Helm Crag

Published 5 March 2023

A shot of the 'Lion and the lamb' rock formation, that's also known as the Howitzer due to its shape.
The Lion and the Lamb and the Cloud.

It’s September 2022 and I’m back in the Lake District for another three days of fell bagging in glorious weather. My first day was spent a-wandering round Weatherlam and its near neighbours. After a good nights rest, I was ready to start a walk of epic proportions, visiting four quite spread out Central Fells all in one day. It started with a climb of Raven Crag, a visit of Armboth Fell, before arriving at Gibson Knott. And when you’ve got to Gibson Knott, there’s only one real way to end your day…

Along with Gibson Knot, I’d had a couple of previous attempts at walking Helm Crag. Attempts that had failed.

The obvious way to do them both is a horseshoe route. From Grasmere, heading to Steel Fell then to Calf Crag, before finishing with the other two. This I’d tried to do in 2013, but had been thwarted by the weather. Despite the weather being grim, I made it to Steel Fell and Calf Crag. But it was wet, and the cloud cover thick. Reluctantly I decided to head back down hill. No sooner had I got down and the sun had come out, all the cloud had cleared, and everything was beautiful. I sighed, lost any enthusiasm for heading back uphill, and went to the pub instead.

The second time was in 2020. I’d come up with this plan that would see me do Gibson Knot and Helm Crag after doing Tarn Crag. On paper it all worked. But the weather forecast lied. They promised the cloud would clear. And it didn’t.. After getting disorientated and lost on the top of Tarn Crag, I gave up. Back down to Grasmere I went, picked up my car and drove off somewhere I hoped would be nicer. It had a pub.

Two walkers walking along the side of a hill
Following some other walkers to Helm Crag.

Third time lucky then? Well, I’d made it to Gibson Knot on my third attempt. And whilst the views were non-existent due to – guess what – cloud, it seemed I was going to go to Helm Crag as well. See, there’s no sensible route from Gibson Knot to Grasmere that doesn’t involve either a long walk via Calf Crag, or going on over Helm Crag. Helm Crag it was then.

The walk from Gibson Knot to Helm Crag didn’t enthuse me though. There was lots of rocky undulations, and it felt like it took forever. It had been a long day and I was getting tired. And it didn’t help that I’d begun to realise how late in the day it was getting, Okay, not that late. But I’d wanted to make sure I was on the 6pm bus from Grasmere so I could get back to the hostel in Windermere before they stopped serving food. I wasn’t sure I’d make it.

So the walk passed in a bit of a blur. There were rocks – nice reddy ones. There was heather. And there was me stamping my feet on the ground, endlessly looking at the time on my phone, panicking I’d miss the bus.

A view of Helm Crag, seen from the approach from Gibson Knott.
Helm Crag approacheth.

And then, all of a sudden, Helm Crag’s summit came into view. There was its signature rock formation, known as the Lion and the Lamb. Known when you look at it, it looks like a lion and a lamb. It’s famous. You can see it from the valley floor. More people know the fell as the lion and the lamb than by its real name. And yet, what I didn’t know until this point is that there’s actually two lions and lambs, one on each side of the summit. It’s natural yet feels so implausible that you can’t help but think it was all planned by someone.

One, two, whatever. It still looks stunning. Dramatic. Arresting. For a few moments my mind switched from panicing about bus timetables, to enjoying the majesty of this fell’s wonderful rock formations. I did the same when I got up to the top of the fell. It’s at the summit where one of the lion/lamb rock formations that, suddenly begins to look like a Howitzer. The rock formations of this fell are something else. This is a fell that has it all!

A shot of the second 'Lion and the lamb' rock formation, that's also known as the Howitzer due to its shape.
The “other” Lion and Lamb.

Except a view, that is. Well, at least on my visit. Helm Crag should – by rights – give a stunning view over Grasmere, and towards the Helvellyn range. Hey, on a good day you can see Blencathra.

Me, I saw the Durden Pass road and that was about it.

In my mind, Helm Crag should have provided one of the definitive views of the area. Views I wanted to see. That was why I’d abandoned my first attempt all those years earlier. It would have been a safe walk, even in heavy mist. But I didn’t want to do it without some reward.

And on my second attempt, even if I hadn’t been a bit fed up, I probably wouldn’t have bothered due to it being another grim day.

And now I’d made it on what I’d hoped would be a grand day for views. Well, they’d been pretty good earlier. But now it was another matter. The cloud had descended and it had hit Helm Crag.

Well I could have laughed. I did laugh. I was almost in hysterics. I was laughing for ages. The absurdity of it all. The third attempt to reach the top of this fell had been a success, but what had it achieved in the end? I’d seen next to nothing. Well, come on, you have to laugh.

A view of the valley from Helm Crag that is mostly obscured by cloud.
Grasmere’s down there somewhere.

I’d done Helm Crag, yet I knew I’d have to come back. One day. When the sun is shining. And there’s no cloud in the sky at al.

For the record, I did make the 6pm bus from Grasmere. I did it by the skin of my teeth, by walking as fast as I could from the top of Helm Crag down to the village. That bit of the walk was a blur of steep paths, and slippery rocks. But I made it.

The bus, you ask? Well, that was five minutes late…

Helm Crag viewed from a field near Grasmere village.
Oh, the sun’s come out!

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