Around Buttermere

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




4.5 miles (7.2kms)

310ft (95m)

About the walk

Much has been written about Buttermere, the dale, the village and the lake; 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 (see Walk 44).

The Maid of Buttermere

Buttermere 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 (now the Buttermere Court Hotel). 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.

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, 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 dramatised and found its way onto the stages of some London theatres. Happily for Mary, she later remarried, had a large family and by all accounts a happy life.

Walk directions

Leave the car park and turn right, passing the Buttermere Court 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, right, to a bridge at Buttermere Dubs. Cross a second, smaller footbridge and go through a gate in the 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. Keep left at any forks to stay close to the water’s edge. You finally emerge from the woods via a gate near Horse Close, where a bridge spans Comb Beck.

Keep on along the lower path to reach a meeting of walls. Go left through the gate, cross Warnscale Beck and walk out to Gatesgarth Farm. Walk along the fenced path to the left of the farmyard to reach the valley road. A short stretch of road walking, left on the B5289, now follows, along which there are no pathways. Be careful of approaching traffic.

As the road bends left, leave it for a lakeside footpath on the left. 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.

Beyond Hassnesshow Beck bridge, the path enters the grounds of Hassness, where a gate leads to a rocky path enclosed by trees. 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 mill owner who owned the Hassness Estate, so that he could walk around the lake without straying 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. A path leads through a series of gates beyond the foot of the lake to a bridge of slate slabs.

At the foot of the lake, keep straight ahead at a fingerpost. After a bridge of slate slabs, the path bends right, up some rocky steps, and then left to Wilkinsyke Farm. Continue to the road. Turn left and left again beside the Bridge Hotel to return to the car park.

Additional information

Good paths, some road walking

Lake, fells, woodland and farmland

On lead near farms and open fells where sheep are grazing

OS Explorer OL4 The English Lakes (NW)

Car park beyond the Buttermere Court Hotel (fee)

At start

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About the area

Discover Cumbria

Cumbria's rugged yet beautiful landscape is best known for the Lake District National Park that sits within its boundaries. It’s famous for Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, and Derwent Water, ‘Queen of the English Lakes'. This beautiful countryside once inspired William Wordsworth and his home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere is a popular museum. Another place of literary pilgrimage is Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter, located near Windermere. Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck were all created here.

Much of Cumbria is often overlooked in favour of the Lake Distirct. In the south, the Lune Valley remains as lovely as it was when Turner painted it. The coast is also a secret gem. With its wide cobbled streets, spacious green and views of the Solway Firth, Silloth is a fine Victorian seaside resort. Other towns along this coastline include Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. Carlisle is well worth a look – once a Roman camp, its red-brick cathedral dates back to the early 12th century and its 11th-century castle was built by William Rufus.

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