This is a guide to Hiking Helvellyn via Striding Edge and Swirral Edge from Patterdale village. This Helvellyn hike is arguably one of the best hikes in the Lake District.
Helvellyn is the third highest point in England and is a popular choice with hikers. It’s estimated that over a hundred thousand people hike to the summit of Helvellyn every year!
A popular way to hike Helvellyn is to ascend via Striding Edge and descend via Swirral Edge. This route is not suitable for beginners as it requires good navigational skills, good scrambling skills and a high level of fitness.
However, those who take on the challenge are rewarded with breathtaking views that live long in the memory.
Helvellyn is a mountain in the Lake District located between Thirlmere and Ullswater Lakes. At 950m in elevation, it is the highest peak in the Helvellyn range. Flanking the summit to the southeast is Striding Edge and to the northeast is Swirral Edge. There is a small lake situated between these two ridges called Red Tarn.
The Lake District
Set in the heart of Cumbria, the Lake District evokes images of Wainwright rambling across endless hills, Wordsworth writing romantic poetry or perhaps Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit.
Whatever it means to you, it’s a beautiful location with lots of potential for adventurous days out.
Shamefully, like many travellers, I have tended to neglect the beautiful places in my country in favour of more exotic locations. So my trip to the Lakes in the summer of 2019 was only my third ever visit. There are lots of things to do in the Lake District but as keen hikers, bagging several famed peaks was top of our list.
During my first visit we had attempted a hike to the summit of Blencathra via Sharp Edge. However, as the name suggests, the ridge was very sharp – knife edge sharp – and my fear of exposed edges got the better of me.
Determined not to let this fear overcome me again, I plunged head-first into research on top ridge walks in the UK. That’s when I discovered Striding Edge.
This ridge to the summit of Helvellyn was longer than Sharp Edge but a little wider so perhaps not as scary. Well that was my logic anyway!
So I made a vow that the next time I had the opportunity to visit the Lake District I would attempt Helvellyn along Striding Edge.
The Helvellyn Striding Edge Hike: Facts and figures
- Helvellyn summit 950m
- Total distance: 15km loop from Patterdale
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Classification: Striding Edge is classed as a grade 1 scramble
- Elevation gain: 800m
- Side Farm Campsite to summit via Striding Edge 7.2km
- Summit to Side Farm Campsite via Swirral Edge and Birkhouse Moor peak 7.8km. (Plus an additional 800m for a detour to the White Lion pub for celebratory beer and fish and chips!)
Hiking Hevellyn via Striding Edge from Patterdale
In August 2019, after an organised hike around peaks of the nearby Yorkshire Dales, the time had come to head back to the Lakes. For the first half of the week we based ourselves in Patterdale, on the southern shore of Ullswater Lake. The perfect location for a Helvellyn hike.
We decided we would walk from our campsite at Side Farm, up to the summit of Helvellyn via Striding Edge and then loop back down from Helvellyn via Swirral Edge. A 15km loop with 800m of elevation gain. With the weather forecast for sun and clouds, it had all the makings of a great day in the mountains.
The majority of this Helvellyn route is a slow steady climb along a well maintained path. The paths are easy to follow on the maps.me app but in poor weather conditions, map reading skills are required.
Starting from Patterdale, take the tarmac road on the south side of Grisedale Beck river. After around 1km, turn right and cross over the river. Here you will join the mountain path proper and the steady climb to Helvellyn begins.
On the ascent we enjoyed a valley filled with fox gloves in full bloom and glimpsing behind we could see Ullswater Lake gradually shrinking from view.
Once you reach ‘Hole in the Wall’ you can decide which route to the summit you would like to take. Bearing left meant we were heading for Striding Edge.
No turning back now!
Ascending Helvellyn via Striding Edge route
Striding Edge runs the length of Red Tarn, which is a small lake at the base of Helvellyn. It’s a rocky ridge ranging from a metre in width down to half a meter at times. The route along the ridge is obvious to follow.
It is classed as a grade 1 scramble which means you will be required to use both hands and feet at times.
Alongside the main ridge there is a path running parallel – a get out clause if things get too scary. Upon starting the ridge we decided we had to go for it and take the purist approach of staying up on the main ridge for the whole length.
After a few deep breaths we began, with Nick leading the way.
To start with it was all fairly straight forward. However, about halfway along things started to get a little more interesting or as I would put it, terrifying!
As you traverse the ridge it starts to get narrower and the drop offs each side become more abrupt.
It was at one point along here that I made the mistake of looking down and all of a sudden I was frozen to the spot, unable and unwilling to move a muscle. But knowing that staying where I was simply wasn’t an option, I urged myself to push on in whatever way I could.
That’s when I reverted to my inner mountain goat and got down on hands and feet!
It wasn’t elegant admittedly, but it did the job, and once I was across that section it was again fairly straightforward. All that was left was a scramble to the summit and the job was done. A well earned sit down with a ham and cheese sandwich.
Yup that’s living alright!
Descending Swirral Edge
Once my legs had recovered from their jelly-like wobble we started our way back down the hill, this time via Swirral Edge.
If you don’t like heights this ridge will again be uncomfortable but not nearly as narrow as Striding Edge and much shorter in length. I’d even go as far as to say that this ridge is quite enjoyable!
The route along Swirral Edge is again quite obvious to follow but do take care with your footing. Once off the ridge take the path that bears right down towards Red Tarn and back to Hole in the Wall.
Once we were back at the Hole in the Wall we decided to take the path towards Birkhouse Moor Peak, where could enjoy one last view of Ullswater Lake before we made our descent to Patterdale. This route follows a slightly higher path through high ferns which eventually puts you back on the main trail, just before the bridge to cross the river.
A more straightforward route would be to simply retrace your steps back down to the river.
After we returned to lake level we made a bee-line for the pub to enjoy a few beers and reflect on an amazing day in the mountains. The perfect mix of a challenging route, good weather, great scenery and great company.
Helvellyn via Striding Edge for me has to be the best hike in Lake District!
A word of warning….
This Helvellyn route is considered difficult though it is achievable for anyone with a good fitness level. Striding Edge and to a lesser degree Swirral Edge, will be challenging to anyone with a fear of heights. Due to erosion and the steep drops offs there have been fatalities on these ridges. I would avoid attempting this hike in high winds, heavy rain or icy weather.
When I’m hiking I always carry my trusty backpack filled with everything I need for a day in the mountains. Have a look at what’s in my bag!
Where to stay after your Helvellyn Walk
This is a beautiful campsite right on the southern edge of Ullswater Lake. It has free showers and coin operated laundry facilities and a Tearoom at the farmyard. It is only a short walk from Patterdale, where you can find pubs serving food and beer!
- £9 per person per night. £3 extra per car
This is a great hostel that also has a campsite attached. This means you have all the freedom and independence of camping with free use of all hostel facilities.
They also have good deals on food too. We did the dinner offer which was a main meal and desert for £10 – bargain!
- Camping – £12 per person per night. Free parking
- Dorm beds – £13 – £30 per person per night
- Private rooms – From £29 per room
You can book the hostel here.
If you’re interested in more UK hikes check out my guide to hiking in the Brecon Beacons!
If you need a city fix after your mountain adventures there are a few options near to the Lake District. Check out these guides for some inspiration.
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