Helvellyn and Thirlmere in the Campervan

Before leaving Keswick, I had one more walk on the ‘to do list’ taking in Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell. Walla Crag is a classic walk to do from Keswick. It’s only small but punches well above its weight in terms of views. It’s such a short walk that I didn’t set off until after lunch, making my way out of town, through Castlerigg and onto the open fell side. The weather was pretty friendly and it was a pleasant way to end my stay in Keswick. I left the following morning, bound for Thirlmere and excited about the prospect of climbing Helvellyn.

Derwentwater from Walla Crag
Derwentwater from Walla Crag

The car parks around Thirlmere are usually Pay and Display but following Storm Desmond in late 2015, they’ve been free to use while remedial work takes place in the valley. So I pitched up in the main car park that serves as a starting point for walkers going up Helvellyn. There were even toilets! The morning I arrived was clear and sunny, so I wasted no time and was standing on Helvellyn summit by 10:30am!

Not a bad view out the back of the van. Parked up at the foot of Helvellyn
Not a bad view out the back of the van. Parked up at the foot of Helvellyn
On the way up Helvellyn
On the way up Helvellyn

I’d intended to walk around Thirlmere the following day but had been hearing rumours that the footpath (and road) along the west shore was closed following storm damage a few weeks ago. They’ve really suffered with the weather in this valley over the last couple of years. In 2015, the main A591 was washed away in a landslide and the recent strong winds have destroyed large swathes of established forest in the area. I decided to set off around the lake regardless, with the intention of turning back if I couldn’t get all the way around. Sure enough, both the road and footpath was closed once I reached the dam at the northern end of the lake. I met a ranger there who suggested I could bypass the closure by walking along the ridge that runs behind the forest. It would add a good few miles onto the walk and quite a lot of ascent, but it looked doable. I climbed up onto Raven Crag, which must be one of the smallest of the Wainwright fells. However, like Walla Crag, it makes up for in views what it lacks in height. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of my new favourite places in the Lakes! From there I made my way along the ridge southwards, parallel with the west shore of Thirlmere. On a number of occasions, my path was blocked by fallen timber. Eventually after backtracking numerous times, I decided enough was enough and bid a hasty retreat. I retraced my steps, stopping for lunch on Raven Crag before arriving back at the van after what had turned out to be a 6 hour walk!

Fantastic view over Thirlmere from Raven Crag
Fantastic view over Thirlmere from Raven Crag

The weather continued to be fantastic so I hatched a plan to make it up Helvellyn to see the sunrise the following day. I was up at 4:30am and set off half an hour later. I wasn’t sure when sunrise was exactly but this seemed suitably early! As it happened sunrise was a little earlier than I anticipated and the sun just beat me to the summit. It was close enough though and the views were fantastic. There were one or two people that had camped up there, including a couple of mountain bikers! I think I’ll try and do that myself in the summer (the camping bit, not the mountain biking up!).

Sunrise on Helvellyn
Sunrise on Helvellyn

I was back at the van by 9:00am and had a lazy day sitting outside in the sunshine and getting sunburnt. While I was descending from Helvellyn I’d noticed a secluded mountain tarn on the far side of the valley, nestled amongst native woodland. It looked idyllic and the perfect place for a ‘wild swim’. I found Harrop Tarn on the map and decided to go and investigate on my bicycle. There was a bridleway leading up to it which I hoped might be accessible in spite of all the closures. I made it almost to the turn off but, alas, it wasn’t to be. The road was closed and the local farmer assured me I wouldn’t be able to get to the tarn. It’ll have to keep for another time – it’s probably still a bit cold for a swim anyway! On my way back I met a Geordie cyclist who was carrying camping gear and even a fishing rod strapped to his bike. He’d quit his job as a chef on a whim and was ‘vagabonding’ around on his bike, wild camping and generally doing as he pleased. He said he’d be stopping to camp by Thirlmere and hoped to catch some trout for dinner. I love having these random encounters. I’d met another cyclist a couple of days earlier on his way back from a trip around the west coast of Scotland and also wild camping.

Harrop Tarn, photographed on the descent from Helvellyn
Harrop Tarn, photographed on the descent from Helvellyn

If you’ve got any recommendations for me while I’m here in the Lake District, get in touch or leave a comment below.

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