J.M.W. Turner’s Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower (1798) shows a tiny boat bobbing on Buttermere with a single ray of light cracking through dark and somber clouds over Crummock Water, glimpsed in the distance. Here is the hand of god in nature, where nature is majestic, awe-inspiring, and Romantic with a capital “R”. It’s a statement of the sublime, evoking humanity’s fragility in the face of nature’s grandeur, and fear as well as reverence.
Walking by Crummock Water on a sunny day in May, we found nature’s sublimity painted in much brighter colours. We’d got here after an exhilarating ride in on the 77A Stagecoach bus from Keswick, travelling up through Portinscale, Grange and Rosthwaite and over the Honister Pass. Lots of passengers disembarked at Hawes End to hike up Cat Bells, a lovely climb with 360 degree views, but we stayed on until the Fish Inn in Buttermere village.
Heading out of the village via a diversion to avoid a washed out bridge, we turned right for Crummock Water instead of taking the more popular route around Buttermere. The path along the western flank of Crummock Water undulates gently and is boggy in parts, with lots of loose stone underfoot. A cuckoo called three times as we skirted wetlands to the right of the path, watching orange tipped white winged butterflies glancing off the rushes. Hawthorn – a tree commonly used for hedgerows – was everywhere, punctuating bluebell clad flanks of mountains to either side of the lake.
Diverging from the lakeshore path fairly early, we headed up towards Scale Force: “force” – or rather “fors” – an old Norse word for waterfall brought in by early settlers. This is the highest waterfall in the Lake District with a total drop of 52m, made up of a single drop of 37m and a number of smaller drops. Memorialized by S. T. Coleridge – “Scale Force, the white downfall of which glimmered through the trees, that hang before it like the bushy hair over a madman’s eyes” – the cascade plunges down to a rocky basin through stones stained with iron ore. We lingered in this magical spot, enjoying the cool, before heading down hill towards ruined sheep folds and the remains of an old settlement, passing red boulders tumbled in the water course, fluorescent green lichened rocks and yellow wagtails dipping in the water.
Serenaded by bird song, loud in the hawthorn until the moment we drew alongside, when the music would stop, we continued along the lakeshore to the tiny peninsula of Low Ling Crag – a glorious beach with deep water on one side inviting a swim and a graceful pebble beach on the other perfect for a paddle. Snug in the crook of this crooked lake, it’s a great place to gaze back along the way you’ve come beyond Buttermere towards Fleetwith Pike, Hay Stacks, and Great Gable, as Grasmoor watches over you – brows lowering from across the eastern side of the lake.
Hugging the shoreline beyond Low Ling Crag, we passed bay after bay of glorious yellow gorse and hawthorn to the right, and bracken fronds pushing up through the bluebells to the left. Shortly before the Iron Stone, we took the high left hand path, up until a beautiful oak wood on the left, where we turned off to the right through a gate into a delightful country lane lined in May with white Greater Stitchwort and pink Herb Robert. Hungry and thirsty now, we hurried on, crossing a bridge over a river then left into another lane and 400 metres on to a church. Just beyond, the Kirkstile Inn at last, for a tasty pub lunch and a pint of iconic Loweswater Gold – originally brewed on site and now brewed at Esthwaite brewery in Hawkshead – enjoyed in the pub’s beer garden, at the foot of Mellbreak mountain.
Later, we ambled back for the bus, along another country lane lined by hawthorn with views of Fleetwith Pike beyond Buttermere across fields of Herdwick sheep. The road over Scalehill Bridge takes you into the woods, through silver birch, beech and oaks, along Green Lane, out on to the road traversing the eastern flank of Crummock Water. If you’re lucky and the bus isn’t full, you’ll be able to board the bus coming from Buttermere at the stop (unmarked) outside Lanthwaite Green Farm – heading back the quick way into Keswick through Whinlatter and Braithwaite. If not, you’ll be boarding the 77 bus to go back the long way you’ve come (the Stagecoach Honister bus operates as a loop service, with the 77A going clockwise, and the 77 anti-clockwise), past Buttermere and back up over the Honister Pass to come down into upper Borrowdale. Of course, with spectacular views like these, and a beer and fish finger butty or Ploughman’s lunch in your belly, who’s to complain? A good sit down is welcome!
Note: For the latest information on services, see Stagecoach Cumbria for an enhanced Summer service timetable, due out from 27th March 2021.