Walking the Birketts, High Stile And The Buttermere Edge

23rd February 2019

After a weekend away I'm back on the Lakeland fells today retracing Birketts traverse of the High Stile ridge, a route that I haven't been back to for over twelve months. I'm out in force today while being joined by not just David and Rod but Tim and his twelve year old son James. The weather has been widely spoke about this last week with unseasonal warm air not just over the North West but over most of the UK too, with this it would seem that Spring has come early but there's a part of me that still thinks we're gonna get more snow before Winter is finally over.

Todays walk takes in one of the best ridge walks that Lakeland has to offer, a classic traverse of the High Stile ridge starting where else than Gatescarth Farm, this particular route can also be enjoyed from the village of Buttermere, in fact most walkers I presume would prefer it that way including myself which offers the best views not forgetting to mention the ascents and descents but today who are we to argue, we are merely following in one mans great footsteps.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

-Seat Climb towards the right up steep scree to find the summit cairn of Seat, where a tiny tarn exists in the hollow beyond.


Ascent: 2,929 Feet - 893 Metres
Birketts: 5, Seat - High Crag - High Stile - Red Pike - Dodd
Visiting: Grey Crag (High Stile)
Weather: A Bright Start Turning Overcast, Strong Winds Over The Summits, Feeling Very Mild In The Valleys. Highs of 14°C Lows of 9°C
Parking: Roadside Parking, Bottom of Honister Pass
Area - Group: Western - W/HIG
Miles: 7
Walking With: David Hall, Rod Hepplewhite, Tim Oxburgh, James Oxburgh & Pearl The Dog
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 5 Hours 45 Minutes
Route: Gatescarth - Peggy's Bridge - Scarth Gap Pass - Seat - Gamlin End - High Crag - High Stile - Red Pike - Dodd - Bleaberry Tarn - Sourmilk Gill - Above Burtness Wood - Horse Close - Buttermere Shore Path - Peggy's Bridge - Gatescarth

Parking Details and Map for Roadside Parking, Bottom of Honistor Pass
Nearest Post Code: CA13 9XA
Grid Reference: NY 199 148
Notes: There is off road parking around four hundred yards prior to reaching Gatescarth, these spaces are on the right (if travelling down Honister Pass) where up to four cars can park comfortably. Parking is free.


Map and Photo Gallery


High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike (Buttermere) 08:40am 9°C

We had all agreed to meet at 09:00am based upon the distance and time involved to reach Gatescarth (Buttermere). I arrived after David at the off road parking just under half a mile from Gatescarth soon followed by Rod who was showing off his very tasty new Nissan Qashqai. The off road parking is only wide enough for four well parked cars and with one car already there when David arrived we were now left scratching our heads on where Tim was going to park until we had the genius idea to park end to end thus blocking each other in, this now left enough space for Tim who arrived shortly afterwards.

It's a mild morning with clearing blue skies although it was forecast to cloud over later in the afternoon with high winds predicted over the summits, the latter I might add was confirmed well before any summit was reached. With the cars locked we strode out towards Gatescarth within the mighty shadow of Fleethwith Edge while I explained to young James today's route.

The troops heading through Gatescarth.

Haystacks as we approach Peggy's Bridge.
After passing through a busy Gatescarth we were no sooner heading towards Peggy's Bridge from which the steady ascent on Haystacks begins. If we thought it was mild within the depths of Fleethwith Pike's shade we are now being treated to warm Spring like sunshine causing hats and gloves to be removed shortly followed by soft shell jackets.

The view back over Buttermere towards a distant Grasmoor, High Snockrigg and Goat Crag.
From the start of Scarth Gap Pass we had just been overtaken by two climbers one of whom had a long rope coiled over one shoulder, we figured they might be heading towards the Eagle Crag above Burtness Comb or even Pillar Rock in Ennerdale, we were soon to be proven wrong.

Shafts of light penetrate through the thickening haze over Warnscale Bottom.
Seeing the shafts of light spill over the top of Haystacks were a real highlight of the ascent, at this altitude we were too low to see the sun just yet but as height was gained the sunlight grew stronger and the light burst intensified.

Young mountain pioneer James Oxburgh.
Along with James's stick which I might add remained with him for the duration of the walk...oh to be a boy again.

There she goes.
Haystacks in all her majestic glory.

Looking back on Gamlin End (High Crag) from the ascent of Haystacks
Soon the profile of High Crag and Gamlin End came into view and although no one spoke of it just yet each of us were no doubt dreading that painfully steep ascent.

High Crag and Gamlin End from Seat summit.

By the time we'd reached the top of Scarth Gap Pass we were starting to feel the affects of how gusty it was once the shelter of the pass was left behind and while for now we were pleased with the coolness that the wind provided we somehow knew we were going to be in for a rough ride. From the top of the pass we started the steep yet short ascent on Seat, todays first summit of the day. Again the path kept us away from the gust but once the summit was gained that coolness turned to windchill causing long sleeves rolled down instantly.

Despite by-passing Seat on several occasions I'd never taken the time to visit its summit which lay a few strolls westwards from which you do get a grand view over the Ennerdale valley although this morning the haze was so thick the likes of the Gables and Pillar appeared as silhouettes in the distance which was a shame but still spectacular to see, despite distant fells being hampered with haze, near visibility was almost perfect, and dare I say it, improving by the minute.

Looking back on Haystacks from Seat.

High Crag and Gamlin End from Seat summit.
Ok, time to rejoin the path while mentally preparing for perhaps, one of the steepest ascents in the district.

The rest of the gang head out while David and I stop for a natter.
No doubt attempting to put off the inevitable !!

A favourite view of mine, Haystacks, Seat Grey Knotts, Brandreth, the Gables and Kirk Fell from Gamlin End.

While Rod, Tim and James took on the ascent head on David and I held back slightly if only to give the war wounds (we both suffer from plantar fasciitis) which indeed gave us time to continue nattering sometimes stopping for conversation while the rest of the group continued up ahead, despite this we all found that we'd made the ascent in under twenty three minutes, young James, much less.

Well done that man.

From the summit of High Crag we gaze back through the haze.
To see the magnificent profiles of the Gables, Broad Crag, The Scafells and Kirk Fell.

High Stile from High Crag summit.
By the time David and I had gained the summit the rest of the group had been waiting for us patiently in what was now a severe windchill, despite this spirits remained high and over the wind we spoke of how good our clarity was despite haze hampering distant views around us.

High Stile seen over Burtness Comb.

By now the winds were blowing a right hooley across the ridge and on one occasion we were all caught by a sudden gust which caused us all to side step towards the right, this was all it took for us to take a few steps further left into the ridge whilst checking everyone was ok, particularly James who over the wind shouted it was the strongest wind he had ever experienced, not just you James, I think we could all vouch for that.

With this we continued and while we were crossing the ridge Tim for good measure, put Pearl's lead back on.

The High Stile ridge.

Peering down into Burtness Comb with Eagle Crag and Grey Crag up ahead.

Looking back across the ridge towards High Crag.
It was a mostly silent crossing we simply couldn't hear ourselves speak over the roar of the wind which also had an affect of the lack of views into Burtness Comb as non of us were brave enough to get too close to the edge, on nearing the end of the ridge however, David spotted the two climbers who had passed us earlier who were now making an ascent on the buttress below Grey Crag (High Crag)

Climbers on Grey Crag (High Crag)
We could only presume that Burtness Comb was pretty well protected from the high winds.

High Stile summit from Grey Crag summit cairn.
High Stile's summit shoulder gave us momentarily protection from the winds and conversation soon returned, it was good to see that spirits were still incredibly high so we decided to have a wander to the east cairn and take in an uninterrupted view of Crummock Water.

Red Pike (Buttermere) Dodd and Bleaberry Tarn from High Stile.
With Mellbreak and the Loweswater Fells beyond.

The view over Rannerdale Knotts towards a hazy Grasmoor and Wandope.
With the Lad Howes ridge seen centre right.

High Stile, Bleaberry Crags and Red Pike (Buttermere)
Taken as we head towards the east cairn.

Descending High Stile for Red Pike (Buttermere)
We had gained High Stile finding two walkers perched at the summit and two more heading for the High Stile ridge and over the wind, hi's were exchanged. By the time we were back at the summit cairn we had the place to ourselves noting that it appeared to be clouding over from the west and soon that Spring sunshine was about to vanish and with it, a sudden drop in temperature.

Just a boy on a mountain, his dog and his stick.
James was only two years old when his Dad and I first met and although I have heard so much about James and his brothers and sisters this is only the second time we have met, I do hope that todays adventure will spur James on to become a regular fell walker/runner just like his dad.

Looking back along the remainder of the ridge towards High Stile.
With Chapel Crag in the foreground.

Arriving at Red Pike summit.
Any warmth from a lingering sun had long gone as the high level cloud dims the fells in low light. Red Pike was quite busy with walkers leaving and more arriving via the Bleaberry Tarn path, haze was still hampering views not helped by the low light as we walked over to the edge of the summit and gazed down on todays last summit, Dodd.

Meanwhile in the other direction, Lingcomb Edge, Mellbreak, Crummock Water and Grasmoor.

Descending Red Pike (Buttermere) for Dodd.
It was very rare for any of us to descend this path as more often than not it is used in ascent mostly, with that said care had to be taken during the descent of a rock groove followed by loose gravel underfoot, it's fair to say we all spoke about "how we had forgotton" how steep the path was.

Grasmoor from Dodd summit cairn.
Dodd was easily gained not before experiencing a slight burn in my thighs but this was soon forgotten once the cairn was reached. much like the east cairn on High Stile Dodd also occupies a commanding view over Crummock Water but the haze was so thick I don't think I bothered to take my camera out. Oh well, hey ho lets go.

Descending Red Pike/Dodd for Bleaberry Tarn.
Oh look the sun has come back out!! That means it must be time for lunch.

Lunch with a view.
Taken while sheltering from the wind behind the stone wall.

Descending Red Pike with a view of Buttermere.
That's Burtness Wood in the foreground, today we won't descend all the way to Buttermere, instead we will follow Birketts footsteps and follow the fence line / stone wall to the right of the woods, I must admit, not everyone including myself understood why Birkett would follow this old sheep trod with no view of the lake to end the walk by.

The drunken sty.
Found at the head of Horse Close. After a somewhat awkward traverse alongside the fence line we finally reached the sty above Horse Close which lifted spirits finding it tilted to one side Rod names it the drunken sty which was easy, getting over it was the hard part!

A view into Warnscale Bottom with Warnscale Beck in the foreground and Haystacks over on the right.
We descended Horse Close under the watchful eye of around half a dozen walkers on the path below and once the path reached walked against the grain towards Peggy's Bridge. By now young James had slowed down a little so to perk James up we all told him how proud we were of him and not to worry because our feet were aching too.


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