It was dry and quite fresh when I parked in the National Trust car park at Buttermere, I was wearing shorts hoping the sun would come out later but expecting it not to. I walked back into the village and turned onto the lane leading to the lake shore path in order to avoid walking in the road; the Syke Farm Ice Cream shop was in the process of being rebuilt, hopefully not for a different purpose. At a junction of paths I took the branch leading to Bowderbeck, because I hadn't been that way before; Bowderbeck is by the side of the road so I ended up walking along it anyway.
It is about one and a half miles from Bowderbeck to the other side of Gatescarth Farm where I picked up the path going uphill to Fleetwith Pike. The light and visibility were good but I had to put my gloves on again, there was a cold breeze and a build up of clouds that suggested that the sun might not be coming out. The climb up Fleetwith Edge is steep and strenuous with some easy scrambling, it may be fairly easy as such, but you are well aware of the steepness of the ground falling away.
After reaching the cairn at the summit of Fleetwith Pike, I started walking along the ridge towards the cairn at Black Star when the first heavy shower of the day came in. I followed a faint path downwards towards Dubs Quarry, there is working quarry equipment with the maze of spoil heaps. When I got down to Dubs Hut it looked like an extension was being built, and a sign on the door gave a phone number to make bookings, I suppose that means it loses its status as a bothy.
I walked down to Dubs Bottom, the ground was much less swampy than usual and the streams were easy to cross, and then walked the undulating path-with-a-view to Blackbeck Tarn. After crossing Black Beck it suddenly becomes much rockier, a steep eroded, and reconstructed, path takes you up to what you could called the summit ridge of Haystacks, it's a ridge with many undulations, outcrops and tarns, a place full of interest, and then you reach the summit. The summit platform is a rugged mini-ridge with a cairn at either end, the easy ascent so far hides the precipitous, rugged character of such a modestly sized hill.
As you start to descend towards Scarth Gap, the intriguing alter-ego of Haystacks becomes apparent; as you scramble downwards there are usually hordes of novice hill walkers toiling up this little mountain. Once you get down to Scarth Gap, the next obstacle is called Seat, as steep and eroded as Haystacks is rugged, your determination to walk the Buttermere ridge begins to be tested. After a short descent from its highest point, you are immediately faced with the ascent of High Crag, Gamlin End is still a test for calf muscles even though there is now a reconstructed path most of the way.
The final steep scree part of the ascent has not been reconstructed, and I was feeling very warm as the sun beat down on me wearing tee shirt and shorts; as I approached the summit the cloud came in and shortly after taking a very moody photograph of Ennerdale Water, it started to rain. Mainly rain, with some sleet, I decided that this wasn't just a shower; ten minutes after feeling warm I was wrapped up against the cold driving rain.
The easy ridge from High Crag to High Stile becomes a bit of a navigation monster in poor weather, especially as you reach the broad summit plateau of High Stile. You should follow the line of fence posts, but it's easy to be distracted by the cairned path to the subsidiary summit, it's also easy to lose sight of the fence posts. It isn't easy to recognise the summit if you don't already know it, and in the conditions I wasn't able to photograph it for you.
It's even easier to get lost on the walk to Red Pike, you have to work hard to keep to the path, it's not easy when you main priority is to keep the rain out and the warmth in. Having reached the summit of Red Pike, I descended the slippery eroded red path down to The Saddle, and turned right, I really don't like the tourist route descent through Burtness Wood. The faint path takes you down to Ling Comb, it's a descent I have used a few time before but I managed to lose the path; after struggling through heather and swamp I reached bouldery scree. The visibility had improved enough for me to trace the route of the path from the wall below up towards the Comb, and I was able to traverse the rough ground over to it.
Shortly after crossing through a gap in the wall you reach trees, and I have to say the steep path downwards is now just as horrible as that in Burtness Wood; it seemed to take ages before I reached level ground at the bottom of Far Ruddy Beck. There is still a forty minute walk back to the car park at Buttermere.
Andy Wallace 1st May 2010
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