Just a couple of months after our Ossian hiking experience in Lochaber, Scotland, the hiking club’s annual Lake District camping weekend was soon upon us, with an extended hiking trip via Buttermere being organised once more. I found myself casting my mind back to the year before when, disastrously, I lost my balance and fell down a gully head-first, damaging my Nikon D100 camera in the process. I hoped better fortune awaited us on this occasion.
The plan was to drive up and meet at Langdale campsite, where one car would be left. After all five of us, namely, John Adams, Tim Porter, Bernard Gardner, Martin and I piled into a single car, we drove round to Buttermere Youth Hostel, where we would spend the night before setting out come the break of day. The only difference to last year’s planned walk included a complete traverse to Wasdale to overnight, before returning the next day.
This meant that we would be departing on the Sunday instead of a day later. Also, Dave Ashby, who had walked in to Buttermere the previous year, was not present this time around.
Day 1 – Arrive Buttermere by car
Day 2 – Walk from Buttermere YHA to Black Sails Hostel
Day 3 – Walk from Black Sails Hostel to Wasdale YHA
Day 4 – Return to Black Sails Hostel
Day 5 – Walk across into Langdale
Days 6-7 Any other walks centred around the Langdale Valley
Upon arrival in Buttermere late Sunday afternoon, Martin and I headed for the pub at the Bridge Water Hotel to wet our throats whilst the others stretched their limbs with a stroll. The food was really good – steak and ale pie is always a winner at times like this! After an early breakfast in the hostel, run by the same Dutch guy we had seen the year before, we set off, somewhat undecided as to the planned route. The year before we had undertaken the slog across Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag, which I was once again prepared to do, if only to exorcise the demon…..weather permitting.
An alternative way up would be to take a route up through Burtness Wood, rather than the long route around the back via Blea Crag. The forecast though was for extremely windy conditions, especially at higher altitudes, which did not appeal to us.
The proposal that seemed to strike a chord with most was to head along the far side of Buttermere Lake with the intention of traversing Fleetwith Pike at 648 metres, one way or another. This takes one through Gatesgarth Farm, where Martin baulked at the sight of negotiating Fleetwith edge, which looked tricky along the upper sections. We could see two figures lower down, silhouetted against the blue skyline. After the path leaves the lakeside, one reaches a gate at the farm. A separate path heads off towards the peaks towards Haystacks, which was once the old packhorse route between Buttermere and Wasdale, known as Scarth Gap.
The easier route involves a longer traverse via the floor of the valley between Fleetwith Pike and Buttermere Fell, which gradually turns to the left to the back end of Fleetwith Pike. It was after crossing the stream known as Warnscale Bottom that I bumped into a couple from the motherland, South Africa. They had emigrated from the province of Natal a couple of decades ago but their accent was still unmistakable. A separate, shorter zig-zag route to the left brought us to higher ground to the left of the waterfall, just below where the two paths met. In a glorious spell of sunshine, we stopped for tea. Via an active as well as several disused slate mines, we head across to the top of Fleetwith Pike, affording us a superb perspective of Buttermere Lake.
With inclement weather threatening to close in on us, we headed back to where the paths rising from the valley crossed, and continued along a meandering path below Green Crag, which ultimately leads to Haystacks, one of Wainwrights’s best loved peaks, which he described as “a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds”. The route takes one past two tarns, Blackback Tarn and Innominate Tarn, the later of which is where the legend Wainwright’s ashes are said to have been scattered.
Alfred Wainwright MBE (17 January 1907 – 20 January 1991), born in Blackburn, Lancashire into a family which was relatively poor, was a British fellwalker, guidebook author and illustrator. His seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, published between 1955 and 1966 and consisting entirely of reproductions of his manuscript, has become the standard reference work to 214 of the fells of the English Lake District. Among his 40-odd other books is the first guide to the Coast to Coast Walk, a 192-mile long-distance footpath devised by Wainwright which remains popular today.
We stopped for a break near Haystacks, as the path descends down to Scarth Gap where it meets the descent, in part discernible, that runs off High Crag, the last of the three peaks we had climbed the year before. From this vantage point, one is able to glimpse both Lake Buttermere and Ennerdale Water simultaneously. We arrived at Black Sail with a hint of rain in the air, to find two families with very young kids booked in as well. All were scientists, the husbands having met at Cambridge University and remained friends ever since. It was not surprising, therefore, that the children were being taught the fine art of chess playing, shortly after dinner. Black Sail was a former shepherd’s bothy and was only donated to the Youth Hostel Association in 1932.
The same young couple whom we had met the year before, who run Black Sail and cook all the dinners and breakfasts, were still firmly part of the set-up, quite extraordinary, considering the hostel’s remote location. The facility is small and could probably do with an upgrade, such as the addition of more showers to supplement the single one currently in operation. Martin and Suzy’s friendly, helpful demeanour remains unquestioned, though. It’s not easy to rustle up a three-course meal, day in and day out, in such limited conditions. The portions are generous and there’s usually enough left over for seconds.