Jan 062024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Looking north from the head of Buttermere around Gatesgarth St James's Church, Buttermere Herdwick sheep in foreground; Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks beyond Buttermere lake foot looking across Buttermere toward Robinson looking across Buttermere to Hassnesshow Beck and Robinson Fleetwith Pike at the head of Buttermere Misty light on Fleetwith Pike and Hindscarth Edge Looking south across Buttermere towards High Crag and High Stile Looking south across Buttermere towards High Stile and Red Pike

A cold morning in midwinter after a night of wild weather across the Lake District fells and valleys. The weatherman said all was set to clear to sunshine by midday, but it was still blowing a hooley on the tops as we dipped down the narrow mountain road to Buttermere village.

From the tiny settlement on its isthmus between Buttermere and Crummock Water, tough guys and gals wrapped in cocoons of winter clothing were heading for the heights. We were after something more modest today, the low-level circuit of Buttermere that’s one of the peachiest short winter walks in the Lakes.

We ducked into the diminutive Church of St James at the entrance to the village to gaze out of the window dedicated to supreme guidebook writer and illustrator Alfred Wainwright. The glass is perfectly blank; no need for any coloured image when the window frames a perfect view of Haystacks, the Master’s favourite peak where his ashes were scattered.

Broad-faced Herdwick sheep in the valley-bottom pastures saw us off around the lake, staring as though they’d never seen a human being before. At the far end of Buttermere, Fleetwith Pike rose magnificently, a sharp angle of fell running up to a peak with the knobbly spine of Haystacks alongside.

Soon these easterly fells were hidden by the lemon-yellow larches and wind-tattered silver birches and sycamores of Burtness Wood. Sourmilk Gill came rushing down its rocky cleft with tremendous noise and presence, a tumble of multiple strings of white water issuing from invisible Bleaberry Tarn high overhead. Up there the crumpled peaks marched southeast along the flanks of the valley – Red Pike and High Stile beside us, Grasmoor and Robinson opposite, two thousand feet above.

Every hillside stream was a torrent today, sluicing over mats of moss and liverworts in miniature waterfalls, coursing across the path. But as we reached the lake head the promised sun materialised over the shoulder of High Crag, flooding the fells with brilliant gold light.

From Gatesgarth Farm and the hump-backed valley road we took the homeward path along the northern shore. A flock of Canada geese with white chinstraps and shirt fronts bobbed on the lake, discussing our passing with hen-like clucks and coos. A rock scramble and a short splashy tunnel through an outcrop, and we descended to Wilkinsyke Farm at Buttermere village, as eager for tea and stickies as though we’d truly been storming the heights.

How hard is it? 5 miles; easy gradients, but rough underfoot; lakeside tracks.
Start: Buttermere village car park, CA13 9UZ (OS ref NY 174169)

Getting there: Bus 77A from Keswick.
Road – Buttermere is signed from Borrowdale (B5289) and from B5292 at Braithwaite (A66 Keswick – Cockermouth).

Walk (OS Explorer OL4): From car park, through kissing gate; right along path (‘Lake’, then ‘Buttermere’). In 600m at gate with NT contribution box (174164), right; continue on track along south side of Buttermere for 2 miles to Gatesgarth Farm at lake head (195149). Left along B5289 (take care! narrow road with bends); in 600m, left off road (192154, fingerpost ‘Buttermere village’). Follow north side path. In 700m, short rock scramble at 187158 approx; short tunnel follows. At foot of lake, keep ahead at fork (178164, fingerposts) to Wilkinsyke Farm and road (176169). Left to car park.

Lunch: Syke Farm Tea Room, Wilkinsyke, Buttermere (01768-770277)

Accommodation: Bridge Hotel, Buttermere (01768-770252, thebridgehotel.uk); Buttermere Court Hotel, Buttermere (01768-770253, buttermerecourthotel.co.uk).

South side path, through rough and rocky in places, is recommended for wheelchair users in ‘Accessible Walks in the Lake District & Cumbria’ by Mike Routledge (Pathfinder Guides; pathfinderwalks.co.uk)

 Posted by at 01:08

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