But­ter­mere Fells

Take a wan­der around the head of But­ter­mere to dis­cover two fells that, while splen­did in their own right, are scin­til­lat­ing as a pair.


A su­perb ridge, a fairy-tale tarn and a hid­den bothy: how this of­ten for­got­ten cor­ner of the Lakes can sur­prise all who seek it.

Acon­fes­sion. Over the years I’ve watched a LOT of episodes of Bar­gain Hunt, An­tiques Road­show, Cash in the At­tic,

and Love­joy. While this might at first seem like a grotesque waste of life, I have picked up a few things. For ex­am­ple, I’ve learned that cer­tain ob­jects are at their most valu­able when they come as a pair, such as match­ing carved book­ends, vin­tage gold cuff­links and things like that. The ad­van­tages of cou­pling can be ap­plied to the wider world, too, and not just for the ob­vi­ous can­di­dates like shoes, bike wheels, and chop­sticks. Take moun­tains, for ex­am­ple. More specif­i­cally, con­sider the two su­per­stars of But­ter­mere: Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks. In iso­la­tion, each can stand on its own as a fell worth bag­ging, and which­ever you choose to tackle you’ll come away beam­ing. But tag them both to­gether in a climb­ing, loop­ing horse­shoe above the right-hand ter­mi­nus of the But­ter­mere val­ley, and you’ve got a whole that ex­ceeds the sum of its parts.

It all starts with Fleetwith Edge, the long, tan­ta­lis­ingly tempt­ing ridge that di­vides the end of But­ter­mere into the Hon­is­ter Pass and Warn­scale Bot­tom. The ini­tial scrab­bly path leads up onto its back, but not be­fore travers­ing be­low a land­mark that gives as­cen­ders cause to pause. A white cross is set into the crag­side in mem­ory of a young girl with a de­light­fully vin­tage name; Fanny Mercer. Fanny was the ser­vant of a school teacher and his fam­ily and in Septem­ber 1887 she ac­com­pa­nied them on their Lake Dis­trict va­ca­tion. Dur­ing a des­cent of Fleetwith Edge, the in­ex­pe­ri­enced hill­walker Fanny lost her foot­ing and tum­bled down the crag. She was taken to Gates­garth Farm be­low the fell, but died be­fore med­i­cal help ar­rived. The cross is eas­ily vis­ited (it’s shown on OS 1:50,000 map­ping, but, sur­pris­ingly, not on 1:25,000), although it re­quires a short scram­ble, and if the story of Fanny Mercer teaches us anything, it’s that even the pic­turesque Lake­land hills can be un­for­giv­ing; best take care.

Fleetwith Edge is, for the most part, rel­a­tively easy go­ing, oc­cu­py­ing the grey (and in many parts green) area be­tween hillwalking and scram­bling. It’s a fun as­cent, al­beit a breezy one when the wind’s whistling up the But­ter­mere val­ley. The gra­di­ent is steep enough that the full height of the fell is gained quickly (although one or two false sum­mits are thrown in along the way), and the oc­ca­sional dash of han­don-rock ac­tion makes it far more in­ter­est­ing than a te­dious slog up a slope. But how­ever ar­du­ous the climb could be, reach­ing the top would make it worth it. The sum­mit of Fleetwith Pike is a pedestal. But rather than a plat­form on which to place a glass-cased an­tiq­uity, it’s one from which to en­joy the full pal­ette of nature’s art. The tops of Pil­lar, Kirk Fell and Great Gable are all within sight, but the most im­pres­sive view is the one that’s been at your back on the as­cent.


The wa­ters be­low re­flect the sky over­head, lead­ing your eye west­wards, be­yond But­ter­mere vil­lage and the bridge of land that sep­a­rates the lake of the same name from its neigh­bour Crum­mock Water. On into the dis­tance, Loweswater glints gold among the fells; Loweswater gold – good name for a beer, that… The north­ern crags of Fleetwith Pike – Hon­is­ter Crags – have been quar­ried for slate since the mid­dle of the 18th cen­tury, and Hon­is­ter Mine is still in op­er­a­tion to­day, hav­ing di­ver­si­fied into via fer­rata and sub­ter­ranean ad­ven­tures for thrill-seek­ing tourists in ad­di­tion to its slate pro­duc­tion. Such in­dus­try leaves a mark on the land­scape, and ar­eas to the east of Fleetwith Pike are ex­pan­sively scarred. But leave the sum­mit di­rectly south, skirt­ing Strid­dle Crag and drop­ping through se­cluded gul­lies and lichen-clad scree, and that man-mod­i­fied land­scape is avoided. Well, mostly. On the far banks of Warn­scale Beck, cas­caded spoil heaps and deep, dark seams in the rock in­di­cate that this area was not im­mune from ex­ploita­tion, but clearly not on the same scale as Hon­is­ter. In­deed, tucked away in the folds of the fells, this rem­nant of an in­dus­trial her­itage seems al­most nat­u­ral. And one en­tirely ar­ti­fi­cial con­struc­tion par­tic­u­larly has, over the in­ter­ven­ing years, be­come melded into the land­scape.

If you want a build­ing to blend into the land­scape, you could do worse than to build said build­ing from the land­scape it’s in. It seems likely that avail­abil­ity of ma­te­ri­als, rather than de­lib­er­ate cam­ou­flage, is the rea­son Warn­scale Head bothy was con­structed from the very same rock be­ing dug out of the hill­side above it. But the end re­sult is that the small, roughedged, one-storey hut is nearly in­vis­i­ble from above, blend­ing al­most seam­lessly as it does into the crags, scree and spoil around it. The Warn­scale min­ing op­er­a­tion opened in the 1750s in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion to the Hon­is­ter work­ings on the other side of Warn­scale Beck. Un­for­tu­nately for the owner, James Sped­ding of Ar­math­waite, it proved to be a loss-mak­ing busi­ness, and closed in 1775. But Sped­ding’s en­deav­our left

us this mag­nif­i­cent lit­tle moun­tain re­treat. Hav­ing been re­cently ren­o­vated with wooden sleep­ing benches, a wood-burn­ing stove and, if you be­lieve the scratched slate no­tice above the fire­place, free Wi-Fi, it’s a cosily rus­tic place to spend the night. Al­ter­na­tively, if overnight­ing’s not on the cards, it’s a great shel­ter for a cuppa and a pasty.

The high ter­rain link­ing Fleetwith Pike to Haystacks is part of the enor­mous plateau of un­du­lat­ing fell that flows west from the twin sum­mits of Grey Knotts and Bran­dreth. While th­ese may be the higher peaks, they lack the char­ac­ter of Fleetwith Pike or Haystacks. The el­e­vated ground con­nect­ing them all holds a lot of water. Much of it es­capes via the vein-like net­work of streams, in­clud­ing the of­ten churn­ing Warn­scale Beck that flows past the bothy. But some of it is held cap­tive – for a while at least – in the tarns that pat­tern th­ese

fells. Black­beck Tarn is the first en­coun­tered on the way to Haystacks, jeal­ously hold­ing on to its aque­ous con­tents be­fore re­leas­ing them to pour down Black Beck on their way to join But­ter­mere. High above its western shore a perched boul­der sits im­plau­si­bly on an airy plinth. Whether a glacial er­ratic, the re­sult of cu­mu­la­tive weather­ing and freeze-thaw cy­cles, or del­i­cately po­si­tioned by a Zen gi­ant with a pen­chant for feng shui, it’s an in­ter­est­ing dec­o­ra­tive ad­di­tion. But it’s not enough to hand Black­beck the ti­tle of ‘Most Idyl­lic Tarn’ in th­ese parts. That ac­co­lade goes to an­other.

Lake­land’s favourite en­thu­si­ast, Al­fred Wain­wright, spent much of his life ex­plor­ing, chart­ing, and writ­ing about ev­ery cor­ner of the fells. But when his pipe even­tu­ally went out – lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively – it was In­nom­i­nate Tarn that he re­quested be his fi­nal rest­ing place. ‘In­nom­i­nate’ means ‘un­named’ – mak­ing it either a wryly ironic or grossly in­ac­cu­rate mon­icker for a tarn that had a pre­vi­ous name – Loaf Tarn – be­fore it was deemed name­less. Ti­tle in­con­sis­ten­cies aside, there’s some­thing vaguely mag­i­cal about it. Other lakes around Bri­tain may lay claim to Arthurian leg­end and tales of myth­i­cal beasts, but if fairies ex­ist you’ll find them here. When it’s still, the glass-like water re­flects the sur­round­ing fells, pre­sent­ing their


mir­ror im­age in a frame of rocks and reeds. When rip­ples are ruf­fled into life by the wind and the clouds roll steel-grey over­head, what In­nom­i­nate Tarn loses in tran­quil­lity it gains in drama. Un­usu­ally the sum­mit of Haystacks gives space to an­other small pool not large enough to jus­tify a name of its own; a gen­uinely in­nom­i­nate tarn­let, if you like. Sur­rounded by ridges of rock and el­e­vated above the par­al­lel val­leys of Thirlmere and But­ter­mere, its lo­ca­tion gives it far more im­pact than its mod­est pro­por­tions might oth­er­wise de­serve.

Un­for­tu­nately, all good jour­neys must have their home stretch, and the des­cent from Haystacks marks the be­gin­ning of the end of this one. But it’s not over yet. The climb down to Scarth Gap, the pass slung be­tween Haystacks and its neigh­bour Seat, is just that – a climb. Or at least a clam­ber. In as­cent it would be a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward scram­ble, po­ten­tially scrap­ing into the lower realms of grade 1 ter­ri­tory. As with all scram­bles, it’s slightly more awk­ward on the way down, and one worth tak­ing steady – re­mem­ber Fanny Mercer?

The path from Scarth Gap across the flank of But­ter­mere Fell pro­vides both more views down the length of the val­ley and an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire Fleetwith Edge in pro­file. And it looks great. So much so that, once down from the moun­tains, crossing Warn­scale Bot­tom and head­ing back to Gates­garth Farm, it’s tempt­ing to start the jour­ney anew. Maybe not right away, but some other day. Be­cause, all clumsy an­tique com­par­isons aside, col­lect­ing a pair of clas­sic fells will never go out of fash­ion.

“All I ask for, at the end, is a last long rest­ing place by the side of In­nom­i­nate Tarn, on Haystacks, where the water gen­tly laps the grav­elly shore and the heather blooms and Pil­lar and Gable keep un­fail­ing watch… And if you, dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with re­spect. It might be me.” Al­fred Wain­wright Me­moirs of a Fell­wan­derer

Fleetwith Edge plunges into the val­ley, di­rect­ing the eye over But­ter­mere and Crum­mock Water be­yond. Lake Dis­trict views don’t get much bet­ter than this.

Left: the me­mo­rial to Fanny Mercer – an un­for­tu­nate vic­tim of Fleetwith Edge.

Haul­ing up Fleetwith Pike with Haystacks cast­ing long shad­ows be­hind.

Warn­scale Head bothy; re­as­sur­ingly rus­tic, both in­side and out.

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