Helvellyn – The Best Lake District Hike

This year I’ve done some great hikes in far reaching places. In japan we hiked to the top of a volcano so we could snowboard back down and in Ethiopia we hiked in the Simien mountains with Gelada monkeys. However, the best hike of the year so far has to be a hike that was a lot closer to home. Just a (relatively) short drive up the road, Helvellyn has to be the best Lake District Hike.

Ullswater Lake in the Lake District. A start for the best Lake District Hike
Ullswater Lake, Lake District. More photos of the Lake District available here

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 is 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 visit. 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! Unfortunately, my fear of exposed edges got the better of me and we had to turn back and take an alternative route to the summit. I was disappointed with myself but it was a great hike nonetheless.

Determined not to let my fear get the better of me I did some more research on 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. 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 Striding Edge.

View from the summit of Helvellyn - the Lake District's Best Hike
View from the summit of Hevellyn. To the right, Striding Edge, to the left Swirral Edge and in the centre Red Tarn.

Hiking Hevellyn via Striding Edge

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 hike of Helvellyn. We decided we would hike from our campsite at Side Farm, up to the summit via Striding Edge and then loop back down 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 the hike to the summit is a slow steady climb along a well maintained path. On the ascent we enjoyed a valley filled with fox gloves in full bloom and glimpsing behind we could see Ullswater Lake gradually getting further 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!

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. Alongside the main ridge there is a path running parallel – a get out clause if things get too much. 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!

Striding Edge leads to the summit of Hevellyn which is the best Lake District hike
The start of Striding 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 ridge was quite enjoyable. 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.

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. Hevellyn via Striding Edge for me has to be the best hike in Lake District!

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!

Useful information

Facts and figures

  • Hevellyn summit 950m
  • 15km loop – moderate to strenuous difficulty
  • Side Farm Campsite to summit via Striding Edge 7.2km. 800m elevation gain
  • 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!

Where to stay

Side Farm

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

YHA Patterdale

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 of 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 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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Striding Edge to the summit of Helvellyn is one of the best Lake District Hikes

If you’re interested in more UK hikes check out my guide to hiking Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons National Park!

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