20110925_Haystacks circular walk from Buttermere
Who : Me and my sister Janet
Where : Gatesgarth, Buttermere, Lake District, Cumbria, England
Distance : Approx 7.9 km (4.9 miles)
Heights climbed : Approx 541m (1776 ft)
Car Parking : Car park near Gatesgarth Farm at the foot of Honister Pass and near the head of Buttermere Lake.
Summary : The last of three circular walks in the superb English Lake District, Starting at Gatesgarth in the Buttermere valley and taking in Warnscale Bottom, rising to the area of Dubs Bottom, then rising up onto Haystacks via Blackbeck and Innominate Tarns, and the descent via Scarth Gap back to the car-park and then the drive home.
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We’d awoken, packed up, had breakfast, readied our rucksacks & walking boots and loaded the car boot and in amongst all that made some sandwiches and drinks for the day. We had discussed the walk we were going to do the night before which was to be a relatively easy 5 or 6 miler and relatively low elevation. The highest point was to be on Haystacks – We’d ruled out doing Fleetwith Pike as well, due to the extra heights and distance and we had the drive down the M6 to think about during the afternoon. So, we made the decision for the above reasons and because Janet had never been on Haystacks before – and – as an equally good reason, I like the mini-mountain, having crossed this attractive fell on several occasions before.
We set off in the car, from Borrowdale Youth Hostel, for the drive over Honister Pass, which is a fantastic drive. The east side is a steep climb needing low gears at the best of times, but our climb was made considerably harder by getting mixed up in some kind of cycle time trial race; there were slow moving cyclists (some walking and pushing their bikes up the hill and some weaving back and forth across the road) which we had to negotiate past, as well as avoiding vehicles coming down in the opposite direction – Not the easiest of drives! Once over the pass at Honister Slate Mines (there’s a youth hostel here as well) we had the long drop down the western side of the pass in the Buttermere valley. To my mind this is the most spectacular side of the pass, the road bounded by the steep slopes of Fleetwith Pike to the south and the Dale Head range to the north. This is not a drive to be hurried if you really want to a) be safe and b) appreciate the scenery. The funny thing was, some of the cyclists were coming down faster than we were in the car – absolute madness – so I slowed considerably a few times to allow some of these mad-men and women to come flying by us.
Towards the bottom of the pass, as the gradient eases, is a farm at Gatesgarth and there is a reasonably sized car-park (charge applies) which we pulled into. Being early in the morning, we had almost a pick of where to park, although I’ve seen this chock-a-block and overflowing at busy times. A good number of the cyclists flew past at a great rate of knots as we donned walking boots etc. and we were soon walking back up the road in the direction we’d come from taking care to avoid more cyclists as we passed some cottages on our right. As we cleared the buildings, just a few yards further on, we branched right onto the low fell side. In effect, the walk felt like it started here.
There are two paths that start here, one heads more to the left heading up to the famous small white memorial cross on the lower slopes of Fleetwith Pike, before rising up to Low Raven Crag and then the climb up Fleetwith Edge to the summit of Fleetwith Pike (see my diary from back in 2008). This wasn’t for us though as we needed the path (a bridle path by designation) slightly more to the right and soon heading just about due south. This is as easy a start to a Lake District walk you could ever hope for, with a wide firm track, almost dead level and dry underfoot (amazing given the rain from the day before). That’s not to say the scenery was anything other than fantastic; we were heading directly towards the rugged northern flanks Haystacks and off to the right a view down the Buttermere Valley. The track swings around to the left in a long curve and slowly but surely brings you into the bowl of Warnscale Bottom with steep rugged fell sides encroaching on both sides and directly ahead. In the bottom of the bowl we had a choice, a) continue on the bridle track to the left, rising up the flanks below Fleetwith Pike, or b) take a footpath to cross a stream and then rise up the right hand side of the bowl beneath the buttresses of Haystacks.
We decided on the smaller path, branching off to the right, and soon crossed the boulder strewn stream via a footbridge and soon after this crossed another smaller stream this time without the aid of a bridge. This was done without much difficulty and we then started up the fell side at times quite close to cascades tumbling down the hill side. The path was visible on the ground and easy enough to follow (apart from a couple of times where it became a little indistinct) but much less pronounced than the bridle way we could see across the ravine being cut by the fast flowing waterfalls.
It was as we climbed this path that we met a couple of fellow hikers, one of whom was lagging quite a way behind his colleague. It turns out he’d taking a fall the day before and hurt himself quite considerably. Being well equipped for an overnight on the fells, they’d taken the decision not to descend off the mountain in failing light the evening before, instead hunkering down for the night in a small bothy in amongst some mine workings a way above us. The injured chap was walking OK – just very slowly, and after we’d parted company we kept looking behind (and below) us to see their progress. Even as complete strangers we were happy to see them reach the main track in Warnscale Bottom and then disappear from view as they headed off towards Gatesgarth.
After a couple of big zig-zags of the path we reached the very bothy the two guys had over-nighted in. I couldn’t say in all honesty that it looked particularly salubrious but it would certainly keep the worst of the weather at bay – and I guess could be relatively cosy with a fire in the hearth. Outside, the view over Buttermere and Crummock Water was absolutely stunning.
Once we’d spent some time here, we picked up a route (one of several potential options here) to climb steeply up through the old quarry workings intermingled with the fell side crags to emerge onto a more pronounced path skirting round the edge of a broad hummocky area called Dubs Bottom. It’s kind of difficult to describe what this area is like really, it’s a sort of a wide saddle or col between the flanks of Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks, but it’s also a bit like a bowl as slopes rise up towards Grey Knotts and Brandreth about a mile away. Upon joining the path we turned right to skirt around the back of Green Crag with occasional views down Buttermere on our right and higher cloud topped fells to our left viewed over Blackbeck Tarn.
Once over the outflow stream from Blackbeck Tarn (predictably called Black Beck) our route then climbed through crags on a distinct path towards Haystacks. We were now seeing quite a few more people (heading in both directions) testament to the popularity of Haystacks amongst the walking fraternity and we soon reached the enigmatic Innominate Tarn.
I say this small, fairly ordinary, attractively positioned pool of water is enigmatic for good reason. A dictionary definition states enigmatic as meaning “a thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous” and Innominate means “having no name” … so as soon as the tarn with no name was named “Innominate Tarn”, it then did indeed have a name which is then ambiguous as it either can either have a name or not have a name and so by default becomes enigmatic. This is further enhanced by the famous love of this place by the inimitable Alfred (A.W.) Wainwright MBE.
It was time for a bit of a refreshment stop, so rather than sit by the side of the path, we thought we’d explore around the tarn to find a sheltered spot out of the now rather stiff (and quite cool) breeze – Actually it was really quite windy! As we climbed over a low hummocky crag above the tarn we came upon a smaller pool with something floating back and forth in the middle but never reaching the banks. As we got closer this turned out to be a toy sized boat and really quite elegantly made – A very odd thing to discover on a high fell and I’d love to hear the story behind it. The top of the hummock afforded a decent view over Innominate Tarn and its line of islands and we soon found what looked and felt like a sheltered hollow looking out over the water.
As soon as we’d sat down the wind picked up again swirling around the hollow, which wasn’t a problem until we started to pack up. Janet was the first to get up and her sit-mat promptly took-off, did a quick twirl and headed off over the crag. I stood up to chase after it, where immediately my map-case (with map!) also promptly took off. The map being most important was grabbed but by this time the sit-mat had disappeared. The whole laughable episode had lasted probably no more than a minute; we found it funny anyway, as did a group of four blokes across the way on the main path who’d seen most of our chasing around. As it happened, from the top of a small crag, I could see the sit-mat floating about in the tarn trapped by some pond vegetation. I clambered down and as I got to the water’s edge a gust of wind scooted it across the surface straight to me – So, “all’s well that ends well” to badly quote Shakespeare.
After the interlude, we set off on the very distinct main path climbing towards the summit (or really summits) of Haystacks, stopping only to take some photos and the occasional chat with passing hikers. We kept on a fairly low path for most of the rise, ignoring alternative routes that climb up and down the craggy tops of the fell. After a while we branched right to climb to one of the tops with a rough cairn perched on top – I’m not 100% sure this was the absolute highest, but for all intents and purposes we’d reached the summit of Haystacks. The views all around are superb from here but unfortunately many of the mountain tops were shrouded in cloud and it was difficult to stand and appreciate what we could see by the buffeting wind trying to blow us off our feet. We chose to drop down a little to the south to get out of the wind rather than the direct route off the fell side. The path we picked up swung around the fell side, dropping quite quickly on a fairly easy path. Eventually we picked up a boundary fence which rose up slightly to meet the rockier and more exposed paths we’d ignored earlier. We were now at a cross roads of footpaths, at the top of the Scarth Gap Pass, giving four options of travel, as it happens more or less in the directions of the main points of the compass :-
- East – Back up onto Haystacks.
- South – Dropping down into the upper reaches of Ennerdale (towards Blacksail Youth Hostel in this fantastic setting).
- West – Climbing onto Seat and up and beyond to the High Crag – High Stile – Red Pike Range.
- North – Descending into the Buttermere Valley.
Our route was to take the north option, the descent starting quite rocky but later becoming much narrower and easier under foot as the route heads diagonally down and across Buttermere Fell following the line of a wall. As with the rest of the walk, the views are superb here, including off to the right to Fleetwith Edge, into Warnscale Bottom and up to Dubs Bottom and round to Haystacks’ Buttresses. The views north across the valley (towards the Dale Head Range) showed the final path across the flat pastures at the head of Buttermere Lake to Gatesgarth Farm and the car park.
We finished the final part of the descent chatting to a lone walker who was heading back to the same car park where we were parked up. Once we’d negotiated around a small landslip that had destroyed part of the path we reached the valley bottom and a broad path. Turning left would take you round Buttermere’s south shore (a lovely walk in itself), but our route was to take the flat farm track, mentioned earlier, across to Gatesgarth Farm, crossing the almost dead straight Warnscale Beck via a bridge. This is a very easy end to a super-duper walk.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings and pic’s …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my pic’s please feel very welcome.