Helm Crag in the Lake District, Cumbria, is one of the most prominent and recognisable peaks yet is actually quite small in stature when compared to other summits in the Central Fells.
If you have driven north to Grasmere on the A591 then you may well have noticed Helm Crag. It rises behind the village at the north end with a rocky ridge visible on the top.
At a height of 405 metres (1,329 feet) it is not huge in Lake District terms. I can assure you, however, that it is worth every step to get to the top for the views and unique landscapes. It is surely the best place to get a view over Grasmere toward Loughrigg Fell.
As we shall see, it is more than just another peak in the Lake District, famous for the crags at the top and the ability to get up close to them.
Parking For Helm Crag
Most people start in the actual village of Grasmere. This is fine if you want to add a couple of tarmac miles to your walk, and if you want to pay Grasmere rates on parking charges.
For Helm Crag I like to park in the car park at The Lancrigg Hotel which is at the foot of Helm Crag itself. They have a free car park with plenty of room and no obligations. That being said, I always stop in for a drink at the end. It is a lovely spot in the world within the woods. More on that later.
Even Wainwright agrees that this is one of those walks that is best done coming down the same way as going up. It really does give a wide range of views as you walk each direction.
The only bit I change is the first half a mile or so. I want to end up at the hotel for refreshments on the way back down at the end, so I mix it up just a little at the start. Walk out of the hotel car park the way you entered and you come immediately across a junction of tracks and pathway. Take the first right pathway that takes you between the hedges.
This takes you down to a lane, Easdale Lane. Turn right and head to the hamlet.
Once within the quaint hamlet you will see a sign telling you to turn right to Helm Crag summit, up a narrow cobbled pathway.
There must have been some mad people in vehicles trying to get up there in the past.
At the top of this track you come to a gate where you turn right. Then at the next junction it is straight on back to the hotel (the way we go on the way back down), but turn left and you start on the path up and up the fell.
The Views and the Zig-Zags
This is one of those walks upwards that has you stopping, not just to catch a quick breath, but to take in all the amazing views that keep on appearing.
The zig-zag path upwards is quite steep. The whole climb up and down is less than 3 miles so it is pretty much straight up, good for cardio and rewarding on the eyes.
The terrain is a mix of grassy paths but also plenty of rocky steps. I would personally advise good ankle support on your boots here.
As you get higher, looking back you have an iconic view over the village of Grasmere, then the lake, then Loughrigg Fell behind it. Magical.
Climbing up further you get some wide open views appearing on your left to the east. Across the valley Easdale Tarn starts to appear with Blea Crag and Eagle Crag behind.
You will find so many places to stop and take it all in as you go, including plenty of places for a lunch stop.
The path then eventually comes out on the ridge that you can see from the A591. The views open up even more.
Looking straight across and down you see the Yan at Brodrayne. The very accommodation that had been teasing this walk at us. The fact that Helm Crag summit was the great view from the accommodation window certainly didn’t hurt.
Turning up to the crag ridge and a few rocky steps more, the famous rocks of Helm Crag come into view.
The Summit of Helm Crag
At the top you instantly recognise some of the famous rocky outcrops that people come to see and scramble. It is one you can see from all the way down by the valley bottom.
The point that most head to is known as The Howitzer or The Old Lady Playing The Organ. (It depends on where you are viewing it from). This is the outcrop that stands up high to create the true summit of Helm Crag.
You can scramble up to the top of this but care should be taken of course. It is one of those that is easier to scramble up than it is to work your way down to terra firma.
The summit of Helm Crag is a place to look out in wonder and appreciate being away from it all.
From here, looking north you can see over to Helvellyn and beyond to Blencathra. Not bad for a peak below 500 m.
Turning around from The Howitzer to head back down, you will see another prominent rocky outcrop on your left. This is the one you see from Grasmere Village, as if looking over the inhabitants.
It is known as The Lion and the Lamb. On the left of this pic, the big rock is the lion and the small one is the lamb.
Heading Back Down
Coming back down you get a whole new view of the walk. For the first half you get that spectacular view over Grasmere and as you go down and down further you get the great quiet views over to the Central Fells.
Once back down near the bottom, at the junction you can turn right to go back the way you came, or left to head to Lancrigg. This is where you can change the view and turn left.
This path takes you half a mile through some wonderful and peaceful woodland. Birds of all kinds singing around you.
It may seem like just another ancient woodland but this one has connections with the literary figures in the area.
William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy often walked here in the trees. It gave William a lot of inspiration whilst writing his piece, The Prelude. In fact, in the middle of the woods you will come across a bronze plaque dedicated to Dorothy as this was her al fresco work space.
The plaque is unique in that it is written in Latin.
And before you know it after this, you arrive at Lancrigg Hotel. Time for refreshments! And remember, you may be glad you parked here, rather than thinking you have to walk all the way back to the village.
Route Details and GPX
Walk distance: 2.6 miles up and down.
Time: 2 hours
Parking: Lancrigg Hotel car park