Fiona Barltrop roams from Stanah to Ambleside via this Helvellyn, Lake District walk

There can be few TGO readers who haven’t climbed Helvellyn at least once or twice in their lives, and no doubt many who have summited umpteen times. It is, after all, Lakeland’s (and England’s) most popular mountain, with Striding Edge probably its most popular route of ascent. “The finest way of all to the top of Helvellyn…” and who can argue with Wainwright. But if you’d rather eschew the crowds and not spend your time queuing to move along the ridge, there are other routes well worth doing instead. And, moreover, they don’t have to be the usual circular sort – which many of the best-known rounds in the Lakes are. This walk is a longish one at 22.5km/14 miles, and includes 1045m/3430ft of ascent. You’ll need at least 8 hours.

The 555 bus service is the answer, combining a highly scenic ride to the start and a splendid linear walk back along the crest of the range, followed by a gentle stroll along the Grasmere and Rydal Water shore paths to finish with. The best of both worlds, and without the hordes! (Or, if you’d rather keep high, you could haul yourself up onto Fairfield and continue down the ridge via Heron Pike and Nab Scar.)

I first tried this route a few years ago and must have done it some half dozen times since, but never met anyone else doing likewise. I’ve even had Helvellyn to myself on occasion – which may be just down to luck or arriving there later in the day than most. From Grisedale Tarn there are paths down either side of Great Tongue, and I’d always stuck to what appears to be the main path down Tongue Gill. A tip-off by a couple I met that the other route was to be preferred provided an (albeit unnecessary) excuse to set forth on the day’s expedition once more.

Climbing Sticks Pass

From the hustle and bustle of Ambleside to the serenity of Stanah (despite its proximity to the main road)… in half an hour you’re in a different world and, likely as not, the only disembarking passenger. Though steep, the climb up to Sticks Pass is straightforward and the views superb – west and south over Thirlmere and the central fells, and north over Naddle Fell and St John’s in the Vale to Skiddaw and Blencathra. I’ve only ever met the odd person en route; today I had the fellside to myself.

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Once on the stony highway of a path that leads along the broad ridge the gradients are easier. It’s a steady climb to the cairn on Raise, thence over White Side and steeply up Lower Man…“Actually, there are four generations of us,” said the uppermost man on Lower Man, the grandfather in a large family group of walkers, bound for Helvellyn. For some it was their first ever mountain, and obviously taking its toll. He was far from elderly himself – 50s/60s maybe – yet there was no one who looked as if they could possibly be older. I glanced back, wondering if the most senior member was lagging some way behind. But no, Mum was in his pack… ashes to be scattered at the top! (Don’t we all have a beloved spot in mind somewhere out there for a final resting place?)

Grisedale Tarn

Down at Grisedale Tarn, I passed a few Coast-to-Coasters, who’d just toiled up from the valley. “A slog,” commented a weary-faced man on the route so far. The path down Little Tongue was indeed a pleasurable change, grassier and with better views. Grasmere’s watering holes provided just that – water. And the waterside walk was a refreshing contrast to the high fells, and a lovely end to another fine Lakeland day.


  • Ascend bridleway from Stanah to Sticks Pass.
  • Turn S and follow ridge-top path via Raise, White Side and Lower Man to summit of Helvellyn.
  • Continue over Nethermost Pike & Dollywaggon Pike (either along edge of eastern escarpment or main path below) down to Grisedale Tarn.
  • After initial descent from tarn, choice of paths either side of Great Tongue down to A591. (Alternative high level route via Fairfield, Heron Pike & Nab Scar down to Rydal.).
  • Turn L, then R into Grasmere village. Continue along lane round N & W side of Grasmere (lake), then along shore path. Carry on along S side of Rydal Water, cross river to A591 and Rydal. Turn R, then L up to Rydal Hall, thence through Rydal Park back to Ambleside.

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