Buttermere and the NW
“A colourful and beautiful landscape, particularly when it is set off by the setting sun”
Encompassing some of the most picturesque lakes in the area the North West of the Lake District covers the area from the tip of Bassenthwaite round to Ennerdale. In between these two large and frankly less attractive lakes the Lorton valley leads south in to the heart of the mountains. Finally it completes its journey at Buttermere, a deep heavily glaciated landscape with steep mountains on all sides a deep lake settling perfectly in the valley floor. Buttermere village is a small community and there are limited places to stay at this end of the valley but visiting and walking from here should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Crummock Water was, until recently, all one with Buttermere but now there is a short flood plain separating them;however the shoreline on Crummock is equally attractive even though the fells are not quite so dramatic. Cute Loweswater leads away in a separate valley towards the Cumbrian Coast and on the path to Ennerdale Water, the most westerly lake of the North West. The fells to the western side of the area are rounder, less dramatic but offer a quiet and relaxing wilderness which is rarely visited by other walkers. It is good country but moving east the hills become more dramatic including such gems as Fleetwith Pike, the High Stile range and of course pretty Haystacks which is where Wainwright asked for his ashes to be scattered. I love the Buttermere valley in Autumn, the colours are unbelievable, not just the deep blue of the lakes and the orange of the bracken but also the way the shadows cast such a contrast across the valley floor.
Cockermouth is an excellent base to explore the area and is now recovering from the terrible floods which completely drowned it in late 2009. I liked the town so much I held my stag night there but this was in no way a reflection of an unruly town but more that it was near a go karting track and within site of the fells! In addition Jennings brewery offer an excellent tour of their beer making process whilst, on a separate visit, we visited the interesting Wordsworth House on the Main street and learned all about sheep at the nearby Woollen centre. It is an attractive town in its own right but the location is superb and the key to staying here– access to Buttermere and Ennerdale- are within a ½ an hour drive whilst Keswick itself is a similar distance along Bassenthwaite.
However if you want to be in amongst the fells there are some pretty villages up the Lorton Valley. Loweswater, Waterend and Lorton are in fantastic spots, overlooked by the rugged fells and with excellent walking from the door – each has a pub but each is still quiet as travellers tend to pass through rather than stay. Buttermere village/hamlet is a different case altogether. There are 2 pubs and 2 tea shops in what is little more than an extended farm but this is not just a recent tourist phenomena but has been a staging post for 100s of years. The Maid of Buttermere (mentioned by Wordsworth and the subject of Melvyn’s Bragg’s novel of that name) was born and lived in the Fish Inn until she fell for a ‘wrong un’ in the form of the bigamist John Hatfield, a sad romance which did eventually have a happy outcome. However there are very few places to stay in Buttermere and I would be happier staying in the villages mentioned above on the north side of Crummock Water.
A word too about Ennerdale. The Forestry Commission own the lake and the land around and have forested the upper end of the valley extensively. In many ways this is a great shame as the valley would be stunningly attractive with great walking otherwise. The walking is still good but accommodation and facilities distinctly limited. There are 2 youth hostels, one called Black Sail high up the valley and above the trees but if this is not right for you the nearest places are Ennerdale Bridge (which is fine) or the less attractive towns near the coast. Rather than staying on or near the coast which in places is a little dismal return to Cockermouth which certainly is not!
I passed through the full length of Ennerdale to the coast at St Bees whilst doing the Coast to Coast, the weather was grim admittedly but I could not help feeling this valley is an opportunity lost. The setting is excellent…
I have detailed below some of my favourite walks in the Buttermere area, just click on the link for full details.
High Stile ridge. A typical walk in the western lakes; mountainous, rugged, hard underfoot with excellent views.
A walk round Buttermere. One of the best lakes to walk around, the scenery is fabulous and the paths good. The lake has some lovely coves and outcrops.
Haystacks. Made famous by Alfred Wainwright the walk is enhanced by starting at Buttermere rather than Gatesgarth. 8 miles.
Fleetwith Pike. A dramatic situation with a superb profile characterise this peak standing at the head of Buttermere.
Mellbreak & Crummock Water. Mountain and lake combine to reveal excellent views down the Buttermere valley.
Grasmoor from Crummock Water. A steep pull offers an exceptionally rewarding high level walk on easy walking terrain
Rannerdale Knotts . A small fell of great character tucked away on the shores of Crummock Water
Lands west of Ennerdale. Rarely visited by an Lake District visitor this is a lovely spot with fine walking for over 5 miles
Steeple & Haycock. Two great ridges lead to the high plateau south and east of Ennerdale Water
Around Ennerdale Water. Hugging the shoreline throughout this is the best complete walk around a lake
Sale Fell, nr Cockermouth. A low fell near Bassenthwaite which offers an easy but pleasant 1/2 day with unusual views over Keswick
Binsey from Bassenthwaite. Takes in some unexplored countryside before emerging on a fell with great views of the Northern hills.
Lands around Loweswater An short but attractive circuit of this pretty lake which lies off the normal routes.
Other Things to do in the Buttermere area
Wordsworth House. Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy spent their childhood in Cockermouth in this well preserved house and garden.
Whinlatter. Walking, cycling, Go Ape and a cafe are all available at Winlatter Pass summit
Honister Slate Mines. Book a tour of the mines and understand the importance of slate to the Lake District
Jennings Brewery Tour. Cockermouth is the centre of one of the 3 best breweries in the UK in my humble opinion
Western Lakes. Much more information on things to do in the Western Lakes
Updated Weather Forecast
Click here to go to the Met Office website for a 5 day weather forecast for the north western Lakes