This was an epic day's walking, not in terms of distance or difficulty, but in terms of the natural beauty of the landscape and the challenge thrown down by the elements. It probably serves as a reminder that things don't always go to plan.
The idea was to combine a walk around Buttermere with a climb of the modest but celebrated Haystacks. This was a solo trip; just me and my camera. Even that bit didn't go to plan.
So, here's the intended route details and we'll see what happened.
Starting Point: Car park at the Bridge Hotel, Buttermere
Route: Buttermere lakeside path - Scarth Gap -
Haystacks - Warnscale Beck-Gatesgarth-Buttermere
Elevation Gain: 1742 feet
Distance: 7 miles
Terrain: Good paths, a little bit of scrambling possible and care needed for Scarth Gap and Warnscale Beck
Refreshments: Food and drink available in Buttermere at the Bridge Hotel and the Fish Inn
Accommodation: Bridge Hotel (book here) or nearby YHA (book here)
Difficulty: I would say 3/5. Relax and enjoy the stunning scenery.
So I decided to make a weekend of it, having heard only good things about the Bridge Hotel in Buttermere.
The small hamlet of Buttermere is beautifully situated on a narrow strip of land between the Buttermere Lake and Crummock Water, at the foot of the spectacular Honister Pass.
It is thought that Buttermere and Crummock Water were originally one long lake, until the land in the centre was formed by debris being washed down from the surrounding hills. These became rich grazing lands which attracted early settlers.
Thought to have been a site of defiance against the Norman conquerors, an armoury and bakery were built on the site of the Bridge Hotel in the 11th century, as well as a storehouse for grain and a water mill built by Earl Boethar in order to feed refugees who were fleeing from Norman attacks across Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Although the fells are now populated by sheep, historically it was cows that were farmed on the site of Gatesgarth Farm. The name Buttermere is thought to mean "the lake by the dairy pastures" although another school of thought insists that the name comes from a corruption of "Boethar's Lake".
Either way, modern day Buttermere is set amidst wonderful scenery with the Buttermere Round forming a perfect backdrop to the idyllic waterside views. There are 2 pubs in the village, the Bridge Hotel and the Fish Inn, as well as a seasonal tea shop, a YHA hostel and a village hall, which used to be the local school.
I thoroughly recommend the Bridge Hotel. Comfortable accommodation and a friendly bar, crammed with real ales and hearty food. I went for the 5 bean chilli which was great.
You can book a room at the Bridge Hotel by clicking here.
The next morning, with a packed lunch of cheese and pickle sandwiches and home made chocolate brownies provided by the hotel, I wrapped up against the elements and headed off. The rain was pouring and the wind was howling (and not just because of the 5 bean chilli), spraying the rain horizontally into my face as I stepped out of the hotel doors. Little did I know that this was to be the start of Storm Abigail which would go on to cause havoc over the following few days with widespread flooding and disruption around the area.
The footpath leads to the left of the nearby Fish Inn and through a gate to head towards Buttermere Lake. The clouds were zipping across the valley with great speed, powered by the furious wind. The hilltops were intermittently covered and briefly revealed in their foreboding splendour. To my left, Fleetwith Pike swept gracefully to the shoreline, whilst to my right loomed the steep sides of High Stile and High Crag. Straight ahead, at the opposite end of the water and dwarfed by its immediate neighbours, rose Haystacks.
The path leads past fields with weather beaten sheep and cattle casting a weary eye towards me as I rustle past in my waterproofs. The sound is dominated by the waterfalls crashing down the slopes of High Stile before feeding into the lake.
Crossing the bridge over the wonderfully named Sour Milk Ghyll, the path takes me through Burtness Wood on the lakeside. I didn't stop to play pooh sticks as invited to do by the sign on the bridge, placed by the National Trust. There was even a box for people to leave their pooh sticks. And a polite sign explaining that it isn't a litter bin. Maybe some people thought that "pooh sticks" was an observation rather than a game. Either way, I pressed on through the rain, enjoying the shelter afforded me by the conifers.
There is a choice of path through the woods, with one option taking a slightly higher route. I opted for the lakeside route as the views were terrific. Even the rain added to the atmospheric scenery.
This is one of the most sheltered stretches of the walk and it filled me with a false confidence that conditions were steadily improving. They really weren't.
As the path left the far side of the woods, heading towards the far end of the lake, there was a small copse of trees by the waters edge. As I approached, I noticed that there were a number of Herdwick sheep using the trees as shelter from the elements. Far more sensible than me as I marched on into the torrential rain.
The view back along the water was spectacular too, with the towering peaks disappearing into the mist.
As I reached the far end of the lake, I took the steep path to the right, which headed for Scarth Gap, which would eventually lead up by High Crag to the summit of Haystacks. From there I would be able to cross the summit and the plan was to visit Innominate Tarn before descending by Warnscale Beck.
The views were fantastic as the path rose from the lake towards Scarth Gap. Leading past another wood, the path takes a sharp left turn and the wind was getting noticeably stronger, the higher I got.
The path is well defined and easy to follow as it makes its way up the steep slopes.
Looking across the front of Haystacks, I could see Warnscale Beck winding its way down to the valley floor.
Although the scenery might look quite calm on these photographs, the truth was anything but. I was beginning to have my doubts whether the summit would be safe as the strength and ferocity of the wind increased.
By now, the lake had disappeared from view.
The path had become less steep but more exposed as the landscape opened up.
I passed a couple who were descending towards me. I asked them how the wind was at the top. "We didn't make it", admitted the lady, sheepishly. "It's way too rough and we're not experienced enough, so we decided it's better to live to fight another day."
I bade them a safe descent, tightened my hood around my head and pressed on. The terrain became more difficult as I crossed a steep boulder field. It was hard to look straight towards the direction I was headed due to the conditions, but I could make out small cairns which had been built to mark out a rough route.
Even the herdwicks seemed a little bit miffed about the rain as we exchanged weathered glances.
It soon got to the point where I couldn't stand up in the wind. It was on the verge of blowing me off my feet and the final climb to the summit was just too dangerous. I think it takes more guts to admit defeat when you're walking alone but I stood there for a moment weighing up whether to carry on.
I looked further back down the hillside, where a group of six hardy souls were doggedly heading up towards me. That was it. I'd made my decision. I would take a selfie, which needed me to hold on to the windswept camera with both hands and took me about 6 attempts. The relief on my face is because I had made my mind up that I wouldn't risk it.
I turned around and headed back towards the lake.
I decided I would just use the walk to enjoy myself with my camera. Although I say camera, the conditions were far too wet for me to use my normal cameras, so all the pictures featured on this post were taken on my iPhone 6 plus.
I passed the group of walkers. "Have you given up?" they asked me. I told them how rough it would be when they turned the next corner. "Oh no", one of them said. "We'd been watching you and decided that if you were carrying on, we would be ok." I wished them luck and promised to meet them at the pub later.
After 10 minutes, I looked round and noticed them making their way gingerly down the route after me. Great minds think alike.
Oh well, no Haystacks for me this time. I wanted to pay my respects to Wainwright at his final resting place, the Innominate Tarn, but this would have to wait until next time. And I would make sure that there is a next time.
As I made my way down through the boulders, past the sheep and towards the woods, the wind decreased but the rain got heavier and heavier.
I rejoined the path at the end of the lake and crossed Warnscale Beck by Peggy's Bridge, heading across the flat valley floor towards Gatesgarth Farm.
As I rejoined the lakeside, Haystacks was again shrouded in cloud, reinforcing the thought that I had made the right decision.
As I made my way along the side of the lake, the rain was now being blown into my back, ensuring that I was equally soaked from all directions. Nevertheless, the path was beautiful and almost whimsical, despite the conditions, as it weaved its way through the park-like landscape. The views across to High Crag and High Stile were spectacular.
After meandering along the shoreline, the path leads through a 35 metre tunnel which I had to stoop through. There is a sign encouraging children to make strange noises in the dark to freak out their loving parents. I was glad mine were safely enveloped at home as I peered into the gloomy blackness.
There are two schools of thought into how the tunnel came into existence. One says that the owner of nearby Hasness House employed his gardeners to dig it out to occupy their time over winter months. Another theory is that the army made the tunnel with explosives during World War II, for reasons unknown.
Either way, it is a unique feature in the Lake District that adds to the character of the route. Plus, it's dry.
Shortly afterwards, the path leads back to the end of the lake and across the fields, back to the village of Buttermere and the welcoming warmth of the Bridge Hotel. Which is possibly the finest end to a wet and wild exploration that I could think of.
Apart from being prevented from getting to my destination, I wouldn't have changed anything. Butter mere is such a beautiful place in all conditions.
Since my visit, the Lake District has endured some terrible floods and storms. The least we can do is support the local businesses and communities which depend so heavily on visitors to this unique and inspiring area.
I raised a glass to Mr Wainwright and made a silent promise to visit the Innominate Tarn next time.
I'm sure he would have approved.