Francesca Donovan revels in a waterside wooded classic around Buttermere and up to Fleetwith Pike on a crisp autumn day.
If there’s ever an excuse to stay low in Lakeland to admire the autumnal burst of colour, it can be found below the Western Fells at Buttermere. Our bare upland areas, once cloaked in forestry, don’t offer much in the way of the crunch of fallen leaves under boot many of us crave post-summer. So, for a woodland walk, there can be no more picturesque option than the bustling shores of Buttermere. It’s popular for a reason, after all.
This walk has the benefit of being quite accessible with well-kept paths along the eastern shore. While the walk up Fleetwith Pike is steep, it’s also short and very sweet. You’ll no doubt want to take it slow and stop every few steps to enjoy the view down to Buttermere and Crummock Water hugged on both sides by the surrounding fells. You’ll be glad you slowed the pace should the cloud come in and shroud the false summits of Fleetwith Pike, potentially demoralising you on the ascent. But fear not navigationally. Get your head down and follow the clear path, suitable for even the clumsiest of dogs.
Buttermere and Fleetwith Pike: route description
Start/finish: The Court Hotel bus stop, Buttermere (GR: NY 175 170) | Ascent: 2,205ft / 672m | Duration: 4 to 5 hours | Distance: 6.5 miles / 11km | Maps: OS Explorer sheet OL4 – The Lake District: North-western area Keswick, Cockermouth & Wigton (1:25k)
1. NY 175 170: Alight the bus – a blessed relief from often overflowing car parks and passing place congestion – at The Court Hotel and follow the road in a ESE direction for a few paces before picking up the footpath. Don’t take the riverside path which would lead you to Nether How and the south shore of Crummock Water.
Continue through the signposted National Trust gate – noting the alerts to keep dogs on lead in this pastural landscape – onto a paved path from which you can enjoy the view straight ahead to Sourmilk Gill as it carves its path down Old Burtness from Blea Tarn. Dodd, High Stile and High Pike tower above – a gill scramble for another time, perhaps. Cross the footbridge at the northwest shore of Buttermere and rejoin the path now under the wooded canopy.
2. NY 173 163: Here, you have two options. Take the well-paved path through Burtness Wood or skirt alongside it and keep to the water. While the latter path isn’t as suitable for those less sure-footed, its preferable for the sweeping views of Goat Crag and High Snockrigg framed by the trees around you. Through them peeks the hulking mass of Fleetwith Pike – short but stocky and a sign of some (if not a lot of) elevation to come. Emerge from the woodland and take a look to your right to Comb Beck and its cascading falls. Continue along this wide and accessible path for a further half a mile.
3. NY 189 148: At a lovely fingerpost boasting Fleetwith Pike as its backdrop, go through the gate and cross Peggy’s Bridge, pausing for a look down the full length of Buttermere, perhaps Lakeland’s most beloved body of water. Continue until you reach the B5289 and turn right onto it, following it round its bend for a short while past Gatesgarth Cottage. Leave the road to take the higher footpath and begin the ascent of Fleetwith Pike.
This path skirts around its heft, passing the Fanny Mercer Memorial Cross below Low Raven Crag, before tiny switchbacks ease the short and steep ascent. For this route, we’re taking the more simple (if steep) up and back ascent – and for good reason. Between huffs and puffs on the way up, you may just miss out on one of the Lake District’s finest views from Fleetwith Pike down over Buttermere and across to Crummock Water in the distance. We can’t have that, so descending the same route gives you a second shot, just in case. Alternatively, the lower path will take you to Warnscale Bottom if you’d rather scramble Warnscale Beck and its waterfalls to approach the summit cairn of Fleetwith Pike from the south-east.
4. NY 206 142: From the cairn, retrace your steps off Fleewith Pike, the rolling descent of which has become a popular wild camping spot for relatively low-level and sheltered pitching with epic views. Once more, pass Gatesgarth Cottage, back on the B5289 which you’ll follow for 0.4 miles.
5. NY 191 154: Here, leave the road for the footpath to your left heading NW towards Buttermere’s eastern banks. This home stretch is delightful in Autumn as the leaves of Hasness Crag Wood turn flame-orange and citrus-yellow. Mind your step on the slick, rocky footpath which can become a little challenging for newcomers when the leaves fall and autumn rains come. Continue along the Pike Ring footpath keeping Buttermere on your left until the path forks. Take the path on your right and follow it across Bowderbeck.
6. NY 177 167: At the path junction, take the left in a NW direction through Wilkinsyke Farm and continue through Buttermere to complete the circular.
Public Transport: The 77A Stagecoach service from Keswick stops outside outside the Court Hotel, Buttermere
Tourist Information: Keswick TIC, lakedistrict.gov.uk (0845 901 0845)
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