2nd February 2008

Wintry conditions on Helvellyn


Walk Overview
Time 09.00 to 13.30
Duration 4 hr 30 min
Distance 6.8 mile
Ascent 3050 ft
Walking with Andrew Leaney
Wythburn Church - Birk Side - Swallow Scarth - Helvellyn - Browncove Crags - Swirls Car Park - Forestry path above Thirlmere - Wythburn Church
Fells visited
Directory places visited

Starting Point Information Centre
Car park, behind Wythburn church, Thirlmere

Undoubtedly most people park here to begin an ascent of the ever popular Helvellyn fells. Speaking personally, the path from here on to the Helvellyn ridge via Birk side is my favourite route up to the Helvellyn ridge.

There is a charge for this car park and it does tend to ful up prety quickly at all times of year.


Route Map

A rather bleak looking Wythburn.
Well, the forecast was for snow to fall through night and we weren't disappointed at all when we realised they'd got it right.

And here are a couple who couldn't care less about the weather.

Thirlmere seen here from Birk Side (above Comb Crags).

Sunshine on the North Western fells, but not for long.

I know this may not be everybody's idea of fun, but it was fantastic to be out on the fells today. Having said that however, conditions like these can be very tiring and make no mistake, they can be lethal. With high winds and a forecasted temperature of -18 added to the possibility getting wet, the correct equipment is an absolute must to cope with this type of environment.

When we reached Birk Side we both looked ahead of us and agreed that we may be lucky and stay out of the cloud almost as far as the summit. This did actually turn out to be the case, but instead of visibility being obscured by cloud, it was spindrift that did it today.

Looking ahead, past Swallow Scarth and up the path leading to Helvellyn summit.
One minute we could see a fair distance ahead of us as in this picture, then, within no time at all, the wind was lifting the snow and it was difficult to see more than a few yards in front of us. Of course it was made worse by the fact that the snow was stinging our face and eyes.

Battling against the elements.

The cross shelter found just below the summit.

Helvellyn Lower Man seen from Browncove Crags.


Heading down the steep and very icy section of path below Browncove Crags.


By the time we reached the wall above Swirls car park it was as though we were walking on a different day. The wind was gone, the snow had stopped and the sun even put in an appearance, albeit a rather short lived one.

Incredibly, as we were walking along this section of path we passed quite a few people who were only just setting out. I suppose that's fair enough if you know what you're heading into and you're experienced enough to deal with it. Unfortunately, several clearly under equipped groups of people asked us what it was like at the top. One couple in particular asked the same question; we said it was extremely windy, the spindrift was making it very difficult to see where you're walking and the whole area is covered in ice. To our amazement he said "that's not too bad then" and they carried on regardless. Hopefully they had the good sense to turn back before they reached the difficult conditions.

Now that we'd been fed and watered we could set off to walk the seemingly never-ending path through the forest between Swirls and Wythburn.



The Forestry Commission are currently engaged in night time felling of the trees alongside the Thirlmere road. Anyone who has driven along this road recently will have seen just how much the view has opened up as a result.

Three pictures of windows in Wythburn church.

Saint Herbert.

And the date found in the bottom section of the window in the previous picture.

Tens of thousands of people must drive along the main A591 every year, with the majority giving little more than a casual glance at the church; that is if people notice it at all. The road itself actually passes within a couple of yards of the church door, but sadly, the lack of any roadside parking or indeed any apparent reason to stop means the church is rarely visited.

Those that do make the effort to visit the church must question the reason for it being here in the first place. Even the most unobservant of people must notice the absence of any nearby village, hamlet or dwellings. And although the building is consistent with the simple, almost humble appearance of many other dales churches, there is enough evidence both inside and outside the building to arouse suspicion as to where all the people remembered in the church and church yard came from.

The awful truth is that this area of the valley was once home to a thriving community of over two hundred people which has all but disappeared, with the exception of the farms at Steel End.

The valley had been chosen as a place to live as far back as the Bronze Age. The Roman occupation came and went, the Vikings settled here, leaving us with many of the place names we use today and as recently as the 13th century the monks of Furness Abbey came to the valley. In the centuries that followed, the valley settled into much the same pattern of life as many other Lakeland Dales. Then, in 1874 when the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Committee made the decision to use the Lake District as their water supply, everything was about to change forever.

Despite a great deal of opposition, Parliament passed the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act in 1879 and in the following year building work started on the dam. Slowly but surely all the properties in the lower lying areas were purchased by Manchester Corporation, these were subsequently demolished and the water level began to rise taking with it centuries of valley history.

Prior to the creation of Thirlmere as a reservoir, the valley had two lakes; Wythburn Water found at the southern end and to the north there was Leathes Water, named after the Leathes family who lived in Dalegarth Hall from the 16th century until Manchester Corporation purchased the property. The two lakes were separated by a short stretch of river which was could be crossed by using Wath Bridge. It is thought to be this gap between the lakes which actually gives the valley its name.
The Old English (thyrel) meaning (a gap), and the Old English (mere), meaning (lake). Resulting in Thirlmere; the lake with a gap.

David Hall -
Lake District Walks