Warnscale Head Bothy visit

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A climb from Gatesgarth Farm in the Buttermere Valley up to the MBA-maintained and well-camouflaged Warnscale Head Bothy for a look inside

Lake District bothies and the Mountain Bothies Association

There are five Lake District bothies: Warnscale Head, Dubs Hut, Mosedale Cottage, Great Lingy Hut and Black Sail. The latter is owned and operated by the YHA, the others are owned by a variety of people but managed by the Mountain Bothies Association (or MBA).

Unlike Black Sail, the MBA bothies are free to use. All the MBA ask in return is that some basic rules are followed. For more details, as well as how to donate to this very worthwhile organisation, feel free to visit the MBA website.

N.B. While Covid-19 restrictions are in place all the bothies are closed. The MBA website has an announcement to this effect on its front page.

Finding Warnscale Head Bothy

I have visited Warnscale Head Bothy and nearby Dubs Hut a number of times. Whereas I have never stayed in either they are still interesting places to explore. Plus they are both in stunning locations.

Dubs Hut Bothy is easy to find as it occupies the plateau behind Fleetwith Pike’s summit so is not hidden from view. Also it is next to the main path cutting across the head of the Warnscale Valley. For reference though its grid reference is NY209134.

Finding Warnscale Head Bothy is a much tougher challenge though, if you don’t already know exactly where it is. The shortest route to it involves parking at Gatesgarth Farm at the head of the Buttermere Valley. From there walk up the Warnscale Bottom path, sticking to the eastern side of Warnscale Beck. The path gets steeper and eventually takes a sharp left turn above the beck, now in a ravine down to the right. Not far after this turn the bothy can be seen on the far side of the gully.

Warnscale Head Bothy surrounded by slate rocks and flowing heather
Warnscale Head Bothy from the Fleetwith Pike path

As it is built from the local slate it is very well disguised! In case you need help spotting it, the bothy is in the top left quarter of the above photo.

To get to it continue up the path and not far beyond the head of the ravine look out for a ford in Warnscale Beck. A path leads down to the beck, over the ford and up the other side, eventually leading to the bothy. In case it helps, Warnscale Head Bothy’s grid reference is NY205133.

Inside Warnscale Head Bothy

I have visited Warnscale Bothy a number of times and it seems the MBA are spending time and money on improving it. One thing that hasn’t been improved is the access for tall people like myself though. The door is tiny! The 18th century miners who built it must have been very short.

Warnscale Head Bothy entrance door
The small door into Warnscale Bothy

At least it keeps the rain and most of the wind at bay though.

A couple of years ago Warnscale Bothy was just a shell. It had a fireplace that couldn’t really be used and just about nothing else. Even so it still served as a decent shelter, especially during the winter. The most obvious addition since is a bench that has been installed along two of the four walls. One end of it can be seen in the following photo.

Warnscale Bothy interior fireplace
The interior of Warnscale Bothy

Over the years people have been leaving a few useful bits and bats. There are a few oil lanterns, candles, a broom, camping beds, plenty of wine bottles (all empty, not due to me!) and a guestbook to sign. All someone needs to stay there the night is bedding, some food and a stove.

The photos of the interior are actually out of date now as they were taken in early June 2016. A couple of weeks after that visit a local group of volunteers installed a nice new stove so visitors don’t need to bring one any more. How plush is this place going to get?! Plus the wine bottles have been cleared away. I did consider postponing publishing this blog until I had got some more up to date photos but I’m guessing they would soon be out of date soon too.

The bothy is owned by the resident of nearby Gatesgarth Farm but it is maintained by the MBA. Denis Molison, the bothy’s MBA Maintenance Organiser, manages this process and also also updates the Warnscale Head Bothy website. I’d recommend visiting this website to keep in touch with the many developments made by him and his team.

Outside Warnscale Head Bothy

There are two things that will never change though.

Firstly there’s my terrible memory. Having taken a set of photos of the inside of the bothy I rather stupidly left a few bits of my tripod there. It was only when on a fell a few days later that I realised my cock-up! By a process of elimination I sussed out where I had left them so returned to the bothy a week later. I needn’t have worried as they were where I had left them on the windowsill. Either no one had stayed there that week or bothy folk are eminently trustworthy. I’d like to think it was the latter.

Secondly, the view of the Buttermere Valley from behind the bothy is superb. The first visit to the bothy was on a bright but overcast summer’s day. This was the view looking down the Warnscale Valley towards Buttermere on that day:

warnscale beck in green warnscale valley from the bothy
View down into the Warnscale Valley from the bothy

Its nice but the light was very flat.

My return trip was much later on and the light was much better. I settled myself down on the pile of slate behind the bothy to watch sunset. As my tripod was now complete again I also took the opportunity to take the following photo:

Sometimes it pays to be forgetful.

That’s another addition to my Buttermere Valley photo collection. I’m sure I’ll take many others here and hopefully I’ll spend the night at some point too.

September 2016 update: Warnscale Bothy fire!

In September, three months after my previous visit, I spent a night camping on Haystacks. The morning after I was in no rush so took a circuitous route back down, calling in at the bothy on my way. Changes have indeed been made: gone are all the empty bottles but to compensate for this a new woodburning stove has been installed.

Warnscale Bothy woodburning stove
The new woodburning stove in Warnscale Bothy

Nice job!

Warnscale Head Bothy visit was last modified: July 11th, 2022 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Haystacks wild camp at Innominate Tarn
    October 2016 : An unforgettable stormy night of wild camping in thunder and lightening at Innominate Tarn on Haystacks (its the only way to get the place to yourself!)

  • Lake District Wild Camping
    July 2023 : A list of wild camping locations in the Lake District National Park tried and tested out by yours truly, including tips and advice

  • Great Gable and Green Gable from Borrowdale
    May 2015 : A day that started out in a murky Borrowdale turned out to be one the most memorable days in the Lake District fells, taking in Great Gable and sunset from Green Gable

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