Wednesday, 2 November 2011

a wet day in buttermere

Most [tourists] come to view the picturesque scenery, but a complaint I’ve heard often concerns the rain. But what do people expect? The Lake District is the wettest part of England, and the weather is a direct result of the mountainous terrain. In fact, for locals like myself, the Lake District is at its most beautiful in the rain….
Although it is only a short drive over Honister Pass (steepest gradient 25%) from the tourist-thronged valley of Borrowdale, the Buttermere valley is always fairly quiet, especially during inclement weather. Buttermere itself is a small lake that takes its name from a quasi-mythical Viking chieftain of the eleventh century, Jarl (Earl) Boethar, suffixed with the Old English word for a lake.

Following the Norman invasion of England in 1066 and William the Conqueror’s subsequent ‘harrying of the north’ from 1069, Boethar is said to have conducted an extensive guerrilla campaign against the invaders from his stronghold in what is sometimes called ‘the secret valley’, inflicting heavy losses in men, money and equipment. There appears to be no contemporary documentary evidence, but local legends speak of a pitched battle between the Normans, led by Ranulph les Meschines, Earl of Carlisle (a small city to the north), and a combined force of Vikings, who had settled in the area in the preceding two centuries, and native Cumbrians, led by Boethar. The Norman forces advanced south along the River Cocker into the Buttermere valley, where they were lured into an ambush in the tributary valley of Rannerdale. Despite their military prowess throughout the rest of Europe, the Normans were unused to fighting in such terrain and were routed. Legend it may be, but what is indisputably the case is that the Normans never succeeded in subduing the heart of Lakeland.

This summer, as part of my efforts to show my friend Barry parts of his native county that he’d never seen, we came to the Buttermere valley with the aim of walking around the lake. There is a well-worn path, about 4½ miles in length, that follows the shoreline, with only a short section where walkers are forced on to the road through the valley. It rained heavily all day.

We started in the village of Buttermere, which takes its name from the lake and which boasts two public houses. It is located between Buttermere (the lake) and the larger lake of Crummock Water, on an area of land formed by debris washed down over the centuries from the surrounding hillsides. Crummock Water and Buttermere would thus once have been one lake.

The best way to proceed is anticlockwise, and the following photographs were taken at various points on the walk.

Looking east towards Fleetwith Pike (Old Norse pic, peak) from the southern shore of Buttermere. The notch in the skyline to the left of the peak is Honister Pass.

A typical beck (from Old Norse bekkr, stream) in spate.

A view of Buttermere from the north side of the lake, looking west.

Another view of Buttermere from the north side of the lake, looking west.


  1. Dennis, I think I detect a spot of homesickness! Your pictures are super.

  2. Thanks Ana. Perhaps not homesickness, but the Lake District is in my blood.

  3. Dennis, what a lovely place to grow up, so different from my childhood in the airless grottoes of Brooklyn. The Lake District is a place my wife and I would love to walk. We'd be enraptured by the quiet and the beauty.

  4. beautiful pictures! mysterious as well.

  5. What beautiful scenes. I can see why the Normans gave it a try -- it looks like land worth fighting for.

  6. Wow! It looks so beautiful and serene. What a nice history lesson, too!


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