Little Gems: Helm Crag


The Lion and the Lamb, with Grasmere beyond

If you’re staying in the South Lakes, and it’s a sunny day, and there’s an afternoon before you, and you want to take advantage and yet not be committed to anything too strenuous, the Lion and the Lamb is ideal for you.
It’s mainly the fellwalkers who use the name of Helm Crag. Those less urgent to be up in the sky, and those with children to delight, will tell their youngsters to look up to the small, but steep-sided fell, in the centre of the view across Grasmere, from the main road from Ambleside, to the peak where the rocks take the shape of a Lion Couchant, and a smaller outline just below it may be imagined into being as a trusting Lamb, sheltering between the Lion’s paws.
It’s a childish myth, passed on generation to generation, though there is no record of how many eager young kids, dragged by or dragging their parents to the top, have been horribly disappointed by the absence of a summit menagerie. Only the short but daring scramble to the Lion’s head, and its perfect view of the Vale of Grasmere, may placate them.
I’ve climbed Helm Crag three times, one of them as the natural end to the descent of the low, curling ridge of which it is the terminus, which meant a dull approach from the back, and a descent the same route, to my car. For an expedition in its own right, only one approach is possible.
Cars should be parked in Grasmere Village, preferably at the north end. Begin along Easedale Road, leading away from the green. There is a small car park a quarter mile along, the only place cars may be left, but unless you are doing this walk in the early morning, it is not worth even visiting in hope of a space.
Easedale Road marches steadily on towards the fell. It is a shady, tree-lined affair, for much of its length, going beyond the gate where many turn off for the equally popular route to Easedale Tarn, just after the narrow road itself veers right. Carry on ahead, coming out into an open stretch, as far as Kitty Crag, and leave the road where it turns sharply left.
Half the distance of the walk has been covered for no significant gain in height, so what follows is unavoidably steep. The path turns uphill, through trees, and emerges on the rock-overhung fellside via a gate.
Originally, the path bore right at this point, rising gently before making a direct turn uphill alongside a wall, which curved round to reach the prow of the fell after a short, but intense struggle. The way then followed the ridge uphill at a slightly easier gradient, veering to the right of White Crag, before traversing to the left to bypass the rocks gathering on the eastern flank of the fell. I came that way a long time ago, cursing myself at how unfit I was.
Not long after, that path, badly eroded from the years, was blocked off by the National Trust, and a new, purpose-made path was created to divert the hordes over easier, and undamaged ground. Instead of turning right at the gate above Kitty Crag, turn left and, after a short distance, take a set of steep-zig-zags uphill, again accompanying a wall. This section is less strenuous than the old path, but still takes the breath away.
Once above this, the path takes a wide loop right, along the Far Easedale flank of the fell, crossing above Jackdaw Crag, and zig-zagging broadly onto a higher level for a long swoop out in the open, before doubling back towards the prow on an easy gradient, and joining the old path at 1,050′, and thence to the summit ridge. Path-finding will not be an issue.
The rocks constituting the ‘official’ Lion and Lamb are the first to be met on the summit ridge. The Lion’s head is the official summit and can be reached by an easy, but not reckless scramble. Keep children under a watchful eye.
However, the highest point is a black finger of rock, also known as the Lion and the Lamb form some viewpoints, but more appropriately the Howitzer in views from the descent of Dunmail Raise Pass. Beyond this is a further set of striated and broken rocks that are known, in views, as the Old Woman Playing The Organ.
I’ve no advice on reaching the highest point, at the peak of the Howitzer, and whilst it is actually reachable without specialist skills, few who have come here for an easy afternoon will tackle it, and none will allow kids to make the attempt.
Return by the same route. There is an alternative: by following the ridge north, and descending to the col, a narrow, curving path can be found turning down eastward. When you come to the road, turn back towards Grasmere, and you will, after a long walk, rejoin Easedale Road. It has nothing to offer but variety, whilst the route of ascent has Grasmere ahead in descent. The case is conclusive.