I’ll start with an apology. There aren’t many photos of this walk to share with you. It was just too wet and windy to even think about testing the limits of my camera. So it’s mainly words today, with the odd washed out picture thrown in for good measure.
It was cold too. Particularly for the end of June. And particularly since I’d promised to show off the best of the Lake District to a friend keen to do some more hillwalking. Thankfully, he wasn’t expecting blue skies and rainbows and was eager enough to soak up a bit of liquid sunshine, despite the lure of the comfortable bosom of the nearby tearooms.
To maximise our chances of a view, while still keeping things interesting underfoot, we opted for two small but mighty fells towards the west of the National Park. Haystacks needs no introduction, being famous for capturing the heart of Alfred Wainwright. But across the Warnscale valley lies its equally beguiling neighbour, Fleetwith Pike.
Packing a punch
I often keep these fells up my sleeve for those full-waterproofs, hats and gloves type of days. Despite their smaller statures, this diminutive pair still packs a punch, with challenging terrain, jaw-dropping views and plenty of interest along the way. I’d rate them just as highly as their loftier neighbours.
Arriving at the top of Honister Pass, we pull into a lay-by to see a mountain leader training session in full swing. Knowing I’ll be doing the same in just a week’s time prompts me to tune in as I lace up my boots and soak up a little knowledge about searches!
Il pleut comme vache qui pisse
As they say in France, it’s now raining like a pissing cow, and we are soon resigned to being soggy for the rest of the day. At least the steep ascent from Honister Slate Mine along the old tramway path warms our air-conditioned bones from the long car journey.
At the foundations of Drum House, we leave the dismantled tramway and head north to skirt around the quarry, climbing gently until the ground drops away dramatically over Honister Crag. You can pay a handsome sum to test your nerves on the via ferrata – the ‘iron way’: a fixed route of steel cables which you clip in and out of as you move across the sheer rock face hundreds of feet above the Honister Pass.
We explore the knolls at Black Star before arriving at the summit of Fleetwith Pike. We’ve only had to climb around 350m, so our paltry efforts deserve little praise, until you factor in the northerly 30mph winds blasting our neat little summit, when it feels a whole lot gnarlier.
Change in perspective
With one summit in the bag in under an hour, we’re already on our descent, with another ascent to tackle later in the day. This shift in perspective works well, given the winds are forecast to get stronger later in the day. That we’ll be off the ridge by then is reassuring, as we snake our way down the long north-western ridge all the way down to Buttermere.
Fleetwith Pike’s edge works well in either direction. But in descent you have the bonny backdrop of Buttermere and Crummock Water as you meander your way down the ridge. There’s a clear path but it does take you over some rocky sections where use of hands is well-advised. Nowhere does it feel too exposed, as long as you stay on the well-trodden route. But even a cursory glance at the map tells you there are steep crags you’d rather avoid.
Fleetwith Edge dips and rises as you lose height. One minute we are scrambling down the path before it levels off towards the next section. The wind blasts us on the flat and we reach for our winter gloves, struggling to paste them on to our wet hands. For a relatively low peak just this side of the longest day of the year it feels remarkably fresh.
Lap of the lake
With tummies rumbling, we decide to complete Fleetwith Edge and find a sheltered spot by the water for lunch. There are a few more souls braving a lap of the lake – certainly more than we’d seen on the tops.
With the rain lashing down, we have a choice to make. Return to base via Warnscale Bottom – plenty of ascent but shorter and a little more sheltered. Or continue to Scarth Gap, up and over Haystacks. With legs feeling strong, we opted for the latter, knowing the crags would offer some protection from the wind once we’d cleared the summit.
It’s always a relentless slog to Scarth Gap, particularly after the morning’s descent. But we soon find ourselves on the scrambly bit towards Haystacks’ summit. It is refreshingly busy up here. And although the wind and rain are still out in force, it’s not unpleasant wrapped up in waterproofs.
Tongue of the bog
We enjoy a more tranquil plod over the summit plateau, passing the delightful Innominate Tarn before resting at Blackbeck Tarn. A single butterwort sprouts from beside the wet rocky paths: an intriguing little plant which attracts insects both for pollination, with its delicate purple flower on a long stem, but also for extra nitrogen, trapping unsuspecting victims on its sticky leaves. I love the translation of the Welsh name – ‘tongue of the bog’.
On the final stretch now, we meet a chap in jeans and trainers asking for directions back to Honister Pass. Despite his lack of equipment and clearly soaked to the skin, he is in high spirits and grateful for the confirmation he’s on the right track.
Smoke and stale sweat
We called into the bothy at Dubs Quarry, the stench of smoke and stale sweat instantly transporting us back to the student bars of our youth.
Picking up the old tramway once more, we make the soggy trudge back to the car, eager to get into dry clothes and hit the road.
I’m about to cautiously ask my friend if he enjoyed his soggy yomp around the fells. But the smile on his face tells me all I need to know. The mountains have worked their magic once again.
Highs and Lowdown
Start / Finish: Honister Slate Mine
Wainwright count: 2
Navigation: Relatively well-trodden paths but confident route-finding required around the quarry and there are some nasty crags to avoid on both mountains, so strong map and compass work required.
Terrain: Typical Lakeland mountain walking. Scrambly sections on both Fleetwith Edge and towards the summit of Haystacks.
Facilities: Honister Slate Mine, Buttermere or plenty of options in the Borrowdale Valley.
*These routes and descriptions are only ever intended to be a personal record of my adventures, which may inspire your own. Hillwalking involves a degree of risk, so please make sure you are properly equipped and prepared if you choose to follow them.