The magic mountain

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most of the Mathilde walks so far have been low level, but we want to take you up a mountain, a rather special mountain that looks much grander than its modest height, and whose ascent will give you a real sense of achievement.

The outline of Helm Crag may well be the best known of all the Lakeland fells, from one angle, a lion and lamb, from another a Wurlitzer organ being played by a woman.

Helm Crag, painted by William Heaton Cooper: After sunset, Grasmere


In fact when you reach the summit you’ll see that there are two “lions”, each with a lamb, guarding each end of the summit ridge, as the guidebook writer Wainwright says “as though set there by architectural design”. The whole summit is a weird and fantastical place to visit, especially in mist.

It’s a small fell, just 1299 ft, but its sides are steep and craggy, and it looks like a majestic solo mountain from below. Once up there you realise it’s merely the end of a ridge enclosing Far Easedale

The path is clear all the way, but it’s steep and rocky, and we would never advise that anyone should go out onto the fells without a map and compass….if nothing else, the identification of the hills all around will only add to your enjoyment. Take extra layers too, especially waterproofs, ready for possible wind and rain.

No one summed up the appreciation of walking into the hills better than William Heaton Cooper. In the Introduction to his book, The Hills of Lakeland he wrote:

“Man….lives on the lower ground where his food and shelter are easier to obtain, but his eyes stray often to the hills, till they become linked up in his mind with the thought of freedom and salvation from the difficult business of living in a world where other men and women live. Alone, on them, he can lose himself in astonishment at the purpose and reason behind the interplay of sky and water and rock, things which obey completely the laws that govern them. He has escaped from himself for a time and is refreshed with the comfort of being no longer a lonely child, but at one with his surroundings.”

From the village, take the road at the side of Mathilde’s, until you reach the entrance to the Lancrigg Hotel, through whose grounds lies a public path to the foot of the mountain. The magic begins here, among the trees, the autumn berries, the tiny rocky outcrops with their inscriptions….including, in Latin, the Dorothy Wordsworth Memorial, which marks the spot where she would sit and write the words her brother was dictating to her while he walked nearby.

Look out for a tiny wooden door that some wizard has carved at the foot of a tree.

The path has been re-routed in recent years because of erosion to the original route. It winds rockily through trees, then stumps of trees, and then climbs above the trees to take you to a fascinating summit.

It’s a three-mile round trip from Grasmere, but allow 2 to 3 hours for the walk, longer if you decide to continue along the ridge to Gibson Knott and a descent via Far Easedale…for which you WILL need a map, and the advice of Wainwright in the Central Fells.


Photos by Eve Duca


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