The Lakeland Round 1995

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on the small photograph to enlarge it and vice versa.
Part 4 - Eskdale to Buttermere


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Day 5 - Wednesday 24th May: Eskdale to Black Sail (Ennerdale) via Pillar

Distance: 12.5 miles, Ascent: 4100 ft

Accommodation: Black Sail Y.H.A. - 14.85 Dinner, B&B, packed lunch

I had a reasonable night's sleep despite the fact that I had a top bunk because our dormitory was full and it was rather hot. It is always a nuisance having a top bunk, especially after visiting the pub, which makes it necessary to get up in the night. The bed also creaked whenever I moved in the night, which disturbed Alex's sleep below. Bill wore earplugs to block out the noise of Alex's snoring but I didn't hear it, or perhaps the creaking of my bunk stopped him from going into a deep enough sleep to start snoring.

It was a warm day so at breakfast most of the girls were wearing shorts, which was quite a sight to start the day. The weather, though fine, was still rather hazy and the forecast was for showers later.

I set off at 9.15-a.m. heading up the path behind the pub towards Burnmoor Tarn. There was nobody else about, which is one of the beauties of Eskdale - apart from driving over the Hardknott Pass and riding on the Eskdale railway, not too many people visit here. There is a lot of beautiful scenery around Eskdale, albeit gentler than in other parts, but with the highest fells not far away. This part of my walk is not in the book, but was put in to obtain YHA accommodation. The book assumes accommodation at Wasdale Head and goes up the Black Sail Pass, over Pillar into Ennerdale, then over Red Pike to Buttermere. I split this into two days allowing the detour to Eskdale hostel and more ridge walking at either side of Ennerdale.

I was feeling rather weary after the strenuous walk of the previous day, especially the great rush back to the hostel, so I was glad that, in the morning at least, I had a fairly easy walk. Burnmoor Tarn is nestled behind the Wastwater Screes, which are much more rounded and grassy from that side. Much of the walking was on green grassy roads and I eventually met up with the old Corpse Road, which was used to take the dead from Wasdale Head over to Boot for burial. To the right stood Sca Fell and what appeared to be an easy path to the summit. From this aspect Sca Fell looks a smooth and rounded fell that is just the opposite of the very steep and craggy aspect from the other side. Across the tarn, I could see Yewbarrow, which was the first steep climb of the day. Looking at the steep ascent and feeling very weary, I wondered whether I had make the right decision to include it or whether I should just go up onto Pillar via the Black Sail Pass. However, I determined to stick to my plan and made my way down to the head of Wast Water past the campsite where I had often stayed in my youth, and started the ascent of Yewbarrow. I cut a corner off by heading at an angle up a field but that didn't make the ascent any easier as the path was rather awkward. When I reached the main path, it really was quite an effort making my way up because it was so steep. By taking frequent rests I eventually struggled to the summit ridge where there was a good view of Wast Water and all the high fells around, spoiled somewhat today by the haze.

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Steeple from Great Scoat Fell
Steeple from Great Scoat Fell

I stopped for lunch and then made my way easily along the ridge before tackling the equally steep, though not as long descent to Dore Head. From there the ascent to Red Pike (not to be confused with the other Red Pike overlooking Buttermere) was much more gentle and I had also started to regain some energy, enabling me to keep up a steady plod without too many rests. I was now on part of the Mosedale Horseshoe with fine, though hazy views down into the valley and across to the surrounding fells. From then on, the ridge walk was easy and I detoured slightly onto Great Scoat Fell and part of the way over to Steeple to get a view down Ennerdale. I came back over Little Scoat Fell to commence the moderately steep ascent of Pillar, which was the last ascent of the day.

At this point, some very dark clouds started approaching and it was spotting with rain. I put on my waterproofs and, before long, there were rumbles of thunder. It was then just as if someone had switched out the light. I was plunged into the mist with horizontal rain stinging the side of my face through my hood. I had had a good view of the path down from Pillar from the other side of the valley, so at least I knew it was, for the most part, a steady descent down to the top of Black Sail Pass. I was, thus, able to find my way without any difficulty. As I descended, the ferocity of the wind and rain reduced, and by the time I reached the pass I had just come out of the cloud. It was still raining heavily all the way to the hostel but at least I could see where I was going and could make out the welcoming sight of the Black Sail Hut which I reached at 5.15 p.m.

I opened the door into the living area to be greeted with a glowing stove round which several others were seated. It was very pleasant to sit there warming myself and drying out. There was a large wooden roof beam, which acted as a boot rack, and wet clothes could be hung from an old-fashioned clothes rack, which lowered down from the ceiling on ropes and pulleys. When the warden eventually appeared from the back, he was not expecting me and I had to show him my booking receipt to prove that I had booked. He was very apologetic for the mistake that must have been made by the previous warden, and there was no further problem. Surprisingly, this was the first time in all of my walks that a booking had gone wrong.

The hostel consists of a series of separate rooms with no interconnection, so it is necessary to go outside to get to either of the dormitories or the toilet, which can be a nuisance when it is pouring with rain as it was that evening. The kitchen sinks provide washing facilities, with hot and cold water but no shower. This is a small price to pay for the marvellously isolated location of this hostel in the heart of the high mountains and it is quite surprising that the hostel offers a full meals service rather than being just a self catering hostel like Skiddaw House. Supplies to the hostel can be brought up to the end of the forest road by car from Gillerthwaite hostel four miles further down the valley, but have to be carried the last quarter of a mile up the track to the hostel. The warden on his bicycle transports some of the lighter items but for heavier items, the Gillerthwaite warden's car has to be used.

Dinner was vegetable soup, ham and mushroom pie followed by jam sponge. The meal was good with soup that was almost as thick as stew - quite spicy and served with home made bread. The rain was still pouring down outside, but it was quite interesting to watch the clouds rolling over the mountains, some of them clinging to the sides of the fells.

The stove in the main living area was very welcoming when coming in from the cold and wet outside but before very long it turned the place into a sauna, even with the door left fully open. As it was too wet to stand outside, people were taking it in turns to stand in the doorway to cool down. After a bit of chat most people read from the shelf of books in there and then retired early to bed. As the warden came to make up the stove for the night, he discovered that the cast iron grate had disintegrated. There was no spare, so it would mean a trip to Egremont the next day in the hope of getting a replacement. If not, the hostel would not be quite so welcoming to the next day's group of walkers.


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Day 6 - Thursday 25th May: Black Sail to Buttermere via High Stile

Distance: 13.2 miles, Ascent: 4530 ft

Accommodation: Buttermere Y.H.A. - 16.90 Dinner, B&B, packed lunch

I had a reasonable night's sleep - there was heavy rain overnight but I didn't hear it. The cloud was still covering the high mountains and there were a few rather black ones hanging around the fells. I set off from the hostel at 9.15 a.m. and headed in the direction of Great Gable, as the weather was starting to look a bit brighter, even though there was cloud over the summit. I found the initial ascent quite easy as I had recovered from the fatigue of the previous day. Much of this day's walk was of my own making, as the route in the book goes straight over Red Pike after the descent into Ennerdale from Pillar. Having split this section into two days, I had decided to walk the ridge from Haystacks over High Stile to Red Pike and, optionally, climb Great Gable for old time's sake, as that was where I had proposed to Jean 23 years ago.

My route from the hostel took me towards Windy Gap between Green Gable and Great Gable. Instead of taking that route to the summit, I decided to take the path which traverses the flank of Great Gable to Beck Head between Great Gable and Kirk Fell, and from there to go over the summit and back to Windy Gap. From Beck Head, where I stopped for a snack, there was quite a good view down Wasdale, although it was rather cloudy and hazy. As I started the steep ascent to the summit, I soon entered the cloud and rain and lost the view until I got back down to Windy Gap. The summit was rather inhospitable so, pausing only to finish off writing a postcard to Jean, I made my way down.

At Windy Gap a man, who was heavily wrapped up in waterproofs, spoke to me. When he removed his hood, I realised it was a chap who had been staying at the hostel. He was just wondering whether to climb to the summit of Great Gable as it was still covered in cloud. He decided to do so and, as I found when I bumped into him later in the walk, was rewarded at the summit with a parting of the clouds and a view down Wasdale.

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Ennerdale, Buttermere and Crummock Water from Brandreth
Ennerdale & Buttermere
Borrowdale from Grey Knotts
Borrowdale from Grey Knotts
Ennerdale from Brandreth
Ennerdale from Brandreth

Over Green Gable the cloud kept dropping and lifting and swirling about giving some quite dramatic effects as views would be obscured one minute and then suddenly unveiled again the next. On the whole the weather seemed to be improving, although it seemed better in the east, where I could see the Langdale Pikes, quite a few of the eastern fells and Borrowdale. To the west, I was suddenly rewarded with a view of Buttermere and Ennerdale highlighted with a few bright patches of sunlight, and the cloud was almost clear of the fell tops. I took the gentle walk over Brandreth to Grey Knotts overlooking Honister, before making my way back across to Haystacks. I was feeling in very good form and hardly noticed the weight of the pack on my back, so I was able to stride out well without feeling tired. Patches of sunlight started to appear and the long distance visibility was excellent.

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Buttermere from Seat (near Haystacks)
Buttermere & Grasmoor
Red Pike from High Stile
Red Pike from High Stile
Bleaberry Tarn and Lake Buttermere from Red Pike
Bleaberry Tarn & Buttermere

As I made my way over Haystacks, I spared a thought for Wainwright, whose ashes were scattered there according to his wishes; there was a heavy shower. At High Stile there was another one, but in between the weather was getting brighter and clearer giving some outstanding views down to Buttermere and Crummock Water, Ennerdale, Newlands, Honister and back to the high fells around Great Gable. From Red Pike, with its marvellous bird's eye views over Buttermere, I took the longer and more gradual descent via Scale Force, rather than the direct one down the steep mountainside.

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Crummock Water from Red Pike
Crummock Water from Red Pike

Scale Force is a waterfall that tumbles down a steep crevice into a deep pool below. The crevice sides are very steep and the entrance to it from the bottom quite narrow with a rock ledge acting as a dam to the pool. I remembered back over 25 years ago when I visited here with my brother and his wife on a very hot day. The crystal clear pool looked very inviting and my brother could not resist the temptation to strip off and dive into it. It was somewhat colder than he had bargained for, so he soon decided to get out. At that point, he discovered that the only place of exit was obstructed by the rotting carcass of a dead sheep, which must have lost its footing on the rocks above. He has always been very squeamish about such things and, to make matters worse for him, some other people could be seen approaching the bottom of the falls. He had no option but to clamber over the sheep and hurriedly put some clothes on before the other people arrived. He was not amused by the fact that we found the whole thing very funny and failed to see his predicament in a serious light.

I noticed that the time was getting on a bit so I had only time for a cursory glance at the falls before making my way to the hostel at a brisk pace, arriving at 6.15 p.m. In my dormitory, I found a group of four who had been staying the previous night at Black Sail. They were a grandfather, a father and two grown up sons - I had not realised that they were coming to Buttermere as their talk had been of walking to Honister to pick up their car. The hostel was very nice; another large country house in a fine position and well cared for. It was pleasant to return to the comfort of a hot shower, which is always refreshing after a day's walk.

I sat at a table with a couple of chaps from London and a girl who worked in Ambleside Youth Hostel for my dinner of soup, smoked mackerel and rhubarb crumble. The girl was complaining that she didn't like Ambleside hostel and the type of people who stayed there, who generally treated the staff as servants. She also didn't like the fact that they had so many school parties; they were currently slightly overbooked with 230 people from four school parties, all of whom were having meals there. She had to stand there in the cafeteria dishing out 230 portions of whatever was on offer, which was somewhat monotonous.

As there was a very good drying room in the hostel, I took the opportunity to wash out everything that needed washing before going down to the Fish Inn in Buttermere village. After a couple of pints of Jennings' bitter I returned and went to bed at 10 p.m. for an early night as I was feeling rather weary. The problem with my sleep pattern was that I tended to get a few hours of reasonably sound sleep, then lie awake for ages before dropping back into an intermittent, light sleep. By nearly 8 a.m., I was still half-asleep and it was quite a struggle to rouse myself and get ready for breakfast.


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