Walking the Birketts, Buttermere Horseshoe

7th September 2019

With a bright weekend forecasted today I find myself in Gatescarth just outside Buttermere to follow round of the Buttermere Horseshoe, this version of the walk doesn't take in the full valley of Buttermere but it does traverse the head of the valley where a day full of variety awaits.

If I'm truthful I kinda under estimated this walk which doesn't cover much in the way of miles but the route it does require quite a bit of 'off the path' walking ascending and descending sometimes steep boggy ground which I wouldn't recommend in bad weather, there is of course no exposure along these 'off path' sections but I would imagine the area between Grey Knotts, Brandreth and Black Beck Tarn can look confusing to the untrained eye when the cloud is down.

I was lucky with the forecast which enabled me to take full advantage of the long distance views over the Buttermere, Ennerdale and Borrowdale valleys which are among some of the best the Lake District has to offer but in order to gain these views you've gotta climb the very steep Fleetwith Edge first, from which are worth every step.

The Complete Lakeland Fells
By Bill Birkett

-Honister Pass

This is a pass of great drama, frowned upon by Fleetwith Pike's most severe face.


Ascent: 2,790 Feet - 850 Metres
Birketts: 5, Fleetwith Pike - Black Star (Honister Crag) - Grey Knotts - Brandreth - Haystacks
Weather: Intermittent Sunshine To Start Turning Warm Bright & Sunny Throughout. Highs of 17°C Lows of 9°C
Parking: Car Park, Gatescarth, Buttermere
Area - Group: Western - W/GRG
Miles: 6.5
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 5 Hours
Route: Gatescarth - Fleetwith Edge - Fleetwith Pike - Black Star (Honister Crag) - Drum House - Grey Knotts - Brandreth - Great Round How - Black Beck Tarn - Innominate Tarn - Haystacks - Top of Scarth Gap Pass - Peggys Bridge - Gatescarth

Parking Details and Map
Nearest Post Code: CA13 9XA
Grid Reference: NY 195 014
Notes: Situated at the bottom of Honister Pass Gatescarth car par backs on to Gatesgarthdale Beck and can fill up quickly due to its relative small size. The car park is perfect for wanders around Buttermere Lake or the surrounding summits of Fleetwith Pike and the very popular Haystacks. There are no permanent refreshments but an Ice Cream Van is often found opposite the car park no matter the season. Gatescarth is a Pay and Display and charges apply.


Map and Photo Gallery


The view over Derwent Water from Ashness Jetty.
I can't drive through Borrowdale without stopping at Ashness Jetty for a quick picture, there was already a large group of young lads standing at the end of the jetty when I arrived who asked me to take their photo from one of their mobile phones after which they left and I had the place to myself, it was so peaceful this morning.

Bob Graham Memorial Cairn, Ashness Bridge.

Tim had sent me an image of the Bob Graham memorial cairn this week after he'd ran a circuit of Derwent Water.



In memory of Bob Graham, Fell Runner.

Who ran 42 Lakeland peaks under 24 hours which since been turned into one of Lakelands most grueling endurance racing and still highly popular to this day.

The cairn can be found about 200 yards down from Ashness Bridge although during the height of Summer you may have to search like I did owing to the bracken being high, this would have been one of Bob Graham's favourite spots in Lakeland.

Fleetwith Pike from Gatescarth, Buttermere 07:45am 9°C
I left Ashness Bridge and drove through Borrowdale over the Honister Pass before arriving at Gatescarth just gone 07:30am. It's a mild morning just below 10°C so after swearing I wouldn't wear shorts after my Helvellyn walk two days ago this morning I'm wearing shorts again complemented by my micro thin Rab windproof which is just too good at keeping the heat in and the wind out, it doesn't last long before I'm delayering but for now it gets added. With new arrivals arriving by the minute and after emptying £4.00 into the parking meter I started to walk back up Honister Pass towards the bottom of Fleetwith Edge.

Passing Gatescarth Cottage.
Found close to the entrance to the car park.

The Fanny Mercer Memorial Cross found on Low Raven Crag close to the base of the ridge.

Fanny Mercer wasn't an accomplished walker and grew up in Rugby. Aged just 18 a servant of Rev P. Bowden Smith. Fanny accidently died here when her staff jammed against a crag, throwing her to her death on 8th September 1887.

Extensive views over Buttermere and Crummock Water with High Stile, Red Pike (Buttermere) and Mellbreak.
The path at the base of the ridge was easily located just below the Fanny Mercer memorial cross and ascends Low and High Raven Crag (s) along the Honister flank of the ridge, I could see across the Pass towards Dale Head whose summit was still below cloud as was much of Hindscarth Edge but the cloud was lifting quickly as forecasted. The ridge plateaus slightly at the top of High Raven Crag where I de-layer and let the morning breeze cool me down.

A similar view only this time High Crag and Burtness Comb come into view.
Swirling cloud over High Stile summit which doesn't linger for any length of time.

The view over Warnscale Bottom towards the top of Scarthgap Pass.
With Haystacks over on the left, High Seat right and Pillar beyond.

Fleetwith Pike from Fleetwith Edge.
This was the first real view I had looking along Fleetwith Pike towards the summit, with much of the ridge being taken up by rocky knolls or false summits which must be ascended before the view of the ridge can be appreciated...gulp! The cloud swirling around the summit crags was lovely to see and spurred me on in my ascent.

Absorbing the view while looking back down on Fleetwith Edge.
It's still early and the clouds are still deciding what to do but at least there's lots of blue sky about in between.


The higher I climb the better the view gets.
Here looking towards High Snockrigg, Grasmoor, Rannerdale Knotts, Crummock Water and Mellbreak with the Loweswater Fells appearing in the distance.

The light is changing minute by minute.

Nearing the summit taking in the view over Grasmoor.
The last part of the ascent gets craggier just below the summit where 'hands on' ascent isn't required but it's worth paying attention to your next few steps before taking them.

The High Stile Ridge from Fleetwith Pike summit.
From the summit shoulder the top of the viewing cairn was sighted and all that was left was a short grassy stroll towards the summit. It was lovely and bright with a slight summit wind in the air which helped to keep body temperature down, it looks like it's turning into a lovely fell walking day.

Great Gable and Kirk Fell from Fleetwith Pike summit.

I've been joined by a chap and a young American couple who have ascended from the top of Honister Pass, the young American couple are intrigued by the view, more so that they can see all the way to Scotland such the clear view "Long day he asked" nah I replied "I'm heading to Haystacks via Grey Knotts and Brandreth" Stood here on Fleetwith Pike summit my day didn't appear long but I'm going to be eating those words later!

We bid each other to "enjoy the rest of your day" before I set off towards todays second summit of Black Star (Honister Crag) found on the East flank of the summit over looking the Honister Pass.

Yewcrag Quarries and the top of Honister Pass from Black Star (Honister Crag)
I left Fleetwith Pike as it started to cloud over which is extending all the way through to Borrowdale and as far East as the Helvellyn range. The mixed light however, turned the scree blue along the steep flanks of Dale Head just below the quarries while further north the Buttermere and Grasmoor Fells remain unaffected.

Littledale Edge, Robinson, High Snockrigg, Grassmoor, Rannerdale Knotts and Mellbreak from Black Star (Honister Crag)
After a few minutes spent on Black Star it was time to head towards todays third summit in Grey Knotts so I leave Black Star and follow a popular grassy path towards Honister Mine.

Kirk Fell and Pillar from Fleetwith Pike.
It's September in Lakeland which can only mean one thing, the heather has returned in all its colourful glory.

Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Great Gable and Kirk Fell from Honister Mines.
After passing to the left of the mines I pick up the path seen below Grey Knotts via Drum Hause. Birkett recommends to gain Grey Knotts by means of a natural grass rake which I can see up ahead. My descent to Blackbeck Tarn can be seen by following the Great Round How ridge from Brandreth, that's the lightly coloured ridge over on the right seen beyond Dubs Bottom.

Haystacks, High Crag, High Stile and Dodd (Red Pike) seen over Dubs Bottom.
I've been plunged back into reality passing many a folk on their way to Haystacks or Great Gable from the top of Honister Pass but now it's time to leave it all behind again as I start my ascent on the steep grass rake from which I'll gain Grey Knotts by.

Looking back on Fleetwith Pike from the grass rake ascent.
By eck Birkett never mentioned how steep this was, phew-weee!

Stunning views over Dubs Bottom towards Great Pike How, Haystacks, Pillar, Red Pike (Wasdale) High Crag and High Stile.
If Red Pike (Buttermere) wasn't hidden by High Stile we'd have both of Wainwright's Red Pike's in one view here.

Dale Head, Hindscarth Edge and Hinsdcarth from my ascent of Grey Knotts.
With Blencathra in the far distance seen over on the right.

I've now reached the top of the grass rake.
That wasn't hard work said no one ever! Joking aside I thoroughly enjoyed this ascent mainly because of the views it presented.

Kirk Fell Red Pike (Wasdale) and Pillar from Grey Knotts summit shoulder.
What a stunning day.

Pillar, Great Pike How, Haystacks and High Crag from Grey Knotts summit shoulder.
I really am struggling to put my camera away now.

Dale Head and High Spy from Grey Knotts summit.
It was a positively delightful ascent accompanied by spectacular rock features that I would never have seen had I ascended by any other means. With Grey Knotts summit cairn sighted I crossed the fence and scaled the craggy summit outcrop spotting an elderly couple making their way towards Brandreth, other than the couple we had the whole place to ourselves.

Allan Crags, Esk Pike, Green Gable, Great Gable and Brandreth from Grey Knotts summit Tarn.

It had clouded over again so I dropped from the summit and found myself a rocky outcrop to take five minutes on where I tucked into a mini pork pie. After a few minutes the sun returned and illuminated the wild grasses growing around the Tarn in stark red while beyond, the silhouette of Great Gable.

September has to be my favourite month for fell walking for views just like this.

Red Pike (Wasdale) and Pillar from Grey Knotts Tarn.
Time to head for Brandreth now which is just a short distance south west along the ridge.

Pillar, The Ennerdale Valley, Haystacks, High Crag and High Stile from Brandreth.
It brought back memories being back on Brandreth, the last time I was here was when I was walking the Ennerdale Horseshoe back in June, back then I was competing with high winds and low cloud for much of the walk meaning I completely missed out on views like this which might have been a good thing looking how far away Ennerdale Water looks.

Kirk Fell, Red Pike (Wasdale) and Pillar from Brandreth summit.
I distinctly remember feeling disorientated back in June whilst stood here on Brandreth's summit so much so I had to check which direction I had to walk such the low visibility, no such bad luck today it's simply stunning in every direction.

Beck Head, Kirk Fell, The Top of Black Sail Pass, Looking Stead, Pillar and Red Pike (Wasdale) from Brandreth.

Green Gable, Great Gable and Beck Head from Brandreth.
That's the Moses Trod path leading into Stone Cove below Great Gable which can be reached from the same path I left earlier before I climbed pathless onto Grey Knotts, this whole area for me feels like proper fell walking territory.

Descending Brandreth for Blackbeck Tarn.
I'm a little too far right at this point so I tuck in left and follow the fence line (out of view from here) using Great Round How as a fixing point seen below right.

Here looking back on Grey Knotts.
With Dale Head seen left.

Pillar, Haystacks and High Crag domineer the descent,

Great Round How, Haystacks and High Crag.
The fence now runs true west towards the top of Loft Beck which I leave beind for the grassy footpath seen appearing over on the left, the path descends left then tucks in behind the large craggy outcrop ahead before arriving at Blackbeck Tarn.

Looking Stead, Pillar and Pillar Rock.
Looks so close I could almost touch it.

Blackbeck Tarn.
The path passes through marshy ground tarn and I was left to pick my way through soon locating another path along East flank of the tarn, needless to say it was very boggy here but what a beautiful isolated spot found just yards from the main path between Honister and Haystacks.

The view from the gully at the top of Black Beck.
After the slight pull from Blackbeck Tarn I was treated to this wonderful view over the Buttermere valley extending as far as Crummock Water and the Loweswater Fells.

Fleetwith Edge and Fleetwith Pike over Warnscale Bottom.
From this angle Fleetwith Edge looks rather sharp while over in the distance Robinson, Wandope, Grasmoor and Eel Crag (Crag Hill)

Pillar from Innominate Tarn.
There were lots of families about today and although it was busy it was 'quiet busy' if that makes sense.

Looking back on Innominate Tarn with Brandreth, Green Gable, Windy Gap and Great Gable in the distance.
Not far from Haystacks summit now which I can see is also looking busy.

The Tarn found just below Haystacks summit.
With both summits occupied I ducked down to one of my favourite Tarns finding it in peace and quiet where I stopped for a few moments to absorb the views.

Looking Stead, Pillar and Pillar Rock seen over the Ennerdale Valley.

Fleetwith Edge appearing from Big Slack.

Descending Haystacks.
With views over the top of Scarth Gap Pass Gamlin End/High Crag, High Snockrigg,Whiteless Pike, Grasmoor, Wandope, Rannerdale Knotts, Mellbreak, The Loweswater Fells and of course Crummock Water and Buttermere.


Fleetwith Pike and Fleetwith Edge seen over Warnscale Bottom.
It was a slow descent where families and groups were making their way to the summit under the midday sun, made slightly slower by the Haystack rock slabs where care had to be taken in both directions. I reached the top of Scarth Gap Pass and pondered whether to stop for lunch after only eating a couple of bananas for breakfast and that mini pork pie back on Grey Knotts but instead I rolled up my sleeves for the remainder of the walk and started to make my way down towards Gatescarth Farm.

Looking back on Haystacks with Big Slack featuring prominantly.

Fleetwith Pike seen domineering Warnscale Bottom.

I continued to walk against the flow of traffic some of which blocked paths finding that I had to go around the groups while they chatted but it didn't matter, I was by now feeling really warm causing my forehead to feel scorched and my lips sticky. Peggy's Bridge was reached where after crossing I stopped to take this last photo before turning my camera's power button to the off position bringing this fabulous, but rather under estimated walk to an end. The car park is reached not before passing the ice cream van where people queue patiently while others eat theirs whilst sat on benches.

It dawns on me that my gooey lips and scorched forehead might be the last until next Summer but Lakeland doesn't end at one season, it'll soon be Autumn which for me, will see Lakeland at her best.


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