the history of buttermere valley...
Huge glaciers gouged out tons of material to form the classic U-shaped valley and ribbon lakes that are evident today. Buttermere and Crummock Water may once have formed one long lake until fluvial deposits from Sour Milk Gill and Sail Beck silted up the central section and created the rich grazing pastures that first attracted human settlement into the area.
Early settlers colonised land near the lakes. Ancient remains can be found at Lanthwaite Green and at the northern end of Melbreak. A pele tower once looked out over Crummock Water (its earthworks still visible on the ground), while the small medieval hamlet and chapel at Rannerdale has all but disappeared. This hidden valley is believed to have been a seat of resistance against the Norman conquerors and witnessed one of the last battles against the invaders, but is now better known for its spectacular display of bluebells in the spring.
Historically, it was cows rather than sheep that were the dominant grazing animals. Gatesgarth Farm, at the foot of Fleetwith Pike, was once a medieval ‘vaccary' or dairy farm. Nowadays, it is one of the largest sheep farms in the area, raising flocks of Herdwicks and Swaledales on the vast acres of common land. Barley, oats and corn were also grown in the valley, with a corn mill (now the Bridge Hotel, Buttermere) crushing the grain to make flour.
Aside from farming and fishing, the local inhabitants made a living from mining and smelting iron ore. Cinderdale (on the eastern shore of Crummock Water) is pitted with numerous depressions in the ground where iron ore was smelted in bloomeries (primitive furnaces).
The discovery of bands of attractive green slate at Honister opened up a new source of income for the local inhabitants. Unusually, the slate at Honister was mined from within the mountain (as well as opencast quarried), and to such an extent that Fleetwith Pike is honeycombed with old workings accessed at different levels and linked by vertical shafts. The roughly finished slates were once sledged down the scree slope, but in the 1880s inclined tramways were introduced to bring the slate out more safely. Honister was mined up to 1986 and, after a period of inactivity, re-opened in 1997. Alongside commercial extraction for roofing and building materials, the mine has since become an award-winning tourist attraction in its own right, offering guided excursions into the subterranean mine workings and the option of an exhilarating Via Ferrata following the old miners' route to work.
Tourism arrived in Buttermere in the late 18th century, with visitors coming to marvel at the majestic peaks and quiet calm of the lakes. Some large houses were built near the lakes, but the overall scale of development was much less than at Windermere or Ullswater, and the beautiful lakes of Buttermere and Loweswater remain idyllic locations for hill walking or gentle lakeshore strolls rounded off by sampling the locally produced ales and ice creams.