The cream of Buttermere
Now tell me dear reader, is there a land more classically beautiful than Lakeland? And in all Lakeland is there a valley more charming than Buttermere? And could there possibly be a better time to enjoy that charm and beauty than when autumn paints the hills a rich russet and the sky is a cloudless blue? Well, we all have our own tastes but my answer to the above questions is an emphatic NO. Which means of course that one October day Lucie and I were lucky enough to score a triple wammy and enjoy a day of superlatives. Read it and weep my friends.
It all started in May when in the company of Andy ‘Desperate’ Dann I had indulged in a Wainwright bagging spree on Fleetwith Pike, Haystacks and the High Stile Ridge. Towards the end of our walk I had peered into Birkness Comb spying climbers on Grey Crag and immediately knew that one day I had to climb there. Once back home I perused my many books and learned of exposed climbs on perfect rock with a sunny aspect. The die was cast, I just needed an opportunity to make it happen so when we were given the chance of a Lakeland holiday there was only one place it was going to kick off.
That morning in Buttermere was like a waking dream. The lake was mirror still, the valley all but deserted and there was I sharing it with a very special woman. An intense aura of romance filled the air as it always does in Lakeland and a man in his late 30’s skipped along as if in the first flush of youth. That is until he started walking uphill! It was warm, too warm and in shirt sleeves we toiled and boiled all the way into Birkness Comb which on closer acquaintance left me reeling. As I spend the majority of my mountain days in North Wales I am well used to awe inspiring glacial hollows but Birkness was something else, displaying a grandeur I had little suspected from below.
I had planned a trio of routes linking up the three tiers of Grey Crag to provide a first class itinerary, but when Lucie discovered that Harrow Buttress is a lowly diff she vetoed the idea claiming that it was beneath her dignity and a waste of time. On seeing its gleaming holds for myself I chose not to argue. So that left us with just two to do and after a brief philosophy session we sauntered over to Mitre Buttress Direct which while not the best climb in the world but does have a fantastic third pitch and gives a good introduction to Grey Crag to those of us who think climbs graded difficult are trifling scrambles.
After our first climb we baked a while on a sun drenched slab and watched folk having a day in a million on High Stile. The Scafells loomed large on the horizon and Pillar assumed the guise of a shadowy giant as I took photos of walkers on the adjacent ridge. Oh how we wished they would come across and request our email addresses in order to send us the photographs they had been taking of us all morning!
Sensing that time was starting to get away from us we turned our attention to the highlight of the day, ‘Oxford and Cambridge Direct Route’ which from our vantage point looked somewhat improbable at severe. A more detailed inspection was needed if we were to learn the truth. I (generous to a fault) gave Lucie the first pitch which starts in the shade before swinging into the light, tackling a couple of overhanging bulges on the way to a comfortable ledge. I was suitably impressed and smacked my lips at the prospect of what lay ahead. That is until I started to climb.
Now, what witchery was this? An overhanging jamming crack almost had me beaten before I began. It had been a couple of months since my last outing on the gritstone so I was somewhat rusty and chose to ignore the jams and use a series of strangely placed holds instead, almost falling off in the process. This was not how it was supposed to be! Never mind, all that remained was a bold slab, implausibly exposed which rumour has it produces a hidden ‘thank god’ hold just when palsied limbs threaten to shake one from the rock to the very foundations of the crag. Unfortunately my encounter with the crack had discombobulated my equilibrium and I was struggling, climbing up then down repeatedly until a cry came from below. It was the bouncing Czech seizing the chance to flex her mental muscle and emasculate poor old me, “Stop messing about up there. The gear is good so get on with it before I do”. This eventuality though putting me in a shameful light was too good to pass up. “Come on then if you think you’re bold enough” I chuckled. And she was, but gibber she did until her hands found the fabled jug. She then romped to the top muttering something about pussy cats but I wasn’t listening, choosing to concentrate on my belay duties rather than indulge in idle chat. In the coming days I would get my own back but for now I was glad to have a rope above me as I swarmed up the final few metres of a short but quite spectacular climb.
Back at the sacks we shared our last dribble of water in a vain attempt to slake our raging thirst before slithering down the screes in the gloaming as Grasmoor turned blood red and an ethereal mist formed over Crummock Water. And once more I walked as if in a dream.