Walking the Birketts, Helvellyn by Striding Edge, Descending Swirral Edge to Catstye Cam

5th September 2019

Today I'm back in the land that I love following Birketts Helvellyn by Striding Edge and Swirral Edge walk which Birkett describes as "one of Lakelands finest outings" and I have to agree despite its massive popularity you would be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating day on the fells than gaining Helvellyn via Striding Edge followed subsequently by the descent of Swirral Edge before looking back on your work from the summit of Catstye Cam, nope, mountain days don't come much finer than that.

I was again at the mercy of the forecast which had predicted a bright start to the day however, low cloud was forecasted to settle over the summits with the chance of rain by late morning so with a completion time of around 4hrs I thought I'd try my luck by giving myself an early (ish) start whereby I should have completed the walk before the low cloud and rain arrived, well I got that bit wrong with the cloud arriving by mid morning soon followed by light rain showers, that wasn't to say I hadn't already taken advantage of the brilliant display of sunlight which dashed the Helvellyn basin before my boots had the chance to strike Striding Edge, for that display alone was worth the walk back to Glenrididng in the rain.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

-Helvellyn by Striding Edge

This is a great mountain day, one of Lakelands finest outings and perhaps the most popular.


Ascent: 3,000 Feet - 915 Metres
Birketts: 3, Birkhouse Moor - Helvellyn - Catstye Cam
Weather: A Windy Day With a Bright Start Turning Cloudy By Mid Morning. Feeling Cold Across The Summits. Highs of 15°C Lows of 9°C
Parking: Car Park, Glenridding
Area - Group: Eastern - C/HEL
Miles: 7.5
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL5
Time Taken: 3 Hours 45 Minutes
Route: Glenridding - Mires Beck - Hole-in-the-Wall - Striding Edge - Helvellyn - Swirral Edge - Catstye Cam - Red Tarn Beck - Glenridding Beck - Greenside Road - Glenridding

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA11 0PD
Grid Reference: NY 385 716
Notes: A large Pay and Display can be found in the centre of Glenridding alongside Glenridding Beck. The car park hosts an Information Centre and Toilets with local shops, bars, hotels and not to forget some of Lakelands most popular fells close by. The car park is Pay and Display and charges apply.


Map and Photo Gallery


Glenridding 07:45am 9°C

You can't half tell the kids have gone back to School, this morning was the quietest I've ever seen Glenridding hesitant to say I had no trouble parking seeing that I was first on the car park so I conveniently parked right next to the ticket machine which charged me £5.40 for 4hrs parking, that should do it. Yesterdays high winds have gone over to today which I felt the moment I opened my car door, the temperature had also taken a drop meaning by the time I walked over to the banks of Glenridding Beck to take this photo I knew I should have worn long trousers instead of shorts, flipping eck.

The morning light is low for now with high white cloud above but I can see large amounts of blue sky in between which was just what was forecast, it's still early and the sun is low but by my reckoning it should start to brighten up within the next half hour. After a quick kit check/pat down I left the car park and started to make my way away from the village towards the Travellers Rest.

The Travellers Rest, Glenridding.
Birkhouse Moor's North East ridge domineered the view as I walked past the house and cottages along Greenside Road with blue skies developing overhead, this is exactly what I wanted to see although I must admit, it's still quite nippy to a point where I'm thinking of adding my beanie and gloves but I brave on knowing that once I reach Mires Beck the hard work starts by which time I'll probably be complaining I'm too hot.

Birkhouse Moor North East (The Nab) and North ridges seen over Rattlebeck Cottage.
I'm heading for Mires Beck seen far left but here's a better view below.

Mires Beck (Little Cove)
It's just a simple case of following the lane over Rattlebeck Bridge before heading right onto open fell side.

Looking back on Glenridding Dodd from Mires Beck.
Just below Gleridding Dodd are the old miners cottages which have been turned into holiday cottages or are privately owned, I'll be walking past them later on my return to Glenridding.

Sheffield Pike, Heron Pike and Glenridding Dodd.
I'm starting to gain height now and I was right, it's too hot so zips are being lowered, the good news is although the ascent is steep in places the stone staircase path is continuous and height feels like it's quickly gained.

Looking down on Glenridding, Ullswater with Place Fell and Birk Fell silhouetted in the distance.

Looking across the Grisedale Valley towards St Sunday Crag, Cofa Pike and Fairfield.
With the head of Little Cove reached I leave the stone steps behind in favour of a gravel/stone path which ascends steeply onto Birkhouse Moor summit shoulder all the while being treated to views of St Sunday Crag and Fairfield both of which were on the cards today had it not been for the low cloud forecasted later.

Helvellyn and Catstye Cam from Birkhouse Moor subsidiary summit.
From the summit shoudler earlier all I could see was the cloud and I was a little concerned said cloud might be low enough to have lowered over Helvellyn but I was wrong, the cloud was high enough to clear the summit, but only just.

It doesn't matter how many times I've seen this view.
I still get butterflies in my stomach, gets me every time.

...the light across the Helvellyn basin
was something special this morning...

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam from Birkhouse Moor summit.
Within minutes cloud filled the skies and I wondered had I had my light show.

But it was just the start.

Catstye Cam.
This photo shows my descent route from the summit via Catstye Cam's East ridge before following Red Tarn Beck, it's a route I've rarely used and today I'm very much looking forward to it.

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam.
The fantastic light show continues but I can sense that the cloud is building.

Striding Edge, Helvellyn, Swirral Edge and Catstye Cam.
It's so windy the atmospherics and light are changing second by second, just the way I like it.

Striding Edge from Hole-in-the-Wall.
You can see that with the three to four minutes I've spent here the cloud is beginning to thicken and I'm not sure if that's the last I'll see of the sun but if it is, those few minutes were worth spending the rest of the walk in low light and cloud.

A close up of Swirral Edge.
Absorbing the remainder of the light before it disappears. That's Helvellyn Lower Man in the distance but you already knew that.

Living on the edge.
Back at Hole-in-the-wall I'd been caught up by two young lads who I'd actually seen tailing me from the ascent of Mires Beck, we stopped for a quick chat were they asked about Striding Edge as today would be their first traverse. They looked capable young lads and I had no reason not to give them my advice which I centered on the descent of the Chimney informing them that it wasn't my choice of descent "just descend down the nose, I'll only be five minutes behind you" The lads thanked me and I watched them head towards Low Spying How, I left it a few minutes then followed them.

The Dixon Memorial, Striding Edge.

It's still nice on sunny in Nethermost Cove.
With Nethermost Pike's very steep East ridge in the foreground while beyond, Ruthwaite Cove below Dollywagon Pike.

Cloud is starting to build.
As was the wind, in fact I advised the lads earlier just to be wary of the wind and gusts affecting the ridge, especially along exposed areas.

The view back to Birkhouse Moor, Sheffield Pike and Ullswater from Striding Edge.
During another brief spell of sunshine.

Striding Edge.
I can see the lads just up ahead, they're doing absolutely fine ascending the rocky knolls when possible and using the path below where exposed.

Striding Edge.
It's just me and the young lads with no sign of anyone for miles, not even on Helvellyn summit which is a rare sight!

Looking back on Striding Edge.
Before I make the ascent on The Chimney.

The view over Red Tarn towards Catstye Cam.

Looking back on The Chimney.
The exposed descent can be seen towards the left which wasn't my choice having descended to the right where care still has be taken due to the rock being a tad greasy/wet.

The view back along Striding Edge.
As I start my ascent on the summit.

The lads have stopped for a break.
Where I got the chance to overtake them after a quick chat.

Red Tarn, Striding Edge and Birkhouse Moor.
Time to make for the summit.

Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon Pike and Great Rigg from Helvellyn summit.
i always enjoy ascending the head wall and todays ascent was no different even if it meant I was beaten to the summit by the cloud.

Looking towards Helvellyn's summit Trig Point from the summit cairn.
Aye, no views from't top today.

And on that note...
I head straight towards the top of Swirral Edge and start my descent.

Looking back up Swirral Edge.
Much of my descent was done in cloud which cleared as I neared the bottom, the rock was much greasier than anything I'd encountered along Striding Edge and care trusting footings was exercised during my descent.

Through the thinning cloud.
Catstye Cam appears.

One last look up Swirral Edge.
It was here the lads caught back up with me which shows how slow my own descent was. They check their maps and and ask me to confirm their route back which I was glad to do and before I knew it they were making their descent towards Red Tarn.

Striding Edge looking mysterious in the low light and swirling cloud.

Looking back on Swirral Edge and Helvellyn.
The cloud continues to come and go which leads me to believe it's settling in for the rest of the day as forecasted.

Birkhouse Moor from Catstye Cam summit.
I seemed to have ascended Catstye Cam summit in no time at all while glancing over my shoulder towards Striding Edge which still looked menacing in the low light and cloud. With Catstye Cam reached I take in the view but my eyes are trained towards the thick grey cloud in all directions.

The view towards Raise and Stang from the banks of Red Tarn Beck.

Having made the descent via Catstye Cam East ridge I linked up with the path alongside Red Tarn Beck which further down flows into Glenridding Beck. It was here I pass numerous groups making their ascents towards Red Tarn, whereafter I was unsure as I didn't ask, one woman asked of my route replying "well at least I'm heading in the right direction" while I replied "I hope it stays dry for you"

I'd just said the dreaded words I think...!

Sheffield Pike comes into view.
As I head towards the footbridge seen below over Red Tarn Beck by which point there's little spots of rain in the air.

Jubilee Outdoor Centre with Swarth Beck in full flow.
It had been raining on and off since crossing the footbridge over Red Tarn Beck but that didn't stop the crowds some of whom where heading towards Brown Cove and possibly the Kepple Cove zigzags thereafter, I looked back finding the tops of Catstye Cam's North, and North East ridges below cloud as was the head of Brown Cove.

Passing the old Miners Cottage along Greenside Road.

The rain continued on and off as I left Swarth Beck behind and started the walk back to Glenridding via the familiar concrete path where I seemed to passed by dozens of delivery vans all heading for the Outdoor Centre. On the opposite side of the valley two figures have just descended Mires Beck and by the looks of it it's the young lads I'd spoken to earlier.

Happen we're going to arrive back in Glenridding at the same time.

Birkhouse Moor from Beck View Cottage, Glenridding.

The showers continued during my walk back at Glenridding right about the same time the lads arrived at the junction at the head of the village, by now I was a few steps ahead but I looked back and gave them a wave before watching them disappear into the Travellers Rest no doubt for a well earned celebratory pint after tackling Helvellyn via Striding Edge. The car park was much busier when got back and it had started to rain again so I used my tailgate to shelter under while I removed my boots finding that the car next to me had parked so close I had no alternative other than to get in through my passenger door which required a few 'moves' to clear the gear knob which was all to no avail having checked my rear view mirror realising that I'd left the bloody tailgate open.

What a day though.


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