Great Borne

Published 9 February 2020

Trig point at the top of Great Bourne
Looked rather enigmatic despite the dark cloud.

If you’re in Buttermere, you can’t escape a group of fells looking down on the village and the lake. Fells that stand there, calling for you. And I was in Buttermere. And they did call me. So I went to visit five of them, starting with Great Borne.

Now here’s the question. What is the point of buying a guide book that advises you on the best way to do something, then deliberately, resolutely ignoring the advice given by said book?

It’s a question I had to ask myself as I was about to completely ignore what was said in my guide book. For one Alfred Wainwright, author of A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells: Book Seven – The Western Fells, was unequivocal on the matter. On the matter of climbing Great Borne from Buttermere, he was clear.

Because of the boggy crossing of Mosedale Head, this approach is not attractive and cannot be recommended.

Now there are times that Alfred Wainwright wrote not to do something, and then went to much effort to tell you how to do the thing he’d just told you not to do. But this time he was serious.

There are better things to do from Buttermere.

And to prove how serious he was in this, he drew a box round the text. And left it at that. He didn’t put in any maps. No diagrams. No text to tell you how to not do it. He didn’t provide any information at all for how to tackle Great Borne if you wanted to start at Buttermere. Nothing. All he provided was his recommended four mile route from Ennerdale Bridge. That was what he wanted everyone to do. And he was going to ensure that that’s what they did by only telling you how to do it.

Church in Buttermere village
Church of St James, Buttermere – near the start of my walk

But his recommended route has a flaw. An issue. A problem. See, Great Borne is at the start of a ridge walk. Quite a big one actually. If you didn’t need to stop for food or sleep, you could start walking at Great Borne and walk on over 16 different fells before you ran out of new ones to walk. And of those 16 fells, only the ones at either end can be accessed from Ennerdale Bridge. Nothing else has a route back there.

So someone who wants to walk Great Borne can do one of two things. They can either walk the four miles from Ennerdale to Great Borne, then go back down again the way they came. Or they can ignore Wainwright’s instructions, walk up Great Borne from Buttermere, visit a few other fells, then head back down to the village again.

Ah, you may say, what about buses? Couldn’t you use public transport? Get the bus to Ennerdale and then end your walk in Buttermere?

Grasmoor and Crummock Water
Water and a lump of fell

No. You can’t. There’s no buses to Ennerdale. Nowt. Not a single one.

So starting my walk from Buttermere it was. Sorry Alfred. I had no choice.

I did think Wainwright may have been a little too harsh on an ascent from Buttermere though. For starters, you can do it by going alongside Scale Force. The tallest waterfall in the Lake District, it sees the water of Scale Beck fall down an impressive 50m drop. Oh and it has two smaller drops as well, for good measure.

It was there I headed to first, via a path that meanders along the side of Crummock Water. It’s the larger of the two lakes near Buttermere village. And it’s often overshadowed by smaller neighbour, Buttermere. But it’s a pleasant lake, surrounded by fells, and all the better for it.

I followed the path round until I found Scale Beck and the footpath that heads uphill besides it. A short, stiff climb and there was Scale Force. And it was immediately clear why the Ordnance Survey map called the place out as a visitor attraction.

Slow exposure photograph of Scale Force
A waterfall. Or a wizard holding his staff, in the water. Take your pick.

The Force was a spectacular sight. Water came crashing down that big drop, reached a pool then came down again. What Scale Force lacked in girth , it made up for in height and drama. Yes, this was a place that was worthy of a visit all right.

A narrow path made its way upwards along the side of the waterfall, and then next to Scale Beck. Red coloured stones – a feature of nearby fell, Red Pike – providing an interesting change from the normal grey slabs of rock that fill Lakeland’s fells.

It was a enjoyable climb. And enjoy it I did, even at the bits where the water flooded out on to the path. Why hadn’t Wainwright suggested doing this, I wondered? True, the path was going up to Great Borne, but as way to get to Great Borne, it seemed to be going well so far.

The red stone path alongside Scale Beck
The red stone path alongside Scale Beck

Then it was time to divert off the Red Pike path. There’s no direct route from Scale Beck to Great Bourne, so the walker needs to make their own way. Next to a side stream, I forded Scale Beck and started the 2km walk to Great Borne by striding off over rough ground.

I say striding. It was more squelching. The hillside I was now scrabbling up was a mixture of wet bog, and drier heather topped ground. Now I realised why Alfred Wainwright had not been keen to recommend this route. It was dull. It was tedious. It was wet. So very wet.

It’s hard to muster up any enthusiasm when you’re walking over boggy land. I always challenge myself to try and think positive though. So with that in mind, it must be said that there was enough water on the ground to wash all the mud off my boots. So that was good.

Fence on heather-topped fell Great Borne
Keep following the fence.

After a while I reached a fence that, if I followed it for a kilometre, would take me to the top of Great Borne. And when the fence abruptly turned right, there was even a path. I quietly rejoiced at my suddenly ability to stamp along on a flat, even, and very dry surface. And I rejoiced even more when, after a brief stroll over some more bog, I found myself at Great Bourne’s rocky summit.

It was a well equipped fell top. Obligatory cairn to mark the highest point of the hill. A trig point made out the same kind of reddy stone I’d trampled on earlier. And a wind shelter too. All this on a fell that Wainwright had described as “not frequented by walkers.”

That may have been true in 1966 when Wainwright published his Pictorial Guide to the Western Fells. Was it true now, 53 years later? Quite likely. I hadn’t seen a soul since I’d left Buttermere a couple of hours earlier. Later that day I’d see loads of people. But no one seemed to be heading to Great Borne.

Rocky summit of Great Borne
Trig point, stone shelter, cairn. Great Borne has it all.

I sat in the shelter for a while. Well, someone had gone to a lot of trouble to put it there. It seemed only fair to do so. And as I did, I thought back to Wainwright’s words. His warning not to do what I’d now done.

Were there better walks to do from Buttermere? I was confident there were. But was it so bad that I should never have done it? That I wasn’t sure about. Yes, that boggy traverse was pretty awful. But the walk up Scale Force had been pretty good. The two rather cancelled each other out. So overall, well it been that bad. Really.

Next time: to Starling Dodd!

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