Hiking & Camping – Helvellyn, Lake District

P1120096Last month I went on a brilliant hike through the Lake District. I had planned this for a quite a while, and to be honest I was getting cold feet when I looked at the dreary forecast for the weekend. Happily though, under glorious sunshine, I boarded the train from Edinburgh after work on Friday.

I was slightly tempted to begin my hike on the Friday evening and find a wild camping spot, but I decided to stay safe and camp at the Youth Hostel for £7 a night – reasonable price. I got there, and they were booked out of camping spots – yet there was a huge field for camping! “Sorry mate, we can only have 7 tents pitched at a time”. Ridiculous! And then they had no beds available, so I had to walk another half hour to the Thornyhow Hostel. Argh!

I was really pissed off with myself, and should have booked somewhere in advance. While it was a nice hostel, it was a crazy £26 for a dorm bed for a less than 12 hour stay. I was in a grumpy huff, so I consoled myself with a pint of ale (£3.50) from the hostel bar and decided to upgrade to the Full English breakfast (£3) in the morning. (I know – budget out the window!)

I tucked into bed that night dreaming of the whopper breakfast I would be having in the morning. Bahhhh, it was very underwhelming – and despite their friendliness, I have my doubts that it was a fully locally sourced breakfast! I was still ravished, so I went down to the lovely village of Grasmere and grabbed a coffee and croissant from one of the cafes. Clearly the ideal healthy preparation for a day of hiking.

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And so I was off. I headed north-east from Grasmere towards the A591. Shortly after the charming looking Travellers Rest pub (note to self – must call in for lunch someday), a public pathway begins. It steeply ventures through green fields dotted with woolly sheep and plump cows munching away on the lush grass.

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The views behind my back on the way up were incredible, and I couldn’t believe my luck with the weather. Where was all this rain and wind the Met Office kept on mentioning all week?! I struggled up, the weight of a massive breakfast swirling away in my stomach. This was the first time I was hiking and camping solo, so it took time to adjust to carrying a backpack full of supplies, water and a tent. To speed myself up I just imagined Steve Buscemi creepily chasing me up the hill, *shudder*

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Breathtaking views on the way up to Helvellyn

Grisedale Tarn

It was incredibly tempting to jump in the swim – this Grisedale Tarn. The sun was shining and the water looks so inviting!

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The views across the lowlands from Grisedale Tarn

I made it up to the stunning and still Grisdale Tarn – a small lake tucked in between steep mountains. I really, really wanted to jump in a go for a swim – it was so inviting! But I can imagine it would have been freeeezing too! I stopped off for a water break and enjoyed the view east towards the valleys of Cumbria.

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I began my final slog up to the summit of Helvellyn, one of the highest peaks in the Lake District. This involved a steep switchback path up from Grisdale Tarn. There were a good few other hikers out for the day enjoying the sunshine so it was pretty good to be able to have a quick chat on the way up – and a deserved breather!

Upon passing Fairfield, I spied the infamous Striding Edge (above). It’s the main trail up towards Helvellyn from the eastern side and is notoriously difficult and dangerous in windy weather. It’s a narrow ridge and there are fatal drops on either side, so hikers really need to be careful. I decided against going this direction due to the weight imbalances with my backpack – anddddd didn’t really fancy being blown over the edge when hiking solo. 

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I was so fortunate to climb Helvellyn on one of the best days of the year – the views were magical.

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Looking north west across the Lake District

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Make it…. now, where to have lunch?

Hellvyn shelter

The 360° degree views from the top of Helvellyn are utterly amazing – on a clear day you can see for miles across the Cumbrian countryside out towards the massive wind farms of the Irish Sea. I took shelter at the stone wall on top of Helvellyn and dug into my packed lunch. Once again I was starving – I really got figure out what is going on with my constant craving for food. I do wonder sometimes how I’m not as large as Homer Simpson.

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Not too bad a spot to camp for the night

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Making the most of the bizarre assortment of foods

After lunch, and a few photo ops, I took off once more in the direct of Stybarrow Dodd, another one of he mountains further north. In my wisdom I didn’t really pay attention to my map, and just followed the couple in front of me. I was too distracted to realise that I went down the wrong trail, and had to backtrack all the way back up….bah!
I eventually began to lookout for a decent bit of ground to camp on for the night. Many parts were boggy and bumpy, but I managed to find a half decent spot. Without further ado, and away from spying walkers and sheep – I set about setting up my tent. And hey, not a bad view eh?! 🙂

Spicy chicken and rice was on the menu for the evening – yeah I know, a very posh wild camping meal. It went down a treat, but disaster struck when I realised…..I’d forgotten the tea bags!! Noooooo!!! How will I survive?!

I’ll honest, wild camping on your own isn’t very exciting, and quite lonely. Especially when there is noooobody around you for miles. At around 9pm the wind and rain began, a vicious wind working its way up the mountain. Thank god I have a strong tent! All I could do was hunker down and read my book – the superb “The Given Day” by Dennis Lehane. I didn’t really sleep much as the wind howled outside and I did think there was a monster outside the tent, but lets not go there.

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Any minute now the White Walkers are going to make an appearance….

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God, is that you?

In the morning I woke to foggy moors, with rain still pouring down and creepy sheep staring at me. A quick Mars bar (healthy) and I was off again – not seeing 2 metres in front of. I thought Uncle Fester from the Addams family would appear out of the bog but no, it was just Steve Bueshemi again.

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Weather clearning up on the way down

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As the morning went on, the rain turned to drizzle and the clouds began to break up – and the day brightened up. The panoramic views were changing constantly as the vanishing clouds opened up new vistas through the green valleys.

I clambered on down towards the bottom and made it to Ambleside in time for a warm, filling toastie and endless cups of tea (much needed tea!!). I was quite happy with myself, I thought I would be shattered but I felt I could carry on for another couple of days. I strolled around wee Ambleside, which is such a pretty village, and managing to avoid the crowds I went back to a Cafe Treff, which was fantastic the last time in the Lake District. They bake one of the finest Victoria sponge cakes in all the land. It’s so good, and it was washed down with even more tea!

Afterwards I scooted off from Ambleside and down to Windemere for my return to Edinburgh. Within 2 minutes of boarding of the train I was fast asleep. A great weekend, ang highly recommended to anyone!

Get There

Windermere is connected Oxenholme train station on the main West Coast line. There are onward trains to the London, Manchester, Scotland and other cities throughout the UK. See National Rail for schedules.

Get Around

Stagecoach offers very regular services throughout the Lake District during the summer months. The core 555 route runs every 20 minutes in summer. See their map guide here. Bicycles can be hired from a number of places in Windemere and Ambleside. There are also affordable lake cruises from Bowness and Ambleside.

Stay

The Thorney How Hostel, like many hostels in the Lake District is expensive but it is a great retreat away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Prices start at £22 for a dormitory bed – but can be more in summertime. Prices for a double room in an Ambleside B&B begin at roughly £70 in summertime.

Eat

Cafe Treff offers up the best coffee and cake in all of Ambleside – it’s an ideal place to relax when the rain starts to pour down. Lunch is also offered by the friendly staff.

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