Helvellyn

Striding Edge from Helvellyn

Its name likely derived from the Cambric for ‘Yellow Upland’, Helvellyn is the 3rd largest mountain in England. Approaching the summit from the south-east is the formidable Striding Edge (or ‘Striders’ as the locals call it), a spine of bare rock that rises out of the fell like the back of a titan waking from slumber, drawing a blanket of grass and volcaniclastic sandstone up with it.

Although only 950 metres high, the mountain is known for its treacherous conditions, especially in winter or with high winds when Striding Edge and Swirrel Edge to the north become a challenge even to experienced fell-walkers. In 2015, six people died on the mountain. Helvellyn’s most famous victim is the Romantic artist Charles Gough who died when he fell from Striding Edge on the 17th April 1805. His body was found three months later next to Red Tarn, a lake beneath the summit, with his dog remaining faithfully by his skeletal remains. Sir Walter Scott penned the poem ‘Helvellyn’ about his death and the dangerous tension between man and nature; that a man might be destroyed by the force he willed into domesticity in the form of the dog that refused to leave his side, even in death. The same dog was reported to have eaten Gough’s remains in order to survive.

Eagle Crag from Striding Edge

Helvellyn is situated in north-western England’s Lake District National Park and above all the other place-names in the Lakes, Helvellyn long captured my imagination before I had even set foot upon its fells. Somehow the name summons an image of broken finger-crags reaching into a grey sky and the creak of worn leather boots on rock. Like the rest of the Lake District, this is a place where nature is no longer simply an inanimate force, unthinking and unfeeling and constant. Here, Nature remembers her lost sisters across the North Sea and mourns in a veil of grey rain that obliterates her cracked and lichenous skin. On sunlit days she glows a bright primordial green and softly speaks arcadian stories, the sounds of which trip through village lanes like a bicycle rattling over cobbles. In the winter she is happiest. In the winter she has a clear and frozen beauty and loves to scream snow and gales in flurries from knotts and through gills.

If you do ever find yourself treading the well-worn path towards Striding Edge these days then you will likely not be alone. The mountain is a popular one and I have passed old and young, experienced and inexperienced on my way to the summit. But each time, if I quiet my thoughts and settle them down into the tread of the soles of my boots, then it is very likely I’ll catch a glimpse of her again.

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