Friday, 5 November 2010

Helm Crag from Grasmere

It had been way too long since I had walked along a mountain ridge thinking how lucky I was to be alive! I therefore looked at how many annual leave days I had left before the end of the year which I could utilise to get out in the mountains. I decided to book off several Fridays meaning that I now have no more five day weeks for the rest of the year. Last Friday I was free to do what ever I wanted, so after seeing the weather forecast the night before I chose to head up to the Lake District. The Lakes seemed to be the best chance of a rain free afternoon. The only problem was that I hadn't had a lie in for a long time so when my alarm went off at 7:30am I simply ignored it. I did eventually get my lazy backside out of bed around 8:30 and after having breakfast and packing I was on the road by 10am heading for the Lakes.

Grasmere Village

I wanted to do a walk I hadn't done before and as it was a Friday I wanted to try a more popular route which I would normally ignore due to its popularity but could take advantage of visiting during normal work hours. I had never done a walk from Grasmere and never looked around this popular tourist destination. On the Thursday night before there had been many Cumbria based tweeters saying that some roads were flooded and the lakes were higher than normal due to the rivers being in spate after heavy rainfall. Luckily the grim predictions never materialised and although some roads were passable only with care there wasn't anything to worry about. The rivers had water in them but none were flooded, the only flooding was Lake Windermere which was several feet higher than normal which was obvious at the pier in Ambleside where some of the buildings and boat moorings were under water.

Sour Milk Waterfalls & Far Easedale Valley

I arrived in Grasmere and looked for somewhere to park. I tried several car parks all run by the Lake District National Park Authority and was soon furiously effing and jeffing at the realisation that I would have to pay £7 just to park to go for a walk. The most popular walk around here being Helm Crag ridge taking most people just over four hours and yep you've guessed it, the charges go higher after four hours. Absolute disgrace in my opinion and will seriously affect my choice when choosing a National Park to visit in future. I'm not totally ignorant and fully understand the need to provide decent parking and keep local roads doesn't come free but £7 is a totally rip off! I literally was left with no money to spend in the shops afterwards which is a real shame as otherwise I would probably have nipped in to somewhere for a sandwich and hot chocolate after the walk.

Grasmere from Helm Crag

Other than that Grasmere didn't disappoint and was the beautiful quaint Lakeland picture postcard village I had expected. I parked up at the Broadgate Meadow car park as it is nearest to the start of the planned walk. I walked past the shops and headed up Easedale Road. I passed the Butharlyp Howe Youth Hostel where a Robin kept me company for a few yards and reminded me that despite my recent trip to Australia and its stunningly colourful birds, hardy and full of personality English birds are still my favourite. The road crossed Easedale Beck at Goody Bridge before eventually reaching the ford and footbridge at Steel Bridge. From here I got my first sight of the Sour Milk Waterfall at the far end of the valley ahead, fully in spate and justifying their self explanatory name. The route I took was not over the bridge to Easedale Tarn but on towards the Helm Crag path. I still hadn't decided in which direction I would do this slightly circular walk but the weather moving in made up my mind. I knew more than anything I wanted to get up on top a mountain today so knowing the weather could stay miserable I wouldn't want to go home without standing on top of a mountain at some point so headed for the direct route up Helm Crag.

The Howitzer above The Pass of Dunmail Raise 

The autumnal leaves in the forests below the quarry at the foot of Helm Crag were breath taking and ticked another requirement of the day. This time of year looks incredible in the woodlands and forests but I find when we are having wet and cold autumn and winters that the window of time in which to see the autumnal rich red and gold colours can be a lot less than you would think and the leaves are soon gone by mid November. The ascent on to Helm Crag is fairly simple which along with its location above Grasmere Village make it a very popular walk. Having said that though you really shouldn't under estimate its quality. It is a great little mountain with stunning views in all directions, especially those over Grasmere and over to the Helvellyn and Fairfield range. The view down in to the Pass of Dunmail Raise is also well worth the easy climb, this great example of a glacial valley is often taken for granted when speeding along at 60mph through it on the A591 but from up here you can really appreciate its size and shape. It is like a much smaller version of the Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms in Scotland, though dissected by a major trunk road. As I reached the shoulder of the mountain I looked up to see a Kestrel hovering above and then sitting dead still in mid air on the wind.

Gibson Knott summit cairn

Helm Crag's summit has two rock features. I reached the first rock outcrop on the south side of the mountain which gets its name from the fact it looks like a 'Lion and Lamb' from Grasmere Village below, it is easily accessible. Moving on I reached the other rocky outcrop at the north end of Helm Crag which is also its highest point and known as either 'The Howitzer' or 'The Old Lady Playing the Organ'. This outcrop also gets its name from the outline image it creates from the valleys below. From here you get the best view in to the Pass of Dunmail Raise. To reach the top of this rock outcrop you have to tackle a short but steep and tricky scramble which I decided to leave for another day as it was still raining and the rock was very slippery, what a wimp! The summit is the Lakes equivalent of the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Rumour has it that even the great Sir Alfred Wainwright never reached the true summit!

Far Easedale Valley

I continued along the ridge crossing Bracken Hause to reach Gibson Knott. A fairly none descriptive summit but the boggy walk along the ridge was invigorating despite the continuous rain showers, increasing winds and lowering temperatures. After Gibson Knott the terrain got even more boggy and rocky but I was just happy to be out in the wild with nature doing its best to make me appreciate life. I really enjoyed the views across to Steel Fell which I had never considered before but it looks like a nice and easy ridge walk I'll consider in future. I eventually reached the stone cairn and tarn on the summit of Calf Crag and knew that looking at the watch I would only have just over an hour of daylight left so any plans to do an excursion up to High Raise or across to Tarn Crag would be out of the question. I followed the path down to the head of the Far Easedale Valley and descended in to the valley.

Roe Deer near Grasmere

I was pleasantly surprised at how wild the Far Easedale Valley was and despite battering wind and rain really enjoyed the walk back to Grasmere. While walking through the Far Easedale Valley you have the Helm Crag ridge to your left and from down in the valley it makes the ridge look twice as high and impressive as it really is. You pass by some lovely waterfalls and gills through the valley. After following the Far Easedale Gill down its valley I crossed it over a wide wooden bridge then used the rocky bridleway behind Brimmer Head Farm to reach Steel Bridge and the Easedale Road again back to Grasmere. As I was walking near Goody Bridge I heard an animal over a stone wall by the road, peered over the wall to see if it was just a sheep and was delighted to see what I thought was a young Red Deer, but have since been corrected and told is a Roe Deer, munching on grass in the field. At the sight of a drowned hiker it was startled and soon made off but it was beautiful and a great way to end a good day on the fells.

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here.

Route Map...