We’d reserved a walk along the seven-kilometre circuit of Buttermere for a day on which we wouldn’t be able to ascend one of the Lake District fells. We’d first walked here in 2018 and we’d enjoyed the gently undulating path, the mix of oak and larch trees, the views to High Stile and High Crag from the starting point and to Warnscale Beck, Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks along the outward walk.
We knew that the weather wouldn’t be great during our time in the area. The tail-end of a hurricane in central America had promised to make its way across the Atlantic and lash Britain with rain and wind. Lash it did.
Although the gently undulating walk is protected by trees along the longer sides of the mere, the wind was whipping the water into small white-capped crests and ensuring that the rain got underneath the overhanging foliage. Although Alfred Wainwright once said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”, his dictum was put to the test. We stopped for a warming lunch in The Bridge Hotel before waterproofing ourselves and heading out into the rain.
We quickly saw how wet the valley was when we realised how much water was coming down Sourmilk Gill and Comb Beck. By the time we’d dodged large puddles along the sodden path and reached the head of the lake near Warnscale Bottom, we had to brace ourselves for the unsheltered section of farm track across to the eastern shore at Gatesgarth Farm.
The little bridge across Warnscale Beck is usually well clear of the water, but was only just passable today. The flow of water pouring down from Haystacks, Green Crag and Fleetwith Pike was considerable and the grazing land to either side of the bridge was well-saturated. We had to find the shallowest piece of the flood across the path, step quickly, and hang on to the fence and a walking pole for reassurance.
Just as I’d avoided filling my boots with water, a big sustained gust of wind whipped up the water behind me and it felt as though I’d angered the mountain gods by being so light-footed. But the wind subsided as quickly as it had risen and we were on our way again. Meeting a less-well-outfitted couple walking in the opposite direction, we warned them of the challenge ahead before turning into the wind and heading along the short section of road to Hassness.
Once amongst the comparative shelter of the lakeside oak trees, we stopped to take a couple of photos through the grey, driving wind and visible waves of rain, then began the last section of the walk. Impervious Herdwick sheep watched us pass and a honking flock of geese took to the water with some indignation, paddling hard against the wind. As we walked, I was reminded that I should return with my camera in better conditions, as this shore of the lake is notably picturesque. Oak trees touch the water’s edge, with vivid green trunks and mossy hillocks pushed up by the roots.
As it was, I satisfied myself with a stark, almost monochromatic shot of the twiggy “Buttermere Tree” made famous by many landscape photographers down the years, before we returned to the village, found the café closed and our access to cake denied, and so splashed our way back to Keswick.
One day, we’ll get to do this walk in better weather, I’m sure.