Dollywagon and Nethermost – a Circumnavigation of Ruthwaite Cove

Or: How to Enjoy Helvellyn whilst avoiding all the crowds (mostly) 

1. Start Early (or late).

Actually, I didn’t start that early, but I was parked up and walking by 9, and in the Lakes that generally means before most other people are out and about.

2. Start on the west side.

Helvellyn presents huge scooped corries, shattered crags, tarns and narrow ridges on its eastern approaches. On the west, there are mainly featureless convex slopes. For obvious reasons then, everyone starts in Patterdale. Start on the other side and you at least have the advantage of quieter footpaths. I’d driven up through alternate patches of mist, fog and sunshine, and then parked in the lay-by near the top of Dunmail Raise, where there was, at nine, one other car. I climbed beside Raise Beck….

Raise Beck

…in the shade. As I climbed the shadow retreated down the hill-side towards me, so that as the gradient eased and I approached Grizedale Tarn, I also emerged into the sunshine.

Grizedale Tarn 

3. Stay away from the beaten track. 

My hastily conceived plan was to drop down the other side from Grizedale, so that I could head up into Ruthwaite Cove from…well, that part of my plan wasn’t at all clear. Probably a bit of contouring, or something, I’d vaguely thought. Now that I was at the pass, the idea of descending again didn’t seem so attractive. Far better, I reasoned, to climb Dollywagon first and then head down from there, before reascending. But not by the dull path which I could see zig-zagging up the steep slope to my left. Instead I took a rising line up and across to meet the edge of Tarn Crag and then followed the edge, admiring the views down Grizedale to Ullswater and Place Fell and the intimate glimpses into the impressive gullies on St. Sunday Crag. Pretty soon I was above Falcon Crag….

Looking down Grizedale from Falcon Crag 

..from where I could look across to see three ridges extending eastward: the Tongue, Nethermost Pike’s east ridge and Striding Edge.

3 ridges 

I turned to follow the rim of Cock Cove to the summit of Dollywagon Pike and then headed down the Tongue…

The tongue 

It’s not an narrow ridge, but its a good walk. The descent off to the left into Ruthwaite Cove was steep and loose and required a bit of care.

I was heading for Hard Tarn. It’s a small tarn which sits on a rocky bench beneath Nethermost Pike. This is Ruthwaite Cove…

High Crag and Nethermost Pike from Ruthwaite Cove 

…Hard Tarn is above the lower of the two sweeps of slab which are just to the right of centre in this photo. And just to the right of centre in this photo too….

Approaching Hard Tarn 

The tarn isn’t deep enough to swim in, but hardy types will take a dip anyway. I wasn’t feeling quite that hardy on this occasion. I wasn’t feeling quite that hardy last time I came this way either. Frankly, I may never feel quite that hardy. I’ve discovered that I’m comfortable with my inner wimp.

Hard Tarn 

My original idea had been to traverse out from the tarn, round to the foot, or thereabouts, of Nethermost Pike’s east ridge. But whilst that looks fine on the map, I could now see that would entail crossing a seemingly endless boulder-field. Going straight up looked to necessitate picking my way through some crags, but it didn’t look too challenging so I opted for that.

In the event, it was even easier than I had anticipated and could probably have all been done with hands in pockets. The only difficulty I did have was when I made the mistake of venturing onto a patch of scree rather than going down and looking for a way around. As soon as I committed my weight on to it, it all started to slither downhill. A boulder which was about the size of a breeze block, but I suspect much heavier, surfed down over the smaller ball-bearing sized scree and came to rest against my shin and I had an awkward moment whilst I tried to figure out how to extricate myself without sending the whole lot flying.

High Crag and Hard Tarn 

From that point, it was a steep but comfortable climb up to the top of the ridge. Once up I watched the queue of tiny figures tottering along Striding Edge….

Striding Edge and Catstye Cam 

…before walking the short distance to the cairn which marks the top of the huge plateau of Nethermost Pike.

4. Don’t go to the summit (and stay off Striding Edge).

On Nethermost you’re in easy striking distance of the top of Helvellyn. But up until now I’d met two other walkers on the summit of Dollywagon and two walkers sweating their way up the Tongue. And that was it. I had the summit of Nethermost to myself since the main path bypasses all these glorious edges as it makes a bee-line between Grizedale Tarn and Helvellyn summit. Predictably, the summit of Helvellyn looked to be the venue for one of the lesser late summer festivals. I couldn’t actually see any burger vans, but…

I chose to turn the other way and complete a circuit of Ruthwaite Cove, following the edge over High Crag back to Dollywagon Pike. I probably met a dozen or so other walkers coming the other way on this section.

Dollywagon Pike and High Crag 

Dollywagon Pike and High Crag.

Hard Tarn from above 

Looking down on Hard Tarn.

Dollywagon Pike 

Dollywagon Pike again.

High Crag and Nethermost Pike 

Back along the edge – High Crag and Nethermost Pike.

From Dollywagon Pike I went off piste again – cutting down across the curiously named Willie Wife Moor, which, yes, was tussocky and a bit damp, to follow a small stream which brought me neatly back to Raise Beck…

Raise Beck again.

…and then the car. Predictably, I didn’t see anybody else between the summit of Dollywagon and the busy main road over Dunmail Raise.

Hike Stats:

Distance: not much. Say…five miles..ish.

Up: 3200 feet. Or thereabouts.

Down: about the same, makes life awkward otherwise.

Walkers encountered: less then 20.

Dogs encountered: 2. Dog walkers generally hang out in the the Northern Fells, obviously.

Time according to Naismith: 3 hours ish.

Actual time: 5½ hours (I didn’t want to walk with Naismith anyway – he’s always in such a dreadful hurry.)

I felt in very fine fettle. I haven’t managed to squeeze in as much hill-walking this year as I did last, but I felt fitter than I have for quite some time. Perhaps I have a modicum of haemoglobin coursing through the old veins for once.

Dollywagon and Nethermost – a Circumnavigation of Ruthwaite Cove

16 thoughts on “Dollywagon and Nethermost – a Circumnavigation of Ruthwaite Cove

  1. conrobin says:

    In character with the nickname Grumpy Camel recently bestowed on me by my daughter, who incidentally is a teacher and has the nickname High Horse, I have been known to go on a bit about the overpopulation of The Lakes and the parking difficulties etc.

    One cannot argue that, along with the Yorkshire Dales these still give the best walking experiences in England*, and your approach here of keeping off the eroded highways, and seeking out the still secret places is the way to make the most of what we have. I recognise that feeling of fitness that I also have experienced on all too infrequent occasions – If it had been me completing that walk I think I would have had an inner feeling of glowing superiority.

    *nb: I carefully omitted Wales and Scotland.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      One crowd avoiding scheme I forgotten to mention is to walk in rain and fog, which is how I had Blencathra to myself last year. Or, at least, apparently had it to myself – I couldn’t see more than 5 yards, so it’s no surprise that I didn’t see any other walkers!

  2. Yes, crowds and the Lake District go hand in hand but there are routes of peace and you’ve found one here. Another one was the northern reaches of the range and the small hills above Thirlemere we explored a couple of years back. Both superb, both quiet.
    I explored all the nooks and crannies of these coves when I did my thesis up here in the 80’s and they are awesome, some great high wild campsites I always wanted to go back to but never did

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I think I might be returning to these Eastern coves before too long. The humps and hollows of Ullscarf and High Raise have plenty of scope for off-path stravaiging and the frequent presence of red deer is a fair indication of the areas relative quiet. Used to bivvy there now and again, but not for a long time.

  3. Yes, we’ve steered clear of the Lakes for years now because of the crowds (and it’s propensity to wetness too, in comparison with some other areas, it truth were told), but you obviously had a cunning plan which worked. Actually Geoff’s thinking of going up there midweek shortly – these retired teachers who can work around the school holiday hordes…

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Retired? He must know he secret of eternal youth or have formulated a cunning escape plan. As to the wetness, well – that’s what keeps the grass Green and the waterfalls tumbling, and the Lakes full etc. Goes with the territory.

      1. Well, I will admit that he retired rather early. Hopefully working on joining him in his freedom before too long. There’s only so many years I can stand going out to work nearly every day, leaving him and two dogs snoring happily in bed…not even raising an eyebrow as I leave the bedroom…

        1. beatingthebounds says:

          Yes, I can see that must be hard. TBH is working part-time so I have a similar experience some mornings, but I can send the kids in to jump on her. Heh heh!

  4. Even with a busy Lakes it is still easy to escape the crowds. You did well considering that that is one of the very busiest places. It’s more than one persons lifetime to walk all the routes available. Parking can be a bit more difficult but an early start is always best.
    My sort of day. Thanks.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      It’s true; maybe dedicated enthusiasts like Wainwright and Harry Griffin get to explore it all, but we lesser mortals will always find new routes to try. Good thing too.

  5. “I’ve discovered that I’m comfortable with my inner wimp.”
    Gorgeous! I might nick that turn of phrase before too long. I’ll have no idea where it came from and just put it down to my literary genius. Please don’t disappoint me by telling me it’s your line.

    Lovely pictures and blog, Mark

  6. conrobin says:

    You sent a comment on my last post but it did not appear on the blog. I have email alert for comments, and it did arrive as an email. I replied to the WordPress email address, but am not sure if you will see it there. I guess you probably have a conventional email address, and if you want to let me have that I will forward my reply –

    I have another follower who has problems posting comments on my blog from time to time getting an error .80 message. I have tried Googling this, but all the discussion is incomprehensible to me, and from what I understand Blogger seem to have their head in the sand about it.

    You mentioned your affair with the Kent. Have you noticed Dry Grove Gill on the slopes above Kentmere Reservoir? It is a strange feature which I have had in mind to explore over the years. Again I tried Google, but don’t seem to be able to find out how it was formed.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      Hi Conrad,
      I was replying on an iPad, which sometimes seems to cause difficulties.
      I’ve been looking at Dry Grove Gill on the map, and it does look a bit odd – one to bear in mind for the future.

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