A Buttermere Expedition: Part 2


I’m awake from early on and it looks as if I’ve been sold a bill of goods. Instead of overcast skies, rain or even the threat of occasional showers, it’s bloody gorgeous, deep blue skies, whisks of white cloud and everything as sharp and clear as could be, except for Skiddaw of course, insisting on donning a fringe of cloud for its top.

There are two breakfast servings and I’m on the first, at 8.00am, orange juice, toast and jam, most of a Full English (I have declined the fried tomato and the black pudding), which is nicely filling but could have been better. A half hour of preparation, mainly paring down what I need to the minimum, includes jamming a sweatshirt into my bag, in case the day doesn’t stay suited to a short-sleeved polo shirt.

Once outside I almost immediately come to a contretemps with a local lady, who notices my facemask looped under my chin like hers, but who tells me gleefully that she’s looking forward to getting rid of her ‘beard’. I tell her I’m still going to be wearing mine. She interprets this as this as a challenge, because it is, and starts going on about how she hates it (do you think we’re having a barrel of laughs with these things on all the time?) but I cut her off with the plain statement that I’m going to keep wearing mine to avoid any risk of passing any symptoms I might have to other people. I wish this fucking Government and its sycophantic fucking rich man’s right wing press would point out even once that that is why we’re wearing them.

I’m in no hurry so I stroll through the town, picking up sandwiches and liquids at Greggs (my, how unimaginative), but there’s a Buttermere bus boarding when I get to the bus station, so I board it. It’s a single-decker, as is absolutely necessary for something going over Honister Pass, but that means it’s also full. There’s none of this stuff about social distancing or not sitting next to anyone you’re not already intimate with in one way or another, though we all wear masks. I haven’t had this experience for sixteen months and I’m lucky to get the only seat, back row, right hand side, where a one seat space exists. It’s an old bus and when it’s standing still it judders worse than a 405-line black and white television.

Despite it saying Honister Pass on the front, the bus leaves through north Keswick, as if bound for Cockermouth or Carlisle. But it turns off through Portinscale, towards Newlands and Grange, down twisting leafy lanes. There is Hindscarth, prominent, and how long is it since I saw that? Sudenly it hits me: It isn’t just Buttermere that’s the prize for today, but everything. Everywhere about me. It’s all an old land that I have not revisited in way too long. There are no memories in these tree-shrouded ways, all the memories associate with tops and ridges, but all about me the fells rise, their names as familiar as well-loved lyrics and as easy to recite. Hindscarth and Robinson. Red Pike over Newlands Hause. The back of Catbells. Swinging towards Grange and approaching via the high road, west of Derwentwater, looking down and across spectacularly. Grange Fell in its two parts, Castle Crag, Rosthwaite Fell, Glaramara. Crossing the Stonethwaite Valley and peering to Eagle Crag. The Seathwaite Valley and Great End.

The worst bit is that we’re going up Honister the ‘wrong way’, from Seatoller. I’ve only ever driven it from the other side, after horror stories about the steep descents here. The only time I went this way, I walked it. My stomach is still listening to old family tales, despite the awareness that these buses go up here half a dozen times a day. Can’t convince me. I’m not too good in a bus on the steep bit down off the top either.


But as the bus descends, the view opens out. Red Pike, High Stile – why couldn’t I have had a day like this when I climbed that ? – Mellbreak. Is that Hen Comb over the Scale Force gap? High Crag, and looking back to Haystacks. A brief glimpse of Crummock Water as we descend to Buttermere Village and I prepare to disembark. It’s scorching. I get a drink at the cafe and write up my draft thus far, disturbed by a bird shitting on my right wrist.

Let’s go walking.

Not, sadly, up any of these wonderful mountains, but across the fields and round to the foot of the Lake, and the people sitting around just as if this were Bowness Bay without the ice creams, and then the shore path along the southern side of Buttermere, under the high ridges of the High Stile Range.


I have time, lots of time, and well I need it, for I am slow, slow slow slow slow slow. I’ve no more reached the lakeshore path than I’m sitting down on a handy rock, joking with a passing pair that I am so far out of condition that you can’t see Condition from Jodrell Bank. Only I wish it was a joke.

It’s a busy path with parties passing by in opposite directions all the time. There’s a young couple with a very young child and a black dog that can’t get enough of the lake, racing forward and hurling itself down to the water-line at every opportunity. Our paths criss-cross and they see me with my notepad a couple of times, sat on one rock or another. Eventually, they ask me if I’m sketching (I would if I could), so I explain about the notes for this post. They’re intrigued and ask for the blog-name, so I give it them (never miss the chance of a new reader), so if they’ve found this and are reading it, hi there, and hope the rest of your day went well.

Apart from the crunch of boots and shoes and trainers from behind or ahead, which is not continuous I’m pleased to say, there’s a welcome stillness to things, broken sometimes by birdsong, by the breeze whispering the trees, the music of little gills rippling into the lake and the disruptive drone of what sounds like a helicopter at the head of the lake, though I can’t see one in the sky.

I’m stopping at every stop where there’s something I can sit upon, not just because I am genuinely tired but in order to spin this walk out. There’s not much to do in Buttermere if you’re not walking, or eating/drinking and I don’t want to be back at Keswick too soon. Besides, as I may have mentioned already, it’s bloody lovely everywhere.

For some reason, after my chat with the interested couple, I develop a second wind stronger than the first, and plough on semi-relentlessly until beneath High Crag, towering like a buttress concealing beyond the sky-line the kind of stronghold common to fantasy fiction.


I’m close enough now to the head of the lake to see that blasted helicopter, which seems to be whirling about aimlessly in Warnscale, or heading up to skim the face of Haystacks’ crags. As I got nearer, I could see something globular and black dangling from it. To cut a long story short, it was a National Trust helicopter relaying supplies of stone to path-layers up on Scarth Gap, though the pilot was giving a damned good impression of not knowing where the hell he was headed and the noise was only getting more irritating.


When I finally get to Gatesgarth, glad to lose the uneven stones underfoot, it’s 1.15pm. There’s the delightful sight of trestle tables which usually indicates the presence of some establishment ready to sell you food and drink to rest on such things but which, on this occasion, lets me down comprehensively. There’s a portable ice-cream shop all right, but it’s shut.

I’ve got those Greggs sandwiches, crusty baguettes, rather, but it’s too damned hot to eat, especially anything crusty, so I have a good long sit down until the next bus comes. There are more clouds in the air now, but they’re still only Joni Mitchell ice cream castles, and they don’t stay that way for long. I’m sat where I can see the bus coming down Honister Bottom in easy time to cross to the stop. I bought myself an All-Day Rider ticket: if I’m back in time, shouldn’t that cover me to pop to Cockermouth and back?

It’s not very often that I get to sit in the sun, breathing fresh air, and contentedly let my head fill with nothing. The bus isn’t due till 2.15pm so I’ve got ample time in which to do it. Damn that bloody helicopter, though.


I apparently can’t help it. There are still seven minutes before the bus is due, and it’s nearly ten minutes late but I am compelled to go over to the stop now. When it arrives there’s only one other passenger on it, until it fills up at Buttermere that is, so I get my choice of seats on the left. I also discover that somehow or other my All Day-Rider ticket has vanished from my wallet, but the bus driver’s a decent sort and lets me on anyway.

The views from this side, over Buttermere to High Stile and Burtness Comb, are phenomenal but incapable of capture from a moving bus with a digital camera, as will be the vista over the Vale of Lorton and the back of the high fells when we turn for Whinlatter Pass some time later. At least I get to enjoy the sparkle of Crummock Water, under the sun, although no matter how high the road rises I cannot squeeze out the merest glimpse of Loweswater, in its grassy bay.


Unlike Portsinscale and Newlands there are memories in these lanes, though not necessarily happy ones. Down off a high, hot day in the fells, I found myself called upon to play Samaritan to an older couple from Essex: he’d had a heart attack, she was lost and I raced them as fast as the roads allowed to High Lorton, where there was a police station (to no avail: he didn’t survive). Below Whiteside, again after a high, hot day in the fells, I went over badly on my ankle, on level grass a hundred yards from the car, ruining the rest of that holiday, and the chances of my ever playing squash again.

Whinlatter Pass, at least, is a more pleasant recollection. There was the day following the northern ridge of Aiken Beck where I started my favourite novel out of almost nothing. The kids having a wonderful time, playing at the Visitor Centre, late one Sunday afternoon, and following them through the human-sized badger sett that had too many convolutions inside for how big it was outside.

But Whinlatter is like a private possession, a Pass I chanced on my own that my family would never have dreamed of driving, only me, my own turf, so easy to drive, unlike Honister, or Newlands Hause.


By the time we were back at Keswick, my legs were aching to buggery. I wanted an ice cream, but it seems that these are next to impossible to find in Keswick, no newsagents with freezers full of lollies and ices. So I called in the Oddfellows again, this time just for a pint, for which I was put out in the beergarden at the back. Nice to see people still being sane. The very nice short-haired blonde shows me, to my surprise, that my debit card is also a contactless card: all this time and I never knew, fancy that.

I take my time then wander wearily back. I still want that ice cream so if the only place you can buy them is a back street Spar… There’s a United Utilities van in the back-street, ‘helping make things flow easily’ by blocking the way so I have to clamber over someone’s rockery…

It’s been a long day and I think you can tell it’s been a fantastic one. All the photos are my own. The break has been brief but rewarding, and once I’ve finished preparing this, I shall rock back and watch England’s Euro 2020 semi-final.

No interruptions, please.


The Day I Went Back

Wainwright’s Favourite

Many years ago, in the first half of the Nineties, on a whim I decided to commit myself to playing every album I had – CD, vinyl, tape – during the year. When you live alone, you can do oddball things like that. I can’t remember how many albums I had then, but it was probably more than 400. That’s a lot of listening: I got to the last album somewhere in the early weeks of December.
Three or four years later, and a substantial number of additional albums in my collection (I was a considerably more voracious acquirer back then, when there seemed to be more good music) I decided to repeat the exercise. This time, I had listened to everything by the middle of May.
The difference was that, second time round, I was a lot more methodical about the task. I planned, I executed, I zipped through.
I mention this because my fellow blogger George has suggested I write about a particular walk that has a poignant element for me, and my lack of method first time round the Wainwrights was in its way responsible for that day.
I’ve spoken before of how my Dad, Stanley Crookall, introduced me to fellwalking in 1966, and of how reluctant, and complaining, I was. I grew out of it reasonably quickly, or at least that’s what I remember, but I have never forgotten that it was he who introduced me to the fells. I went on to complete the Wainwrights, and a part of that achievement was to do what Dad would have loved to do, and to see all these things that were denied him by the cancer that took him away from the fells, and eventually from us all, before he reached the age of 42.
I would love to set out on another Wainwright Round, go back to all those 214 summits (with especial reference to High Stile, Dodd, Scale Fell and Seat Sandal, from which I have not seen any views). But I know that it’s impossible, and my body wouldn’t let me. I have my doubts about getting to even a low summit again, given the state of my right knee.
But if I were to tackle the Wainwrights again, I would be methodical. There would be a plan, and it would be efficient. Not like the first time round, where planning did not extend beyond a Big Walk for the last day, and trying not to use the same Wainwright book twice.
There would be no holes in the jigsaw ‘next time’, no little fells in awkward corners that hadn’t tagged on to larger rounds, leaving me, as I neared the end of the list, with the prospect of short walks that didn’t amount to a full day’s expedition. Such as Fleetwith Pike.
Everyone who knows Buttermere knows Fleetwith Pike, and everyone who’s looked at even a small selection of Lake District photos knows the stunning view from its summit of the Buttermere valley, with the two lakes stretching out in a line. From the valley, the ridge is an obvious temptation, a straight, steep prow leading directly to the top.
On its own, Fleetwith Pike is maybe a half-day outing, with no real appealing route of return. To make it into a decent day, it was obvious that I should combine it with Haystacks, circuiting the short Warnscale valley, and returning via Scarth Gap. I have been to Haystacks before. It had been one of the very earliest fells I had climbed, or rather, we had climbed: the whole family.
My Buttermere walks were always done from Keswick, and for something at the head of the valley, I would cross Newlands Hause, pulling up at the top to allow my engine a chance to recover from that final steep pitch, after the bend, where there was never time to get out of first gear, and then that steep descent to Buttermere Village, riding on the brakes the whole way, which was why I would never drive over Newlands from the Buttermere end.
The only freely available parking at Buttermere by the Nineties was in Honister Bottom, and I had to go a good half-mile to find a suitable spot. The sun was well up the sky, and I had clear blue conditions and a fair amount of heat to face.
It was one of those days that started heavy-legged. There’s very little preliminary to the ascent: you leave the road and immediately you’re zig-zagging, in the lea of the fell, past Fanny Mercer’s white cross. I found it a struggle until I was out on the ridge.

Fleetwith Pike

Narrow ridges of this kind, thin trails amid the grass and rock, are great to follow, especially with that kind of view behind if you feel the need to halt for a breather. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy the ridge as much as I have others: it felt just that little bit too unremittingly steep, and although it was better to be out in the open, it was still a breathless day. Nor was I gratified that the path kept more to the Warnscale side of the ridge: Honister Bottom may not offer the best views, but Warnscale has a devastated look to it, as if it is the scene of some quasi-nuclear bomb test that has left a blight on the ground.
But persistence always brings the summit underfoot, and this was where the day changed, for the better. There was a breeze, and the air felt fresh now, and that spectacular view behind, with which I was so familiar already, but photos can never measure the scale of such sights. Still, I was peeved that the sun was shining too directly into my lens to make taking my own shot viable.
Fleetwith’s neat, bare summit was not bare of walkers. In fact, it was a bit like a tea party up there, like a Helvellyn summit crowd crammed into a smaller compass. I found a small patch of unoccupied ground, lowered myself onto it and dove into my rucksack for my sandwiches.
When I got up to move on, I was at last alone. I left the pack at Fleetwith’s summit behind, and strode off to descend the grassy decline to Dubs Bottom. I always preferred having the fells to myself, and I could now relax into sole possession of the afternoon.
En route to Dubs Bottom, I passed Black Star, the ‘summit’ of Honister Crag, and contemplated for a moment stepping aside to reach its summit. The thought amused me, that a mere walker like me could so easily reach the top whereas all the climbers were making it difficult for themselves, but then I realised that that wasn’t the point. It’s walkers who pursue summits: to climbers they’re the least interesting part of the crag.
Dubs Bottom was an interesting place, a wide depression studded with levels and derelict buildings from the old mining days. Beyond it, I could see the ground rising to the Old Drum House, at the stop of the seriously stiff ascent from Honister, the road to Great Gable, or Moses’ Trod, or the descent to Ennerdale by Loft Beck, so well used a thoroughfare yet almost invisible in Wainwright because it lends itself to no ascents.
Though it was no part of this walk, I crossed the dip and went up to the Drum House, climbing onto its platform and surveying that odd plateau that lies between the Buttermere and Ennerdale Valleys, and the way the Gable path turns towards the low ridge and seems to spring forward along its base. I’ve done that each time I’ve sweated up from Honister: by the time you get to the top, you need a few moments breather.
I turned back towards Dubs Bottom, which needed to be crossed at a diagonal, from the near right corner to the far left corner, to escape onto the fellside and the ridge of which Haystacks in the primary part. There were paths through the old workings, and I switched from one to another, like a child following a maze with invisible walls.
I emerged onto a path snaking in and out of the outcrops along the front of Haystacks. It moved up and down, and in and out, never the same for ten yards straight, and giving no glimpse as to what was ahead. I didn’t have Wainwright’s proverbial raging toothache, and I suspect I would have been giving it the major part of my attention if I did, but this crossing had immediately etched itself into my short list of paths I would happily go back and walk immediately: Ullock Pike to Long Side, the Corridor Route being other examples.

Blackbeck Tarn

The best part came when I crossed the entrance to the cove that holds Blackbeck Tarn. Everyone sees Innominate Tarn as the jewel of Haystacks, but one look at Blackbeck, glittering in its sheltered bowl, the Tarn’s boundaries swelling towards the back of its expanse, and I was hooked. I’ve never been one for camping, being too fond of guesthouse beds in which to rest myself after a hard day’s fellwalking, but I could imagine the joy of an early awakening on the grasses above the reedy banks at the far end.
After Blackbeck Tarn, the winding path continued to weave up and down, but far too soon I was emerging onto the broad back of the fell, and could see across the head of Ennerdale to Great Gable, and Pillar. From there, it was just a gradually ascending way, passing Innominate Tarn’s shores (I cannot remember whether Wainwright had adorned it then) and on to the nearby summit, which surprised me by merely revealing another, and higher outcrop.
I had been here before, nearly thirty years before. I remembered that we’d not been able to see Innominate Tarn from the summit and had moved on to the other outcrop to see it, with the ring of high Ennerdale fells as its backcloth, but no further.
Part of me still can’t believe we had ever been there at all. My family were wedded to the quarter of the Lakes from Ambleside to Wasdale, and apart from the traditional wet-Friday trip to Keswick, never ventured further. I hadn’t even seen Haystacks until the previous year, when, for my benefit, we spent a non-walking rain-soaked day going round the Western Lakes, and I saw Ennerdale Water, Loweswater, Crummock Water and Buttermere for the first time ever, four new Lakes in one day, and we escaped by going over Honister Pass, between writhing clouds and towering cliffs, and this from my Uncle who normally wouldn’t take his cars over anything more steep than Dunmail Raise.
And here we were, in Buttermere, parking opposite Gatesgarth Farm, bound for Scarth Gap and Haystacks. I can only assume that it was its status as Wainwright’s favourite fell that brought us there. The pass was supposed to be one of the easiest in the Lakes, but once again our family maxim applied: ‘if Wainwright says it’s easy, it’s hard: if he says it’s hard, it’s bloody difficult!’
Enough so that, at the Pass, in a precursor of the stomach problems that would limit our expeditions in the Seventies, my Uncle stayed behind, leaving only the four of us, mother, father, daughter, son, to scramble up the gully and find our way to the summit.
My Dad was 39 in August 1968, fit, healthy, active. He was looking up, and ahead, to the high fells. His younger child, my sister, was older every year, and the range of our walks would be growing with her. His son had stopped whingeing if you so much as asked him to lace up his walking boots. No, he wasn’t as impressed with Haystacks as he’d hoped to be: to him, Lingmell, our second and highest top to date, was more the mountain top he envisaged. Idly, he suggested he’d prefer his ashes sprinkled there.
That November, we got away, just the four of us, for a couple of days in a small cottage in Grisedale Forest. I remember walking down the road to see Forge Force Falls on the evening we arrived, I remember lying in the top bunk in a crowded bedroom we all shared, feeling so much part of everything as my parents talked below, and I remember following the Grisedale Forest on our last day. There was no fellwalking as such.

Forge Force

Dad was complaining of pains in his left shoulder. Back in Manchester, he went to the Doctor. He was in hospital more than not over the next twenty months. He never saw the Lake District again. Haystacks was his last walk.
That’s not the place of sentiment for me. That came a couple of years later, crossing from the last Wainwright to the one that had been the First, unlovely, ungainly, unlikely Middle Fell in Nether Wasdale. As I arrived at the summit from the back, the party there was packing up and leaving. I walked round for the next half hour, talking to those who would never come back as I had come back, this once and only time.
But Haystacks is still one of only three tops where I can look the memory of my Dad in the eye and stand equal to him. Me and you, Dad, me and you.
I scrambled down to Scarth Gap and set off for the valley. I can’t remember if this descent came before or after the one I made after completing the High Stile range, which was the one where I sat down on a pathside stone to look at the very strange goings on in the wide green fields below, that I finally realised was the filming of an episode of One Man and his Dog.
Sadly, I never saw the broadcast episode, so I have no idea to this day whether I managed to get myself into the background of any shots, and add to my small stock of TV background shots.
And I drove away over Honister.

Storm Devastation


A couple of days ago, the outline news of the storm that has caused so much destruction and devastation to my beloved Cumbria prompted me to write a post that reminisced about those of my experiences of being caught in rain on the fells that I haven’t already spoken of previously on this blog.

That post isn’t going to appear for a while yet, because I’ve read more about the awful things that have been happening, and I’ve seen photos that fill me with a mixture of awe and horror, and lightweight tales of walking in the rain are wildly inappropriate right now.

News that Pooley Bridge, that lovely old bridge over the outflow of Ullswater, my favourite Lake, has been swept away. Stockley Bridge, in the Seathwaite Valley, was washed away by torrential floods in the great storm of 1966, which happened on the Saturday as we drove home after a week’s holiday (I remember the darkness and the thunderous rain on Buckhaw Brow, just before Settle). It was rebuilt, and eyes like mine who never saw it before would not be able to tell had I not known. But that was the Sixties, and a time of prosperity: from where will come the money to reconstruct Pooley Bridge in these times of austerity, depravation and criminally incompetent doctrinaire Government. It has to be rebuilt: it’s a 32 mile round trip to avoid it. But will something other than a functional bridge be built? Can it be afforded?

News too that, for a couple of days, Glenridding Village has been cut off, that Mountain Rescue have only today got through. Glenridding’s more than just my beloved Ullswater again. There’s a story of a woman whose husband is stranded there, gone to a stag do at the Inn on the Lake for the weekend and unable to return. Giving up his bed to elderly people who would otherwise have had to sleep on sofas.

The Inn on the Lake used to be a more old-fashioned kind of hotel. They closed it for refurbishment and rebranding in November 2000. The last function there before it closed was a wedding. It was my wedding.

I’ve seen photos today. One is of the Vale of Keswick, seen long-distance through a wide-angled lens. Once upon a time, in a younger era of the world, there was no Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, just one uber-lake, stretching from the Jaws of Borrowdale to the beginnings of the North Cumbrian Plain. That uber-lake is all but with us again.

And I’ve seen a photo of the A591, the ‘Kendal-Keswick’ road, below Dunmail Raise, where the road is narrow at the head of the Thirlmere Valley, and almost half that road is washed away, a great, jagged ripping away of the western side of the carriageway, replaced by a massive earthen ditch along which water roils. This is not CGI. This is a road I have driven hundreds of times, north and south, the main central road through the Lakes and in that section it’s impassable.

Record amounts of rain have fallen, literally. The record has been broken, on, of all places, Honister Pass, not even Seathwaite, traditionally the wettest place in England. Seathwaite, out-rained! What is this world now?

I’m nowhere near and I could be of no help if I were. I’m in no danger, to life and limb and property and possessions. But my heart breaks along with those people to whom I am in spirit a brother, and this is no time for words that celebrate rain and rainfall.

The Grand Tour of the Lakes: Stage Three – West to North

One last look back

Stage Three of the Grand Tour takes us from Wasdale to Keswick, West to North. This was the great unknown, the unexplored territory of that rainy day back in the Sixties. My family walked in this sector only a handful of times, less even than that, but over time I have driven these roads many times over, and climbed all the fells to be had in this distant quarter.
In Wasdale, we’d only got halfway down the lake, as far as Greendale, where the only other road in the valley escapes northwestward. Wasdale Head itself is not so far away that it’s a bind to drive on, but the valley is a cul-de-sac and there’s no option but to drive back. And this is a long drive to begin with. So, with a diversion or not, drive away from the lake, towards and through Gosforth, back to the coast road and continue north.
At Egremont, it’s back to the moors, Ennerdale 7m and a long ascent out of the village, onto the long grassy slopes of the area I’ve taken to calling the Western Margins, where the ridges descending from Wasdale, Blengdale and Ennerdale grow rounded and green, and expand like a Weight watcher at Xmas. The road passes the Kinniside Stone Circle, a fake circle created by an archaeologist as a demonstration for a class, and the forest road that provides access to the ridge that, long miles hence, leads to Pillar.

Ennerdale Water and Pillar

Once, parked on this road whilst setting off for a walk along the forest road, I returned to my car and, whilst removing my boots, put on the radio. It must have been Radio 4, for some obscure reason, because I found myself listening to a programme about Russian history, back far enough that it was still the Grand Duchy of Muscovy. The programme proved so fascinating that once I’d got rid of my walking gear, I sat up there listening through to the end, before descending, long and straight, to the mouth of Ennerdale.
Ennerdale Water, low and dark, fills the mouth of the valley and is seen, though not well, on the descent from the moors. On that first visit, the Anglers’ Rest Hotel still stood on the lakeshore, and my Uncle drove down to the hotel, on the worst and most rutted road I ever knew him to take. A few years later, in anticipation of the raising of the water level, to provide water to Whitehaven, the Anglers’ Rest was demolished, only for the plans to be rejected. Ennerdale Water is as it is since the days before the Forestry Commission moved in.
The valley is forbidden to cars, but it is still possible to drive to within a decent view of the lake without taking yourself out of the way for the next leg. There is no stable route: a number of little roads, fell roads that don’t get too high, twist and turn in the loop around the outside of the Loweswater Fells. Just follow the signposts to the village of Lamplugh, and from there signposts towards Loweswater.

Shy little Loweswater

Loweswater is the Odd Lake Out, the one that flows inwards, deflected from the coast by a low bar of green, wooded land over which the road slides, finding the lake unguarded among its fringes of trees. Loweswater’s never going to give anybody palpitations, but it’s an oasis of quiet.
A glance at the map inclines the casual visitor to think of Loweswater as one of a group of three Lakes in a single valley, but the geography is not so. Loweswater drains north into the wide Vale of Lorton, as do the two linked Lakes of Crummock Water and Buttermere. The road veers north towards Cockermouth, along with the beck, and there is a sharp turn back at a Y-junction to head towards the Buttermere Valley. Crummock Water is already in view before reaching this point, filling the mouth of the valley, and away beyond its head is the unexpected sight of Great Gable, from a completely different angle, this time complete with its younger sister, Green Gable, forming the high skyline beyond the irascible Haystacks.
The road is tight to the shore of Crummock, and there is nowhere to stop and relish the sight across the lake to Melbreak or the High Stile range. Next up is Buttermere Village and, almost before Crummock Water has disappeared out of sight, tranquil Buttermere, a simple, almost geometric shape in the head of the valley.
The escape from Buttermere is by Honister Pass, a side valley into which the road turns, with a long, flat bottom lead to a steep, narrow climb more severe than anything my Uncle had set his car to before. I’ve crossed Honister myself now, more than once, and I’ve yet to reach its crest in anything above First Gear, the upper stages being so strenuous. It’sa steep and unnerving climb from the bridge, after the long, long approach through Honister Bottom, the road hemmed in by cliffs and rocks as it heads ferociously up.

Crummock Water and Buttermere

But it has to be done: the only other escape is to go back to Buttermere Village and tackle Newlands Pass, and the Buttermere side of that is so unremittingly steep that I have only ever crossed the pass from Keskadale, over the Hause.
Besides, whereas Honister drops you into the head of Borrowdale, Newlands emerges in the Newlands valley, which then requires a bit of contrivance to go back and see Derwent Water.
In any event, a drive through Borrowdale is hard to resist, even in the worst of conditions, though the day I came over Honister behind a woman too scared to go at faster than 20mph all the way to Grange was something of a trial. Even my passenger got frustrated!
Derwent Water comes into view just beyond the bridge at Grange. The orthodox route would be to go straight ahead, along the east shore of the lake, to Keswick and a welcome break, not to mention the end of the stage. It’s more fun though to cross the bridge into and through Grange and ascend to the unfenced road high above the western shore, with it’s broader vistas. And, as you’re on the side away from the edge, it’s completely safe too.
This route is much more useful given that the Grand Tour also needs to take in Bassenthwaite Lake before heading for home. The high road descends into the lower Newlands Valley, where quiet roads can be used to navigate back to the main A56 on its way to Cockermouth. The road runs along the western shore of Bass Lake (as it is locally known), though the road runs in two channels. Northbound is the old, undulating road, now a single track highway, whilst the southbound carriage offers the better, closer views. When the route merges, carry on a short distance to the Castle Inn and turn right, to cut across to the Carlisle road, which should be followed back to Keswick. A drink – non-alcoholic for the driver – can be enjoyed now.

Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake

Great Walks – Great Gable from Honister

Great Gable from the north

There are multiple ways by which one can climb Great Gable, and to my shame I have used only two of those routes, in only two visits to that famous summit.
The best route for the peak-bagger who is still counting off Wainwrights is from Honister Pass, in the rear of the fell. It’s an ever-changing route, with many merits, although there are no sightings of the Napes and the other crags on the famous face of the fell, and the walk is well-advanced before foot is even set on Gable itself. But the views offered throughout, towards Buttermere and Ennerdale, and the sight of Gable’s less-celebrated but still very impressive northern crags, at close quarters, is worth the expedition in itself.
A simple up-and-down from Honister offers the priceless advantage of a 1,167′ boost on the departure point. On the other hand, there is little opportunity to vary the walk on the return route, and the peak-bagger will be looking longingly at the nearby Base Brown, off any direct route from Honister and disturbingly isolated: omission would require a separate expedition, and the fell does not really justify being the sole objective of anything but a rain-affected half-day.
So what contrivance makes this set-up into a viable walk?
The simplest one might seem to be making Base Brown a there-and-back from Green Gable on the return trip. But even if there’s no actual need to return to a summit that’s to be crossed twice already, the retreat is more than I’d contemplate so late in the day. Either Base Brown must be the first top, or the last, with an ascent from or descent to Seathwaite as part of the plan. Which means bridging the gap between Seathwaite and Honister top at either the start or the end of the day. How would you rather end the walk? With a long, steep descent among trees from Gillercomb to Seathwaite, or the road to Honister foot and another, albeit sylvan mile to Seathwaite? I thought so.
So park at Seathwaite in the sunny morning hours, the earlier the nearer to the farm itself. Once in boots, with rucksack fully loaded, turn your back to the hills and walk back down the Seathwaite lane, a tree-shadowed delight on a morning such as this, until reaching the Borrowdale road, a half-mile from Seatoller.
These days, the Honister Rambler bus runs from Seatoller to Buttermere, allowing easy passage to the top of Honister, but on that long ago day there was no such facility. My plan involved hitching a ride to the summit, but a half hour at the Seathwaite road end, where the only passing drivers indicating a willingness to pick me up were those whose cars were safely full, I had to take to the road and haul myself up on foot: not a recommended start.

Honister top: the drumhouse route is the leftmost path

The walk proper doesn’t start until Honister top. A few years ago, the owner of the Slate Mine planned to install a zip-wire from the top of Honister Crag, across the valley. A BBC documentary followed his efforts to get Planning Permission which, thankfully, was refused, although this was sadly posthumously, he having lost his life in a helicopter crash before the decision came up. He was passionate about his plans, which would have irreparably changed the scene here, but incapable of understanding that he might not be allowed to do what he wanted.
Honister is a scene of industry, and always has been, but slate mining (and tourism!) is a Lakes industry, and long may it stay that way.
Start along the level towards the Honister Mine, as far as the foot of the old tramway, which has been visible from lower down Honister, scaling the flank of Fleetwith Pike. It’s steep throughout, until it eases off on reaching the back of Fleetwith, and an eroded middle portion, just short of the old cutting, has been fenced off, with a path constructed to bypass it on the right. It’s hardly what’s wanted by anyone who has been forced to walk up Honister, but it’s the gateway to the fells, and it leads over easing ground to the old Drumhouse.
Here, the scope of the coming walk becomes visible. The distant fell appearing over the immediate skyline, looking impossibly distant to the average walker, turns out to be Pillar: Gable lies much closer at hand, still looming darkly, at the end of a long, mainly grassy ridge, the middle ground of which is not immediately visible. A path bears left from the Drumhouse, towards the ridge, turning in a wide curve to follow the base of the higher ground.
If Gable were the only concern, this path would provide a smooth, fast highway, only gaining the ridge at the back of Green Gable. However, it is much more satisfying in all respects to leave the path, after it has straightened out, taking one of the easy green rides towards the ridge, and gaining the old post and wire fence that runs from Honister top, across the summit of this first fell.
Appropriately, the top is one of two knotts, with no immediate indication of which is the highest, so visit both before following the infallible fence onwards.
As Grey Knotts falls behind, the ground broadens and flattens. The next top, Brandreth, skirts the wide bowl of Gillercomb to the left, offering nothing of excitement, but all eyes that are not directed towards Great Gable’s cliffs will instead be turned northwards, towards Buttermere, High Stile and Grasmoor. The view towards the lake, across Haystacks’ back, looking down on Innominate and Blackbeck Tarns, is magnificent despite the dull foreground.
Beyond the cairn marking Brandreth’s highest point, the path declines gently towards the low dip at the back of Green Gable. The direct route from the Drumhouse appears on the right, converging gently, leaving only an uphill walk on rising ground to the grassy, but neat and narrow summit of Green Gable.

Approaching Green Gable

The lower Gable is forever subordinate to its higher and more famous neighbour, but it has a better summit, and it is the perfect place from which to look up to those northern cliffs. It will now be afternoon, and the sun will be casting a halo over the dark face.
Another great thing about this approach is that, if you are feeling heavy-legged, and doubting your ability to make it as far as Great Gable, the subsidiary summits are a brilliant device to keep you going, there being such a short distance from one to another, until by Green Gable it would be a dull fellow (or lady) indeed who could not sum up the extra effort to cross to Great Gable.
There is a short, steep descent to Windy Gap, a true narrow-sided col, and beyond, a stony path wastes no time in ascending to the left of the crags ahead, a well-graded zigzag route making the most of the slope as it patiently ascends onto the broad, domed top of Gable, so unexpected to the first time visitor who has only known the fell from its classic aspect above Wastwater. Walk south to the summit cairn, into which is set the memorial plate for the Fell & Rock Climbing Club fallen in the First World War.

The summit on Remembrance Day

The view from Great Gable is excellent, and is best of all in its close range of the western wall of the Scafell massif. This held my focus on my first visit as the texture of the air made it plain that the sun of morning was fading away, and that there would be rain coming. So it was not until a second visit (direct from Seathwaite, via Sty Head and the Breast Route), that I wandered towards the view of Wasdale and descended to Westmorland Cairn, which should be on anyone’s programme.
This not only offers a superb full-length view of Wastwater, but also the chance to study the tops of the Napes Ridges, and the scree-laden routes upwards between them. This being a clear day, these slopes will be ‘wick w’foak’ toiling upwards, already in need of a Boots full of deoderants and antiperspirants
A return via Windy Gap is unavoidable. and the simplest route from there is up and over Green Gable again, veering to the right as Gillercomb begins to open out, for the neck of land leading to Base Brown. If you’re starting to feel tired, and want to avoid what appears like unnecessary climbing, it is possible to contour around the flank of Green Gable, high above the Sty Head route, crossing the upper part of Mitchell Cove, but the way is pathless and isolated, and the effort of walking across a tilted slope is not worth the energy saved.
Descend by the route taken in ascent, as far as a fork, where take the right hand branch down to the head of Gillercomb ignoring the turning down into the valley. There are no difficulties between here and Base Brown’s summit.
The difficulty now is how to proceed. There is a route down the ridge but the terminal rocks are likely to prove so, and unless familiar with the route in ascent, it is probably wiser to turn back as far as the head of Gillercomb, and descend through that spacious bowl. The early stages are steep but a long, level section follows until the route starts to descend again towards the open mouth of the glacial valley, where the path loses itself in sight of the terminal wall.
I arrived here with the day cooling, and the rain massing, and struggled into my waterproofs twenty yards from the wall, just in time for the deluge that fell.

Seathwaite when it isn’t raining

The descent into Seathwaite, steep and dark and winding, with the farm tantalisingly in view below and seeming never to be growing nearer, was my first experience of a National Trust relaid path. With the rain pouring and the stones underfoot shining, it resembled nothing so much as spiral crazy paving, and I moved slowly and carefully down. There were no difficulties on that occasion, but on a later visit, in the dry and the sun, I found the path vanishing midway, and a precarious climb necessary down a steep slope to regain the route.
Whatever the conditions, the path eventually reaches the valley, and the young River Derwent. Cross the footbridge laid by the Ramblers Association, cross the fields and enter the Farm under the square arch, from where we shall once again prove the wisdom of my advice about getting there early to park near.