Could this be the greatest backpacking route in the Lakes?
Trail Magazine has teamed up with YHA to create something a little bit special – a walk that bags 24 summits in total, stopping at a different hostel each night. Here’s how we got on.
Distance 23km (14¼ miles)
Wainwrights bagged 7
We kicked off at YHA Langdale, a converted Victorian mansion. When we unfolded our map, the 23km route ahead looked intimidating. Our concern was the monstrous amount of ascent and descent along the way, but we needn’t have worried. By setting off at 8am we gave ourselves plenty of time.
Once we turned off for the valley of Little Langdale, with its mighty views of the Coniston Fells, it was classic hillwalking all the way. We began the long trawl up the criminally underrated 705m pyramid of Pike of Blisco – the big ascent of the day – and an hour later were at the summit shelter.
The rippling backbone of Crinkle Crags followed, then the highlight of the day: Bowfell. The view towards the Scafell massif is the finest you’ll experience from any felltop. We then tottered over Esk Pike, rambled over Allen Crags and dropped into the leafy depths of Borrowdale. By 6pm we were sipping a pint of Cumbrian ale at the hostel and awaiting a three-course meal.
Distance 17.5km (10¾ miles)
Wainwrights bagged 4
The Borrowdale to Keswick section is shorter, but still a cracking walk. We started with a steady climb towards the slate mines of the Honister Pass and ended with a spectacular skywalk over the Newlands Fells, with massive views across Derwent Water, Keswick and the northern Lakes.
Once you’ve climbed up to the sparkling viewpoint at Dale Head, your route lies along the ridgeline that rises and falls like a big dipper above Derwent Water. You’ll knock off the trio of High Spy, Maiden Moor and the perennially popular Cat Bells, before joining the Cumbria Way and curving around the head of the lake towards the taverns and chip shops of Keswick.
Distance 24km (15 miles)
Wainwrights bagged 8
After an early start, we soon found ourselves staring up at the northern tip of the Eastern Fells, which run between the Ullswater and Thirlmere valleys, bisecting the National Park. They’re home to the greatest single mass of high ground in the Lakes, and today we planned to walk straight over them.
The route from Clough Head to Helvellyn is hillwalking ecstasy. The ridge is wide, with simple navigation in clear conditions. By the time we arrived at the 950m summit of Helvellyn, England’s third highest mountain, our day was almost done – but not quite. Our bed for the night lay over 600m below at YHA Helvellyn, and reaching it involved descending the steep ridgeline of Swirral Edge.
We steadied our nerves, focused carefully and were soon descending into the Glenridding valley. At a height of 300m this is the most rural hostel of the four. Book your evening meal before you arrive, though, or you’ll need to walk to Ullswater for some grub.
Distance 17km (10½ miles)
Wainwrights bagged 5
If you’ve never scrambled over Striding Edge, you’re in for a treat at the start of day four. It’s a ridgeline that tingles the nerves of beginners yet still provides a buzz for seasoned mountaineers. There are short sections that require extreme caution but in decent weather it’s more invigorating than intimidating.
The scene changes completely after the summit plateau. The western side of the Helvellyn range shares few characteristics with the rocky eastern approaches, and classic fellwalking terrain lies ahead. We descended lazily over Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike, then dropped steeply to Grisedale Tarn before making one last big ascent up to Fairfield. With the whole southern Lake District stretched out before us, it hammered home the enormity of the walk we were completing. And an hour or so after passing through the idyllic village of Grasmere, we collapsed back into YHA Langdale.
So there it is: 50 miles, 24 mountains, four YHAs and one lightweight backpack. Four days of walking through England’s greatest mountains. Go for it!