High Stile Ridge & Haystacks

Haystacks

This is one of the best ridge walks in the Lake District that starts in the bustling summer tourist honey pot of Buttermere Village. The walk also takes in a Lakeland favourite Haystacks, famously the favourite fell of a well known Mr Alfred Wainwright. The High Stile ridge stands high between the beautiful and often busy Buttermere Valley on one side and the desolate and wild Ennerdale Valley on the other. Not only will you get fantastic views across most of the high fells of the Lakes you will also get to experience the stunning Scale Force waterfall and towards the end of the walk experience the unique summit of Haystacks and have lunch with Sir Alfred at Innominate Tarn. The walk back along the shores of Buttermere on a clear day is incredible with the fells you have just conquered being reflected in the still sheltered waters. Buttermere is a busy place in summer so get to the car park early, this walk can be made even more special by starting off very early in the morning so you have most of the walk to yourself.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the National Trust car park in Buttermere just three hundred metres north west along the road from the centre of the village at grid ref NY 172 172. There are also buses during most seasons from Cockermouth and Keswick providing excellent public transport links to the village.
  2. There are several car parks in the village as it can be a busy place in the height of summer. A smaller car park by the church has parking for quieter times and there is a large Lake District National Park Authority car park by the Fish Hotel in the centre of the village itself accessible by taking the road behind the Bridge Hotel off the main road bend in the village.
  3. Despite it being a magnet to tourists and walkers during the summer months, Buttermere isn't the most easily reached corner of the Lake District. Most people get to Buttermere by driving over the steep Honister Pass road that makes its way from Keswick through Borrowdale. The only other way to this sheltered valley is by the quieter western approach from Cockermouth.
  4. This quaint little hamlet sits on fertile land between two beautiful post-glacial lakes with stunning high mountain walls on either side. It is little wonder that this place is favoured by so many. Buttermere really is heaven. The village houses a small thriving community with cottages, farms, hotels, B&B's, Youth Hostel and of course the tea rooms. Nothing in the village or surrounding area seems to have spoilt this pretty little hamlet and most of the area is owned and managed by the National Trust.
  5. To start the walk set off on the road behind the Bridge Hotel in the direction of the Fish Hotel. Carry on down the road keeping the Fish Hotel on your right. The road takes a sharp bend left and continues for a hundred metres then splits into two. Here take the option to the right edging the field and heading now towards Scale Bridge.
  6. Cross the lovely stone Scale Bridge over the Buttermere Dubs. Turn right on the opposite side of the dubs and head along the rough path in a north west direction. After half a kilometre the path starts to get level with Crummock Water, here cross the small wooden footbridge over Far Ruddy Beck.
  7. The path now splits into several paths at times, basically keep to a north westerly then westerly direction keeping the brooding cliffs of Blea Crag to your left at all times. Eventually after rounding Blea Crag and gaining height slightly you will reach a gate that leads to the Scale Force waterfall.
  8. Scale Force is not a roaring fall but can be in a spate after good rainfall, it is more of a soft and gentle affair on most days, a peaceful place in winter with birds in the surrounding trees. On a winters day here I once sat for half an hour and heard nothing but water and birds, it was great!
  9. From the waterfall take the decent path that zig zags up its left or eastern side. The path will gain height quickly and eventually end up in the narrow valley above the falls that has been gorged out by Scale Beck. This place in winter in icy conditions can be hell, but in spring and summer is heaven with purple heather and moorland wildlife abundant.
  10. After around three hundred metres a faint path leaves to the left up into the heather, take this path and then follow it to the right as it splits through the heather. The path will ascend this lump of a hill and eventually reach the summit of Lingcomb Edge where a small stone cairn awaits your arrival and you get you first view of Buttermere from above.
  11. From the summit of Lingcomb Edge the way ahead is fairly obvious, as ridge walks usually are. Basically head south along the edge ascending all the way to the next objective the pointy summit of Red Pike.
  12. From the summit of Red Pike the views are incredible as they are all the way along the Buttermere Skyline. From here on a good day you can see the Isle of Man out in the Irish Sea and far north to the Southern Uplands in the South of Scotland.
  13. From the summit of Red Pike you can now see how the ridge is not quite as straight forward as it seems from the valley floor, instead of being a simply one dimensional ridge going from one end to the next this ridge has many hidden extras like the ridge of The Saddle and to The Dodd from Red Pike that contains the beautiful Bleaberry Tarn. This way up from Buttermere via The Dodd is a popular walk so don't be surprised to now see walkers making there way up onto the main ridge from there.
  14. Leaving the substantial summit shelter and cairn on Red Pike now continue the ridge walk above Chapel Crags heading south east to the high point of the day the summit of High Stile with its numerous and confusing micro summits and cairns. The summit a little way to the north east of the main summit is actually higher at eight hundred and seven metres above sea level.
  15. An interesting ridge walk can now be had heading south east along the ridge to High Crag. Do be careful here as the original and mostly used path does skirt extremely close to the top of Eagle Crag and Comb Crag, a fall here could be fatal, so beware in snow on cornices here and take extra special care watching your steps.
  16. Once you reach High Crag you can bask in the views of the ridge and over the two lakes to the Derwent Fells on the other side. The view behind into Ennerdale from here shows you the huge difference between the two valleys. Ennerdale being much more of a wild affair though somewhat tamed by heavy forestry plantations.
  17. The descent off High Crag is quite a steep and sudden one down the Gamlin Edge. Recent path upgrades here have been hugely successful making this a make safer descent than it used to be.
  18. You will quickly reach the summit of the small bump of Seat, a nice place to sit on its southern side and look over the Ennerdale Valley to the mighty Pillar. Ascend from Seat into the Scarth Gap Pass then head straight up the opposite side up the popular zig zag ascent of Haystacks western side. Here you may be shocked at just how many people are walking up from Buttermere to bag this famous and popular fell. Haystacks was of course made famous by the most famous fell walker of all Alfred Wainwright.
  19. In his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells Wainwright wrote "Haystacks stands unabashed and unashamed in the middle of a circle of much loftier fells, like a shaggy terrier in the company of foxhounds, some of them known internationally, but not one of this distinguished group of mountains around Ennerdale and Buttermere can show a greater variety and a more fascinating arrangement of interesting features." I certainly get what he means as Haystacks seems to have its own landscape, you could spend hours discovering it.
  20. I prefer my mountains lofty and pointy, I think Mr Wainwright preferred the peace and quiet he could get by hiding away on this unique rocky landscape. He had absolutely no idea what a kind of death wish he put on that lonely landscape however by proclaiming it his favourite. When you reach the summit there is no trig point but a cairn on a rock and a tiny summit tarn. In the summer months this mountain can be absolutely packed with walkers and tourists.
  21. One good thing about the small summit tarn on Haystacks is that it acts as a decoy, tricking many a tourist into thinking they are stood at Innominate Tarn, some returning the way they came. Head in a south easterly direction on the obvious path and after just under half a kilometre you will reach the real Innominate Tarn, often quieter than the summit tarn.
  22. Alfred Wainwright's ashes were spread here on Innominate Tarn as was his wish to be left in peace at his favourite place... "All I ask for, at the end, is a last long resting place by the side of Innominate Tarn on Haystacks, where the water gently laps the gravely shore and the heath blooms and Pillar and Gable keep unfailing watch. A quiet place, a lonely place, I shall go to it, for the last time and be carried, someone who knew me in life will take me and empty me out of a little box and leave me there alone. And if you dear reader, should get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me". Reading those words and sitting by the tarn having lunch with the great man it is hard not too be humbled.
  23. From Innominate Tarn you need to head off east along the obvious path, after three hundred metres the path passes another larger summit tarn known as Blackbeck Tarn. To the left here is another Haystacks top by the name of Green Crag. As the path passes Green Crag it then starts to descend still heading east then slightly north east towards Little Round How.
  24. Below Little Round How the path splits, a faint path heads off left which takes a slightly more interesting route below Green Crag down to Warnscale Bottom. However despite not being as interesting I do prefer to take the path down to Warnscale Beck to reach the other side of the valley, this way you get to see the very best of Green Crag from a better vantage point.
  25. After crossing the beck you can head uphill to explore the old Dubs Quarry building now a brilliant bothy and great shelter in bad weather. Take the bridleway path west now following the descent course of the beck, the path passes impressive waterfalls on the Warnscale Beck and then turns right through the screes below Striddle Crag before turning into a bridleway track through Warnscale Beck taking you back all the way to Gatesgarth.
  26. At Gatesgarth turn left and walk along the road till it reaches the shores of Buttermere. The way back to Buttermere Village now is straight forward and sign posted from here on, following the shore heading north along the shore line. If you are lucky you'll get to do this section on a clear and still day as the reflections of the ridge of mountains you climbed earlier can be awesome. At one point the path passes through an interesting tunnel through a cliff on the side of the lake. The walking is easy and through lovely woodland paths by the lake side.
  27. Once you are back at Buttermere Village you can go and explore its fantastic pubs, restaurants and tea rooms for well deserved refreshments. If you anted to stay the night there is the youth hostel and plenty of B&B's and hotels.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL4 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 89 Map Click to buy Harvey Super Walker Lakeland West Map Click to buy Harvey Lake District Mountain Map

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...


  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.

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