* Prices may differ from that shown
It's time once again for me to take you by the hand, dear reader, and lead you again to that wonderful place that is known as the English Lake District. That area of hills, mountains, tarns and lakes. Spiky mountains, rugged mountains, rolling hills, high hills; dark lakes, chiselled lakes, deep lakes and glistening tarns. A place of solace, a place for adventure - a world that is worth discovering again... and again... A place of contrasting summits, people and water.
This time we are going to the North-Western side of this place.
Not far from Keswick, everyone's favourite hill, Catbells... At 1481 feet, not too grand, but well worth it!
'...A family fell,' as Wainwright put it so well. 'Where grandmothers and infants can climbs the heights together, a place beloved.'
-So, to Catbells we go-
But before we begin, let us get to the Lakes District first, hey? Up, or down the M6, follow the signs for the Lakes District. For the North-Western Lakes, head off junction 40. Your journey along the A road unfolds the approaching mountains slowly, but surely, with great views of Blencathra, then Skiddaw... But where do you stay? Have a day trip if you like, or stay at one of the Bed and Breakfasts of Hotels in the centre of Keswick. Or camp at nearby Castlerigg Farm, or one of several others in the area.
I remember my first real inspection of Catbells well. I was staying in a B & B one January many moons ago with my friend and his son. The B & B had a great view of this mountain, which is shaped a little bit like a lion lying down, the actual summit being its 'head.' The place drew me, like a magnet. But I decided there and then that I would save this one for my 'last' Wainwright. So, in 1998 I climbed it for the first time.
-How do you get up it?-
There is a 1 ½ mile ascent from Hawse End and this is probably the most popular. It is a fairly easy walk, in both the Summer and in Winter, and one can climb it at one's own pace. There is a little bit of scrambling here and there if one so chooses. I last climbed it in the Summer a few years back with my two children and Borgeth, who was five at the time, got up quite easily and enjoyed the easy scrambling, much to my terror! I had to climb behind him and keep telling him to be careful. Parents, huh!
One can climb it from Grange as well - this is a 2 mile ascent. There are also ascents from Little Town or Skelgil.
-What's the reward when you get there, then?-
Breathtaking views, that's what. I have never been able to choose my favourite lake in the Lake District, but Derwent Water has to be among the front-runners. What a great, beautiful lake! It is not to long and has a friendly ambience about it. In fact it is a little like a friend, and I have many memories which involve this lake. It has islands and boats frequent its waters all year round. It is enshrouded with classic mountains: Walla Crag. High Seat, High Spy...
Then there are the views of the nearby mountains, such as Robinson and Hindscarth. Then we have Skiddaw and Blencathra, Helvellyn, Glaramara and Causey Pike... to name just a few. The summit itself is quite narrow and a little bit lop-sided. Ahead is the inviting prospect of Maiden Moor, well worth a visit at 1 ½ mils away, with 720 feet of ascent...
-Sum-up 'n' safety-
Overall, well worth a visit and probably a good starting point to check out the mountains of the Lake District. But make sure you take waterproofs, maps (you can read), good boots, plenty of food and plenty to drink, especially in the summer...
Most of all... enjoy!
The Lake District is a region of intense natural beauty and home to England's highest mountains, but compared to the peaks of central Europe and Asia it has about as much altitude as the Norfolk Broads. The factor, then, that draws visitors from these loftier heights to our own countryside is not height, but character - the eerie character of Wastwater, the peaceable character of Windermere and the jagged character of Helvellyn. Like Hallin Fell (described in an earlier review), Catbells is a mountain of limited height but unlimited, irresistible character.
The 451m summit of Catbells lies on the western shore of Derwentwater, around three miles from the town of Keswick. Its location is one of its key attractions, in that it lies at the end of the long ridge of Maiden Moor and High Spy and with its neat, rounded crown of a summit, a short sharp climb results in an immediate sense of height and a brilliant all round view.
Catbell's popularity and proximity to Keswick has made it the most popular fell in the Lake District, and because of this the main route up is something of a motorway. This path leads steeply up the ridge, while paths of the sides converge upon it until all climbers are concentrated on the single route. This can lead to a very busy climb.
Saying that, however, the crowdedness of the climb does not detract from its quality. For the majority of the ascent the path is easy if strenuous climbing, but as you approach the summit you find yourself encountering a few low grade rock patches - nothing to be frightened of, really just a slightly steeper than average gradient with a few rocks, but adding some necessary interest to what would otherwise just be an uphill grunt. Kids love these patches as well - just make sure they wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty!
The easiest way to access Catbells is from the car park or lay bys directly at its base, but as these fill up early in the day during the Summer holidays, there are also parking places along the lakeshore road and connecting paths chasing upwards all over Catbell's flanks.
There are multiple good points to Catbells as a mountain: it is short by with a lovely, airy top, has a path that is very interesting for a small mountain and can be climbed by all members of the family (fitness permitting). As an after-Sunday-lunch mountain it cannot be beaten. Once you stand on the top there are beautiful views down to Derwentwater and the mountains on the far side. It is also reputed to be the home of Mrs Tiggywinkle, which is a definite plus point!
Catbells does very little to dispel Lakeland's reputation as a tourist hub. Because most people take the same path up and down, on busy days you will certainly find yourself knocking elbows with people on the slimmer sections of path. The summit can also be a little exposed (I was nearly blown straight off the top on first climbing as a ten year old!), so bear this in mind when going over rocky patches so as to avoid twisted ankles. Also keep an eye on the kids on these patches - although comparatively simple, the gusts of wind can catch little ones off guard.
Just a suggestion
Catbells is fun as an out and back mountain, but I only realised its true potential on a walk two years ago. On this walk, rather than turning back at the summit, we continued up the ridge along Maiden Moor and High Spy. It was an early Easter holiday that year: winter cold was still clinging to the high ridge, and the sky full of bright grey and white clouds. When we reached the edge of the reach, we could see all the way across the valley to where the high interior mountains of Scafell Pike and Great Gable, still shining with bright Winter snow. We walked almost entirely alone, the grassy moor around us rich with the smell of peat and the mountains crystal above, before dropping down the side of the fell and wandering back on a low level track. It was a brilliant day in the mountains, and one that I would encourage anyone looking for a long but not too challenging walk that includes the summit of Catbells to emulate. Although this is not for those on their first ever hike - you guys should maybe stop at Catbells!
At the risk of sounding preachy, I'm going to add this note to all of my walking reviews. Mountain weather and mountain ground are both unpredictable: however easy your planned walk, do not go out without a good map and compass and serviceable waterproofs. Also, as this is a mountain popular with families, I'd suggest being sure that your kids are ok with the gradient and the rocky patches before starting out. Walking and the outdoors are incredible, but they are also very powerful - make sure you treat them with respect!
Catbells is definitely a mountain that deserves a climb. Having climbed it twice now, I don't know that I would feel a burning desire to return, but that's not to take away from what really is a lovely little mountain. The path is interesting, the view great fun, and there's some good continuing walking in the area for those who prefer round walks to out and back. It may be tiny, and it may be busy - but if you are looking for a mountain to climb as a family, then no Lakeland mountain fits the bill better.