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Chasing Tiggywinkle on Catbells
Cat Bells (Lake District)
Member Name: silverbird44
Cat Bells (Lake District)
Advantages: A small amount of effort for a good view, interesting path up
Disadvantages: Very busy, especially in Summer
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.
Summary: A family mountain, but deserves to be climbed by all
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