Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Buttermere Ridge

GPS Track
Date: 20/04/2014
From: Hassness

Parking: Car parks in Buttermere or Gatesgarth
Start Point: Dalegarth Campsite
Region: Western Fells

Route length: 12.1 miles (19.4 km)
Time taken: 06:29
Average speed: 1.9 mph
Ascent: 1461m
Descent: 1465m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Red Pike (755m), High Stile (807m), High Crag (744m), Hay Stacks (597m), Fleetwith Pike (649m)

Additional summits: Seat (561m)

Other points of interest: Lingcomb Edge, Chapel Crags, Comb Crags, Gamlin End, Scarth Gap, Innominate Tarn, Dubs Quarry

Route: Dalegarth, Pike Rigg, Buttermere, Scale Bridge, Scale Forece, Lingcomb Edge, Red Pike, High Stile, High Crag, Gamlin End, Seat, Scarth Gap, Hay Stacks, Innominate Tarn, Dubs Quarry, Fleetwith Pike, Fleetwith Edge, Gatesgarth, Dalegarth

"The lake by the dairy pastures" is perhaps one of the most picturesque water bodies in the Lake District. Buttermere, as you or I know it as, has no notable features; it is not the longest, deepest or highest lake by any stretch of the imagination but it does have a ace up its sleeve. Connected to the main thoroughfares of the District by a series of slow mountain passes, Buttemere is home to some of the finest mountain scenery in England and arguably one of the best and most dramatic ridge walks in the Lake District.

Bank Holiday time and, unusually for an Easter weekend, we were blessed with almost perfect walking weather; bright and clear for a number of days. Our route, though a bit long winded to avoid the steep plod through Burtness Wood to Bleaberry Tarn, would take us from from our campsite at Dalegarth (which is a delightful place) via Scale Force to the airy, domed summit of the aptly named Red Pike before enjoying the popular ridge that crosses High Stile, High Crag, Seat and Hay Stacks.
The morning sun on High Crag - Sheepbone Buttress to be precise
High Stile over Buttermere
After a day spent snooping around the flanks of Great Gable, we were feeling a little weary approaching this walk, though any lingering stiffness soon loosened up along the walk to Buttermere village and on to Scale Force, said to be the Lake District's tallest waterfall. After passing through Buttermere village and crossing Scale Bridge, an attractive stone bridge that crosses Scale Beck, a path heads north across the open fields making a steady (and sometimes indistinct) climb before reaching the waterfall.
Scale Bridge crossing Scale Beck, proof you are heading in the right direction
An indeterminate path crosses and area known as Scales
There are two falls that make up Scale Force, hidden inside a towering rock chasm. A tall, thin plume constitutes the upper fall that tumbles the greatest distance, and a wider, more photogenic cascade creates the lower falls. Together, they certainly form an impressive scene. We nosed around the falls for a bit, obviously putting off the next, inevitable part of our walk, a steep climb up the valley towards Lingcomb Edge, a friendly arm that encloses Ling Comb, connecting Red Pike to the valley below.
Rannerdale Knotts from Scale Force
Scale Force
Luckily, the climb out of the valley isn't all that bad, much of it being a set of pitched steps that rise up through the woods within ear shot of the roar of the nearby falls. Once the steepness abates, the path continues along the valley, though we were aiming to leave it at Blea Crag to reach the start of Lingcomb Edge. As with any walk being undertaken for the first time, we spent a few minutes trying to find the marked path upwards to no avail, any sign of it being hidden amongst the foliage. Luckily for us Sara, being the logical type and wanting to avoid any map-based misery, suggested we continue along the very distinct path we were already on, which we did and, contrary to the efforts of the Ordnance Survey, it did eventually turn and make the expected climb out of the valley.
The red steps mark the steep climb
Grasmoor peeks through the trees
Scale Beck
Starling Dodd and Great Borne greet you as you emerge from the valley
After a fairly uninspiring climb through the shrubs, we reached the surprisingly windy ridge (given that we'd been in the shelter of the valley) that reaches up to Red Pike. Lingcomb Edge is Red Pike's northern arm and provides a fine route to the summit, avoiding the steep direct route from Buttermere. In order to remain out of the wind, we made our climb just off the ridge, alongside the old, rusted posts that held the boundary fence between Buttermere and Ennerdale. In fact, these posts accompany most of the walk along the ridge and are a handy navigational aid if the weather takes a turn. From here, the summit of Red Pike is a tantalisingly short, but steep, distance away.
Dodd and Red Pike above Ling Comb
The fells of Coledale
The boundary posts leading to the summit of Red Pike
Sara backed by the fells of Loweswater
Red Pike has a very pleasing domed summit, visible for miles around. We reached it just as a number of people were leaving so had the summit and views to ourselves for a while. Unlike the Red Pike in Wasdale (3 short miles away) this one is worthy of the name, the syenite in the eroded rock giving much of the summit a rich red colour. Red Pike is also notable for having a large number of lakes in view from the summit; Derwentwater, Buttermere, Crummock Water, Ennerdale Water and Loweswater are all visible on a fine day.
The summit of Red Pike
High Stile over Chapel Crags
The walk up from Scale Beck had taken longer than anticipated so we broke for lunch in the shelter of one of the many rocky outcrops that litter the grassy landscape beyond the summit. Suitably refreshed and recharged we continued on, bound for the high point of the day, High Stile and perhaps one of the most exciting days out in the Lakes. Once again, the boundary posts provide a keen set of markers, guiding you across the top of Chapel Crags high above Bleaberry Tarn. From here, Red Pike looks magnificent, especially on a day like today though the whole scene really is a feast for the eyes.
Bleaberry Tarn
The steep scree slope that I will mention in a moment
Red Pike and Chapel Crags
High Stile
I have done this walk previously a number of years ago and distinctly remember a number of parts from it, namely a number of our group climbing the steep gully between Chapel Crags and High Stile. It looked tiring then, even more so now. That's maybe for another time as we had more pressing matters, that of deciding which cairn marks the top of High Stile.
Approaching High Stile
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we know that the highest point of High Stile stands out on the small spur that leaves the main ridge in a north easterly direction. This point, a lofty 1m higher than the ridge, is now regarded as the summit proper though, in Wainwrights day, the understanding was less clear, without the benefit of satellites and GPS. Hence there is another, sizeable cairn positioned on the ridge at the height of 806m, a height certainly not to be ashamed of. Some books even refer to the two heights as two separate names; High Stile for the ridge and Grey Crag principle elevation on the spur. Another moment of indecision arose on the summit of High Stile, that of trying to decide just how impressive the views are.
The first 'summit' of High Stile, as mentioned by Wainwright
A panorama of distant high fells - Great Gable, Kirk Fell and the Scafell range
A view across to the true summit of High Stile
Sara at the top with Red Pike behind
To the north west lie Chapel Crags and the wonderful bowl of Bleaberry Tarn at the foot of Red Pike, to the south east stand the impenetrable wall of Comb Crags, the narrow link between High Stile and High Crag. Beyond that, Sheepbone Buttress (surely named for obvious reasons?), White Cove and High Crag, guarding the end of the ridge before it drops suddenly down Gamlin End to the Scarth Gap. Once again, it is a place to stand in awe of the simple process of ice grinding against rock that has created this scarred and shattered landscape.
High Crag and Comb Crags
Eagle Crag and Grey Crag on High Stile
The crossing of Comb Crags is a exciting affair, the ridge narrows to a few metres across and the path passes perilously close to the edge. It's a fantastic route that provides fine views down into Burtness Comb and back to High Stile. In Burtness Comb, there is a prominent bank of debris that runs along the outer flank of the upper bowl, before turning down to the lower slopes, ending with the block strew at the intake wall. It marks the course of a rock avalanche which fell from Grey Crag on the summit rim of High Stile, and was channeled along the foot of the glacier some 11,000 years ago. It is a unique feature in the Lake District.

High Crag, in contrast to High Stile, has a much more distinct summit, a large cairn marking the high point. As we reached it, the weather became intent on reminding us that we were having too good a time so brought along some rain and a gusty wind while we were contemplating the steep descent down Gamlin End, the great scree slopes of High Crag that fall some 700ft from the summit. They provide a very quick route off the ridge and an alarming loss of height considering the summit of Hay Stacks is now considerably above you.
The summit of High Crag with some weather brooding behind
The steep descent down Gamlin End towards Seat
Standing in the way of the Scarth Gap however, is the oft overlooked little prominence of Seat. Unclassified by Wainwright, Seat was only really considered a 'mountain' by Bill Birkett in his excellent 'Lakeland Fells' book; a book that (in terms of numbers of climbable peaks) puts Wainwright's compilation to shame. 541 summits are listed and, after the outlying fells, seems the next objective on the fell baggers list. After crossing Seat, we negotiated a further loss of elevation down into Scarth Gap, a high pass that links Ennerdale to Buttermere.
Hay Stacks pokes its head out
It's plain to see that, from this vantage point as we stopped for a minute, that Hay Stacks suddenly looks a much larger obstacle to conquer, standing some 200m higher than the pass. It's an interesting and exciting climb though, there enough scrambling sections to distract you from the climb before you achieve the tarn at the summit. From here you are able to gaze across the startling landscape ahead of you. Wainwright held Hay Stacks in high regard, he had his ashes scattered near the shores of Innominate Tarn (innominate meaning 'no name' or 'anonymous') and it certainly justifies his adoration.
Hay Stacks over the Scarth Gap Pass

Seat and High Crag
Seat and High Crag over the summit of Hay Stacks

The summit (to the right) of Hay Stacks
A panorama of Buttermere
The summit cairn of Hay Stacks
The other worldly landscape of the plateau

Innominate Tarn
Innominate Tarn
The summit plateau really does have everything; tarns, crags, streams, heather, outcrops and all other manner of mountain scenery you could wish to appear. As several websites and books state, this is a place to stop and investigate and that's just what we did.

After basking in the late afternoon sun by the legendary Innominate Tarn and enjoying a well earned cup of tea, it was time to disband our rag tag bunch. Their objective; down the slopes Warnscale Bottom to the home comforts of the campsite. My plan; a final climb up to the summit of Fleetwith Pike, a fell I had missed out last time I was walking around these parts. As I set off, the path carries you right to the edge of Green Crag, and is a truly riveting affair, being perched high above the valley below. Hay Stacks really does have it all.
The cleft of Black Beck
Green Crag
The final view across Hay Stacks
After threading my way through the final rocks and outcrops of Hay Stacks, I reached Dubs Quarry, a now abandoned workings that is home to the Dubs Quarry bothy, a handy (if less than 5 star) accommodation for backpackers passing through these parts. After a pathless climb across the grass above the old quarry, a rather indistinct line runs north west, gaining in prominence. I doubt I would have spotted it were it not for the cheery beep from the GPS as I reached its vicinity. From here, a relatively straight forward climb takes you to the summit of Fleetwith Pike.
The path up to Fleetwith Pike
The summit cairn
A perilous view down Fleetwith Edge
Interestingly, after leaving Hay Stacks, I had seen little in the way of other walkers other than a few fellows I passed at Dubs Qaurry. Yet still, at this late hour, there were a pair of runners atop Fleetwith Pike, soaking in the views and eventually bound for Hay Stacks. Fleetwith Pike is probably best known for its slate mine at Honister that has been mining slate since the 1750s (with a break between 1986 and 1997). It is also home to the imposing Honister Crag, the only prominence to be added to the Nuttall guide since publication in 1990. With the light starting to slowly fade, it was time to bid my farewell to the high ground and return to Buttermere down Fleetwith Edge, an imposing, finger-like ridge that reaches down to the lakeside.
Fleetwith Edge
Fleetwith Edge; looking up this time
A panorama from Fleetwith Edge, the Honister Pass heads off to the right
Picking my way down the slopes, the ridge that was the scene of our morning endeavours seemed an awfully long way away on the other side of the valley, though was looking suitably impressive. Closer to home, the lower slopes of the ridge are home to a startlingly white cross, erected in the 1880s and maintained by the Cockermouth MRT. A plaque is inscribed saying "Erected by Friends of Fanny Mercer, accidentally killed 1887" who tragically fell over the crag in 1887. In a quite remarkable coincidence, I bumped into the others at the bottom of the slope after their descent of Warnscale Bottom. Turns out I'm not superhumanly quick but they had been involved in assisting some ill-prepared girls who had found themselves lost on the southern crags of Fleetwith Pike. Not a place I'd like to find myself with only a hand bag, bottle of water and no map.
The winding path off Fleetwith Edge
The memorial cross
An evening over Buttermere
Hen Comb in the distance
Fleetwith Pike and Hay Stacks
The campsite lies a short, lakeside mile away and drew our walk to a close with some very nice evening light over Buttermere and its high fells. This is the second time I've done this walk and I doubt it will be my last. On both occasions I've been lucky enough to have fine weather and this is a walk that is truly deserving of it. There's a wonderful array of mountain scenery that really needs a clear day to do it justice so, my advice to you, is to give it the justice it deserves and save it for one of those all too rare clear Lake District days.