Buttermere and the NW­

Jonathan’s View

“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.

Hen Comb from Buttermere. A remote and unusual walk in this popular area

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.

Great Gable from Honister Pass. An excellent approach to this iconic mountain with a pleasant high start.

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

This Weather Widget is provided by the Met Office

Click here to go to the Met Office website for a 5 day weather forecast for the north western Lakes

Places to Stay

Scale Hill Cottages, Loweswater

Midtown Cottages, High Lorton

Cottages in the Dales


  1. Mountain Mike says:

    Hi well today its a scramble up the front edge of Fleetwith Pike,conditions wet under foot and foggy skies no cameras today as Gav and I start off from Gatesgarth Car Park,its a sharp walk upto the first stop,good path and nobody around.As we progress to steeper climbs the weather gets very sunny,a good few scambles on and we are nearing the top,a great day and surprisingly a good number of scrambles with great views and some long drops.After a stop for refreshments we make for Dubs Quarry where we see the first walkers of the day,quick hello and we have a good check out of the Bothie,light refreshments and we are off back down the track to Gatesgarth this was a great 3 hour trek well recommended,tomorow its Pillar Mountain again and Gavs first attempt from Ennerdale Valley bottom upto Pillars Shamrock Traverse then scramble to the top watch this space.

  2. Mountain Mike from Stockton On Tees says:

    Well here I am back to try and get to the top of High Stile,after last months attempt in the snow where the white out, deep snow and gusts beat me.
    Its the 8th April and at my start time of 09.15 hrs finds me at the bottom of Honister Pass at Gatesgarth Farm looking out on a cloud clear range of High Crag,High Stile and Red Pike,there are a few people about around a half a mile in front of me.
    I find myself just below High Crag and its time to skirt round and up to just in front of High Stile a few looks from the people who are wondering where Im going this is personal my aim Summit High Stile,weather still clear but the ground is slippy and wet,but better than four feet of snow.
    I make my way towards the top when hailstone starts to beat down,time to cover up this is not funny and as Im on a steep slope not easy to get the waterproofs on,kit on and its onward to the top and what next total cloud cover,I stayed on the summit to see if it would clear but it did not I make for lower ground to get out of the cloud……….what a day you need your wits about you up here

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