Helm Crag is probably my favourite small hill in the Lakes and the best way to scale it is straight up from Grasmere. On any other approach it’s just an outlying fell yet from Grasmere it becomes a mini Matterhorn. This 4 hour walk heads straight up Helm Crag from the Village and beyond for a horseshoe above Dunmail Raise to Steel Fell. Must admit to knowing nothing about Steel Fell until today! The walk can just as easily be done anti clockwise, either way make sure you get down in time for tea & cake at Baldrys:-)
- Distance = 8.5 miles ( 13.7 km)
- Duration = 4 hrs 35 mins, inc 30mins on Steel Fell, (start 11.25am, finish 4.00pm)
- Total Ascent = 2,398 ft (731m), max height Steel Fell 1,814 ft (553 m)
- Start/Finish = Grasmere Village
- Date = Sunday 27th April 2014, low cloud with rain imminent
- Click on the interactive Route Map below for more details;-
Starting Point – Grasmere Village I’m a huge Grasmere fan. There’s an irresistible bustle about the place, it’s full of walkers, excellent tea shops, good food and real ale – yet evenings can be quiet as a quiet thing. Today was the last day of a Grasmere birthday weekend with excellent food at the Oak Bank Hotel. After another full breakfast and a reluctant check-out we were luckily allowed to leave the car parked at the hotel for this final jaunt. Low cloud and the threat of rain wasn’t going to put us off, the plan being to finish on Steel Fell, a new Wainwright for us. We just hoped the greyness would stay high enough to get some new views.
Route Summary – in 3 stages Timings are just a guide with a few stops added, it was another late start & there was no rush to end the walk early or to leave the Lakes;
- Grasmere Village to Helm Crag; (1 hr)
- Helm Crag via Gibson Knott, Calf Crag to Steel Fell; (1 hr 45 mins)
- Steel Fell descent back to Grasmere Village; (1 hr 15mins)
Route Detail & Photos from Sunday 27th April 2014 Stage 1 – Grasmere Village to Helm Crag; (1 hr) – The day started by turning north west up Easedale Rd at the junction near Heaton Cooper studios. The road is fairly quiet and rises gently past some houses until bending right by a bridge & cottage. You cross the bridge for Easedale Tarn but stay on the road for Helm Crag.
The private road passes the house above continuing to a junction between cottages. There a right turn is taken up a cobbly track through a gate then another gate, then upwards where the managed stone path starts zigzagging up to Helm Crag. There’s level bits just when you need them as the path snakes initially west then up to a grassy ‘playing field’. Go to the east edge for great views over Dunmail Raise where you might see jets screaming below you on a weekday. Finally it’s a steeper rougher rocky path to the top with a hint of easy fun scrambling at the end (or a grassy bypass path). Helm Crag is an excellent introduction for anyone new to the hills giving a taste of mountain adventure with wondrous views. It’s understandably & deservedly a magnet for walkers, tourists, families & sheep; if the weather’s good you won’t be alone long on Helm Crag.
And for the adventurous there’s the challenge of the Howitzer, never achieved by Mr Wainwright or Martinthehills. My excuse being it’s always very windy….or wet & slippy….or I’m in a rush…or any other excuse I can quickly think of. I’ve had a tentative look mind so one day I might grow a beard and have a go, after all Julia Bradbury did it – and no beard too!
Stage 2- Helm Crag to Steel Fell via Gibson Knott & Calf Crag; (1hr 45 mins) Once past the Howitzer the ground suddenly dips enough to give Helm Crag an identity all of it’s own. As with many Lakeland dips this is passed more quickly than it looks then once the high ground is reached the ridge traverse starts, not that it’s really a ridge.
Been a few years since we walked this section and it seemed more fiddly this time, even though last time was deep in clag. Alan was getting keen to divert north east asap due to the threatening weather, the cloud was now on Seat Sandal & getting lower. There’s a watershed to avoid so we delayed leaving the main path until just before Calf Crag where we looped off north then swung south east. Soon we picked up a decent grassy track with reassuring boot marks. Can’t think of a moment when boot marks aren’t reassuring 🙂 Cloud lowering further though and starting to drizzle.
From here the route up to Steel Fell was surprisingly straightforward and we tried to hurry before our potential new Wainwright views disappeared. The brief rain had come & gone, the weather all around had closed in but at least on Steel Fell summit we had views.
The summit is surrounded by high ground so I walked out to the western edges for a retrospective view of our route here. Somewhere down there is the source of the River Rothay which winds through Grasmere, Rydal, Ambleside and into Windermere.
It was quiet up here, big contrast to Helm Crag, bet this was rarely visited before the ‘Wainwrights’ became popular. Bet the views are even better on a fine day too…but hey what’s happening with this weather, that cloud’s lifting, that’s not supposed to happen!
Oh hold on, no it’s not!
It was getting a bit nippy now but the cloud did start to lift a little and then a bit more, and then a steady improvement for the descent, lucky.
Stage 3 – Descent from Steel Fell to Grasmere; (1 hr 15 mins) This is virtually a straight grassy line south east which descends quickly and easily. Views are nice and it was all very uplifting. Bit like the cloud.
Soon it’s a roasdside walk back to Grasmere and we passed a cottage I stayed at for my first Grasmere weekend years ago. I remember it being dark at night, memories eh!
Back in Grasmere there was plenty of time for a quick boot change and nice cuppa Farrers leaf tea & creamy jam scone at Baldrys. Recommended.
Sadly we left Grasmere diverting to Keswick for a pint at the Dog & Gun. We really didin’t want to leave the Lakes. Cracking long weekend where everything went to plan 🙂
On a clear day there may be advantages in doing this particular route starting up Steel Fell and going anticlockwise, maybe I’ll try this one day. And maybe I’ll get up the Howitzer. Lot’s of maybes one certainty, I’ll definitely be back in Grasmere, get the kettle on 🙂