This National Park Is Home To One Of The Largest And Most Dangerous Peaks In England

Correction 11/6/23: A previous version of this article stated that there were six books in Alfred Wainwright's guide. The Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells is comprised of seven volumes, not six.

"I wandered lonely as a cloud," the poet William Wordsworth famously wrote in his reverie about the Lake District in springtime, a romanticized vision of where he spent most of his life. The English National Park is also synonymous with Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons," and Alfred Wainwright, who chalked off over 200 fells and lovingly detailed them in his definitive seven-volume guide to hillwalking in the region. It's all cozy and bucolic, conjuring up images of afternoon teas and a well-earned pint in a good pub after a vigorous walk. Surely, there can't be much danger here, right? After all, the Lake District may be home to all but 4 of England's 25 highest peaks, but the tallest, Scafell Pike, only reaches 3,209 feet high.

That's where you would be wrong. The Lake District is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United Kingdom, and safety in numbers can often lull us into a false sense of security, but the hazards are still there. By the end of summer 2022, 25 people had died in the national park, some of them from falls while navigating the region's peaks. The year earlier, a doctor had also lost his life tackling one of the Lake District's most adventurous challenges, Striding Edge.

What is Striding Edge and why is it dangerous?

Striding Edge is a very rugged and incredibly photogenic ridge on the eastern approach to the summit of Helvellyn (3,118 feet), England's third-highest mountain. The peak has been popular with fellwalkers since the early 19th century, including famous local romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. Of the several approaches to the summit, Striding Edge is one of the most well-known and perilous, proving irresistible to hikers and scramblers seeking a dramatic final push to the top. It is a sharp rocky arête that extends over a mile before you reach the summit plateau. Its view can be spectacular; on a clear day, you can see as far as Scotland to the north or even the Blackpool Tower at the seaside resort almost 100 miles south.

Unfortunately, Striding Edge has claimed numerous lives over the past 200 years. The romantic artist Charles Gough died while tackling the ridge with his dog; when his body was discovered three months later, the pooch was still alive. The tragic incident inspired his contemporaries and was immortalized in William Wordsworth's poem, "Fidelity."  In 2022, another man was lucky not to meet a similar fate when he took a tumble from the so-called "Bad Step" at the top end of the ridge in poor weather. Fortunately for him, he only fell around 30 feet, and rescue services could airlift him to safety.

Safely navigating Striding Edge

Tempting as it sounds, utmost caution is advised if you fancy tackling Striding Edge. Proper footwear is also essential — this is not the kind of challenge to embark on wearing flip-flops. A path runs parallel with the ridge, but the very top is where the action and the incredible views are, and technically it isn't too difficult. Striding Edge is only categorized as a Stage 1 scramble, but the danger comes from exposure (how far you'll fall if you have an accident) with a steep drop over broken ground potentially waiting on either side. The route requires serious concentration, and a good head for heights is also beneficial.

Weather can also play a factor. Snow and ice can make the ridge lethal, and it is recommended that you have crampons and ice picks if traversing it in wintry conditions. At any time of year, rain can make the rocks very slippery, which is worth considering; the Lake District is one of the wettest places in England, so even attempting Striding Edge in the middle of summer can be hazardous if inclement weather sets in.

After you've survived Striding Edge, summited Helvellyn, and enjoyed the view, there is only one thing for it: Hike back down while looking forward to some pub grub and a nice pint of ale as a reward.