Lake District Walks
Helvellyn from Thirlspot
Date: 30th August 2015
Distance: 8.0 miles
Ascent: 3350 feet
Time: 6 hours
Start Grid Ref: NY316176
A grand walk to the top of Helvellyn via Browncove Crags starting from Thirlspot Farm and returning via White Side, Raise and Sticks Pass.
Route Summary: Thirlspot Farm - Brown How - Helvellyn Gill - Browncove Crags - Helvellyn - Helvellyn Lower Man - White Side - Raise - Sticks Pass - Stanah Gill - Fisherplace Gill - Thirlspot Farm
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: Although the small campsite at Thirlspot is quite basic and is close enough to the A591 for the traffic to be something of a distraction it does have the benefit of being right next to the King's Head Hotel. It is also at the start of a number of options for climbing Helvellyn from the west. As it was one of the few campsites in the Lake District which still had room over the Bank Holiday weekend it proved to be the base for this year's camping trip with my nephew Liam, now aged ten.
As we were planning three days of Wainwright bagging the location of the campsite made an ascent of Helvellyn an obvious choice. When I first told Liam that I was planning on taking him up England's third highest mountain he reacted with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. After he had proved his mettle the day before on a walk up on to High Raise from Grasmere I had no doubt about his capabilities.
So it was that mid-morning on the Sunday, as the cloud began to lift off the surrounding tops, we set off from the campsite crossing over a section of Thirlmere's aqueduct, to begin a steep initial climb on a stony path. At a signpost marking a crossroad of paths we took the option signed for Swirls but within a few metres turned up a thinner path that climbed steeply through the bracken in order to follow Wainwright's 'White Stones' route on to Helvellyn.
The route proved to be far more enjoyable than I had honestly expected, the western approaches to Helvellyn looking quite docile compared to the eastern ascents via Striding Edge or Swirral Edge. After the steep initial climb through bracken the gradient began to ease and we found ourselves on a fairly gentle slanting path, easy underfoot, with great views of the Thirlmere valley and ahead to Browncove Crags.
We were the only ones on our route so it came as something of a shock after crossing the twin streams of Helvellyn Gill to arrive on the main path climbing up from Swirls which was fairly busy. To Liam's great credit he made the climb up the steep rocky staircase on to Browncove Crags seem quite easy. Indeed I had trouble keeping up with him as we passed numerous walkers.
From the top of Browncove Crags the gradients eased dramatically and the walk from there on to the summit of Helvellyn was easy. It was one of those days when patches of cloud would arrive to caress the tops of the fells. When we initially got above Browncove Crags the top of Helvellyn was temporarily covered but we timed our arrival at the summit perfectly as the cloud blew away again. It was a great moment for Liam and I was pleased he was rewarded with the view over the eastern escarpment down to Red Tarn, Swirral Edge and Striding Edge.
After eating our lunch in the cross shelter just below the summit we walked past the trig point and the path leading down Swirral Edge to curve curve on to Helvellyn's Lower Man. From there it was a straightforward descent and climb up on to White Side, a fell that surely suffers from being sandwiched between Helvellyn and Raise. It was to the latter that we headed next. By this time Liam's earlier pace was beginning to flag as he became increasingly distracted, especially as he wanted to place a stone on every cairn we passed.
We had another short break on the neat rocky summit of Raiseand just before leaving the summit got enveloped in cloud giving Liam his first real taste of walking in hill fog. Rather than bemoaning the sudden restriction in visibility it was a merely another new and exciting experience for him.
Having descended north to Sticks Pass we turned west for a descent, initially above Sticks Gill, before a steeper drop down alongside Stanah Gill. The final stretch of the walk was south above a wall, contouring along the bottom of the fellside. By this time the sun had begun to break through the cloud again. The highlight of this final section was the pretty waterfalls above the footbridge over Fisherplace Gill.
To have taken my nephew up on to Helvellyn was very special, all the more so by the fact that he genuinely wanted to do it and he really appreciated doing it. He is far too young and inexperienced to be going up via Swirral Edge or Striding Edge so this route was perfect and felt very safe while also having some super views of Thirlmere. A great day in the fells.