As I have been visiting my native Cumbria and enjoyed a lot of hiking in the Lake District, I would like to share some of my favourite places, in the form of a new series, ‘Lake District Love Letters.’ Alfred Wainwright famously recorded every walking route up every single mountain (fell) over 1000ft in the Lake District national park. His meticulously well-drawn and thoroughly researched guides are still in use today, and he described them as his ‘love letters to the Lake District.’ I imagine him being horrified at people who set out today to ‘do the Wainwrights,’ ticking off a list of fells climbed hurriedly in order to move on to the next. He spent months and sometimes years in each area researching and planning his guidebooks. His was a true love of each and every mountain, and he knew each one intimately. I have climbed many of his routes and some of them several times, in different seasons and conditions. I have not climbed every one, but every one I’ve climbed, I’ve come to know and love. Today, I present to you a perennial family favourite, Catbells.
More about Catbells
The name of the fell derives most from ‘Cat Bields’ meaning ‘shelter of the wild cat.’ Presumably, wild cats used to live here, though they certainly don’t anymore. Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggywinkle had her home just below the mountain, in the neighbouring Newlands Valley.
Catbells stands a modest 451 m (1,481 ft) above sea level, on the western shore of Derwentwater close to the town of Keswick. It is an inviting prospect to hikers of all levels, and as such gets busy on sunny summer days. Despite its appearance, the ascent is steep and requires some rocky scrambling, so wear hiking books and be prepared to keep children under control. It is perfectly climbable by children, but, like all mountains, presents risks if not treated with respect.
I would recommend walking the route from north to south, beginning at Hawes End on the west shore of Derwentwater. You can reach the start of the walk by car, though there is limited parking space, so you would have to arrive early in order to ensure a place to park. Far more pleasant is to take the Keswick Launch from the lakeshore at Keswick to Hawes End, or take the 77 Honister Rambler bus from Keswick, which stops at the base of the fell.
From this point, the route is on a clear footpath through bracken, first rising to a lower summit then reaching a plateau before the main ascent, which is a steep scramble requiring the use of both hands and feet, but not technically difficult at all. The ascent takes about an hour at a steady walking pace.
The summit is quite exposed, and can often be buffeted by high winds, but the views in all directions are spectacular. To the north lies the majestic Skiddaw, towering above Keswick. Derwentwater lies directly below in all its splendour, and the Newlands valley carves out a dramatic hollow to the west. If you would like a more challenging walk, you can continue over Maiden Moor to High Spy and Dale Head before descending to Newlands Valley and completing the Dale Head horseshoe (this is a walk for more experienced hikers – allow at least 6 hours for the 12-mile route.)
The descent south leads to the delightful town of Grange in the beautiful Borrowdale valley, probably my favourite of all the Lake District valleys. It may be the wettest place in Britain, but it is also one of the lushest and greenest, full of native woodlands which are a delight to walk amongst.
Be sure to reward yourself with tea and cake in the Grange Cafe before taking the bus or boat back to Keswick. Alternatively, you can walk back along the lake shore and extend your hike by a further 2-3 hours. The western shore has the prettiest walkways.
I hope you enjoyed this first Lake District Love Letter! You will find more of my images from the Lake District on Instagram @experimentsinfiction.