Buttermere Route

Recommended Maps Ordnance Survey Maps:

Outdoor Leisure Map 4 - North Western Area (1:25,000)

Land Ranger Map 90 - Penrith and Keswick (1:50,000)

Total Distance:

13.54 kilometres (8.41 miles)

Duration:

5.5 Hours

Maximum Height Achieved :

806 metres (2644 feet)

Total Ascent :

1142 metres (3747 feet)

Background

This is one of the best ridge walks in the Lake District that starts in the small but busy hamlet of Gatesgarth. The walk also takes in a lakeland favourite Haystacks, famously the favourite fell of a well known Mr Alfred Wainwright. The ridge stands high between the beautiful and often bustling Buttermere Valley on one side and the desolate and wild Ennerdale Valley on the other side. Not only will you get fantastic views across most of the high fells of the Lakes you will also get to experience the stunning crossroads of Scarth Gap and towards the end of the walk experience the unique summit of Haystacks and have lunch with Alfred at Innominate Tarn. The shores of Northern Buttermere on a clear day offers incredible views of the fells you have just conquered and, if you are lucky, will be reflected in still sheltered waters. Buttermere is a busy place in summer, this walk can be made even more special by starting off early on a quiet cold crisp clear winters day.

Starting Point - Gatesgarth Car Park

The walk starts at Gatesgarth Farm (grid ref. NY194149) where there is a small pay car park opposite the Mountain Rescue Post. There is also some roadside parking although this will get filled up very quickly, so an early arrival is advisable. The most common approach to this area is to follow the B5289 out of Keswick to the South along the banks of Derwent Water. This leads to Stonethwaite at the head of Borrowdale where the road bends to the right to head over Honister Pass. Once over the top the road heads down a long slope at the bottom of which lies Gatesgarth.

Section 1 - Gatesgarth Car Park to Red Pike

Distance: 2.8 miles (4.4km)

Height Gain: 2312 ft (705m)

From the Car Park at Gatesgarth Farm cross the raod to walk through the farmyard and along the path that leads over Gatesgarthdale Beck and Warnscale Beck (crossing Peggy's Bridge) to the foot of High Crag. Once there the path splits in two; the left heading up toward Scarth Gap and the right following the southern shores of Buttermere in a Northeasterly direction, follow this path.

After half a mile the path comes to Combe Beck streaming down from Burtness Combe, sitting between High Crag and High Stile. Ascend some 450 feet along a path on the farside of Combe Beck before turning right to follow the contours under Grey Crags in a Northeasterly direction. Continue until you reach Sourmilk Gill which originates from Bleaberry Tarn, sitting immediately below Red Pike, and climb up to the hanging valley and the tarn.

Walk around the front of the tarn to the Northwest side and ascend the obvious path onto the distinct ridge gurding that side of the valley, called "The Saddle". A brief excursion Northeast along the ridge brings you to Dodd for exhillerating views over Buttermere and Crummock Water. Retracing your steps back along the ridge, the summit of Red Pike is attained by continuing along a scree laden path.

Red Pike is one of two Wainwright fells of the same name. This is the smaller version, not to be confused with the other Red Pike 3 miles south in Mosedale. Neither Red Pike is particularly red, with green and grey more prominent colours, yet no campaign to rename one of the fells Grey Pike or Green Pike has yet gathered enough support to force changes that would seriously benefit map readers in the Lake District. Due to minerals present in the soil around the Buttermere Red Pike, it would probably have a better claim as the redder of the Red Pikes should a renaming ever come about.

Section 2 - Red Pike to High Crag

Distance: 1.56 miles (2.57km)

Height Gain: 295ft (90m)

The main ridge of Buttermere lies between Red Pike, in the West, over High Stile and terminating at High Crag in the East. The ridge to High Stile is less dramatic than that further to the East but there is still much to be appreciated as you promenade above Chapel Crags. High Stile is the largest of three mountains that overlook the village and lake of Buttermere. From the summit, the best views perhaps come of the Northwestern fells, with more rewards coming from a panorama that includes Crummock Water and Buttermere.

In his guides, Wainwright wrote of the path along the ridge of these three peaks - 'the view becomes truly aerial, with an uninterrupted picture in depth from the zenith of the sky to the rock on which one stands'. Gazing from the summit of High Stile across the northwestern fells, Pillar and Scafell Pike - and all the way up to the Solway and the mountains of Dumfries and Galloway, it is very difficult not to agree with this assessment of a stunning Wainwright Walk.

Section 3 - High Crag to Fleetwith Pike

Distance: 3.19 miles (5.14km)

Height Gain: 1138ft (347m)

The long descent from High Crag is an awkward steep eroded affair at first but becomes easy on arrival at the pitched path part way down. After a short climb to Seat, another pitched path takes over down to Scarth Gap and the first part of the ascent to Hay Stacks. This top is a magnet for all and sundry but the ascent is a highly enjoyable one, clambering up the rocks and gaining height in no time to arrive at the tarn near the summit.

From the summit of Haystacks the path continues on in a Southeasterly direction to Innominate Tarn, A.W. Wainwright's final resting place. Make your way to the left of the tarn and continue along the well marked path - some of it paved - almost to Blackbeck Tarn. Cross the beck emanating from the tarn and climb the stone staircase. Eventually the path joins another from the right from Great Round How. Follow this path round the Eastern side of Fleetwith Pike until you pick up the summit ridge path to the left. Follow this path to the summit cairn.

Section 4 - Fleetwith Pike to Gatesgarth

Distance: 0.86 miles (1.38km)

Height Gain: 1962ft (-598m)

Fleetwith Pike is the north western shoulder of Grey Knotts. It is bounded by Honister Pass to the north and Warnscale Bottom to the south west, their two streams uniting beneath the fell in Buttermere. The north west ridge rising almost from the lakeshore at Gatesgarth is named Fleetwith Edge, and is a striking feature from any direction. The top of the fell is situated directly at the top of the edge, while a lower summit stands to the east atop Honister Crag. Fleetwith Pike is lined on all sides by impressive crags, other than for the broad plateau leading across the Drum House to Grey Knotts.

Fleetwith Pike is the north western shoulder of Grey Knotts. It is bounded by Honister Pass to the north and Warnscale Bottom to the south west, their two streams uniting beneath the fell in Buttermere. The north west ridge rising almost from the lakeshore at Gatesgarth is named Fleetwith Edge, and is a striking feature from any direction. The top of the fell is situated directly at the top of the edge, while a lower summit stands to the east atop Honister Crag. Fleetwith Pike is lined on all sides by impressive crags, other than for the broad plateau leading across the Drum House to Grey Knotts.

From the summit cairn the route home is over the Northwestern ridge of Fleetwith Pike, known as Fleetwith Edge. This route offers superb uninterupted viws looking down the length of the Buttermere valley. The path descends steeply along the dramatic ridge to Low Raven crag, and on a short distance to the valley floor. As it reaches the valley floor it joins the B5289, at which point it is only a matter of yards back along the road to Gatesgarth Farm.