07 June, 2012

Helvellyn and Grisedale

Helvellyn is one of the four Lake District fells standing over 3000 feet above sea level. Helvellyn itself is the highest point on a long mountain ridge that runs almost due north-south in the centre of the Lake District in Cumbria. The ridge extends for around 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Clough Head in the north to Dollywaggon Pike in the south, separating the valleys holding the lakes of Thirlmere and Ullswater.

Map link here
You can zoom in to see more detail and move around using the arrow keys.

Its central position means the views from the ridge on a clear day encompass the Pennines to the east, Morecambe Bay to the south, the Solway Firth and the hill of Criffel in Scotland to the north, and the Scafell mountain range to the west. The full traverse of the Helvellyn range from north to south – like walking the ridge-pole on the roof of Cumbria – is a magnificent walk for a long day.

Many shorter routes to Helvellyn summit and/or other parts of the range can be done from either the west (Thirlmere) side or the east (Ullswater) side of the ridge. The most famous is to climb Striding Edge from Glenridding in the east, an airy arete left by two glaciers in the corries on either side eating back towards each other during the last Ice Age. However, Striding Edge is quite a short route, and lands you directly on Helvellyn summit without seeing much of the rest of the ridge. My favourite route to Helvellyn is a longer route, starting from Patterdale or Glenridding and following the quiet valley of Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn, then climbing onto the southern end of the ridge at Dollywaggon Pike and following the ridge over Nethermost Pike to Helvellyn summit, with splendid views of Striding Edge close at hand and most of the rest of Cumbria in the distance.

Map link here
The map is centred on Grisedale; if you use the arrows to move south and west you can follow the valley to Grisedale Tarn and then north onto Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike and then Helvellyn.
Click on the photographs to enlarge.


View up Grisedale. The grey rocky peaks in the background (about 3 miles away) are Dollywaggon Pike and Nethermost Pike. ‘Grisedale’ is a Norse name meaning ‘valley of the pigs’. Presumably the valley was suitable for raising pigs, perhaps in woodland. The origin of the name ‘Dollywaggon Pike’ is not known – ‘Pike’ is a local Cumbrian word meaning a rocky or pointed peak, but ‘Dollywaggon’ is open to speculation.

The route goes up Grisedale to the head of the valley at Grisedale Tarn, tucked away in a hollow between the mountains of Dollywaggon Pike, Fairfield and Seat Sandal. From the tarn, an old pack-horse track zig-zags up the green shoulder of Dollywaggon Pike.

Looking down on Grisedale Tarn from the path up Dollywaggon Pike.

Legend has it that King Dunmail of Cumbria, after being defeated in battle at the Pass of Dunmail Raise just to the west, threw his crown into Grisedale Tarn as he fled. Or that the mortally wounded king gave the crown to a loyal retainer, who threw it into the tarn for him. There was at least one historical king Dunmail associated with Cumbria in the middle of the tenth century (see Diane McIlmoyle’s article on King Dunmail and the associated legends), who may be connected with, or the same individual as, King Dyfnwal of Strathclyde (see Tim Clarkson’s post on Dyfnwal of Strathclyde). So there may be a grain of truth in the stories.

From the summit of Dollywaggon Pike, a magnificent view opens up back down Grisedale, with a glimpse of Ullswater and the Pennine range spread out along the eastern horizon. The Pennines are about 25 miles away.

View down Grisedale from Dollywaggon Pike

From here, it’s a matter of following the ridge north. At the next summit, Nethermost Pike, the rocky arete of Striding Edge comes into view, jutting out from the east face of Helvellyn.

Striding Edge from Nethermost Pike


Close-up of Striding Edge, with a party of walkers traversing the arete.

From Helvellyn, most of Ullswater is visible, still with the Pennines in the distance

View east to Ullswater and the Pennines from Helvellyn

To the north, the Solway Firth is just visible in the distance (zoom in), and the distant hills on the far horizon are in Scotland – around 45-50 miles away.


View north to Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake, with the Solway Firth and Scotland in the distance

The route continues north along the ridge to Sticks Pass, where an old pack-horse route crosses the range and provides a relatively easy descent back to Glenridding. The grey patches in the middle distance are old spoil heaps from lead mining.


Track descending from Sticks Pass to Glenridding

The track was built to carry lead ore by pack horse from the mine at Greenside above Glenridding to the smelter at Keswick. Greenside Mine closed in the 1960s, and the old mine buildings are now a youth hostel and bunkhouse.


Birds’-eye view of Greenside Mine from the path to Sticks Pass.

From Greenside Mine a track and then a road lead back to Glenridding.

26 comments:

Beth said...

Okay, I'm jealous now. ;) Lovely photos, especially the views up and down Grisedale. And what an interesting fact about the name!

Carla said...

Beth - you may get to see it for yourself if you're still thinking of tackling Helvellyn in July :-) As usual, I don't think my photos really do it justice.

Lake District place names are fascinating - a mix of Brittonic, Old English and Norse with the occasional bit of Irish or Scots Gaelic thrown in.

Kathryn Warner said...

Oh, your gorgeous pics are making me so homesick! I'll be back in the Lakes at the end of the month though, yay.

Carla said...

Kathryn - sorry to make you homesick! The end of the month isn't long to wait :-)

Beth said...

I would love to be going up Helvellyn in July (and your photos have decided me - I'm definitely going to push for that route!) but it does look like it's not going to happen this time around. Which is a shame, but it's possible we may get back up to the Lakes for a short trip specifically to go up Helvellyn, so fingers crossed!
I find place names an endless source of fascination; agreed, the Lake District really does have a particularly rich selection them. I'm very intrigued by Dollywaggon Pike, especially as the obvious connection with dollywaggons has been questioned. The first section reminded me of the Welsh 'dolau' (which has been spelled 'dolley'), but when I checked it turned out to mean 'water meadows', so not terribly appropriate!

Constance Brewer said...

Thanks for putting in map links, that made it more interesting for me. Looks like an awesome hike, such a striking area.

Gabriele C. said...

What a grand landscape.

And sunny, too. :)

Carla said...

Beth - Helvellyn will still be there another time :-)
Yes, Dollywaggon Pike is a name to conjure with. 'Dolau' isn't out of the question, if the name was of the form 'the peak above the water meadows' or something like that. (Wonder what the 'waggon' element could have come from, in that case?) Nearby Glenridding has a Brittonic name, so a Brittonic name for the hill wouldn't be out of place. Or it could be a personal name ('Fred's Peak') with the personal name worn out of all recognition over ensuing centuries. I think the problem is that no very early form of the name is recorded (same with Helvellyn itself), so the original name - whatever it was - has had lots of opportunity to get obscured over the years.

Constance - Yes, it's a spectacular area. Glad you found the map links useful. I love maps.

Gabriele - thanks, it is a stunning landscape. It was sunny and also cold, which tends to go with the good visibility; in warm weather the views tend not to extend for 40 miles :-)

Beth said...

Helvellyn had better be there another time; I'll be most miffed if I get up there and find it's taken the day off!
For the 'waggon' element of Dollywaggon...that's a tricky one. Did briefly wonder about some kind of serious corruption of the Brittonic personal name Gwgon, but of course, the whole thing could be derived from any language. And as you say, without early forms, it's almost impossible to come to any conclusion. Glenridding is an interesting one. I've seen it claimed that it's derived from a Brittonic word 'redin', meaning 'fern, bracken', but on maps from the 1500s and 1600s it appears to be written as 'Glenkroden', which is just a bit different.
Is there a Fred's Peak anywhere in the UK, I wonder? There should be. ;)

Carla said...

I think you're fairly safe on that score :-) Although I always think Striding Edge looks like the back of a sleeping dragon, it's not likely to wake up and fly off on an excursion somewhere ... The view may have disappeared behind clouds for the day, though; that's always a hazard in the Lakes.
I have a book on Lake District place names that says Glenridding was recorded in 1292 as 'Glenredyn'. The names you mention from 1500/1600 beautifully illustrate the difficulty when there are no early forms - 'Glenkroden' might be hard to interpret without the earlier 'Glenredyn' to go on.
The unknown place names are great fun for the imagination - if you like the idea of 'Dollywaggon' being derived from some combination of 'dolau' and 'Gwgon' ('The peak above the water meadows of Gwgon'?), no-one can say you nay :-)

'Fred's Peak' - no, not to my knowledge, which is why I use it. The Cuillins in Skye have an 'Alexander's Peak' (Sgurr Alasdair), a 'Charles's Peak' (Sgurr Thearlaich) and a 'Norman's Peak' (Sgurr Thormaid), named after pioneering 19th-century climbers. So it was a close thing - if only one of them had been called Fred Something I'd have had to make up a different example :-)

Beth said...

Well, you can't be too careful with these things, you know. After all, various standing stones wander off for drinks at night (just imagining a bunch of standing stones at the pub, now...); who's to say what the mountains do?! I'd not thought that about Striding Edge, but yes, it does rather look like a dragon's back.
Is that Diana Whaley's book? Yes, that makes far more sense, now, having seen that spelling. Interesting variation; I wonder what caused that?
The peak above Gwgon's water meadows it is, then! ;) I quite like the idea of it having a Brittonic name. Bit of a yah boo sucks to those with an 'assume it's English even if the evidence is tenuous' modus operandi, too, since it just goes to show how you can, at a pinch, show how other languages might fit. (Not that there's anything wrong with English, I hasten to add. ;) But such an approach does irritate me.)
Norman's Peak...that's almost as good as Fred's Peak. Though it does mutate in a rather scary way once it gets into Gaelic!

Carla said...

No, it's a book I bought years ago, author Robert Gambles, publisher Dalesman. My guess for the spelling variation would be someone from outside the local area trying to write down the local dialect pronunciation.

Well, the name might be English, or Norse, or Brittonic, or I suppose something else altogether, since the origin isn't known. Or indeed a mixture, since mixed names occur. There's some logic in looking at the proportion of mountain names whose origins are known and using that as a likely distribution for the ones whose origins aren't known, but of course that doesn't say much about an individual name. It could even be a modern name from comparatively recent times, like Robinson or Ritson Force. Maybe there was some local joke about a dollywaggon, for all we know :-)

I don't know whether Norman to Thormaid is an equivalent name, a translation or a phonetic rendering into Gaelic spelling. I can sort of see how Charles could turn into Thearlaich and vice versa, but I would never guess Norman to Thormaid.

Beth said...

I haven't come across that one - a book to look out for, perhaps. I don't actually have any guide to Lake District place names, but I think I ought to get one before we go up there.

As for Dollywaggon, it does sound quite modern. Not to say that it couldn't be Brittonic I suppose, given that, say, Blencathra is Brittonic, and Brittonic etymologies have been propsed for Helvellyn and Skiddaw, but the fact that there was actually an article known as a dollywaggon does seem suspiciously coincidental. Like your idea about the local joke; one can imagine all sorts of 'interesting' scenarios arising from the combination of a pike and a dollywaggon... :o

Tormaid is an equivalent, apparently, being derived from a Norse name. Thank goodness for that, because if it wasn't, Gaelic mutations would've been really rather terrifying. (Of course, possibly they are. Not knowing the first thing about Gaelic, it's a fact about which I'm blissfully ignorant at the moment!)

Carla said...

It's probably out of print by now, though there may well be an equivalent. You could try asking in the local bookshops when you're there. Many have a good local interest section with books about local history (including place names) as well as walking routes. I'm fairly sure I bought my place names book on a wet day in Keswick or somewhere similar :-) There's also quite a lot of information on the English Place Name Society site here, although it only covers towns and villages, not natural features such as mountains.

As usual, the various explanations aren't mutually exclusive; it's not hard to imagine a Brittonic or Norse or Old English or mixed name whose meaning is no longer understood but which sounds a bit like 'dollywaggon' changing all the way to Dollywaggon at a later date, possibly helped along the way by a joke or a local legend or story. The Mabinogion has quite a few little stories giving imaginative (!) origins for place names, e.g. if I remember rightly there's one in the Dream of Macsen Wledig saying that Caer Myrddin (Carmarthen) got its name because it was built by a myriad men ('myrdd', myriad), whereas it actually comes from the Roman name Maridunum, meaning something like 'sea fort'). I don't suppose this was unique to whoever composed the Mabinogion stories. Something not dissimilar seems to have happened in York where the Latin 'Eboracum' turned into Old English 'Eoforwic', perhaps because the 'Ebor' part of the now-meaningless Latin name was assumed to be 'eofor', 'boar', to which the suffix -wic (settlement, farm, often one used for some sort of specialised purpose such as a trading point) got added. It wouldn't surprise me if a story about a legendary boar also appeared to match...

It's highly appropropriate if Thormaid was derived from a Norse name, since 'Norman' means 'northman' :-) I only know a few Gaelic name-elements in hill names.

Beth said...

The English Place Name Society site is a very good resource, except that the last time I tried to use it it refused to co-operate! It does look as if Mr Gamble's book is out of print, though not too highly priced secondhand, so I'll keep an eye out for it. The only other book I know of Whaley's, although I admit I haven't exactly scoured the internet looking. Probably better to look in the local bookshops up there, as you suggest.

It's been years since I read 'The Dream of Macsen Wledig'; I didn't remember that little explanation at all. But yes, those sorts of onomastic tales seem to pop up quite regularly. I hadn't really given much thought to York, but that's a perfect example of reinterpretation. A legendary boar...now I'd like to imagine that such a story featured the founding of 'Eoforwic' by a giant pig, something along the lines of Twrch Trwyth only better tempered. ;) There are rafts of Brittonic tales in which pigs appear, of course; but out of interest, do they feature much in Anglo-Saxon texts? (I know woefully little about Anglo-Saxon literature at
this moment.)

Norman...indeed it does! :) I've always been more drawn to the Brittonic languages than the Goidelic, I have to admit. About the only Gaelic name-elements I recognise are those that are 'shared' with Welsh, like 'Mor' for example.

Carla said...

Or possibly a legend about a local hero who defeated a giant pig (which would presumably be at least as vicious as Twrch Trwyth to be worth making a story of!). Or a giant who used to hunt boar here. Or a memorable feast.

The boar is the symbol of the god Frey and goddess Freyja in Norse mythology, there's a reference to a 'boar-crested helm' somewhere in Beowulf if I remember rightly, and an actual boar-crested helm from the 7th century turned up in a rich burial mound in Benty Grange. So plenty of potential to go on!

Rick said...

Once again the landscape looks far more like the American West than my stereotype of Britain.

As for Dollywaggon Pike, surely the name was assigned by the Ministry of Silly Placenames!

But Beth's comment implies that there is an actual word, 'dollywaggon.'

Beth said...

All those suggestions sound more than plausible. (I was just being silly when it came to the founding-boar legend, really. ;)) I'd forgotten about the Benty Grange helmet! Thanks. :)

Carla said...

Rick - Britain has its share of rocky mountains, though not on the scale of the American West :-)

I associate 'dolly waggon' or 'dollywaggon' with a small wheeled cart, truck or trolley, which I guess is what Beth is referring to (Beth, am I right? That was what I thought of when I read your comment). Though I have just looked it up in the OED and it isn't listed as a word, so perhaps it's a dialect phrase. The OED mentions 'dolly' as a small wheeled platform and gives film cameras as an example, so I imagine the 'dolly waggon' that I've heard of is a variant on that.

Beth - I did think of the giant's horse that helped build the walls of Asgard (until Loki's memorable intervention!) and wondered about substituting a legendary boar helping to build the walls of York...
The line I was thinking of in Beowulf is line 1287, in the acount of Beowulf's fight with Grendel's mother, 'the bound blade cuts... through the boars that bristle above the foe's helmets'

Rick said...

I had forgotten the camera-moving sense of 'dolly,' which indeed provides a connection to wagons.

Which, alas, doesn't really explain the name of a mountain peak where, presumably, wagons of any sort would be unlikely to go.

Carla said...

Very unlikely; goods did move across the mountain passes in some quantity, but the normal method of transport was by pack-horse rather than wagon. For what it's worth my guess is that 'Dollywaggon' was originally a topographical or personal name that had a vaguely similar sound. When the original language went out of use and the name ceased to be understood, the name became bent out of shape and eventually was turned into a word that was recognisable in the current language, however unlikely (!) in the context of the terrain.

It wouldn't surprise me if it was helped along the way by local jokes relating to the woman's name Dolly (diminutive form of Dorothy, in common use by 16th C), references to dolls, references to the dolly for pounding laundry in a wash tub, references to dolly-pegs (wooden pegs for hanging laundry on a washing line - I've often commented, long before this discussion, that the line of walkers along the top of the Striding Edge arete look like a row of dolly-pegs on a washing line when seen from the main ridge), jokes about the impossibility of getting a waggon up there, jokes about somebody who once tried and came a cropper, or any number of other possibilities. It's not hard to imagine someone inventing a story about a woman called Dolly who tried to drive a waggon up the mountain ("...and that is how it came to be called Dolly Waggon Peak!"), along the lines of the onomastic tales mentioned above, which in turn helped to fix the name in its current form, though of course all this is pure speculation on my part.

Beth said...

Carla, yes, that was the dollywaggon I was thinking of. I'd never heard of it until I started investigating the name of the Pike, though.
Memorable indeed. That Loki - it seems there's nothing he won't do. :P Judging from the walls of York, presumably the boar of Eoforwic would not have suffered a similar distraction. ;)
I like the Beowulf line. Boar are obviously popular creatures to invoke when it comes to battles - unsurprisingly!

Carla said...

Well, the walls of Eboracum were rebuilt or repaired a couple of times, so who knows if a distraction meant the job wasn't done properly first time round... :-)

It's interesting that the boar is associated with the fertility god/goddess Frey and Freyja (Freyja rides on a boar with golden bristles, if I remember rightly), so one might think that wouldn't be the obvious first choice for war gear. There's a theory, which I like, that the boar was a symbol of protection.

Carla said...

PS: and all this discussion of boars has brought us full circle back round to Grisedale (valley of the pigs). Make of that what you will :-)

Beth said...

Freyr's boar...that's Gullinbursti, isn't it?
Well, I suppose there's no reason why the boar couldn't have embodied several attributes, including fertility, protection and battle prowess - it certainly seemed to mean several things to the Celtic peoples.
Goodness - so it has. Clearly there must be some porcine providence at work here....

Carla said...

Indeed. Symbols can work on multiple levels.