A circuit of the fells above Crummock Water
Rannerdale is an area of level cultivated ground effectively forming a break in the steep - often precipitous - mountainsides that fall to the eastern shores of Crummock Water. The valley is overshadowed by Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike and the lower but craggy Rannerdale Knotts and the circuit of these 3 fells which are all Wainwrights makes for a varied and interesting walk - after a challenging start. For the peak bagger there is opportunity to reach 2 more summits with little extra effort and more if you're feeling energetic!
Leaving what is the first of 2 car parks (free) when heading towards Buttermere along Crummock Water, I followed the path ascending the steep hillside towards a line of reddish scree that reached towards the ridgeline of Grasmoor almost 2500 feet overhead. The path soon became sketchy suggesting people had realised that an easier route to the summit of Grasmoor exists from the other car park but I continued to persevere with the few who chose this route which is called Red Gill and follows the small stream of that name.
After a few hundred feet of unrelenting steepness through grass and bracken then heather, the path eased in angle as I approached the foot of the scree run which is about 1000 feet from top to bottom. The retrospect to the rough flanks of Mellbreak across the lake and the Buttermere Fells beyond the craggy end of Rannerdale Knotts opened up as I ascended the scree and my upwards progress could be guaged against the fells opposite. The easiest way I found was by a small path partly hidden under the heather on the right of the stones. The scree itself is practicable but loose and unpleasant.
A lone buzzard wheeled over the rough hillsides above eyeing up a potential meal which struggled up through the rough heather and steepening ground. I kept going though and was soon far above the ridge of Mellbreak opposite with views of the approaching weather to the West. The unbroken amorphous grey of a weather front filled the sky beyond the lonely fells of Great Borne and starling Dodd while the high fells at the head of Buttermere began to disappear one by one. Great Gable - when one can see it - appears to rise from the Buttermere Valley from here but it in fact overlooks the next valley of Ennerdale.
My troubles were not over at the top of the line of scree - the ground became even steeper - a tangle of heather, patchy scree and rocky outcrops inclined at a 45 degree angle rose ahead, over 2000 feet above the flat green carpet of Rannerdale and the cold depths of Crummock Water below. The path too soon gave up the ghost suggesting this was where it was customary to give up - or become a meal for hungry birds. Three buzzards were now circling hopefully overhead and it was a case of picking one's way upwards and not slipping back too much. The ridgeline looked close but it was still further than it looked.
The last part of the ascent was up loose sliding scree and then thankfully, a series of easy shelves across rocky outcrops to emerge on the wide ridge buffeted by an icy wind. Several sheep stared at me with apparent amazement that anyone was mad enough to come up this way.
The diversion to Grasmoor End is worthwhile here - a short descent to the left for birds' eye views of Lanthwaite - but the windswept summit of Grasmoor lies a short way up a wide easy slope to the right. The top has a large wall shelter and a second smaller one overlooking the escarpment I had just ascended. The grey ceiling was not far overhead though and lower fells to the south were now hidden in mist. The wind now blew cold enough for me to don gloves and coat but at least the rain was holding off.
This is the highest point of the route and the rest is easy. I followed the path leading down a gentle gradient followed by a steeper descent to a curious green hollow in the fells where a crossroads in the pathways gives a choice of options. Ahead a wide path makes an easy ascent of Eel Crag (marked as Crag Hill on the OS map) and Wandope, (another Wainwright) is even easier to its right while to the left Hopegill Head is within reasonable distance. My route though lay along the equally easy path to the right which led gradually down to follow a ridge with views of Newlands Hause to surmount a small rise to the fine summit of Whiteless Pike where I rested and finished off lunch - it was now warmer than it had been on Grasmoor.
From Whiteless Pike an easy to follow and interesting track heads down towards Buttermere village in the valley below via some easy rocky sections just below the summit. This is the path to Buttermere if that is your destination but as I had left the car at Rannerdale, I turned right at the bottom of the main descent but still several hundred feet above the valley and followed a delightful path along the ridge to the right which rose gradually in a series of rocky outcrops and wide grassy swathes to the gnarly peak of Rannerdale Knotts. The smaller fells are often some of the best walks and this is no exception. Even though the rain was now coming down, this was the most enjoyable part of the walk with views of Crummock Water straight down to the left and the misted Buttermere Fells circling the head of the valley behind.
From the top of Rannerdale Knotts, the path continues on before bearing left and descending steeply over stone steps for some of the way down to the road alongside Crummock Water. Following this away from Buttermere brought me past the second car park and to where I was parked at the base of Grasmoor. As I removed my boots, a couple with one of those small yappy type dogs on a lead set off up the steep path I'd climbed earlier - they went for nearly a whole minute before coming back down - sensible!
There are easier ways onto Grasmoor and the surrounding fells but this is a good route if you are after a challenge on rough terrain and like the feeling that the hardest part of a walk is over with early on.
Pete Buckley October 2010
Summits Grasmoor 852m/2795ft Whiteless Pike 660m/2165ft Rannerdale Knotts 355m/1165ft (as described)
Essentials >>> Up 850m >>> Down 850m >>> How Far? 10.6km >>> Start and finish at Rannerdale by Crummock Water
For more walks in the Lake District please see the table of contents below