I suddenly realised that I haven't visited Buttermere this year, I'd better get there before the days get too short to make that particular round trip. The U.K. forecast was warm and sunny except for some parts of the north west that may have some drizzle, one of those parts was from my house to Buttermere village. It was still drizzling when I got to the National Trust car park but it was warm so I set off walking in waterproof jacket and shorts.
From the car park turn right towards the village then turn right at the Bridge Hotel and onwards past the left hand side of the Fish Hotel to reach a track where you turn left. Just follow the track until eventually you cross the stream that joins Crummock Water and Buttermere. Turn left and walk along the good path by the side of the lake enjoying the drizzle and misty views until you reach Peggy's Bridge. Cross the footbridge and walk across the fields and through the farm buildings until you reach the road.
Turn right and follow the road for a short distance until Fleetwith Pike rears up directly ahead of you, in spite of it being covered in mist you can see it is going to be a strenuous climb, over 1600 hundred feet (500 hundred metres) of ascent in less than a mile (1.25 Kilometres). The climb starts on a zig zag path that has been partially reconstructed, the white cross on the right hand side should be a warning to be careful. The path takes you to the flat grassy top of Low Raven Crag, the position of the cross below should tell you not to get too close to the edge.
From this point onwards there is only one way to go and that is upwards, the physical nature of the hill only allows you to see to the top of the first part of the climb and anyway the drizzle has turned to more substantial rain so you couldn't see anywhere near the summit anyway. This first part of the climb is up steep grass, not my favourite way of getting up a hill at the best of times and it is really too warm for wearing a big jacket. Once you get to the top of first part of the climb you can see the second part, more of the same misty rain and steep grass.
At the top of the second part of the climb I had to take my jacket off, getting warm was more uncomfortable than getting wet but the rain wasn't too hard and it wasn't windy enough to make me feel cold. On the third part of the climb the nature of the hill changes from grass to broken rock, the exposed layers of rock providing good hand and foot holds but you you need to take care when the rock is wet. By the time you reach the top of this part of the climb you are beginning to wonder where the summit is but there is more work to do as the fourth part of the climb appears out of the mist.
The final part of the climb is the best, more rock with steeper outcrops that can feel quite exposed if you look down to the valley on your left. It is still raining but I don't seem to be getting any wetter in spite of only wearing tee shirt and shorts when I got to the summit, the view back to Buttermere should be stunning from here. Then following the faint path along the undulating ridge I didn't climb to the viewpoint at the top of Honister Crag, there wouldn't be a lot to view. The path skirts around the higher ground above the top of the crag and you come to a cairn which in these conditions is the first safe place to descend to Dubs Quarry.
After starting to do down the easy grass slope I was unable to ignore the rain any more and had to put my jacket back on but it wasn't bad enough for waterproof trousers yet. You pass active quarry workings and an impressive set of rock crushing machinery on the way down to the location of the old Drum House. Before you get there you pass through ancient standing stones (circa 2004) forming an impressive avenue close to the chaos of the quarry workings.
From the Drum House you follow the line of the old tramway until you get to Dubs Quarry itself where I suppose most people step inside Dubs Hut just to see what it is like. The hut is in good condition and one of the drier bothies or mountain shelters that I have seen although it seems a bit close to proper accommodation to ever be used by mountaineers. From there is a faint path down a wet grassy hillside to the ford across the upper part of Warnscale Beck, fortunately the stepping stones are not slippery in spite of most of them being underwater.
The path ahead is more obvious, a popular route to Blackbeck Tarn on an interesting path between crags and with good views of the mist. Once I got to the tarn things began to get a little busier with more than one party of walkers making their pilgrimage to Innominate Tarn and on to the rugged rocky summit of Haystacks. The path downwards from the summit of Haystacks is very obvious but the mist can confuse you even in the most familiar of places, especially as the area around the summit tarn is too boggy for a path to survive. My first guess was obviously wrong, a steep drop into the mist was not what I wanted, so I made my way around the edge of the crags until I spotted a cairn and right on cue a couple of walkers passing it on their way up to the summit.
It is obvious why Haystacks is popular even though it is not very high, the path to Scarth Gap is rugged and interesting, there is no way to avoid handling the rock, it is a real little mountain. Down at Scarth Gap there were signs that the weather was beginning to improve, Buttermere below looked as though it had sunshine and there was a glimpse of blue sky above. The steep climb up the small intermediate summit of Seat was also obvious, the mainly reconstructed path being a good warm up for the delights of Gamlin End waiting on the other side of the hill.
The weather is definitely better, for the first time today I am able to take photographs of the hills and the steep zig zag path of Gamlin End is nicely highlighted by some sunshine. The steep reconstructed path by which you climb High Crag is undoubtedly better than it was but that is small consolation to my calf muscles. It is a relief to reach the loose stony part of the path, I know the climb is nearly finished and it isn't half as loose and slippery as it used to be. From the top of Gamlin End you still have some work to do to get to the summit of High Crag, it has stopped raining but the mist isn't going to clear for a while.
The path takes you directly to the cairn at the northern end of High Crag, a super viewpoint sometimes and a marker for the path on the north ridge but it is not the summit. It was worth a look at the map just to make sure of the route to the summit before setting off in what I thought was the right direction. I soon found the line of metal fence posts and they take you to the top of High Crag, a very inconspicuous summit in this visibility. Follow the fence posts and cairns, easy walking on the broad ridge takes you to the summit of High Stile, it almost seems like cheating to claim another summit with such little effort.
Continuing to follow the fence posts I began the descent from High Stile, the path was unclear and the boulders were slippery in places until an obvious eroded path appeared. I didn't recognise the path and it seemed to be heading in the wrong direction although I knew it had to be the right path. It took a couple of readings of the map through badly misted glasses to rid the feeling of being disoriented and I was happier when the path swung around to the direction I wanted to be going.
The mist has an adverse effect in that you are easily confused but it seems to make the ridge walk easier, you can't see the undulations so you don't seem to be doing as much climbing. So it was that the summit of Red Pike suddenly appeared, another vaguely reminiscent place with plenty of scope for going in the wrong direction. From the cairn, heading in the direction of Ennerdale and after a short, steep descent on grass you reach a faint path that is again accompanyied by the metal posts of the old boundary fence.
I have a good mental picture of the area but I know that it is wide and flat ahead, I'm not sure if I will know when to make a turn back towards Buttermere instead of continuing on to Ennerdale. That question was answered easily when the path split into two, it was an easy decision to take the right hand branch. The next path to find is wide and eroded that will take me down to Scale Beck and as the mist began to clear I recognised a large boulder on the horizon that marked the top of the path I was looking for. As it happened the faint path I was on took me directly to the downward path, it is as wet and awkward as it is wide and eroded but the alternative walking through thick heather was even less inviting.
Sure enough the path narrowed as it got to Scale Beck, the beck was very full of water as most waterways are at the moment. The path made a pleasant walk beside the stream although there are a couple of awkward rock outcrops to get over. Eventually you reach the pitched path made from the pink rock that is predominate in this area, this takes you to the impressive waterfall where Scale Beck comes back to earth.
As I emerged from the trees near the waterfall the wet day was suddenly transformed into a beautiful late afternoon, the hills were clear of mist apart from an attractive fluffy crown at the top of Grasmoor. All that remains is to keep your feet as dry as possible across the broad wet slopes above Crummock Water before crossing the fields between the two lakes to get back to a warm and sunny Buttermere village.
Andy Wallace 4th September 2004
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