Burtness Comb to Hen Comb

Footpath through Burtness brackenIt was a sunny morning when I got to the National Trust car park at Buttermere; I set off in tee shirt and shorts, down the road, then the track past the Fish Hotel and along to the bottom of Sour Milk Gill. I turned left, walking by the side of the lake, and carried on past the first path going upwards. At the next path, a signpost promises that it will meet the lake shore path again in one mile; I was hoping that wasn't going to happen as I turned half-right to walk up it, through the trees.

It was quite a reasonable path, and I was looking for another reasonable path, however I decided that the vague one bearing right was probably a better chance of getting View of High Crag from the ascent of High Stileuphill. I followed it, although I was uncertain about it at first; it became much wetter but it was still definitely a path. I reached a stile in a fence just I came out of the trees.

On the other side of the fence, I was out of the forest but into a forest of bracken; the path was visible only for a short distance ahead, the dense bracken hid it all except the bit I was walking on. The faint path took me past rock outcrops, it didn't avoid the rocks but climbed above them, and kept rising; it was sometimes even less obvious but I kept finding it again, I had to follow my nose in the direction of where I thought the path should be.

View of Crummock Water from the ascent of High StileI eventually reached a wall, there was no sign of a path on the other side of it, but a green path went uphill through shorter bracken. I turned right, walking uphill and keeping to the broad ridge above Burtness Cove. It became steeper but it was still grassy, until I had to make a steep hundred-foot scramble up the rocks to a tiny cairn, perched on top of a boulder. As I got above the cairn, looking back it didn't seem very likely that you could make a descent that way; it almost looks like the end of the world.

There was a bit more grass to climb until I had some more scrambling up to the ridge path; I walked up to to a cairn and then followed a fence to the summit of High Stile, I saw other people for the first time since I left Buttermere. I had ignored the cool breeze for a while but it really was cool enough to have to put on my Pertex jacket. It's a pleasantly rugged descent to the col, and a comfortable climb up to the summit of Red Pike, it's always a busy path on that ridge.

View of Bleaberry Tarn from High StileThere is a good view of Ennerdale Water as you descend from Red Pike in a north-westerly direction, steeply at first but away from Lingcomb Edge, then down to a wide grassy col. I left the easy path to climb Little Dodd, it didn't seem any more difficult than following the path; it had fence posts built into its cairn. It was a reasonably straightforward ascent to the summit of Starling Dodd, there were more fence posts but it has a proper cairn as well.

You descend steeply on grass, it isn't that far down to the col before you start to ascend, but it's a good deal further than it looks. After the initial climb you have to bear left around the fenced off conservation area; it's a fairly tedious trudge up by the side of a fence. Eventually you will reach the fence-corner-cum-well, it's a muddy turn before you start climbing up to the summit crown of Great Borne.

Looking back to Red Pike from the summit of Starling DoddAfter all that grass, you reach a bouldery summit; there are faint paths away to the left, up to an unexpectedly rocky summit shelter and trig point. I dropped back down to the path and climbed over the fence, to where there used to be a cairn but it has been demolished, I suppose to avoid attracting people across the fence. I had to admit that it was too warm, the wind-proof jacket came off and I was walking in my tee shirt again; I also thought it was wise to apply some sun screen.

I walked steeply down by the side of the fence, or rather holding on to the fence on the steep descent to Floutern Pass. There is a stile across a fence, there is no help for walkers across the swamp; you have to know where to look for the next stile, or risk wading through the swamp. Even if you know where to go, the ground is very damp; if you don't see the stile a way over to the right, you would be lucky to keep your feet dry before having to climb over a fence. Whichever way you get over the fence, it's not much further to the Floutern Pass path, a legendary wet route; after turning right it's a wet walk on grass on the way towards Hen Comb.

View from the summit of Great BorneThere are yellow footpath arrows at each of the various footpath junctions that try to lead the walker away from Hen Comb; you have to believe the map. After passing the ancient pit, there is a good wet swampy bottom to get across before you pick up a faint path in the grass, and then walk steeply up to a fence. You have to climb over the fence and deal with more steep grass; the gradient does ease and then there is an undulating walk; the Hen Comb summit cairn is reached surprisingly quickly, just fifteen minutes after crossing the swamp below.

I followed the path along the ridge, there are no viable short cuts - I have tried them before; I followed a quad bike path that took me off the ridge, and I had to cross back across it, and another fence, to reach a small path. The path took me down to a ford across Mosedale Beck; there was a lot of water in the beck but I crossed it using the handily placed stones, they were fortunately not slippery, even though they were wet.

Summit of Hen CombI decided not to climb Mellbreak because of the time, it had taken longer than I though to get that far, and climbing over Mellbreak would add another hour to the walk. I followed the good track up Mosedale valley; I was continuously climbing, watching out for a turn left before the Holly Tree. I was still climbing after passing the tree, then had a descent through extremely swampy ground until I eventually rejoined the Floutern Pass path.

I crossed Scale Beck by the bridge, there was still plenty of water in the waterfall, and I made sure I took the higher, drier path, eventually back to Scales Bridge and Buttermere.

Andy Wallace 25th July 2009

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