This walk in­cludes some of the Lake Dis­trict’s most beau­ti­ful trees and forests, where myth and leg­end tan­gle with the splayed limbs of Scots pines and the golden nee­dles of larches, says Christopher Rid­out

Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out - 5 WRITHING OAKS

Vik­ings set­tled in Cum­bria in the 9th and 10th cen­turies, and it is thought that the word But­ter­mere de­rived from their de­scen­dants led by a Norse chief­tain called Buthar, who led a cam­paign of re­sis­tance against the Nor­mans af­ter 1066. In the Lake Dis­trict, the in­flu­ence of these Scan­di­na­vians can be heard in the lan­guage of the land: streams are becks, ravines are gills, val­leys are dales and moun­tains are fells.

A charis­matic line of trees, known as the But­ter­mere Pines, bor­ders the south side of the lake. They may not have been planted to re­pel an at­tack from an in­vad­ing army, but it seems likely they were grown to pro­tect dwellings at the end

of But­ter­mere from wind. The pines now draw peo­ple armed with cam­eras rather than clubs and cross­bows, mak­ing them the most pho­tographed trees in the Lake Dis­trict.

Henry David Thoreau wrote of tramp­ing eight or 10 miles to “keep an ap­point­ment with a beech tree, a yel­low birch or an old ac­quain­tance among the pines”. Here in the Lakes, vis­i­tors can do the same with a walk of about eight miles, first climb­ing to the crest of Ran­nerdale

Knotts be­fore re­turn­ing via the iconic But­ter­mere Pines.


From the bot­tom of the But­ter­mere vil­lage car park, be­hind The Fish Inn, take the path be­side a brook op­po­site Syke Farm Camp­site. Stay with the wa­ter­way through a field and, when you reach a small foot­bridge on your right, turn left and fol­low an­other track across the field to Nether How Wood. The path skirts the edge of the trees, soon emerg­ing be­side Crum­mock Wa­ter.

To your right you can see Ran­nerdale Knotts, and to your left, run­ning al­most the en­tire length of Crum­mock, is Mell­break. Like most of the other fells around the lake, this small, iso­lated hill is formed of Skid­daw slate.


Fol­low the lakeshore path to the right of Nether How Wood and up to the road. Cross over to join the bri­dle­way, hug­ging the side of Ran­nerdale Knotts. Af­ter 500m, take the slightly steeper and more sub­stan­tial track to the right, as­cend­ing to reach a gully. Look for some steps on your right among crags and scree; climb these, then fol­low the path to the top of Ran­nerdale Knotts (355m).

On a clear day, you can see be­yond Crum­mock Wa­ter to Loweswa­ter, loung­ing in a val­ley basin to­wards the hori­zon line. There are also great views over But­ter­mere and the fells be­yond.


Fol­low the path south-west along the ridge. It is thought that the small val­ley to the left was used by the Norse­men of But­ter­mere to am­bush the in­vad­ing Nor­mans.

When the path splits, take the track to the right, drop­ping down­hill un­til you reach the road. Turn left and fol­low it for 200m, pass­ing the Bridge Ho­tel be­fore ris­ing on the main road to visit Church of St James.


The church stands proudly on a small promon­tory above the road, seem­ingly en­larg­ing its diminu­tive stature. It is made of red gran­ite from Sour­milk Gill, which tum­bles down the moun­tain­side on the op­po­site side of the val­ley. Inside the church, set into a win­dowsill over­look­ing Haystacks, is a me­mo­rial to Al­fred Wain­wright, whose ashes were scat­tered upon that fell.

Re­turn down the hill and take the bri­dle­way on the left past Syke Farm Tea Room.


While some be­lieve that the name But­ter­mere evolved from the Buthar leg­end, oth­ers sug­gest that it sim­ply means the ‘lake by the dairy pas­tures’. Take a break in the tea­room for a chance to sam­ple the wares of these dairy pas­tures – their home­made ice cream comes from the cat­tle that graze here – then pass through the farm and cross a field, tak­ing a bri­dle­way to the right down to the lake shore. Once you reach the lake, stick with the main path to en­ter a thicket of slen­der oaks. Like the meta­mor­phosed women of Ro­man mythol­ogy, the trees rise from a mossy car­pet, writhing af­ter be­com­ing en­trapped by the spells of a god, their toes curl­ing around rock and be­com­ing roots, their arms and stream­ing hair caught in a pet­ri­fied canopy of twigs and branches as they reach for the sky in an act of sup­pli­ance.

The path drops to the edge of the lake, en­ter­ing a beech, alder and larch wood­land, then passes through a tun­nel hewn through the rock. The pas­sage was cut for a pre­vi­ous owner of nearby Hass­ness House who wanted an un­in­ter­rupted walk around the lake, and would have pro­vided his work­ers with some­thing to do in the long win­ter months.

As the path leaves the trees, ig­nore a turn­ing to the left and con­tinue to hug the shore­line. Soon you round a head­land for su­perb views of the But­ter­mere Pines. Be­hind them, Fleet Pike ap­pears to have risen from the wa­ter, drag­ging it­self into be­ing from the depths of the lake. The val­ley was ac­tu­ally formed 12,000 years ago dur­ing the last Ice Age, as glaciers slid to­wards the Sol­way Forth.

The rib­bon lakes of Crum­mock and But­ter­mere

sur­faced as one long lake but, with time, de­bris brought down from the fells by becks and gills di­vided the wa­ter in two. The lakes are now home to Arc­tic charr, one of just a few places in Eng­land where these ‘rem­nants of the Ice Age’ can be found.


Stick to the lake’s edge, ig­nor­ing the main track as it heads across a field, and take the small path on the right to pass be­side some birch trees. When this path joins the road, take a right, soon pass­ing the But­ter­mere Pines. These tow­er­ing, um­brella-canopied trees are Scots pines, the only species of pine na­tive to the UK. Con­tinue on the road to

Gates­garth Farm, then turn right on to the bri­dle­way.

Fol­low the bri­dle­way over a bridge, then veer right shortly af­ter, once again hug­ging the lake. The trail passes a patch of larch known as Horse Close. Up to the left, Comb Beck plum­mets as a series of wa­ter­falls from the im­mense but­tresses of High Crag and High Stile.


Stay on the track clos­est to the lake, soon en­ter­ing mixed­pine wood­land. Af­ter about a mile, take a right across a stone bridge and fol­low the track across a field. The path veers to the left, leav­ing the lake be­hind on a well-graded trail back to the vil­lage and the car park.

Haystacks and its neigh­bour­ing fells rise high above the But­ter­mere val­ley, a flat-based rift in the north-western reaches of the Lake Dis­trict Na­tional Park and home to the iconic But­ter­mere Pines

Hass­ness House sits among gilded tree canopies on the shores of But­ter­mere. The coun­try house, now owned by Ram­blers World­wide Hol­i­days, of­fers an ideal base for ex­plor­ing the sur­round­ing moun­tains and lake

Christopher Rid­out has spent the past five months walk­ing and writ­ing in the Lakes.

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