Go Walk: the lake district, UK

Lake District thriller: Striding Edge ramble provides an impressive spectacle


A ll the Celtic nations have one: a knife edge arête sufficiently knee-knocking to make its completion a coveted accolade for hillwalkers. For Wales, the sublimely pinnacled Crib Goch arête fits the bill. Scotland has the unforgettable Aonach Eagach of Glencoe, while Ireland’s is a scramble atop the East Ridge of Kerry’s Hag’s Glen. Not to be outdone, English folk proclaim Helvellyn’s Striding Edge as the ultimate epic for hillwalkers. Unfortunately for our non-Celtic neighbours, this handsome crest possesses few genuine thigh-quivering qualities or scrambley challenges. It hugely compensates, however, by offering what is generally accepted as the noblest of England’s mountain circuits.

A “must do” horseshoe for most hillwalkers on these islands, it starts from the pin-up pretty village of Patterdale in England’s Lake District. Here you follow uphill the minor road serving Grisedale and, beyond a wood, go right. Soon after, you will be tagging a steep track on a rising traverse to arrive at a location known with unwavering accuracy as the Hole-in-the-Wall; for it is exactly what it says – a large gap in the ridge top wall.

A benign upward ramble now leads to a monumental viewing point that carries the wonderful apt appellation, High Spying How. This marks the start of Striding Edge proper which now irresistibly draws you in. If you are true red-blooded Celts you will, of course, maintain the seam of your trousers in alignment with the ridgetop throughout. Otherwise you will be drawn to an informal path tiptoeing along the right hand side. Gradually, the path narrows and comes closer to the spine of the crest which now becomes delicately narrow. There are no real difficulties, however, until near the end where the path switches to the left side and soon after you descend a short, slightly tricky, gully to reach a broad saddle.

All that remains is an easy scramble upwards on an erosion ravaged hillside to gain the vast expanse of the Helvellyn plateau. Move the short distance to the stone built windbreak marking the summit proper and, on a clear day, you will find yourself lording it above one of the world’s most poetically celebrated landscapes. The great fusion of forests, lakes and mountains laid out before you includes pretty much every signature Cumbrian summit.

Begin your descent by continuing along the cliff edge above Red Tarn to reach a cairn marking your drop point for Swirral Edge. Initially, the going is relatively steep and should be descended carefully over some rocky buttresses to reach more cooperative ground. Here, the crest still has an airy feel but the scrambling is behind. When the handsome pyramid of Catseye Cam rises directly ahead, this is your cue to swing right from the col and follow the pleasantly well trodden path that crosses the outfall stream from Red Tarn and then ascends the flanks of Striding Edge. You regain your outward route near the Hole-in-the-Wall. Now, it’s just a question of retracing your steps downhill to Patterdale.

Getting there Ambleside is about a 3.5 hour drive from Holyhead and about an hour’s drive from Blackpool.
Accommodation Ambleside is a good base for Helvellyn. Queen’s Hotel is inexpensive and serves wholesome food (queenshotelambleside.com).

Time 6 hours.

Suitability Reasonably challenging; for fit, well-equipped walkers.
Map Harvey’s Mountain Map – Lake District 1:40,000