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Buttermere Fells

Another tale of the North by the only club member who can sign his name with a X and get away with it, Bob Cross.

In the August of this year, I spent a couple of days camping in the Lake District at a small place on the banks of Buttermere called Gatesgarth. This is a tiny hamlet on the western side of the Honister Pass.  It is centred around a hill farm famous for its breed of sheep.  There is also a very pleasant camp site and a mountain rescue post.

This place is quieter than Borrowdale and has more subtle charms.  The valley contains two lakes, Buttermere and Crummock Water.  They are separated by a moraine dam.  Overlooking the valley in the South West is the great rampart of High Crag; High Stile and Red Pike.  Further west, overlooking Crummock Water is the lone hill Mellbreak. To the East and South East are the lovely Haystacks and Fleetwith Pike and to the North the larger masses of Grassmoor and Robinson.  All the mountains mentioned, except Haystacks and Mellbreak, exceed 2,000 feet above sea level.

From Gatesgarth, High Crag and High Stile take pride of place - thrusting in a steep mass of bracken, scree and crags into the sky.  I was determined to climb these, whatever the weather during the two days. The first morning, I was lucky. The sky was slightly overcast and the heights were in the mist, but here and there, particles of blue peeped through.

I gulped down my breakfast, donned my boots and rucksack and set out alone in the direction of High Stile, full of expectations.  The initial part of the climb lay over the water meadows in Warmscale Bottom to the lakeside footpath.  This morning, the lake was like a duck pond, reflecting the surrounding hills in its cool waters.  A forest of lush bracken clad the South shore of the lake, and the track meanders through this to the mouth of Birkness Gill.  This stream cascades over a jumble of rocks and pebbles from the recess of Birkness Coombe, a cool secluded corrie formed by the spurs of high Gap, High Stile and the ridge that joins them.

I paused here to swill my sweating brow, and then set off in bottom gear up the steep path made slippery by previous storms.  My boots had long since seen their best days and badly needed resoling, though there was still a bit of rubber left!

Climbing hills is a frustrating business, especially if you keep looking up to note your progress - best keep your eyes down and switch off your brain!

I got hot! Soon I could see the western end of Crummock Water, and with the sweat pouring out of my portly carcass, I wished somehow that I was in it.  I'd had a fair drop of chernic the previous night and was suffering from an affliction one might amusingly entitle "Wheeltappers Head".

Second wind always comes as the gradient eases off.  No chance here~ Birkness Gill rises in a steep scree filled gully and maintains a fierce gradient from source to mouth.  This coombe was a quiet place - not sombre or sinister more charitable with juicy bilberries and fat daft sheep.

I was at ease and smiled and muttered at the podgy sheep in half-witted abandon, a luxury that only solo tramping affords me - unless of course my companion is also a nutcase!  I carried on pounding up the hill till I stumbled on to the foot of a scree.

The last four hundred feet to the ridge was an unbroken scree in a gully.  I nearly fell over backwards twice and was dizzy with vertigo by the time I crawled out on to the top.  I sat on a flat slab while my heart beat returned to normal, and ate some bread and butter.

I was roughly on the same level as the hill across the valley but about three hundred feet lower than another hill due North.  These were Robinson (2,417ft) and Grassmoor (2,791ft) respectively.  Behind me I could see Pillar Kirk Fell and Great Gable.

After this rest, I walked over to the top of High Stile, North of this summit, a steep-sided spur overlooks Buttermere, and from the top of this spur you can see the valley below in detail spread out like an aerial picture.  Here, in a mossy hollow, I dined and took an hours nap.  From my little pulpit I could see the Solway Firth and the hills of Dumfries.

Half asleep, and suffering from acute indigestion caused by boiled eggs, I staggered off towards Red Pike, the Western end of the ridge.  Then I turned south and walked towards Steeple.  Far below I could see a mass of Sitca Spruce - Emmerdale Forest, and above this, that classic Lakeland crag, Pillar Rock - hanging there in space - over two thousand feet above the lovely river Liza.

By now it was past midday, and the mists had long since left the peaks.  What a pity I had run out of ridge and would have to return to the valley.

I have a liking for scree running that emerged on the isle of Skye some time ago, so I was delighted when, after a short easy walk down a grassy slope, I was peeing down a slope of scree of some eight hundred feet straight into Emmerdale Forest.  I leaped energetically down this, leaning well back, and digging in with my heels, no doubt doing my poor boots a world of good.  I stopped occasionally to empty the grit from my socks, and to pick some of the biggest bilberries I had ever seen, that grew in clumps amongst the debris. I was well-nigh knackered when I got down into the wood and glad of the shade and the springy forest floor underfoot.

Eventually I got to the river Liza where I washed my hot sticky trotters.  The air here was heavy with the scent of pinewood and alive with insects - including the bloody midge.

With cool feet, and a couple more midge bites, I set off along the dirt road to Black Sail Youth Hostel. After two miles of pleasant walking I reached the hostel, a timber building obviously copied from the old Belfry.

Outside were several scantily-clad females basking in the sun - an enjoyable and provocative sight. The last leg the journey now lay over Scarth Gap and so back into Warmscale Bottom.

I attacked this steep climb with gusto, remembering the saying; ‘The more it hurts; the more good it does you’.  Well, anyway, I was feeling a bit fitter than earlier in the day and I relished the thought of the Craven G. G. meet the following weekend.

Having walked over the top of Scarth Gap, I paused briefly, and then ran down into Warmscale Bottom where I took my boots and socks off and walked barefoot back to Gatesgarth and my tent.

After a meal, myself and two mates who had spent the day climbing near the Bodestone in Borrowdale all went to a pub called the Kirkstile Inn near Loweswater which, like everything else in this corner of Lakeland, was grand!

Editor's Note:

Bob sent with the above article a very fine biro sketch of the countryside described in the article. As it is two pages wide (and the centre pages of this B.B. were printed a very long time ago) and requires a photo plate to reproduce it, it has not been possible to include it in this B.B. However, we hope to include it in a B.B. early next year.