of Helvellyn itself, we are rewarded by another burst of sunlight, anointing the hills to our west.

view west from Dolly Wagon pike.
Looking west from Dolly Wagon Pike

The snow all around us looks pristine although it was obviously not fresh. It seems like a  crystalised  white sheet, disguising the intricate rocks and crags beneath it.

As we approach the summit we can see the famous Striding Edge to our right. Its snow-capped edge standing out against the lightly clouded sky like a cardboard cut-out.

Striding Edge - Copy
Striding edge

We then see Red Tarn below us to the east. It looks no more than an icy puddle as we carefully crane our necks to look down at its splendour, almost directly below us.

Red Tarn from the top of Helvellyn
From the summit we head north west, down along the Thirlmere trail. It’s the quickest and most direct route which eventually meets the lake that shares its name.  The light is beginning to fade, but any thoughts of hurrying are put aside as the descent is both slow and awkward.

Eventually we reach the car park and the bus stop on the A591.  Our timing was perfect. The 555 bus appears on time to take us back to Grasmere.

We are charged over £5 each for the privilege. This price seems steeper than that ascent of Dolly Wagon Pike.  We are so tired and relieved we do not lift an eyebrow. We sit back and enjoy the warmth and comfort our the carriage back to our Grasmere base.


From Grasmere to Fairfield and Helvellyn.