The Circuit of Buttermere

The five mile path around Buttermere lakeshore has been a classic since Victorian times and must rank as one of the most beautiful walks anywhere. The Fish Inn was the home of Mary Robinson, a local girl who unwittingly became a tourist attraction due to the mention of her beauty in one of the first Lake District tourist guides at the turn of the 19th century. Her story has most recently been re-told by Lord Melvyn Bragg in his book ‘The Maid of Buttermere’.

How To Get Here

Buttermere Village is 8.5 miles from Keswick via Braithwaite and Newlands Pass. The road is spectacular and there are many photo opportunities along the way. At the top of the pass there is a small path leading to Moss Force Waterfall. Just above the village at the foot of the pass there is some roadside parking. Alternatively continue down past the Bridge Hotel to a pay and display car park behind the Fish Inn.

The Honister Rambler bus goes from Keswick bus station over Honister and stops at both Gatesgarth and Buttermere which means if you only fancy half the circuit you can get the bus back.

Parking

  • Parking Lat/Long: 54.541812, -3.2745588
  • Parking Postcode: CA13 9UZ
  • Parking Grid Ref: NY 176 170

What to Shoot and Viewpoints

Viewpoint 1 - Foot of Newlands Pass

At the foot of Newlands Pass you can get a great shot of the old black and white striped Buttermere signpost with a backdrop of Sour Milk Ghyll cascading down from the comb (hanging valley) between Red Pike and High Stile. Use a long lens from further back to capture the sign with just a backdrop of the stream and trees in autumn colour. Another option is to frame your photo to include picturesque St James’ Church, inside which there is a memorial to Alfred Wainright.

The walk starts on the track by the side of the Fish Inn which leads to the lake shore. The path around the lake is described in a clockwise direction but you may want to change that depending on the light at a particular time of day or season.

Viewpoint 2 - Western lakeshore

From the western end of the lakeshore you get tremendous views up the lake towards Fleetwith Pike and Warnscale Bottom. Look for rocks, reeds or a fence-line to add interest to the foreground. A great place for a panorama of a mirror-like lake with almost symmetrical hills on either side.

Turn left at the lakeshore and go through a gate along a permitted footpath.

Viewpoint 3 - The tree

A short walk along the path will take you to the most photographed tree in the Lake District. Try entering the words ‘Buttermere tree’ into an internet search engine and look at the images. This lonely little birch tree seems too delicate and frail to exist amongst the wild and rugged hills all around. To emphasise the tree, get low and frame carefully so the branches are against the sky. A low sun in winter is ideal for silhouetting the tree against a side-lit Fleetwith Pike. Best to visit on a still day to maximise reflections.

Go right through a kissing gate and follow the path above the lakeshore.

Viewpoint 4 - Dalegarth

Just before Dalegarth the path emerges from the trees and crosses a flat field area with scattered trees and a bench on the lakeshore. There are superb views looking towards the line of pines at the end of the lake with Haystacks behind. Use a long lens from here to isolate the pines and the white lakeshore bothy with the waterfalls of Warnscale Beck behind.

Shortly after this viewpoint you go through the rock tunnel at Hassness. The beach at Hassness is a great spot for a sunset looking back towards Mellbreak. Crag wood headland has some impressive pines on the lakeshore and a beautiful pebble spit. If you go up the field partly there is a good composition along the length of the wall to the tree on the shore with the lake and High Crag, Eagle Crag and Comb Beck waterfall behind.

Viewpoint 5 - Buttermere Pines

Just before the path meets the road you will see the classic view of the Buttermere pines. A successful photo here, like anywhere, depends on the light. The most dramatic times generally happen in mixed weather when shafts of sunlight penetrate holes in the clouds. Go when the sun is low for long shadows. Get low to the water on perfectly still days to get the best reflections. Zoom in and out to get more or less of the background depending on the light. Is the sky worthy of inclusion? After rain the waterfalls in Warnscale Beck are very impressive.

The footpath follows the road for 500m to Gatesgarth Farm where a footpath goes off right after the bridge. Follow the path across the fields at the end of the lake.

Viewpoint 6 - Warnscale Beck

Along the path and at Peggy’s Bridge look up the Warnscale Valley. There are good views looking into Warnscale Bottom towards the patch of dark pines and isolated trees with the waterfall and crags behind. Looking west the stream leads the eye into the lake and down to Mellbreak. Remember that often ‘less is more’. It’s tempting to try to get everything in the shot but it’s far better here to use a long lens to cut out the sky to accentuate the scale of the dark crags. The whitewashed bothy on the lakeshore contrasts beautifully with the dark slopes of Mellbreak behind and catches the sun on this side until midday.

Viewpoint 7 - Fleetwith Pike

Just after the waterfalls of Comb Beck you pass through a gate. This makes a lovely image with the view up valley framed by the tree branches and your eye being lead into the scene along the footpath and through the gate.

Continue along the path back to the Fish Inn or the Bridge Hotel for a cream tea or pint or if the cafe at Sykes Farm is still open, their ice cream is some of the best in the Lakes!

Accessibility

This fairly level walk around the lake is around 4.5 miles or 7km on mostly good footpaths with just a short section on the road to Gatesgarth Farm. Allow 2.5 to 3 hours without stops to walk around. The whole of the south shore starting from either end is on wide gravel path that is OK for wheelchairs, there are a few inclines. The north side footpath (on the road side of the lake) is not suitable for wheelchairs being narrow in places with rocky steps and tree roots.

Best Time of Year/Day

Buttermere is superbly photogenic in most conditions at any time of the day or year. In autumn the brown bracken on the slopes and varicoloured tree foliage is quite special. Winter can be spectacular with snow on the hills and lake mist on frosty mornings. Refer to the sun position compass to see where the sun will rise and set on any particular day.