Buttermere Horseshoe Walking

Buttermere is as close to heaven as most of us will ever see, and this circuit of the skyline surrounding the lake is a voyage filled with both variety and delight. There is sylvan loveliness on the climb alongside Sour Milk Ghyll, there are airy ridges, steep declivities tumbling into wild corries, and stunning views. Amidst all the natural beauty, the shattered desolation of Honister adds yet another dimension. And, talking of added dimensions, this horseshoe is unlike those of Fairfield and Kentmere in that you'll lose a lot of height halfway round. You'll have to summon the will to haul yourself back to summit level when you're already five Wainwrights deep. So ponder that total ascent statistic carefully: it is significantly more than a mile.

Fleetwith Pike, from near the start of the big pull to Red Pike  © Norman Hadley
Fleetwith Pike, from near the start of the big pull to Red Pike
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Detailed description

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NY1759017007 Leave the village by the path to the lake, passing the Buttermere Court Hotel (readers of a certain vintage will refuse to call it anything other than the Fish). In front of you is the impressive cascade of Sour Milk Ghyll, tumbling through lovely wooded slopes. You want the good news? Up there is where we're going.

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NY1727216264 At the outflow of the lake, take the slanting path up through the woods, zagging back on a shelving line to attain the lip of Bleaberry Comb with its lovely tarn. Head up onto the col separating the parent fell from the rounded Dodd, and make the final pull up to the summit at 755 m.
Red Pike Panorama  © Norman Hadley
Red Pike Panorama
© Norman Hadley

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NY1604915431 The ridge is a delight, with easy walking along a tightrope stretched between the Buttermere valley and Ennerdale. Pillar looks tremendous, as do Gable and Kirk Fell. And Grasmoor. And Whiteless Pike. You get the picture, and you'll probably take a few as well.
Pillar from Red Pike  © Norman Hadley
Pillar from Red Pike
© Norman Hadley, May 2016
Especially grand is the prospect from High Stile, with the giddying drop into Bleaberry Comb adding tremendous depth.
View between toes five and six, from High Stile  © Norman Hadley
View between toes five and six, from High Stile
© Norman Hadley, May 2016
There's a steep drop-off after High Crag, then further interest is added by threading your way over the smaller, knobblier heights of Seat, Haystacks and Green Crag. This is explorers' territory par excellence, winding though a landscape of tarns, crags and heather.
Haystacks, Seat and Gable from the High Crag descent  © Norman Hadley
Haystacks, Seat and Gable from the High Crag descent
© Norman Hadley, May 2016

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NY2082013355 After the crossing of Warnscale Beck, just below Dubs Quarry, take a beeline (trending North-north-west) to the delightful summit of Fleetwith Pike.

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NY2058214171 This is a good place to make an honest inventory of remaining energy, daylight and parking time, because the option is presented of a truncation of the route, heading down Fleetwith Edge and returning along the lakeshore. Still got some pep? Then follow the exciting escarpment east-south-east, with its vertiginous plummet to Gatesgarthdale Beck, down to join quarry roads to the mine at the pass summit.

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NY2251013565 There is refreshment available here. Take it from one who knows: a Baileys hot chocolate with a mound of cream offers a significant calorific contribution. Cross the road and follow the fence line up the grassy nose, all the way to Dale Head.

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NY2230115322 At Dale Head, the prospect north offers new potential to add to your photo collection. Yes, it's been taken a million times before but it would be churlish not to, wouldn't it?
Looking north from Dale Head  © Norman Hadley
Looking north from Dale Head
© Norman Hadley, Mar 2023
Follow the ridge northwest, then swing in a graceful arc to the north-north-east until you reach Hindscarth.

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NY2156916487 Hindscarth is the "middle child" of the Dale Head-Robinson family: it presents an unremarkable aspect from the back, as here, but it makes a superb ascent in its own right from the north. And its to the north that the eye and camera will be drawn.
Looking north from Hindscarth  © Norman Hadley
Looking north from Hindscarth
© Norman Hadley, Mar 2023
When you've taken your fill, head south, but this time trend rightwards, to gain Littledale Edge and the last pull of the day, up to Robinson.

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NY2018916852 From the summit, drop west, to pick up a rather splashy descent over the remarkable morass of Buttermere Moss, also known as High Snockrigg. Keep following this down to join the Newlands Pass road just above the church and the village.

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Further Routes

by Norman Hadley



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