On Helm Crag

Helm Crag near Grasmere is of modest height, but splendid proportions – a good craggy hill so impressive as you come up the road towards Dunmail Raise or gaze at it from the outskirts of the village.

Helm Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Its rocky summit is one of the best in the Lake District, much admired by Wainwright, with its impressive protuberances – the Lion and the Lamb (a couple of those actually), the Lady Playing the Organ, and the dramatic Howitzer. Only the latter looks much like the description to me.

Helm Crag has an advantage in that it only takes a little while to get up, so, if you have things to do in Grasmere, as we did the other day, it fills in the day beautifully.

It was a gorgeous day too, clear blue skies and long distant views.

Wordsworth Monument at Lancrigg (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I first climbed up Helm Crag on June 29th 1997 and have been up many times since, often extending the walk along the ridge to Gibson Knott and Calf Crag, returning down Far Easedale. But Helm Crag is a beautifully easy climb if you just want a good viewpoint over Grasmere.

We took the permissive path through Lancrigg – a place beloved by the Wordsworth clan who frequently interloped in the woods of that house, and up the classic ascent of Helm Crag itself.

And that climb, I maintain, offers some of the best views in Lakeland, right down Grasmere to Windermere, over to the Coniston Fells and the Langdales. Terrific. Usually there’s a wonderful view over Sour Milk Ghyll, but there was so little water coming down that waterfall that you would hardly have known it was there.

Looking down at Grasmere (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Wainwright was right- the top never fails to impress, such a lovely long cluster of rock. The Howitzer – Barrow, the Victorian explorer calls it the “Mortar” in his 1888 book Mountain Ascents; he was a military man and was right. I’ve clambered up the thing a few times, but increasing age and a bad back gave me an excuse not to do it on this expedition.

Howitzer (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Many people doing just Helm Crag tend to go down the way they went up. We didn’t. We went down the far side to the Green Burn, a lovely zig-zag path, with fine views to Steel Fell and Seat Sandal. If you haven’t been that way I commend it to you.

We followed the lane back from Helmside, a pretty route with the River Rothay in sight most of the way.

An easy few miles in Lakeland, and familiarity only increased my enthusiasm for the hills above Grasmere.


Published by John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.

9 thoughts on “On Helm Crag

  1. I love that route you took for descent. I’m not keen on the new ‘santised’ way up the normal route for Helm Crag – we used to go onto the end above the fell wall and there was a great path went steeply up that way – far better views.

    I’ve never been up the Howitzer and would love to get to the top of it. I think it looks easy enough to get up but hell to get down and I imagine, most days, it’s very greasy and damp. I’m toying with the idea of taking a half rope up to aid my descent. Richard says he might give it a go then as well… did you go up the sort of gully straight up the front of it or clamber along from the right-hand side?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’ve seen people using a rope to get themselves down, I went up the gully the first time ever, but recent goes were just straight up the middle of the face on the Gibson Knott side – mind I used to be a rock climber once, so the instinct must still be there.


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