Helvellyn via Swirral Edge & Raise


This is a circular walk that ascends the popular Swirral Edge route to Helvellyn, the third highest mountain in England at 950m above sea level, then descends an alternative route over its lesser trodden neighbour Raise. The route starts at the village of Glenridding by Ullswater. On the ascent you can take a slight diversion and bag the airy summit of Catstye Cam which gives great views towards Ullswater. Swirral Edge requires some hands on scrambling, though it is nowhere near as exposed as Striding Edge on the other side of Red Tarn. The descent is a great alternative route to those normally walked and takes you over White Side and Raise before follow Stakes Gill down the old mining valley of Green Side from the Stakes Pass. Navigating on the higher parts of this walk can be difficult in bad weather or low visibility, and Helvellyn is a serious mountain with changeable weather conditions at any time of the year. You should always be carrying the right gear and know how to use it, particularly your map and compass. The lofty summit of Helvellyn catches the first snows of the year. In winter you should always carry winter gear such as spikes or crampons and ice axe. Do not attempt to walk across the deadly cornice that builds up on Helvellyn's north eastern edge most winters. Pack the right gear and give yourself the right amount of time to do this walk and it will be one of your favourites!

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the large pay and display car park in the centre of Glenridding village near Ullswater at grid reference NY 385 169. The car park has toilet facilities and a visitor centre.
  2. From the car park head west along Greenside Road. After two hundred metres the road reaches the Travellers Rest Inn. Just after the Travellers Rest Inn the road bends sharp right. Follow the road round the bend. Stay on Greenside Road and follow it as it turns left and heads west into the Glenridding Beck valley.
  3. After a kilometre and a half Greenside Road will reach the Helvellyn YHA youth hostel at Greenside. Just after the youth hostel pass through a gate and head over to the bridge that crosses Glenridding Beck on the left.
  4. On the other side of the Glenridding Beck footbridge turn right along the path heading south west. Just under a kilometre along the path crosses Red Tarn Beck on a wooden footbridge.
  5. After the wooden bridge the footpath turns left and starts an ascent heading south following the tumbling Red Tarn Beck now on your left. After a kilometre of ascent the path will turn right, heading south west and giving you the first view of Helvellyn.
  6. A few hundred metres on you will reach the shores of Red Tarn. An overpowering and stunning natural amphitheatre created by glaciers. Red Tarn's cold waters are overlooked by Helvellyn's huge north eastern facing cliffs and flanked on either side by the narrow ridges of Striding Edge and Swirral Edge.
  7. From Red Tarn turn right and ascend the path in a westerly direction to reach the col between the conical shaped Catstye Cam on the right and Swirral Edge on the left.
  8. Once you reach the col on the ridge you can take a twenty minute detour to bag the top of Catstye Cam which gives fantastic views from its airy summit towards Ullswater over Glenridding.
  9. Once you have reached the col or returned from bagging Catstye Cam, head west along the ridge to Swirral Edge. You are only five hundred metres from the summit plateau but before you reach it you have to tackle the hands on scramble up well worn rock.
  10. Swirral Edge can be quite tricky in winter so the use of spikes is highly recommended when it is wet or has little snow on it. In deeper snow it can actually be of help in places as steps are often created by earlier walkers.
  11. After a fun scramble you will find yourself topping out on the wide flat summit of Helvellyn. In fact Helvellyn's summit is so large and flat that on December 22nd 1926 John Leeming and Burt Hinkler managed to land a plane on the summit and take off again!
  12. Turn left and head south to south east across the plateau. You will firstly pass the stone OS trig point pillar, then shortly after that you will reach a cairn of stones at the highest point at 950m above sea level. Directly below the highest point there is a cross shaped stone shelter. This shelter can be extremely welcoming in bad weather or strong winds.
  13. The views on a clear day are quite incredible. The most captivating of them all being the views north east over the crags to Red Tarn flanked by Swirral Edge and Striding Edge. This is by far one of the most dramatic landscapes in Britain and can only really be appreciated from the summit of Helvellyn.
  14. After enjoying the views retrace your steps back the same way along the plateau passing again the cairn of stones and the highest point to eventually reach again the stone OS trig point pillar.
  15. From the stone OS trig point pillar on Helvellyn descend west then north west for just over a kilometre then head north to reach the summit of Lower Man at 924m above sea level.
  16. From the summit of Lower Man descend north for five hundred metres to the col between Lower Man and White Side. From the col ascend for five hundred metres to reach the top of White Side.
  17. From White Side head north east for a kilometre to reach the summit of Raise. Where the path splits just after White Side keep left and do not take the wider bridleway down into Keppel Cove.
  18. You may be surprised to find a small ski resort on Raise. This is England's only permanent real ski resort. Small it may seem but it is well looked after and much loved by its owners the Lake District Ski Club.
  19. Descend north from the summit of Raise for seven hundred metres to reach the Stakes Pass. At Stakes Pass turn right and descend east into the old mining valley of Green Side. The path turns right through the old mining tips at the end of the valley before crossing a wooden footbridge over the Stakes Gill.
  20. The path heads south and rounds Stang End before descending steep zig zags to reach Greenside where you crossed Glenridding Beck earlier. Turn left and pass the Helvellyn YHA youth hostel again.
  21. A simple two kilometre walk along the tarmac Greenside Road will now take you all the way back to Glenridding passing again the Travellers Rest Inn where I recommend you step in for tasty ale and food.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL5 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 90 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Lakeland Central Map Click to buy Harvey Lake District Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.