Wintery waterfalls in Buttermere Valley
Slate grey skies, wet rock gleaming like mica, and the exhilarating rush of white water hurling itself into space. The elemental joy of being outside in the winter rain, sleet and snow is the joy of knowing that you’re truly alive.
The Lake District is famous for its rain, and the silver lining it brings is that the waterfalls achieve a majesty and a raw power that they only rarely achieve in summer. Tiny crevices in the rock that would normally pass unnoticed suddenly blaze out a stark white against the dark ground as the water turns every gill and crack and chimney into a cascade that lasts only as long as the shower.
The Buttermere Valley has quite a few of these beauties, so in the Nordic tradition that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing, we recommend getting thoroughly togged up before heading out to see them.
Sourmilk Gill is impossible to miss. It thunders and creams down nearly 400m (1,300ft) of steep fellside from Bleaberry Tarn to Buttermere in one headlong cascade through the trees. When it’s in spate its power is awesome – during the 2009 floods it brought pink granophile boulders the size of microwaves crashing down from Red Pike until it completely filled the channel beneath the footbridge.
There is a pitched footpath up beside Sourmilk Gill to Bleaberry Tarn, but it’s very steep and the stones can be extremely slippery in wet conditions.
Scale Force is the tallest single drop waterfall in the Lake District. About an hour’s walk from Buttermere village, it’s a shy waterfall that hides deep inside a narrow rock gorge above Crummock Water.
The Victorians used to take a rowing boat from the opposite side of the lake, then walk up a set of wooden steps to view the long fall. To view it these days involves scrambling up a large boulder which is slimy with moss at the best of times. A safer experience is to stand on the footbridge and listen to the roar of the water echoing in the gorge.
Holme Force is the least-known of the waterfalls in the valley. A gentle walk through Holme Wood beside Loweswater, rising up a forest track leads you to the base of this series of falls which spout from moss-covered rock arches to form a series of mysterious pools. Locals call this fall the ‘Grey Mare’s Tail’.
If the road isn’t icy, take the narrow winding Newlands Pass road to the layby right at the top at Newlands Hause. From the layby you get a great view of Moss Force crashing down a dramatic black crag from High Snockrigg. There’s also a short path that will lead you closer to the falls, (it will be very slippery in wet conditions)