Lake District National Park
The Helvellyn walk via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge taking in the 950m peak is one of Britain’s most iconic mountain challenges. It is therefore of little surprise that it was voted Britain’s Favourite Walk in a 2018 ITV poll
Walking Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge
In 2018 Didem and I watched a two-and-a-half-hour TV special, as Julia Bradbury and Ore Oduba guided viewers through a countdown of the top 100 walks in Britain voted for by those who had enjoyed them.
Many of these fantastic walks piqued our interest but when we discovered that five of the top ten were all located within the Lake District National Park, this destination became an absolute must visit.
But it was the top rated Helvellyn walk via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge that really whet our hiking appetite and from that day became indelibly etched in our memories.
However, it was not until June 2021 that our Lake District dream was realised when we finally got to enjoy the picture postcard views of rugged hilltops, mountain tarns and glittering lakes; best of all we were going to be climbing Helvellyn at last and on Didem’s birthday. Is there a better present than this!
Where is Helvellyn?
Helvellyn, England’s 3rd highest mountain, is located in the Lake District National Park. It is the highest peak in the north-south orientated Helvellyn mountain range, flanked by the lakes of Ullswater and Thirlmere to the east and west.
Where to Stay?
Without doubt, the most convenient place to stay if you are planning to walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge is Glenridding. This is the perfect spot as it is also the starting point for the walk.
There are a number of accommodation options to satisfy all budgets ranging from holiday cottages and B&Bs to hotels, campsites and youth hostels. Please note that this is a particularly popular location with approximately 250,000 climbing Helvellyn each year. As you can probably guess, it makes sense to book well in advance of your trip.
Where to Park for the Helvellyn walk via Striding Edge & Swirral Edge?
If you are not lucky enough to be staying in Glenridding and are arriving by car, you have a couple of options. If you plan on arriving early you may be able to grab a spot on Greenside Road free of charge.
Failing that, the best Helvellyn car park for the walk via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge is:
Beckside Car Park, Glenridding, Penrith CA11 0PA alongside the Ullswater Information Centre. Grid Reference NY386169
To ensure that we had sufficient coverage for our walk duration we paid for 9 hours at a rather hefty £8.00. For the latest information on car parks around Ullswater, including the latest charges, visit the Lake District website.
Helvellyn Walk Via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge – Step by Step
From the car park, head back to the main road (A592), turn right across the bridge and then turn immediately right again. This is clearly signposted ‘Public Bridleway, Mires Beck, Helvellyn’.
Follow this road, with Glenridding Beck (steam) on your right, past some houses and into a wooded area where the road forks. Head right, signposted Helvellyn, continuing to follow the stream.
Soon you will pass Gillside camping and caravan park and upon reaching a small country road, turn left and then take the path on your right that runs alongside a traditional stone wall.
Continue for a short distance until you reach a wooden sign post and two metal gates on your right hand side.
Stay on this trail as it veers slightly left, following signs to Helvellyn via Mires Beck. The path leads you sharply to the right and shortly to a wooden gate. Once through the gate, turn immediately left.
Helvellyn Walk – The Climb to Birkhouse Moor
You now get a real sense that this is the point at which the Helvellyn walk starts in earnest and you’d be right! The trail on this initial climb is relatively steep and continuous as you work your way towards the summit of Birkhouse Moor, the craggy southern slopes of which sit imposingly above and to your right.
Shortly the trail crosses to the right of Mires Beck and then the path follows this small stream uphill.
Underfoot the mainly stone-pitched path, laid to help reduce erosion on this very popular trail, also aids progression on this tough ascent. If you are anything like us, you will be wanting to take regular breaks on this stretch just to get some air back into those lungs and give your thighs a break.
The beauty of this is that you get to enjoy the magical and ever-improving views as they open up spectacularly behind you, over Glenridding, Ullswater and the surrounding fells.
After climbing for approximately 1 km along this south-westerly section of the Helvellyn walk, the trail veers westerly upon reaching a stone wall.
A few hundred metres further on and higher up the ridge, the path deviates away from the wall and climbs towards the summit ridge of Birkhouse Moor.
As the route swings south-westerly once more, the trail plateaus and your goal comes into sight for the very first time. You now get to see the dramatic entirety of the horseshoe walk that you are about to embark on!
Hole in the Wall
With the most physically demanding section of the Helvellyn walk behind you, it is now a nice, pleasant, relatively flat section that leads you to the ‘Hole in the Wall’. This is the point at which hikers can choose which approach they plan on taking to the summit of Helvellyn; Striding Edge or Swirral Edge.
If, like us, you fancy taking Striding Edge to the summit, just stay on the path that guides you up the ridge directly ahead of you.
On the other hand, if you wish to ascend via Swirral Edge, take the path that forks to the right, just before the Hole in the Wall. This takes you firstly down to Red Tarn and then up the clear trail to Swirral Edge.
Striding Edge Walk
Now it’s time for the really fun bit. Afterall, it’s the exhilarating Striding Edge walk to the summit of Helvellyn that helps make this one of the most famous hikes in the UK.
But first, there is a stony path to negotiate before reaching the first rock tower on the ridge, giving you time to anticipate what exactly to expect.
Upon reaching the top of this tower, you get the opportunity to cast your eyes along the dramatic, craggy ridge and in an instant you know precisely what is in store for you!
As you make your way along Striding Edge, you will quickly realise that there is nothing uniform about this section of the walk. The ridge is fairly wide in places and seconds later, there is barely a metre of rock underfoot, with significant drop offs on either side.
Although not the scariest trail we have ever witnessed, the route across the ridge top is definitely not for the faint of heart or those who have a problem with heights.
There really is no single dedicated route as you pick your way along the ridge. There are different options to take at certain points and it is really down to personal preference as to which one suits you best.
For those of you who are keen to enjoy Striding Edge without taking the heightened risks of walking the ridge top, there is a path that runs along the side of Striding Edge for the majority of its length.
As you near the Helvellyn end of Striding Edge you will encounter the craggy rock tower known as the ‘Chimney’. This is approximately 7 metres high and climbing down can be a bit tricky and may not suit everyone. Again, this can be avoided by taking a path to the south this time.
Once the ‘Chimney’ is safely conquered, it is just the small matter of the steep scramble to reach the summit plateau of Helvellyn.
Upon arriving at the top, you now have the opportunity to look back along the full length of Striding Edge and marvel at your achievement.
You are also greeted by the memorial to artist Charles Gough, who in 1805 died while crossing Striding Edge with his dog. This is a quick reminder that this walking route does not come without its risks.
To reach the trig point at the summit of Helvellyn, follow the ridge in a northwesterly direction across the broad plateau.
Now is the perfect time to take a break, refuel and soak in the spectacular views that fill every angle of your gaze.
Helvellyn Walk – Descent via Swirral Edge
From the summit plateau of Helvellyn, it’s a steep drop down on to the craggy and exciting Swirral Edge. Although not dissimilar to that of Striding Edge, this ridge is considerably shorter and certainly not as daunting.
You will probably not have to pass too many people climbing ‘against the flow’ as Swirral Edge is typically used as the route of descent by hikers fulfilling the classic Striding Edge & Swirral Edge circular walk.
After approximately 200 metres of picking your way down and along the rocky ridge, you will find yourself back on a pleasant footpath. Follow this for around another 300 metres, where the path now forks.
Head right and down the side of the ridge if you fancy a visit to Red Tarn or simply wish to head back to Glenridding on the easier route. Otherwise, keep straight ahead to the summit of Catstye Cam, as we did.
The climb to the summit of this 890 metre fell from where the paths split takes around 10 minutes, so it’s well worth the extra effort to tick off another peak in our opinion.
Now, you can experience a whole new set of superb views. To the east, you look down on Glenridding Beck as it slides its way down the valley towards Ullswater. To the south, sits the picturesque Red Tarn with the towering Striding Edge sitting in perfect profile.
From the summit, take the trail that winds its way south-easterly down the mountainside. The descent is steep and your knees will be very grateful when you finally intercept the far more sedate stone path that lies up ahead.
Helvellyn Walk – Homeward Bound
When you reach the main trail, turn left and follow the path as it meanders its way towards the valley, following Red Tarn Beck that sits immediately off to your right-hand side.
As you descend, you will reach a small wooden footbridge taking you across Red Tarn Beck which soon after runs into Glenridding Beck.
Follow the trail along the right-hand bank of Glenridding Beck for approximately 700 metres, at which point a small hydroelectric plant appears on your left, preceded by a bridge across the stream. Here you have a choice:
- Continue along the same path that runs parallel with a stone wall off to your left, until it leads you back to the wooden gate that you passed through at the start of the walk. From there, simply retrace your steps back through Gillside campsite and to your starting point.
- Cross the bridge, turn right and follow the path through the site of the former Greenside Lead Mine and then past the youth hostel. Follow Greenside Road past some cottages on your left and then take the next right turn signposted ‘Gillside Farm’. Follow this road and immediately after the bridge crosses Glenridding Beck, turn left into Gillside camping and caravan park. Shortly, you will be back at the starting point.
We chose option 2 as we were craving some solid, uniform paths underfoot for our tired and aching legs.
Helvellyn Walk Via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge – Our Thoughts
This is a fantastic walk in so many ways. It is certainly a challenge and should only be attempted by those in reasonable physical shape.
Although it is without doubt the ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge that are the major enticements of this walk, it is definitely the initial climb to Birkhouse Moor that is the most physically demanding.
Walking the edges was a whole lot of fun but picking a good weather day is key for soaking in the incredible views on offer but also for making these precarious sections as safe as possible. Our advice is to avoid this walk in poor visibility and/or strong winds.
The stand out views from the summit are definitely those to the east across Red Tarn, the Edges, to the distant Ullswater. That said, whichever way you look, the vistas are pretty amazing!
This is a challenging walk so make sure you come prepared. Hiking boots/shoes are a must as is a waterproof, lightweight, breathable jacket. Also make sure you have multiple layers with you. Remember, the weather at the mountain base can be significantly different to that of the summit!
Pick your weather, go prepared and you will surely savour every aspect of this spectacular walk!
Helvellyn Walk Via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge Q & As
How high is Helvellyn?
950 metres (3117 feet)
Is Helvellyn a Wainwright?
What is the distance of the Helvellyn walk via Striding Edge & Swirral Edge?
The route detailed here totalled 8 miles (12.87km)
How long does the Helvellyn walk take?
It took us 7.5 hours to complete the walk as described. However, we were certainly in no rush, took plenty of breaks and also summited Catstye Cam.
How difficult is Striding Edge?
In terms of ridge walks, the ascent of Helvellyn via Striding Edge is probably a fairly good introduction. This is deemed to be a grade 1 scramble, so at times both your hands and feet will be required in unison.
Climbing down from the rock tower known as the ‘Chimney’ can be a little tricky as can the final climb to the summit plateau. However, if you are in fairly decent physical condition, there should be little to trouble you along either Striding Edge or Swirral Edge.
How dangerous is Striding Edge?
If you choose to stick to the top of the ridge as you make your way along Striding Edge, this clearly comes with an element of risk, owing to the considerable drops on either side. But generally speaking, the ridge is not particularly difficult or narrow.
Of course, if it is windy, wet or icy, the dynamic of Striding Edge changes considerably and can become extremely treacherous. Just to emphasise the risks, many people have lost their lives walking Striding Edge.
When I think of ridge walks, Crib Goch is another UK walk that instantly springs to mind and in many ways these two walks are comparable. Crib Goch is also a grade 1 scramble requiring a long narrow ridge walk with significant drops on either side.
The difference between them is that everything about Crib Goch is bigger in every way. The approach is steeper, the drops are considerably larger and the climbs are tougher, longer and more regular. What’s more, with Crib Goch there really is no opt out option for those who decide that the ridge top is a bit much for them!
What I am trying to do here is offer a little perspective on the dangers of walking Striding Edge. Of course it comes with risks which is why you have to be extremely careful but in our opinion they are risks worth taking. Crib Goch, on the other hand, is just too brutal and dangerous and is not one that will be enticing us anytime soon.
If you want to take on one of the most dangerous ridge walks out there, head to the State of Utah in the USA and hike Angels Landing. This will certainly put the dangers of Striding Edge well and truly in perspective!
How many Swirral Edge & Striding Edge deaths have there been?
Although I couldn’t find an online source offering a definitive answer to this question, suffice to say there have been many deaths over the years. Here are just a few of the articles that I found:
In addition to deaths, there are also a considerable number of incidents and accidents reported by the Patterdale Mountain Rescue Team each year. Just scroll through the ‘incidents by year’ and you will see plenty involving Striding Edge & Swirral Edge.
This is further evidence of the potential dangers that can be served up by this spectacular location.
What other Helvellyn walking routes are there?
As the Striding Edge & Swirral Edge circular route to the summit of Helvellyn has been labelled ‘Britain’s Best Walk’, you could be mistaken for thinking that this is the only route worth taking.
However, there are plenty of other Helvellyn routes that you may also wish to consider:
- Helvellyn via Catstye Cam and Swirral Edge
- Helvellyn from Grasmere
- Helvellyn from Wythburn
- Helvellyn from Thirlmere
- Helvellyn via the Pony Path and Keppel cove
- Helvellyn Via Sticks Pass from Glenridding
- Helvellyn via Grisedale Tarn and Dollywagon Pike from Patterdale
Check out some of these Helvellyn walks in a little more detail.
Which is the best route up helvellyn?
This is! Of all the routes up Helvellyn, this is the one that captures the imagination. Afterall, it’s not rated the best walk in Britain for nothing you know!
Which is the easiest route up helvellyn
Helvellyn from Thirlmere
Have you climbed Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge?
If so, we would love to hear about your experience… Is this on your list of hikes to do? If you have any questions about this or any of the other walks on our site, please let us know. We will get back to you just as quickly as we can!
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