Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part One)

(Above) The Lion and Lamb rocks, above Grasmere

We were delighted to meet up with some friends from the UK who had emigrated to New Zealand many years ago. Bernie went to school with Kathryn and the couple had kindly collected and put us up in Auckland – their home, now – at the end of our short cruise from Sydney, last November.

Jon is a keen walker, and has fond memories of the Lake District from when he lived in England. He asked if, during their few days with us, we had time to fit in a ‘decent walk’. We decided that the ‘Lion and the Lamb’ offered the best combination of a relatively quick ascent and the possibility of fitting it all into a half-day; thereby allowing some time to wander around the delightful ‘Wordsworth’ town of Grasmere, which nestles below the Lion and the Lamb rocks.

(Above) The Lion and the Lamb sits at the end of a glacial valley overlooking Grasmere (photo from the author’s own map)

The small town of Grasmere is one of the most beautiful in the English Lake District. Famous as the place where William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived and wrote much of their work, the town also boasts some of the most spectacular and accessible fells of Lakeland’s central region.

(Above) The start of the climb

We began the four-hundred metre ascent by following the Easedale Road, northwards from the centre of Grasmere. The main A591 road between Windermere and Keswick runs parallel to this along the steeply glacial valley that is part-formed by the fell on which the Lion and Lamb rocks sit.

(Above) The main A591 – visible as a tiny strip in the distance – follows the valley to the east of the Lion and the Lamb

The path to the Lion and the Lamb summit winds up from the river valley to the west of the fell on which the rocks sit – Helm Crag. The river Rothay, below, is formed from the confluence of the Easedale becks that cascade down the steep, glacial landscape.

Even after a short ascent, the valley floor begins to reveal its features; one of which is the lip of Easdale Tarn, which I hoped would form the second leg of a triangular walk, following the ascent of Helm Crag and a cooling drink beneath the Lion and Lamb rocks.

(Above) You can just see the surface of the water of over the lip of Easedale Tarn in the distance.

The path gets quite steep as you near the first summit – Helm Crag. It was there that we encountered a group of the local Herdwick sheep. Herdwicks are a hardy breed, much treasured for their fine and warm wool. They begin as black lambs, then go deep brown and, finally, grey-white.

(Above) The Herdwick lifecycle conveniently displayed! Black (lambs) to brown to grey-white

The final leg of the climb is what used to be a steep meadow; but we found that the ferns had overgrown much of the surface and, in places, there was barely a path remaining.

(Above) The ‘meadow path’ to the first summit – Helm Crag

Then, suddenly, the climb ceases and you are in one of the most beautiful grassy plateaus in Lakeland. To the east, south and west are some of the best views of the central Lakes region.

To the south, Grasmere is revealed in all its picture-postcard beauty. The weather helped, too!

The town of Grasmere and its beautiful lake. Wordsworth’s house is to the left of the town, next to what is now the main A591 road

To the west, the twin valleys of the glaciers that formed this region are revealed. One contains Easedale Tarn – a possible return leg for our walk; the other is bounded by the ridge formed from Helm Crag and Calf Crag; seen here in the distance. Glaciers from both ‘corries’ forged the landscape here and south of Grasmere.

The head of the former glacier near Calf Crag – from later in the walk

To the east, the scenery of central Lakeland gives way to the rugged and high fells that lead hardy walkers to Helvellyn and Fairfield, the latter is the glacial basin that formed the northern half of Lake Windermere. You can see why the Lion and the Lamb walk is justly famous for its views…

(Above) One of the walker’s ways to Helvellyn or Fairfield…

We looked at the views and thanked the elements for such a lovely day. The ever vigilant Collie, Tess, had ‘driven’ us up the hill, front and backing the pack as we climbed. It’s what drover dogs do, in contrast with Border Collies and other herders whose genetic pattern is to round-up.

Tess the ever-watchful Smooth Collie

I had envisaged that, from here, we would descend to cross the river at the bridge and take the short walk up to Easdale Tarn, completing the triangle back to Grasmere…

But Bernie and Jon, who were both voracious studiers of maps, instead proposed that we might enjoy a simple walk further along the ridge (that we had already climbed) and a return leg back via the head of the valley and Calf Crag.

It was a fateful moment… and, contrary to anyone’s expectations, it was to cost us another six hours walking, but led to the best beer any of us has ever had…. But that part of the day’s story will have to wait…

Part two to follow next week.