Keswick to Ambleside, via the Helvellyn range Walking

The Helvellyn range is a long line of fells stretching from Clough Head in the north to Dollywaggon Pike in the south. Walking this ridge offers a rare opportunity to stay above 2,000 feet for many hours and many miles, before dropping down to Grisedale Tarn. The walk continues up over Fairfield and then descends sedately on the eastern side of the Fairfield Horseshoe. This is a classic, challenging walk across the high fells, visiting numerous summits along the way. However, other than the steep ascents of Clough Head at the start of the ridge and up to Fairfield from Grisedale Tarn, most of the day is spent on gentle gradients with little loss of height between the fells. Although the ridge is usually walked from Threlkeld, this extended version from Keswick allows a pleasant warm-up along a horizontal, paved, former railway path.

Looking towards Ullswater and the distant Pennines from Lower Man © Dan Bailey -  © Dan Bailey -
Looking towards Ullswater and the distant Pennines from Lower Man © Dan Bailey -

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NY2633323520 When facing the road from the bus station, turn left and head along the pavement up to the mini roundabout on Main Street. Turn right here and keep going on to the pedestrianised part of Main Street, past the Moot Hall and turn left on to Station Street. Follow this road across the River Greta and past Fitz Park. At the corner of Station Road, near the Keswick Country House Hotel, follow signs for the Railway Footpath to pass the leisure centre and reach the old station, at the start of the Keswick to Threlkeld railway path.

NY2701923810 Follow this paved bridleway via restored railway tunnels with fitted lights, and under the shade of native trees, weaving around the course of the River Greta. There are information boards all over the place and marker posts every kilometre. The trail comes to an end at the A66, but cross the road and turn right, then follow a minor road towards the river, before continuing along the much narrower and less busy part of the disused railway. The railway footpath ends at a narrow paved road, with Blencathra dominating the view to the left. Head right across the weak bridge and stay on the paved route to Newsham, then go through the gate and on to a track up the hill.

NY3333723535 This path crosses the Old Coach Road at Hausewell Brow. Take the path going steeply uphill beside the gate across the Old Coach Road and follow this steeply up to the first summit of the day, Clough Head. The obvious path now leads south, over Calfhow Pike, then across to Great Dodd where a cairn and shelter sit far apart and wherever you stand it will always seem as if there is somewhere higher. Continuing along the obvious path, Watson's Dodd gives good views across to Thirlmere and beyond. Stybarrow Dodd is then reached with ease, although a short detour is needed from the main path to reach the summit cairn.

NY3430318903 Continue south on a gentle downhill to Sticks Pass, and look out for the ski tow on the slope ahead and to the left. The path is even more obvious now, bolstered by the crowds from Glenridding, heading up to the rocky summit of Raise. Keep going to Whiteside, which makes a great viewpoint for Helvellyn. Striding Edge and Swirral Edge stand out, running east from the peak, and both require a more hands-on approach than the broad, gravelly path our route takes. Just follow this, which is briefly fairly steep up Lower Man, and soon you'll be at the highest point of the walk. Depending on the time you reach the summit, you could have the place to yourself or you could be lost in a crowd.

NY3417215137 Keep heading south over Nethermost Pike, High Crag and Dollywaggon Pike, which is best reached by a detour from the main path to follow a rocky ridge. The blue waters of Grisedale Tarn should now be a welcome sight below. Meander downhill to the left-hand side of the tarn, then follow the path around the back up to Hause Gap. At the col, with Morecambe Bay visible far off to the south, turn left and follow the steep path up Fairfield. This is the last major ascent of the day and is likely to be a tough test of aching muscles.

NY3587511739 In poor weather, the summit of Fairfield can cause navigational problems, but the way on is a broad track heading initially south-east, then east towards Hart Crag. This is the eastern part of the Fairfield Horseshoe - the western section is the path leading south from here on to Great Rigg. Other than the short, steep ascent of Hart Crag, it is all just a gentle stroll now, following the long, grassy ridge down towards Ambleside. Dove Crag barely counts as an ascent and High Pike is no ascent at all. Follow the footpath down to join a minor road at Nook End Farm. This leads into the town, then turn right on Smithy Brow and take the next left to walk past the tiny Bridge House and several shops, bars and restaurants - all of which are likely to be tempting after the day you've had. Follow Compston Road round a corner on to Kelsick Road to the bus stop opposite the library.

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Further Routes

by Chris Scaife

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