Climbing Dollywaggon

A gander up Dollywagon & Helvellyn


This walk takes on one of the highest mountains in England, Helvellyn, while passing a tarn hiding a golden crown and all importantly finishes in a pub!

Leg 1 – Dunmail Raise to Grisedale Tarn

After 15 minutes on the bus from Low Nest, get off at Dunmail Raise. Parking is available on the roadside, but for this route it’s best to get the bus.

This open barren land is riddled with mystique and history. The story goes that after King Dunmail, the last King of Cumberland and Strathclyde, one of his loyal servants took his crown and ran up to Grisedale tarn where he threw the gold crown into the tarn, never to be seen again. Sadly while I would like to say “until now”, if I had found this ancient gold crown I would not be typing this and instead would be halfway to my subsequently purchased Caribbean Island.

The climb is well trodden and easy to follow. You follow the roaring stream all the way up the ghyll until you reach Grisedale tarn. It’s about a mile, about 30 to 45 minutes of walking. While steep it is a good warm up for the walk ahead.

The views from the tarn alone are worth the walk, you truly feel in the centre of the Lakes.

 Leg 2 – Grisedale tarn to Dollywagon

The best route up is to get to the Eastern side of the tarn and follow the path up. The path zig zags, but rarely with steps. While the height gained is around 200 metres once at the top you’re basically on the ridge.

Leg 3 – Dollywagon to Helvellyn

After an hour of walking up hill there is no feeling like getting on the ridge. You go from walking at a snails pace sweating a litre a minute to strolling along as if you’re on Oxford Street. However you’re not on Oxford Street, you’re somewhere far better, you’re on the Helvellyn Ridge. With clear skies you have views almost as far east as the North Sea (It feels like that anyway!), but even on cloudy days (like our one) there’s something truly beautiful about this path.

The path itself is well trodden so easy to follow. There are cairns every 20 metres at points so it’s actually quite hard, but still possible, to get lost.

There is a small dip between Dollywagon and Helvellyn, but not a huge amount and the path up to Helvellyn is nice and gentle. As you walk up, note all the boulders strewn across the plateau. Then just as you approach the top read about how a crazy bloke who landed a plane there on December 22nd 1926. Apparently landing was easy, but to take off they had to do a James Bond Golden Eye style nose dive over the edge.

Take time to rest and enjoy the view in the cross shelter offering a welcome escape from the inevitable piercing wind from nearly all directions.


Leg 4 – Helvellyn to the Kings Head Pub

After taking the inevitable photos of Striding Edge and selfies at the trig point it’s time to head down. Like much of the walk the track down is fairly easy to find and follow, even in poor visibility. However still take compass bearings.

The footpath is a pretty busy one. Follow it all the way down and you’ll get to the Thirlmere carpark. It’s also one of the easiest ascents of Helvellyn. There are great views all the way down. Be sure to try and spot Low Nest!

You will have to start to keep an eye on navigation as halfway down you’ll have to escape the mob and head right. This last bit is sublime. You’re unlikely to see another person. The ferns and heather also means few if any sheep, so dogs can run around happy and free.

The Kings Head just appears from behind a crags and you can almost taste that celebratory drink! It’s a great traditional Lakeland Pub and the perfect place to finish the walk.