Helvellyn: The romantic fell (Free Route)

Route Summary

Helvellyn is the third highest mountain in England, but some may argue it is the best known. Whilst the most famous route features a grade one scramble, this approach takes you up to the summit via Greenside and Keppel Cove.

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance:  9.8 miles (15.7 km)

Walking Time: 04h 00m

Type: Circular

Start location

Glenridding Car Park, CA11 0PD

lat: 54.5447402

lon: -2.9507358

Getting there

By car: The easiest way to access Glenridding is via car from Penrith. The village has a large central car park, but please be aware that during high season this quickly becomes full.

By public transport: The 508 bus runs regularly from Penrith to Patterdale. Presently the bus runs 5 times a day, with the last bus leaving Glenridding at 17:25.

Route Map

helvellyn route map



This route takes you up and down Helvellyn, England's third highest mountain, via the Glenridding route. Please be aware that, while this walk is relatively straightforward, it is strenuous - conditions at the top can be difficult with high winds, low cloud and inclement weather adding to the challenges. This is a mountain walk and should be treated as such. Ensure that you fully equipped and prepared before embarking.Forbidding warnings aside, this is a fabulous walk. Starting at the large car park in Glenridding, look out for a footway signposted 'Helvellyn via Greenside'. Take this exit onto Greenside Road and follow until you reach The Travellers Rest pub. Beyond the pub the road divides. Take the right fork, heading uphill towards Rake Cottage. From the cottage, the road becomes a track following the Glenridding Beck, eventually leading to the YHA Helvellyn Hostel. Glenridding is a walker's paradise - popular with hikers aiming to scale Britain's third highest mountain, or to explore the many other fells in the local area. The village is also noted for being the home of the former Greenside Mine, once the largest lead mine in the Lake District, which operated until 1962.


After passing the hostel, turn right before a gate, where the path leads up steeply for a short distance before flattening out into a wide valley. Follow this path, which ascends gradually, enjoying the views as you climb. As you begin to climb more steeply, the path forks. Take the right fork, heading away from the river. This path zigzags upwards, climbing above Keppel Cove.


On reaching the top of the winding path, turn left and walk on to a junction of paths. Continue straight ahead, past a cairn and ignoring a path off to the right. Pass another cairn. Keeping on the same path, you will bend around to the left, eventually reaching the summit of Helvellyn. Helvellyn is England's third highest peak, and the highest point on the Helvellyn range. It is noted for its deep glacial coves, sharp-topped ridges and for being home to rare arctic-alpine plants and insects.There are many routes up the mountain, but most famous is the approach via Striding Edge which requires some scrambling with a sheer drop on either side. This is a notorious accident spot for hikers, particularly in winter, and there have been a number of fatalities over the years.The popularity of Helvellyn as a winter walking and climbing spot has led the Lake District National Park to employ two fell-top assessors, who climb the hill each day to report on conditions during the winter. The name Helvellyn was first recorded in 1577 but it's origin is uncertain - in part because of the great diversity of ways it has been written. Various theories have been proposed - the most widely accepted suggesting that the name is a translation of 'yellow moorland.'


On a windy day you can hunker down behind the shelter, taking a well deserved break to enjoy the amazing mountain views. Look out for the pretty Red Tarn below, and the iconic ridge of Striding Edge snaking out into the distance. Once you’ve taken in your surroundings, retrace your steps back to the car park. Congratulations! You've made it to the top of England's third highest peak! In doing so, you've followed in the footsteps of innumerable others over the past millennia. For much of this time the only visitors to the summit would have been shepherds, who roamed the mountain as part of their work - but from the 1800s onwards, hill-walking became an increasingly popular tourist pursuit.One of the earliest recorded ascents of Helvellyn dates to 1787 - James Clarke's guidebook relates the story of a man from Penrith, who resolved to eat his dinner on midsummer's day while sitting in a snowdrift on the summit. Climactic changes mean that it is unlikely you'd be able to repeat this feat today. The peak became increasingly popular over the next century - spurred by the Romantic movement, which was intimately associated with the peak. Scott, Wordsworth and Coleridge all climbed Helvellyn, and Wordsworth's poem 'Inmate of a mountain dwelling' celebrates the mountain. The prototypical image of Wordsworth is that painted by Keats, of the poet 'on Helvellyn's summit, wide awake' - an image that was subsequently painted by Haydon.Links to the Romantic movement were cemented further by the death of Charles Gough, who fell from Striding Edge in 1805. His skeleton was found near Red Tarn three months later, with his dog still attending him. The unfortunate implication that the dog has survived by eating his master was quickly forgotten, and Gough and Foxie was quickly celebrated as the embodiment of romanticism. Wordsworth and Scott both wrote poems about the incident, and the scene was painted by Landsee and Danby.