Buttermere is the name of both a lake and a village, and is also often used for the valley in which the two are located. And what a valley it is! Hemmed in on three sides by towering fells, this western dale is a place for standing and staring, for lingering with your camera, for strolling; it’s also a place for starting some great, often demanding fell walks.
The tiny village sits at the north-western end of the lake. Here you’ll find a handful of B&Bs, a campsite, a YHA hostel, two inns and two cafés, one of which sells delicious ice-cream made with milk from the farm’s herd of Ayrshire cows. The picturesque church of St James sits on a rocky knoll just above the village, and features a memorial to the walking guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright.
The area can be approached from three directions – via Honister Pass, over the Newlands Pass, or from the north-west, along the shores of Crummock Water. Bear in mind though that the passes are sometimes closed in winter. From Easter until the end of October, the valley is served by the 77/77A bus, a circular route that starts and ends in Keswick and winds its way through Borrowdale, over Honister Pass, and on to Buttermere, Crummock Water, Lorton, Whinlatter and Braithwaite. If you fancy a bus ride, make sure you get the window seat! This is scenery you won’t want to miss.
The 4.3-mile circuit of the lake is one of the most popular walks in the area. Keeping close to the shore at all times, it skirts the base of some truly impressive fells. The north-eastern shore also has a surprise in store – a short section of dark, damp tunnel hewn from the rock. After walking the lakeside path and gazing up at those imposing peaks, how can you resist the lure of the trails heading up on to the high ground? Despite the impenetrable black crags of its north face, Hay Stacks is one of the easiest summits to reach, although even this involves a short section on bare rock where you’ll need your hands. This 1958ft (597m) top was one of Wainwright’s favourites, and his ashes were scattered here, beside the pretty Innominate Tarn, after his death in 1991.
Clamber up the fine, rocky ridge of Fleetwith Edge from Gatesgarth Farm for some breathtaking views of the lake far below. The white cross on its lower slopes marks the spot from where young Fanny Mercer, a servant of a Rugby School master, fell to her death after tripping over her walking pole in 1887. For longer days out, there’s the High Stile ridge, Grasmoor or Robinson. The bus also opens up the possibility of countless linear routes – along high, airy ridges to Keswick perhaps, or through lonely valleys and across a high pass to Braithwaite.
To the north-west, the valley gradually opens out. This is where you’ll find Crummock Water, another spectacularly located lake, and Loweswater, both lake and village. No boats are permitted on Loweswater, while paddlers and rowers need a permit to launch their vessels on Buttermere and Crummock Water.