Buttermere to Ennerdale and back
The driving conditions were quite atrocious, the weather reports about the amount of rain falling were correct but I was hoping the Mountain Weather Information Service had got it right with only 70% chance of rain on the hills. It subsided to a steady drizzle by the time I got to Keswick and when I got to Buttermere village it wasn't raining at valley level but there was no sign of any hills through the low cloud. I walked over the the footbridge that crosses the outflow from Buttermere, the lake was full to overflowing and a huge amount of water was throwing itself down Sour Milk Gill.
I turned right and followed the path (temporary stream) at the edge of the woods towards Scale Bridge; the bluebells have just gone past their best with the green bracken shoots thrusting upwards for their season of growth. I was looking for a path I haven't used before that should start somewhere between Near and Far Ruddy Becks. I got to the footbridge across Far Ruddy Beck and had seen no obvious footpath so I retraced my steps but I still saw no evidence of a path. All I could see was a shallow gully where the bluebells and bracken didn't grow, probably because it was too wet, but it was the only way upwards where the vegetation wasn't too lush.
Shortly after reaching the trees a faint line of flattened grass became apparent and as the gradient became steeper there was an obvious path up through the trees. This is a real wood rather than a forestry plantation, the only difference for walkers is the absence of tree debris from harvesting operations, it is still steep and muddy with slippery tree roots to get past. To be fair the gradient isn't too bad but I became warm enough to swap my winter jacket for a lightweight summer one. When I got to the old intake wall a little way above the trees the mist turned to rain and I had to revert to the larger jacket and put my camera somewhere dry for its own safety.
After a short muddy walk through heather below the wall I was now walking through grass on a small but obvious path whilst keeping my eye on the compass in the poor visibility. I reached a point where the path split, the more obvious path was sure to take me to Red Pike but I took the left hand branch just to see if it offered a more direct way to Dodd. I decided that this small path was taking me too far downwards so I retraced my steps back to the main path; in better conditions I might have considered the steep and direct route upwards.
Eventually I reach the cairn at The Saddle and turned left to make the short walk to the cairn at the summit of Dodd, a worthwhile detour if there had been a view but I had no such reason to stop. I retraced my steps and as I got past the cairn I began to climb up a grassy slope, the sounds of voices became ghostly shapes as I got closer to the main Red Pike highway. The regular path to Red Pike has become very eroded and the underlying red rock has been ground down to small particles that make a bright red mud in wet weather.
The wind became stronger and colder and I had to dig out a couple of pairs of gloves from the depths of my summer rucksack before my hands became too numb for comfort. There is a final steep gully full of red slippery mud to climb up before a short walk on grass to the summit shelter. The obvious route from here is to follow the ridge route to High Stile but just for a change I decided to walk an anti-ridge although I was wavering a bit given the cold, wet conditions and poor visibility.
I set off on a bearing in a south westerly direction and I was pleasantly surprised to find a line of cairns going my way, I was able to navigate from one cairn to the next for five minutes until I came to a couple of old iron fence posts. There was quite an obvious path going off to the right but after referring to my compass I decided it was going in the wrong direction. I walked back to the fence posts and set off on my bearing and after crossing some rough ground I came across another small cairn. I carried on navigating form cairn to cairn, not making very quick progress but feeling confident that I was going in the right direction.
After about fifteen minutes I came out of the cloud and I could see Ennerdale below me and I found another red path. The erosion on this steep path would be far worse if it got the same amount of walking boots as that on the other side of the hill. As I got closer to Gillflinter Beck the gradient eased and after crossing the beck there was an easy descent over grass to the main Ennerdale track at Gillerthwaite. As I turned left to follow the track there is one view that dominates, the ruggedness of Pillar Rock and its surrounding crags with menacing looking clouds shrouding the tops of the intimidating steepness.
The anti-ridge is not surprisingly very different to the ridge, there are no undulations and rough ground but there are tall trees, wild undergrowth, surging streams and little black lambs. It is also much longer than the ridge, I walked about four miles to the head of Ennerdale; I think I prefer high ridges but at least it wasn't raining and the interesting valley has a different view of the world. I would be very relieved to reach the Black Sail Hostel if I had carried a large camping rucksack six miles from the nearest car park, it is in a wonderful if hard to reach location.
The track ends at the hostel but an obvious path carries on towards the head of the valley, past the group of drumlins that aren't visible from higher up. The path leads you to Loft Beck and onwards up the rising ridge of Tongue in the direction of Honister but my car was at Buttermere so I turned left to walk up beside the beck. The sections of constructed footpaths by the side of the beck, I wouldn't have thought it was a route well enough used to justify it but there were several other walkers there.
Walkers ahead of me kept going upwards when I suspected that I should be turning left when I came across a small stream, as I crossed Loft Beck at an obvious looking place I came across a cairn on the other side. I reached a wet plateau with marshy ground, the recent rain making it like walking across a wet sponge. I had expected to come across Blackbeck Tarn but I was on very unfamiliar ground and really not sure exactly where I was. I got a couple of views of Blackbeck Tarn below and then I came across one of the most obvious perched boulders I have seen.
I carried on along a faint path still not really sure if I was walking in the right direction until I came to the start of the climb to Haystacks, above the place where the path crosses the top of Black Beck. Haystacks, like many other fells of lower height, is far broader than you expect but is an interesting walk, rugged but without any difficult gradients. Innominate Tarn is fairly uninteresting usually but the light and shade at the time made quite a good photograph. The final climb to the various summits of Haystacks can be easy or rugged, it is without doubt a place to explore and enjoy.
The descent to Scarth Gap could be a bit of a shock for the unwary, the steepness and ruggedness certainly surprised me the first time I climbed it. From Scarth Gap there is an obvious path downwards in the direction of Buttermere, my original plan had been to continue on to High Stile but even if I had time my legs might have persuaded my head that they were too tired. The obvious path isn't that easy, it is eroded, stony and downright awkward in places and it takes much longer than you want at the end of the day.
I think I have satisfied my anti-ridge ambitions for the time being.
Andy Wallace 20th May 2006
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