A Travellerspoint blog

Pillar from Buttermere

A long but rewarding route in the Western Fells


From the top of Scarth Gap Pass all the walkers trooping up from Buttermere turned left and made for the nearby summit of Haystacks. Straight ahead though,lay the craggy walls of Pillar and Kirk Fell broken by the dark gap of Black Sail Pass while below was the remote valley of Ennerdale, its landscape of pines not typical of the Lakes but no less beautiful. In this valley the river Liza meandered in its stony bed amongst the patches of trees and the peak of Great Gable rose high above the valley's upper reaches. It was into this empty wilderness that my path lay.

The way up from Buttermere requires little navigation. I'd ascended from Gatescarth with everyone else, turning sharp left past the copse of trees and climbing steeply up away from Buttermere's still water, now left well behind.

Heading down the far side of the pass I was immediatedly on my own. I think one or two of the Haystacks bound walkers actually looked over as if to say I was going the wrong way, and though Wainwright named Haystacks among his favorite fells I'm sure that with the numbers going there today, he would have followed this path instead.

The way was at first a little boggy until I found the path again following a fence down the slope. My steady descent took me down to the left south of Haystacks and towards the two Gables outlining the head of Ennerdale. The River Liza sparkled in patches of sunlight which moved slowly over the green landscape of trees and heather. It was a scene that recalled more of the Scottish Highlands than the Lake District and there was little sign of human habitation anywhere as I tramped down to join the path following the valley's floor. There is no motor road here, just a track, and a forestry sign informs that the car park at Bowness Knott is fully 6 miles away - further away than my start point in the next valley of Buttermere.

I followed this track towards Great Gable and presently the hut of Black Sail Youth Hostel came into view ahead. I have stayed at many of the Lake District's Youth Hostels - a few years ago mind, not being particularly youthful now - but never this one and as it is in one of the best locations in the region I made a point to stay at some time - if I'm not deemed too old that is! The door was open so I went in to see if they sold cups of tea or glasses of orange or any such thing. There was a mural of what appeared to be a Viking ship called the Black Sail on one wall which I thought was quite good but nobody was about so I had a snack on the bench outside before continuing on my way.

The path now led downhill slightly and briefly alongside the river before crossing it by a wooden footbridge. The trees ended around this point and the upper valley was a wide hollow of rough pasture watched over by Great Gable and Kirk Fell and in it, I appeared the only person for miles. On up the opposite slope and the going was easy on grass until a lone tree was reached clinging to the fellside just below some rocks. Here the path steepened over the rocks and became rough as it climbed out of the Ennerdale Valley once again. I came to a point where the track followed the stream descending from Kirk Fell but the way doesn't cross the river. Instead, the path re appears after a short bouldery section and climbs off up to the right. Here a waterfall in a large gully could be seen behind, a great rocky gash in the side of Kirk Fell. The route soon though began to curve back around to the left as the gradient eased and there in front was the view across to Yewbarrow and Wasdale Head - the top of Black Sail Pass.

Wasdale is surprisingly close to Buttermere as the crow flies and in fact most of the main valley systems of the Lake District with the exception of the eastern ones are within a short(ish) walk of here. Buttermere and Ennerdale are on this walk, Wasdale was just below, while Borrowdale was just over Windy Gap between the Gables. Langdale and Eskdale were a little further but still easily within reach if either were my destination for tonight.

Now though I followed the path to the right or roughly west towards Pillar. Soon after passing a small tarn on the ridge, I left the path to climb the short slope to Looking Stead where I stopped for the first half of lunch. Looking Stead is a superb viewpoint and I could trace my route from Scarth Gap past the youth Hostel and up around to Black Sail and up to where I now sat beside the lonely windswept cairn.

Onwards again and past the turn off for the High Level Route. I'd been in half a mind to follow that route to Robinson's Cairn and gain the summit by the Shamrock Traverse to the side of Pillar Rock but the lateness of the hour meant that that route would be saved for another day. I continued on up the ridge.

This was a good route anyway. The ridge was steep and rocky in places though never difficult and the views over Wasdale to the Scafells expanded the higher I climbed. Now level with High Crag across Ennerdale - not so far to go now. The path then crossed a wide and gently sloping area of sheep cropped turf before a final steep rough ascent led me up past a deep gully dropping away to the forests of Ennerdale far below. Here I passed a couple descending from the top - including them, I'd seen 5 people on this ridge and no-one between Scarth Gap and Black Sail. After a small stony summit, the wide flattish top of Pillar was directly ahead. Here I had the second half of my lunch in the summit shelter which I had to myself, huddled against the cold wind which now blew up here.

The best views are to be had by headind to the edges of Pillar's summit plateau and I wandered to the North a hundred or so metres where the view down to Ennerdale Water was particularly impressive. So was that over the several tops of Haystacks, a landscape scattered with tarns, towards the North and then back along the ridge I'd ascended to the curiously square looking top of Great Gable and around to the stark crags of Scafell and the Pike.

I followed the edge of the cliffs overlooking Pillar Rock and Ennerdale before heading back the way I'd come to Black Sail Pass and on down to the valley. This is a long walk and I was glad I'd not tackled the High Level Route this time as I trudged back past the Youth Hostel in the early evening light. Indeed, the haul back up to Scarth Gap was an effort though thankfully from this side, the climb is neither too steep nor too long. It was a steady ascent taken at a slow pace.

They were still wandering up and down the ridge to Haystacks as I reached the pass and stopped for a short rest. As I began the last stretch down to Buttermere, the evening sun emerged from the clouds to light the fells opposite in a warm golden glow before twilight began to overtake the Buttermere Valley.

Here's the route to Pillar and Haycock from Wasdale

Pete Buckley

Essentials >>> Up 1110m >>> Down 1110m >>> How Far? 15.4km >>> How High? 892m/2927ft

Ennerdale and High Crag

Ennerdale and High Crag

Great Gable

Great Gable

Wasdale Head

Wasdale Head

Buttermere from Scarth Gap

Buttermere from Scarth Gap

Please see the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District

Posted by PeteB 12:44 Archived in England Tagged me mountains lake_district walking hiking vacation adventure holidays foot Comments (0)

High Street from Haweswater

Rough Crag, High Street and Kidsty Pike

sunny 8 °C

The drive over from Shap to Haweswater in the pale winter sunshine revealed that the eastern rim of the Lakeland Fells still held some remnants of snow from the recent cold weather. High Street's eastern crags in particular were patterned liberally with white which shone brightly in the morning sun.

Despite the calm and mild conditions which prevailed in the Eden Valley, I was greeted at the head of Haweswater by a blustery gale though strangely, the sky was still clear. Leaving the car, I set off through the gate below the brooding bulk of Harter Fell which rose at the end of the valley, lines of snow clinging to its craggy slopes. I followed the path around to the right along the shore of Haweswater, where the wind was blowing the surface into white capped waves, before climbing gradually to a copse of trees which gave expansive views down the length of the Lake.

From here I crossed the stile and headed up the slope behind, effectively doubling back and following the steep path up to the left of the ridge and presently passed back above where I'd left the car. The way now was a steep and relentless climb as I gained height towards Rough Crag which is really the east ridge of High Street though its top feels more like a separate summit. A fine spot this, a small rocky platform high above Riggindale on one side and the dark waters of Blea Tarn on the other.

Sheltering from the wind on its far side, I recalled the last time I'd been here. An equally gusty day of grey overcast and snow flurries when even the hardy Lakeland sheep had sought shelter behind the stone walls. Today the wind was not at all cold. Onwards along the broad ridge passing a small Tarn before beginning the final climb up to High Street. The path led uphill steeply in a series of easy rocky steps gaining height rapidly and after the hard work I'd made of getting up Rough Crag it was surprisingly soon that I was trudging up an easy angled slope of soft snow to reach the wide summit plateau.

The highest point of the fell is marked by an Ordnance Survey column besides a half broken down wall which runs the length of the summit ridge. This wall I followed north a short way, the wind now at my back, before stopping for lunch by one of the wall's many gaps. This wall was clearly not going to impede the peregrinations of the local sheep and I wondered if it dated back to Roman times when a road was built along the flat summit of High Street giving the fell its current name.

As I tried to figure how the chariots made it up here to trundle along this road, my eye was caught by the drifts of snow running off to the distance besides the wall for miles while the rest of the fell top was almost clear. The view to the west was impressive too and Helvellyn dominated here, its white garb declaring its 3000 foot elevation though hardly any snow lay on Skiddaw or the distant western fells.

Down then to the col known as the Straits of Riggindale where I decided that, as nothing wet was falling on me, which itself was unusual for the Lake District, I'd head on as far as High Raise instead of following the shorter path to Kidsty Pike. I set off over the nearby summit of Rampsgill Head and on across the open empty fellsides. This really is wonderful walking country and I appeared to be the only person this side of the Straits of Riggindale as the slanting rays of the sun reflected off scattered snowfields and lit the valley below with a soft light.

High Raise has a small stone shelter where I was able to have a rest and a snack in total isolation. There's no sign of modern life up here - apart perhaps from a very distant view of Penrith to the north - and thats only if you stand up. There's a certain quality about these fells. Perhaps they lack the drama of the rugged hills further west but they also lack the crowds!

So I began the last leg of my walk - back across the grassy plateau towards Kidsty Pike where the ground fell away steeply and the depths of Riggindale were revealed below. The path from here led back down the grassy eastern slopes of Kidsty Pike before descending more steeply, the last section into Riggindale itself - a wonderfully unspoilt valley bordering the western shores of Haweswater - before I followed the trail over a footbridge and back to the copse of trees overlooking the lake where I'd turned back up the ridge earlier today. A short walk in the gathering evening brought me from here back to the start point at the car park.

Pete Buckley

Essentials >>> Up 810m >>> Down 810m >>> How Far? 14.1km >>> How High? 828m/2718ft


High Street Ridge

High Street Ridge



Please visit my walking routes homepage or the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District

Posted by PeteB 09:16 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking foot Comments (0)

Esk Pike

Esk Pike and Allen Crags from Borrowdale


The latter part of the ascent had been in an almost eerie stillness through the dense damp mist that clung to this side of the Lakeland Fells. As Dad led the way up the last slope, we became aware of a sound - something akin to the far off approach of a high speed train - that increased steadily in volume with each step towards the ridge.

The final rocks were outlined, black on rushing grey, and the sound was now all around - a terrible roar that seemed to shake the air as a wind of unimagined strength scoured the rocks just above. Dad had taken one look over the top and decided not to bother with the last few feet of Esk pike.

My own efforts saw me scramble up the sheltered lee side of a rocky pillar which we thought was probably the highest point while all the winds of the Earth seemed to tear at the rock on either side. Raising my head over the top it wasn't possible to breathe with the pressure of the wind so attempting to stand up was out of the question. As I prepared my retreat though, the gusts must have changed direction because my legs were suddenly swept from beneath me and for a few moments I hung onto the rocks literally flying like a flag! My position struck me with terror as I had visions of being swept from the mountain and once on its sheltered side, dropping like a stone 2000 feet into the unseen valley below. Eleven year old boys don't fly too well and the valley was short on trees to break such a fall, instead being littered with rough and jagged boulders.

The screaming in my ears dipped and I felt my feet fall against the rock once more - in a near panic I scrambled quickly back down to where Dad waited in the shelter of the ridge just below.

Thirty years later, I was setting out from Seathwaite in Borrowdale, the plan being to ascend Esk Pike and possibly Great End - weather permitting. So far it wasn't actually raining and most of the summits were visible. Oh and it wasn't windy - that was a good thing!

The wide track led out of the farmyard and on up the valley below the waterfall of Taylorgill Force high on the right to cross the stone structure of Stockley Bridge. Here I turned immrdiately left and followed the path behind the wall above Grains Gill. The way straight up the hill leads to Sty Head and would be my return route.

I followed the path steadily up this wild and rugged looking valley and presently the dark crags of Great End appeared ahead, its gullies streaked with snow. The mountain was clear one minute and obscured by drifting cloud the next. My first objective - Esk Pike was still not visible from here.

The path now steepened and followed the course of Grains Gill, now in ravines down to the right, and suddenly as the top of the slope was reached the landscape opened out into the open windswept high country between Sty Head and Esk Hause. Turning left on the main path, I once again headed uphill though the slope here was gentler. Behind was Sprinkling Tarn and beyond across Sty Head one usually can see Great Gable but today only damp grey mist filled the view.

As the path forked I took the left hand one - the other being the newer route to Scafell Pike - which led in due course to the shelter on the col between Allen Crags and Esk Pike. Just as you couldn't see the Gables behind, you couldn't see the Langdale Pikes ahead from here either. In fact nothing much at all was visible now!

After a short rest I walked the short distance south to the cairn marking the top of Esk Hause, Lakeland's highest true pass - though it's rarely used as a pass today. The paths here are generally clear but many people believe they are at Esk Hause when they reach the shelter. I remember one chap in particular who was ready to lead not just himself, but a whole party off into the wilds of Upper Eskdale believing he was going towards Langdale, in conditions just like these. Being able to see more than 25 yards is a luxury here! The path pssing the shelter goes from Langdale to Sty Head and runs roughly east to west while the true Esk Hause - Borrowdale to Eskdale - runs north to south.

From the cairn I turned left - roughly east - along a much fainter path - the obvious route to Scafell Pike disappearing from view in the other direction. After a damp grassy section, the way began to climb over stony ground and a sleety rain started up, intermittently at first. Ominously, the wind had started to rise but I was destracted from the weather by route finding. The path faded in and out and easy scrambles were encountered as I followed the crest of the ridge until out of the gloom appeared a small stone shelter between two rocky pillars - the summit.

Wainwright says that the rock above the shelter is the highest - they look about the same in the mist - but I ascended both without being blown off! I'm not certain whether we'd reached the top last time but we can't have been far off.

The shelter was a good lunch spot and on making the discovery that my Snickers bar was an unusual colour, with examination of the wrapper revealing it to be almost a year out of date, I opted for a scotch egg, some dates and a Mars bar which had 7 months to spare.

Back down then. The weather hadn't improved while I'd loitered here - it was now back to normal for the Lakeland Fells - horizontal rain! I'd decided that if I could see Great End on my return to Esk Hause , I'd go up. If not I wouldn't. The view from the cairn was of the same 10 yard circle of damp grass and stones so I continued back to the shelter.

Feeling the need to do something other than just walk back down, I followed the path across from the shelter up to Allen Crags, a fell I'd not been up before. It too has 2 summit cairns of roughly equal height though closer together than those on Esk Pike. The view was the same though, funnily enough!

The rain was battering it down as I rejoined the trail for sty Head though I dropped below the mist just before reaching Sprinkling Tarn. The tarn is in a spot of exceptional wild beauty which epitomises this part of the Lake District though it's also officially the wettest place in England.

Sty Head was bleak indeed with a south westerly channelling through the pass driving the rain towards Borrowdale while cloud layers clung to the surrounding crags. It's a great spot this - the weather only adds drama! A right at the stretcher box and back to Borrowdale in the rain. The conditions mellowed as I dropped lower. The wind dropped, the chill left the air and by Stockley Bridge it was barely raining at all. The conditions above were but a memory.

Pete Buckley

Essentials >>> Up 840m >>> Down 840m >>> How Far? 13.9km >>> How High? 885m/2903ftEsk_Pike_a..ale_011.jpg

Please see the table of contents below for more walks in the Lake District

Posted by PeteB 11:55 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking holidays Comments (0)


The Foxes Tarn Route from Eskdale

overcast 15 °C

Scafell is the second highest mountain in England and receives a small fraction of the visitors who dutifully troop up its slightly higher neighbour Scafell Pike. The mountain rises above the isolated country between Wasdale and Eskdale and this route via Sampsons Stones and Foxes Tarn is - by Lakeland Fellwalking standards - a fairly tough walk but varied and interesting throughout.

It wasn't actually raining but the amorphous grey cloud hid everything above 2000 feet as I set out up the track from near Wha House Farm in the Eskdale valley. Passing the attractively sited cottage of Birdhow, I reached Taw House Farm where I ignored both the (tied up) dogs and the sign for Brotherikeld to the right to follow a lane straight on past a couple of bemused and damp looking donkeys to gain open fields on the slopes beyond. A short while later I crossed the stile to the open fellside above with views back down the green valley of Eskdale.

Beyond the stone wall the path led a little way to the right before I took a left branch up a slope of bracken. This climbed up steeply, passing some waterfalls amongst the trees on the left soon leaving the valley behind to level out in an area of rough grassland and low crags. Topping a low rise, the way ahead was clear to see across a flattish green expanse and to the right of some higher crags perhaps a mile away. Beyond all was shrouded in mist.

So this was the Lake District on a summer weekend. Where were the crowds of tourists? Presumably wandering down the middle of the road in Bowness and Ambleside making the traffic jams even worse. There was nobody else here, for this was Upper Eskdale, the regions's remotest valley and I had it to myself which is how it should be! Passing below the higher crags, I could now see towards the head of the valley across the damp green expanse known as the Great Moss where the River Esk and its tributaries wound like ribbons on their journey down from the mountains. The cloud had lifted a little now showing some of the rough stony ridges leading up to Bowfell and Esk Pike though the summits remained hidden. Above Scafell appeared impregnable with the rocky bastion of Cam Spout Crag guarding any approach, a wall of forbidding grey rock that rose into mist of a similar shade.

I followed the path down towards the river and past an ancient sheepfold to the gargantuan boulders known as Sampson's Stones. I was surprised to see no-one here either as this is also the route to Scafell Pike from Eskdale. I remembered sheltering from a snowstorm here with Dad in the Easter holidays many years before and spent a few minutes identifying where we'd been.

From Sampson's Stones my route lay across what the stream of Cam Spout though today it was more of a raging torrent - the waterfall of the same name crashing with some force down the mountainside above - and at first I couldn't see an immediate crossing that would allow me to stay dry! There's always a way though - and by wandering downstream from the path to where it was easier I was soon heading up the steep ground on its far side. The scrambling here remains easy if you keep well over to the right and don't approach the waterfall too closely and where the path gave out I was able to follow a nice easy groove in the rock back to the left higher up where with minimal use of the hands I gained the grassy slopes above.

I paused to admire the wild beauty of Upper Eskdale below before setting off again up into the all enveloping mist now just above. The path here is clear up to Mickledore - the ridge separating Scafell from Scafell Pike - albeit very steep and loose in its upper sections. I actually missed my way here as the route to Foxes Tarn couldn't be seen in the mist. If you keep on the main path it's the way to Scafell Pike but when I'd managed to locate it - I turned up into a gully on the left which had a small waterfall emerging from its lower reaches.

The gully was a forbidding place today and its enclosing rock walls rose into the mist on either side dripping with water. Each time there was an obstacle though there vwas always an easy way around it and despite the river I stayed dry - well almost - and gained height quickly. Soon I emerged at Foxes Tarn which is basically a small pool with a big rock in the middle. From here the path climbed steeply but without further obstacles up through the damp greyness towards the top of Scafell somewhere above.

I remember the summit of Scafell having breathtaking views though today there was only grey fog and damp grey rocks the same as below but a bit colder and breezier. There was no need to stay so I set off on the path down the ridge towards the subsidiary peak of Slight Side where the view was exactly the same as from Scafell. In bad visibility it's important not to stray too far to the left here as there are steep crags along the length of the ridge. From Slight Side I actually went too far to the right to avoid the cliffs but it's safer on that side.

Passing some very old looking aircraft wreckage the mist suddenly parted and there was the Irish Sea seen over grassy hills dappled with small shining tarns beneath the grey ceiling. Recognising the unfamiliar side of the Wastwater Screes ahead I went back to the left where the going was now easy and found a path that appeared in the grass leading me towards the pointed top of Harter Fell on the far side of Eskdale.

I took a path that led off the main one down to the left to take me back to where I was parked and this led unerringly in the right direction until instead of crossin a stone wall it followed it on the right through some fairly thick bush of bracken and fern. The path never faded though despite being hidden in places by the undergrowth and where the wall turned back uphill there was a stile and I was able to follow the route back down to the road.

Essentials >>> Up 960m >>> Down 960m >>> How Far? 15.1km >>> How High? 964m/3162ft

Posted by PeteB 14:47 Archived in England Tagged me landscapes mountains lake_district walking hiking adventure foot Comments (0)

Blencathra by Narrow Edge

An exciting but easy route from Threlkeld

overcast 7 °C

You know when you're approaching a bridge over a particularly treacherous looking river and just as you go onto the structure you spot the sign - Weak Bridge - Well, I've a theory that these signs were put up by people living on the far side of the river who didn't want to encourage visitors. Perhaps they also lived on Blencathra judging by some of the names given to the routes up that fell. Narrow Edge and Sharp Edge invoke images of crumbling staircases suspended over a dizzying void though the reality is somewhat different.

While Sharp Edge is indeed an exciting if short scramble that one wouldn't fancy much in high winds or icy conditions, Narrow Edge, also known by the less inspired name of Hallsfell Ridge, has no difficulties you can't avoid but despite its relative ease it does lead directly to Blencathra's summit with fine views throughout. If you stay on the crest of the ridge, the scrambles last longer than on Sharp Edge but are easy and in at least moderately inclement weather, it isn't all that dangerous.

So it was that I set off with Pete, my father in law, from Threlkeld village to ascend the mountain by Narrow Edge. From Threlkeld the path led alongside a stream through trees before crossing the water and branching right beside a stone wall with Blencathra's steep slopes rising to the left. Topping a small rise we were greeted by the view of a waterfall descending from a narrow precipitous looking valley. Our path could be seen climbing the steep slopes of Halls Fell to its right.

There seemed an unusual number of people milling around, many sporting pairs of binoculars and their purpose was revealed by a chap wearing a "Blencathra Foxhounds" hat. The hounds, he revealed were kennelled just below here and were being exercised on the Fell today by following a scent trail. Cameras out in expectation of that shot of a pack of baying hounds charging down the hillside, we set off up the trail. The path climbed steeply through the heather, the views expanding as we climbed steadily higher. Presently we arrived at the top of Halls Fell, a wide hilltop with views of Keswick and Derwentwater behind then south over St Johns in the Vale towards Helvellyn while ahead over the far side were the sweeping slopes of Blencathra's ridges, Doddick and Scales Fell. A couple of lost looking hounds wandered up as if to enquire of their whereabouts but the only others we saw were a group of about half a dozen below the next ridge of Doddick Fell. It seemed that the foxhounds were in disagreement as to where the scent trail was.

The path now led steeply up again to where Narrow Edge rose from the softer heathery slopes like a rugged island. Here the ridge climbed ahead in a series of rocky outcrops and the way up its crest became exhilharating without being at all difficult or insecure. It was a pleasure to be walking on the bare rock and to have to use one's hands on the steeper parts but had the rocks been slippy or the wind stonger it would be easy to walk just below the top of the ridge.

Almost too soon, just as we were really getting into the surroundings, the ridge steepened again and came out on the peak itself. There aren't many routes in the Lakes where a ridge as good as this one leads to the summit of the fell! Usually the view from Blencathra is spectacular, situated as it is on the northern rim of Lakeland facing most of the region across open lands over 2000 feet below.Today though the weather had different ideas and while it hadn't been bad on the way up meaning that we had remained dry, a cold grey mist now rolled in and hid the views from sight. Whilst eating lunch by the cairn I absently read the blurb on my packet of salted peanuts and was particularly impressed to read the words "contains nuts" on the back. I was glad to hear this as it would be somewhat aggrieving to discover that it didn't - a bag of salt has much less appeal.

We followed the ridge roughly south west from the cairn towards the end summit of Knowe Crag with occasional glimpses of Skiddaw and the remote northern fells glimpsed through the drifting clouds to the right and ahead. Just after Knowe Crag we branched off down to the left on a new looking path which descended steeply in wide zigzags. Dropping back below the clouds which clung to the summit, we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the fells beyond Derwentwater which itself was now in twilight. The path was leading too far to the west so we again branched left over easy grassland before finding another path descending steeply towards Threlkeld. A steep,
loose descent which saw much contact between bottom and ground brought us quickly back down to the woodland above Threlkeld where we'd set out, just before night closed in over the northern Lakes.

If you found this route busy - it will be in summer - here's the quiet way up from Mungrisdale

Posted by PeteB 19:19 Archived in England Tagged mountains lake_district walking hiking foot Comments (0)

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