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Around Buttermere

A relaxing walk in one of Lakeland's most attractive valleys.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 35ft (11m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Good path, some road walking, 2 stiles

Landscape Lake, fells, woodland and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW)

Start/finish NY 173169

Dog friendliness On lead near farms and open fells where sheep are grazing

Parking National Park car park beyond Fish Hotel (fee)

Public toilets At start

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1 Leave the car park and turn right, passing the Fish Hotel to follow a broad track through gates. Ignore the signposted route to Scale Force and continue along the track towards the edge of the lake. Then follow the line of a hedgerow to a bridge at Buttermere Dubs. Cross a small footbridge and go through a nearby gate in a wall at the foot of Burtness Wood and the cascade of Sourmilk Gill. Turn left on a track through the woodland that roughly parallels the lakeshore, finally emerging from the woodland near Horse Close, where a bridge spans Comb Beck.

2 Keep on along the path to reach a wall leading to a sheepfold and a gate. Go left through the gate, cross Warnscale Beck and walk out to Gatesgarth Farm. At the farm, follow signs to reach the valley road. A short stretch of road walking, left on the B5289, now follows, along which there are no pathways. Take care against approaching traffic.

3 As the road bends left, leave it for a footpath on the left signposted 'Buttermere via Lakeshore Path'. The path leads into a field, beyond which it never strays far from the shoreline and continues to a stand of Scots pine, near Crag Wood.

4 Beyond Hassnesshow Beck bridge, the path enters the grounds of Hassness, where a rocky path, enclosed by trees, leads to a gate. Here a path has been cut across a crag where it plunges into the lake below, and shortly disappears into a brief, low and damp tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Lake District. The tunnel was cut by employees of George Benson, a 19th-century Manchester mill owner who then owned the Hassness Estate, so that he could walk around the lake without straying too far from its shore. After you emerge from the tunnel a gate gives access to a gravel path across the wooded pasture of Pike Rigg, beyond which a clear path leads to a traditional Lakeland bridge of slate slabs.

5 A short way on, through another gate, the path leads on to Wilkinsyke Farm, and an easy walk out to the road, just a short way above the Bridge Hotel. Turn left to return to the car park.

Much has been written about Buttermere, the dale, the village and the lake. And it remains, as it has been since Victorian times, a popular place displaying 'nature's art for art's sake', as W G Collingwood described it in The Lake Counties (1902). Nicholas Size's historical romance, The Secret Valley (1930), takes a rather different and much earlier line, describing a tale of guerrilla warfare and bloody battles here with invading Norman forces.

Buttermere, however, achieved considerable notoriety at the pen of Joseph Budworth, who stayed here in 1792 and encountered Mary, the daughter of the landlord of the Fish Inn. In his guidebook Fortnight's Ramble to the Lakes, he describes Mary as 'the reigning Lily of the Valley' and began what must have been a reign of terror for Mary, who became a tourist attraction, a situation made worse in later editions of Budworth's book, in which he revelled in the discomfort all the unwanted attention heaped on Mary and her family.

Rather more sinisterly, in 1802, the tale brought to Buttermere one John Hadfield, a man posing as the Honourable Anthony Augustus Hope MP. Hadfield wooed and won Mary, and they were married at Lorton church on 2 October 1802 (coincidentally just two days before William Wordsworth married Mary Hutchinson). With the honeymoon scarcely begun, however, Hadfield was exposed as an impostor, and arrested on a charge of forgery - a more serious offence than of bigamy, of which he was also guilty - and later tried and hanged at Carlisle. Accounts of the whole episode are given by Thomas de Quincey in Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets and by Melvyn Bragg in his 1987 novel The Maid of Buttermere, a description used by Wordsworth in The Prelude. The whole saga was later dramatised and found its way on to the stages of some London theatres. Happily for Mary, she later remarried, had a large family and by all accounts a happy life.

With such a backcloth, it is something of an intrigue that in a Victorian satire of 1851, by Henry Mayhew, generously entitled The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Cursty Sandboys and Family, who came up to London to 'Enjoy Themselves' and to see the Great Exhibition, Buttermere is described as the quietest and most secluded of Lakeland villages, where '?the knock of the dun never startles the hermit or the student - for (thrice blessed spot!) there are no knockers'.

Where to eat and drink

There is a café at Buttermere and both the Bridge Hotel and Fish Inn serve teas, coffee, snacks and bar meals throughout the day. Both hotels have small outdoor areas that are great for an alfresco meal on a warm summer's day.

While you're there

Walk up the road to Buttermere's attractive church (1841), set in a superb position on a rocky knoll. It is tiny, one of the smallest in Lakeland, with a bellcote and a lower chancel. From it there is a lovely view of the valley and the high fells on the south side, all the way to Hay Stacks, which features in Walk 44.

What to look for

While walking out to Gatesgarth Farm, have a look at the craggy sides of Fleetwith Pike. On the lower slopes a white cross can be seen clearly. This was erected by the friends of Fanny Mercer, a luckless visitor to Lakeland who, in 1887, while out walking, tripped over her alpenstock (an early day walking pole) and fell to her death.

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