There seems to be a bit of a theme developing in this blog. In #65 I described a warm and sunny February day on Cadair Idris in 2008. Last week in #67 it was a February ski trip up Pen y Ghent, which although snow-bound was again blessed by sunshine and blue skies. Circumstances kept us off the hills last week, so I returned to plunder the archives and found this – yet another warm and sunny day in February in 2007, this time in the Lake District.
At 405 metres altitude. Helm Crag isn’t very high, even by UK standards, but it packs a lot in. The famous Alfred Wainwright was clearly impressed. He wrote, “The virtues of Helm Crag have not been lauded enough. It gives an exhilarating little climb, a brief essay in real mountaineering, and, in a region where all is beautiful, it makes a notable contribution to the natural charms and attractions of Grasmere.” I think he liked it!
I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for this route – it was the first one I wrote for www.walkingworld.com and since it first went online in 2007 it has been downloaded 526 times. It’s a route of four parts – part one walks a quiet lane to Lancrigg before the path takes off through the woods. After that comes the open hillside, but at first the view looks back towards Grasmere and Rydal.
In February 2007 Chris and I had set off on a warm, bright day. I was still new to the business of writing routes, and our progress was slowed by me constantly stopping to record the walk photographically – although I still use photos a lot, I now also use a digital voice recorder. As we emerged over the top of the southern flank of Helm Crag we had a view of what was to come – the soaring ridge above Far Easedale.
Before that, however, we still had part two of the walk to deal with – the summit of Helm Crag. The summit in this case is unusual by Lake District standards in that it can only be reached by climbing, and by that I mean by climbing rock!
By rock climbing standards it isn’t a climb at all, and the UK term of ‘rock scramble’ is more accurate. However, falling off would certainly hurt, and pride would likewise be damaged if the Rescue Team had to be called to assist with the descent. For these reasons, most of the walkers who reach the top of Helm Crag never actually make the summit, and that’s including Alfred Wainwright!
Following on from Helm Crag comes part three, a glorious switchback ridge giving great views of the surrounding hills. What at first looked as though it might be sharp and technical is found to be broad and easy underfoot, good fell-running country in fact. One thing soon becomes immediately obvious – the crowds who flock to the flat bit of ground below the very top of Helm Crag usually don’t go any further.
The lack of crowds is welcome after the bustle of the first part of the walk. The undulating ridge allows rapid progress to a narrow col at Brownrigg Moss. From there the fourth and final part of the walk returns down Far Easedale.
Far Easedale comes as another surprise – it’s remarkably wild considering that it is a mere 5 kms (just over 3 miles) from Grasmere. The stream has rocky pools that would be a joy on a hot summer day, and there are quiet corners for a picnic. In February though, the streams are icy, the days short and the low sun makes photography challenging. A quick return as the sun started to dip was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. To see the Walking World version of this walk click here.