Helvellyn and a dip in the Red Tarn

Lake District

I miss the empty paths on the Scottish Mountains. I slow down waiting for a good spot to overtake a family with walking poles and a toddler. Surely, even on a strange summer like this, they are less crowded than Lake District.

This is my first time up Helvellyn despite having spent quite a lot of time in the Lake District recently. I get dropped off at Swirls Car Park by Thirlmere and follow the solid line of people on the stone path leading up to the third highest point in the Lake District.  

On a day like this, you would have to be completely useless to get lost on the path: despite the heat, there is no haze and I can see all the way to the other side of the Solway to Scotland without difficulty. This brilliant day is attracting all the Lake District visitors to the hills. But some have forgotten that the hills offer no shade from the sun and that a water bottle is a friend: the steeper bit up to Browncove Crags is too much for them.

Sweat glues my shirt to my back but I won’t stop when I reach Helvellyn, I’m on a walking mode. I continue down the Swirral Edge and an easy path up to Catstye Cam. Sun sparkles on the surface of the Red Tarn which lays down below. On the other side the Striding Edge draws its silhouette against the sky. I drop down to the tarn and kick my shoes off. The water is cold and clear. It feels wonderful. I throw my shirt on the rocks and walk all the way in.

Easy scrambling on Swirral Edge, pyramids-shaped Castye Cam ahead and Red Tarn on the right

I hadn’t seen a single person in the water when I walked along the Swirral Edge, but now several walkers walk in. Did they need someone to go first? Or did people just check their watches “oh its 12.30, time to swim”? I listen to the occasional splashes whiles I read my book and bask in the sun. Once my shorts are dry, I head to the Striding Edge.

This ridge is supposed to be one of the best around here and I have to admit that it is very nice. Long, steady, and easy-going. But so many people. Too many people. Having to queue at every dip and turn where you need to scramble is frustrating. The ridge has played a part in many hiking accidents, some fatal, so it is good to be careful. However, my patience is not very good, and I end up taking detours around busy spots. Luckily most people walk on the “granny path”, as I hear some young lads call it, and I can take the fast lane on the actual ridge when the paths diverge.

Striding Edge. Granny path follows the right side,  but you can’t completely avoid scrambling

On the second time on the Helvellyn summit plateau, I stop for a while to take in the scenery. It is not surprising that the hill is busy; the view is beautiful and photo opportunities plentiful. I just wish people would swap their skinny jeans and hipster shoes to something more practical and leave their drones home.

Quick Look

  • What: Helvellyn, Swirral Edge, Castye Cam and Striding Edge from Thirlmere
  • Where: Lake District, England
  • Why: scrambling, hill walking, some swimming
  • Distance: about 12 km

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