Buttermere is a tiny Lake District lake tucked between tall peaks that provide some of the best scenery in the Lake District. The area offers itself up to a whole lot of walking, from easy, relatively flat routes, to craggy mountain hikes.
One of Alfred Wainright’s favourites, Buttermere, sits next to Crummock Water, with just a narrow strip of land between them. In fact, these two lakes used to be one much larger body of water. A village of the same name includes a scattering of pretty houses, a tiny church with big views, two pubs, an ice cream parlour and a cafe. It’s no wonder it’s so popular.
You can be right on the doorstep of all these amazing walks at one of our self-catering cottages in Buttermere.
Note: Buttermere can get very busy, particularly during school and public holidays. Please remember to only park in designated areas and to keep the sides of roads and passing places clear so that emergency and farm vehicles can get by if needed. You can find out how busy car parks currently are on the national park website.
These descriptions serve as brief overviews only. You should always know your route in detail before setting out, check the weather, and make sure you have suitable equipment and refreshments.
1. Round the Lake
Distance: 4.5 miles, circular walk
The circuit of the lake is really beautiful and understandably popular. If you really want to escape the crowds, get up at the crack of dawn and enjoy the peace and tranquillity. You may even be able to watch the sun as it rises over the skyline of Littledale Edge and Dale Head. Take your time, stop and enjoy the quiet and watch out for elusive otters on the banks of the lake, red squirrels and deer in the woods or even a fox or a badger on their way home from a night out!
The walk around the lake starts by The Fish Inn, once home to the beauty of Buttermere, and the preferred route is anti-clockwise. It takes in gently undulating paths, woodland walks, and even a quirky stone tunnel carved right through a cliff face. Watch out for the friendly Highland cows that can be often seen in the area.
Find out more about this route.
2. High Stile Range: Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag
Distance: 8.5 miles, circular
Ascent: 2,800 feet
This is a favourite high-level walk in the Lake District amongst locals. The views are expansive and the walking fairly easy once you have gained the height of the ridge. A preferred route is via Red Pike, with a descent to Scarth Gap Pass via Gamlin End. Once a difficult, scree-filled route, there are now nice rock steps to help you make your way downhill. The walk covers a good distance and height, so it’s a full day’s hike and suited for more experienced walkers.
Once you have reached the top of Red Pike, the views are expansive. The walk up to High Crag isn’t as tough as it looks either, and the views from here almost make you giddy.
One point of interest on the way is the fence posts. These iron posts are all that remains after the rest of the fences were cut down and used in the war effort during WWII.
3. Rannerdale Knotts
Distance: 3 miles, circular
Ascent: 1,160 feet
This beautiful walk is a favourite of everyone who does it. The carpet of bluebells in May is a sight to behold against brilliant blue skies and the craggy outline of the fell.
A path from the small National Trust parking area will take you into the small valley and a modest walk to the ridge will reward you grandly for your efforts. Once on the broad summit ridge, continue right to the end. From here, you get an amazing vista that includes Buttermere, Crummock Water (directly below you) and Loweswater. You can also enjoy the panorama of fells from Fleetwith Pike all the way round to Mellbreak, with glimpses of the Irish Sea in the far distance.
Once you’ve had your fill of the outlook, and maybe munched on a sandwich or two, you can carefully descend the front of Rannerdale Knotts (which is quite steep in places) or simply retrace your steps for an equally lovely walk gradually downhill in the opposite direction.
4. Rannerdale Valley
If you’d like to explore hidden Rannerdale without the uphill hike of Rannerdale Knotts, then there’s also a short, pleasant walk in the valley.
Though pretty and tranquil at any time of the year, May is the best time to visit, as the valley becomes a blaze of bluebells in the spring. The beauty covers up a bloody history though: it is said that the valley folk lay in wait for Norman invaders in the 11th or 12th century and ambushed them, winning the battle. Legend has it that the slain invaders were left where they fell and that is why the bluebells grow so profusely and unusually in this little corner of the Western Lake District.
Tall tales aside, the walk takes you through well-defined meandering paths between the bluebells, along a merrily trickling stream, over wooden bridges, and up a (very small) elevation. You can wander to your heart’s content before heading back to your car or cottage. Remember, though, not to trample the flowers!
Distance: 5 miles, circular
Ascent: 1,970 feet
Alfred Wainwright loved the walk up Haystacks. It’s well documented as his favourite hike and his ashes were scattered at Innominate Tarn at the top. Start at Gatesgarth Car Park, and find the loose-stone path just to the south-east of the farm buildings. You’ll be able to spot Haystacks ahead of you thanks to the lumpy formation of its peak that gives the mountain its name.
Head uphill along a winding path to the north of the river and follow the route to the right along the top of the mountain. Keep an eye out for the bothy, remnants of the area’s mining history, and a couple of tarns along your way. There are plenty of places to stop for a rest and enjoy a view, too, so give yourself enough time to appreciate the sights! The way down is more gradual than the ascent, though still relatively steep, and will bring you back round to Gatesgarth Farm and the car park.
The route is a relatively straightforward mountain hike, though does include some steep sections and a bit of scrambling.
6. Sourmilk Ghyll and Bleaberry Tarn
Distance: 3.1 miles return, linear
Ascent: 1,330 feet
The route up to Bleaberry Tarn is particularly popular as the start of the longer journey to Red Pike. However, you can also stop at the tarn for a shorter option.
Start as if you were going to walk around the lake, passing The Fish Inn and following the wide path until you reach the edge of the lake. Continue right up to a wooden bridge over the fabulously named Sourmilk Ghyll. Once here, instead of following the path along the lakeshore, turn right and head uphill. You’ll continue quite steeply through the woodland and beyond until you once again meet the ghyll - and a series of waterfalls - and the path starts to level out. Here you’ll see Crummock Water sneak into view.
The flatter part of this walk can get a bit boggy, particularly in wet weather, so make sure you’re wearing a good pair of boots. At the tarn, you can rest your weary legs and perhaps dip your feet in the water to cool off. Retrace your footsteps to get back down again.
Even though the distance covered is relatively short, do give yourself plenty of time to tackle the steep sections.
7. Fleetwith Pike
Distance: 4.6 miles, circular
Ascent: 1,930 feet
Fleetwith Pike, along with Haystacks, forms a significant part of the iconic view from Buttermere. It rises sharply from near the water and stands proud amongst a spectacular collection of fells.
From Gatesgarth Car Park, head south east along the road until you reach the path that immediately starts its ascent up the pike. Follow this steep and challenging route, noting Fanny Mercer’s memorial on your way. This marks the place a young, inexperienced walker fell and lost her life and serves as a reminder to hikers to always be alert. With this in mind, and your wits about you, continue all the way up to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with absolutely spectacular views of the lakes and mountains
The route continues past remnants of old mining activity (you can learn more about this at nearby Honister Slate Mine) and generally in the direction of Haystacks. Before you get that far, though, you’ll start your descent into Warnscale Bottom, where you finish your walk on a much easier path that returns to the car park.
An alternative – and shorter - route up Fleetwith Pike starts from parking at the top of Honister Pass. Read more about it here.
8. Get the bus to Braithwaite
From Easter, the Rambler bus service runs between Keswick and Buttermere via Whinlatter and Honister. It's great for linear walks - it feels great knowing you can walk and walk without needing to worry about getting back to the car.
You could take the bus from Buttermere to the village of Braithwaite and make your way up Grisedale Pike. From the summit, a plethora of choices are open to you. The ridge from Grisedale Pike to Whiteside rolls out in front of you heading west, Eel Crag sits across Coledale Hause with Grasmoor too, or the interesting path along Gasgale Gill.
The route back to Buttermere via Hopegill Head is an airy and undulating ridge walk with an excellent path all the way along.
Buttermere offers some of the best mountain walking in this area of the Lake District, as well as some much easier routes, so there’s something to suit everyone! Find your perfect holiday cottage in Buttermere and start planning your visit.
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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.