The walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge is one of the most thrilling hikes in the Lake District. But this narrow ridge with precipitous drops on either side is not for everyone. Here’s what you need to know.

By: Mark Barnes | Published: 1 Jul 2023

Helvellyn stands like a majestic sentinel above the eastern fells of the Lake District. From the west, it looks little more than a grassy bank, but a series of rugged crags and sinuous ridges provide an exhilarating path to the summit.

The best walking route up Helvellyn is via Striding Edge. A narrow ridge that rises and falls with steep drops on either side. It tests the nerves, but the rewards are an adventure with breathtaking views and the satisfaction of climbing the third-highest peak in the Lakes.

The descent we recommend in this guide, via a second ridge, Swirral Edge, completes one of the best hikes in the Lake District.

Here is all you need to know about hiking Helvellyn Striding Edge including detailed trail instructions, map and important information for a great day out in the lakes.  

IN THIS GUIDE

HELVELLYN WALK VIA STRIDING EGDE


SUMMARY

Ascend Hellvelyn via Striding Edge from Glenridding and return via Swirrel Edge and Glenridding Beck.

START

Glenridding

DISTANCE

8 miles (13 kilometres)

TIME

5 hours 45 minutes

ASCENT

2,750 feet (840 metres)

DIFFICULTY

Challenging. Striding Edge ridge is rated a Grade 1 Scramble.

WHY IS STRIDING EDGE THE BEST WALKING ROUTE UP HELVELLYN?

Scenery – Striding Edge offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape with sweeping vistas back to Ullswater, across the curved St Sundays Crag, and to the rugged rocky façades of Dollywagon and Nethermost Pike.

Thrills – The path over Striding Edge traverses up and down a series of rocky peaks with steep drops on either side. The ridge requires scrambling skills using hands and feet, and a good head for heights. It’s a thrill to walk and the best grade 1 scramble in the Lake District.

Variety – Combine the walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge with a descent down Swirral Edge, and you walk two excellent ridges, pass two secluded swimming locations in the Lake District, descend a picturesque wide valley, traverse a rocky ledge surrounded by ferns, and follow three lovely brooks.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WALK UP HELVELLYN VIA STRIDING EDGE?

It takes about 3 hours to walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge from Glenridding. The walk involves 2,750 feet (840 metres) of ascent. The route is about 4 miles long.

The best descent from the summit is via Swirral Edge. The entire circular hike is 8 miles and takes about 5 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The route is marked on the map below.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHAT IS SCRAMBLING ON STRIDING EDGE LIKE?

Walking over Striding Edge is not for everyone. The tricky part of the ridge is 300 to 400 metres long as it rises and falls over a series of narrow, rocky peaks. The arête is only two to three metres wide in places with precipitous drops on both sides. You will need to use your hands for some sections.

Towards the end of the ridge is a large block of rock called ‘the chimney’ which drops steeply about 5 or 6 metres. You’ll need to take most of your weight on your arms as you lower yourself down using periodic footholds. There is a tempting lower path that circumnavigates some of the trickier sections just before The Chinmey, but you’ll be on a very narrow path with a steep drop on one side. In our opinion, it’s best to just go over the top and down The Chinmey.

The benefit of doing Striding Edge on the ascent is that the chimney comes towards the end, by which time you will have built up some confidence.

After The Chimney there’s a final scramble up a large section of rock to the summit of Helvellyn. Again, a scree detour looks tempting, but it’s much better to scramble up the middle of the rock – it’s easier than it looks.

A head for heights is important, but no climbing equipment is required, so if you are up for an adventure, Striding Edge can be completed by a confident walker.

PATH OPTIONS ON STRIDING EDGE

There are several paths that circumnavigate the rocky summits on Striding Edge, allowing you to skip some of the worst sections. These paths have a precipitous drop on one side of a very narrow trail, which I personally find worse, but they do avoid the scrambling with hands.

The benefit is that you can assess the two options at various points along the walk and decide which is best for you.

WEATHER CONDITIONS

The most significant factor when deciding to tackle Striding Edge is the weather. Wind on the edge can be much stronger than down at the bottom, so pick a day with good conditions, avoiding the ridge on wet or windy days and especially if it’s icy.

HOW TO GET TO THE TRAILHEAD

The walk up Helvellyn via Striding Edge begins in the village of Glenridding.

GLENRIDDING BY CAR / WHERE TO PARK

Glenridding is a 15-minute drive from Ambleside or Windermere, a 30-minute drive from Keswick or Penrith, and just over 2 hours from Manchester or Liverpool.

There is a large car park in the village, but on sunny weekends or holidays it can easily be full by mid-morning, so try to arrive early.

You can purchase parking per hour up to 5 hours, or £8.50 for 24 hours. The machine accepts cash, cards, contactless and the Ringo App.

GLENRIDDING BY BUS

Glenridding is 45 minutes from Penrith on the 508 bus, but it only runs about 6 times a day.

It is also about 1 hour from Windermere on the same bus, but this only runs 3 times a day.

WALKING INSTRUCTIONS FOR HELVELLYN VIA STRIDING EDGE

Start the hike in the village of Glenridding at the R&R Corner Shop.

Follow the minor road that runs on the southern side of Glenridding Beck passing the Helvellyn Country Kitchen and Village Hall. When the path splits stay right (signposted Helvellyn) keeping the river close on your right-hand side.

The trail passes a campsite on your left, crosses over a bridge (marked 1 on the map above) and meets a road. Turn left on the road and then immediately right on a gravel track (signed to Helvellyn Greenside and Mires Beck).

Head through a metal gate and begin to climb, turning right when you meet a private driveway, to reach a wooden gate (marked 2 on the map above).

Go through the gate and immediately turn left. The path crosses over a stream (Mires Beck) and now starts to climb keeping the stream on your right. This is where the hard yards of the walk are done, continuously climbing up the grassy shoulder until the path meets a wall.

After a while the path veers away from the wall, bending right and then left to reach the ridge beside the summit of Birkhouse Moor (marked 3 on the map above). Here you can take a breather knowing about two thirds of the height has been conquered.

Follow the ridgeline towards Striding Edge with views of Helvellyn and Red Tarn slowly appearing. At the Hole in-the-Wall (marked 4 on the map above) clamber over the wall on a wooden stile, and then immediately over another wall over a stile.

The ridge now reaches the thrill of Striding Edge followed by a steep clamber up the face of Helvellyn. At the top of the scramble turn right to reach the summit (marked 5 on the map above).

WALKING INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE DESCENT VIA SWIRRAL EDGE

From the summit of Helvellyn head northwest keeping the edge close on your right-hand side and find the rocky path that descends to Swirral Edge.

This is a steep and scrambly drop requiring hands and feet, but the ridge itself is not as narrow as Striding Edge. At the low point of the ridge (marked 6 on the map above) the path splits. Ignore the left fork which heads up to Catstye Cam and take the right fork down towards Red Tarn.

Approaching the tarn keep left and follow the path that descends a grassy valley with Red Tarn Beck on your right. It’s a long steady descent that finally crosses a wooden bridge over the beck, then follows it, keeping the beck on your left-hand side.

A little further the path passes a wonderful wild swimming spot (see map) and then bends right (ignoring the bridge over Glenridding Beck marked 7 on the map) to head between the ferns. Here the path splits and you can take either route.

The left fork, that heads down along a wall, is easier. The right fork, that cuts through the ferns on a rocky ledge, is more interesting. They both end at the wooden gate which you came through on the way up (marked 2 on the map) from where you can retrace your footsteps back to Glenridding.

NAVIGATION & TRAIL CONDITIONS

Most paths on this route are very clear and well-marked. The exception are the ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge and the rocky scrambles up and down from Helvellyn’s summit.

Although the path is not always obvious, the ridges are often straight forward as you generally stick to the top. But the rocky scramble to and from the summit are a mass of little gullies and rocky trails. So, take your time and pick your route carefully. Ideally walk on a clear day.

Make sure you have a compass and a detailed map. Walking boots or shoes with a good grip are essential for traversing the ridges and it is not a good idea to bring a large rucksack that may unbalance you.

We saw many people carrying their dogs over the summit, so if yours is not good with heights, it might be a good idea to leave them at home.   

FACILITIES ON THE WALK

There are no facilities on the walk itself so take plenty of water and lunch / snacks.

Toilets (50p payable by card) are available at Glenridding Car Park.

Glenridding Village has a couple of stores, a few cafes, and a pub – The Travellers Rest.

WILD SWIMMING ON HELVELLYN WALK

The area around Helvellyn has some of the best wild swimming in the Lake District and there are three great opportunities to take a dip on this hike.

Red Tarn – On a hot day, as you descend from Swirral Edge, the shimmering water of Red Tarn is only a five-minute detour from the path. The water is chilly, but it’s a great way to cool down as you stare up at Helvellyn with Striding Edge and Swirral Edge on either side.

Glenridding Beck – With only about 45 minutes of the hike to complete, the plunge pool that sits under a small waterfall in Glenridding Beck is a great spot to sit in cool water and recharge those limbs. It’s just off the path (see map above) and is reached via a very short scramble down the rocky riverbank.

Glenridding – Glenridding village has a gently sloping grey gravel beach on the shores of Ullswater. Backed by a large grassy area perfect for picnics, it’s great for families wanting to chill out after a long day walking. If you still have more energy, canoes can be hired from St Patrick’s Boat Landing.

WHERE TO STAY?

The best area to stay for the Hellvelyn hike is around Ullswater and Patterdale. Not only is the walking excellent but there are also family-focused activities on the lakes and great hotel options.

More options are in this guide – where to stay in the Lake District.

PATTERDALE

OLD WATER VIEWS

The Old Water View is a comfy, basic guesthouse with charm & character. The continental breakfast will put you in good stead for hiking Hellvelyn.


WATERMILLOCK

ULLSWATER VIEW GUESTHOUSE

If you like all the modern stylings with superb views, then the Ullswater View Guesthouse is for you. The staff are helpful and attentive.


POOLEY BRIDGE

DUKE OF PORTLAND BOAT HOUSE

For a stay with a difference, hire the Duke of Portland Boathouse. Perched on Ullswater it’s ideal for a romantic getaway.


POOLEY BRIDGE

THE CROWN INN

Well-appointed pub on the shores of Ullswater with a well-positioned deck. The hearty breakfast will set you up for the day.


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