“A family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together, a place beloved.” This is how Alfred Wainwright described Cat Bells, near Keswick and we couldn’t wait to get exploring this little fell.
Parking at the foot of Cat Bells can be a little tricky – there’s not too much space and it’s a really popular walk so instead of trying to squeeze in somewhere, we decided to add a little more adventure to the day. Parking at Lakeside car park (postcode CA12 5DG), we took Keswick Launch across Derwent Water to Hawes End.
Unfortunately we’d missed the early walkers boat direct to Hawes End, so we bought our tickets, had a wander round the shop and spent £1.20 going to the toilet (40p a go!)
It wasn’t a long wait for the next boat and the ride allowed us to take in the scenery from a different perspective. There were lots of people on board – some touring the whole of the lake, some, like us, heading for a walk up Cat Bells. I had read in Wainwright’s guide book that the name Cat Bells could be a distortion of Cat Bield, or shelter of the wild cat so I told Rowan about this. He was really excited, and a little apprehensive, about a potential encounter with a ferocious feline. A couple next to us overheard our conversation and told Rowan how impressed they were that he would be climbing the little mountain, which only served to boost his confidence.
After about 15 minutes, we arrived at our stop, a tree lined stony shore with a beautiful pine tree standing sentinel by the jetty (also mentioned by Alfred Wainwright in his map of the route from Hawes End)
The trail to Cat Bells from the jetty was well signposted. We passed through a kissing, crossed a small bridge and continued until we reached a narrow road.
From here, we followed a rugged track though the trees and alongside a wall until we reached the road and another signpost at the foot of the fell directing us to Cat Bells summit.
After a little reading practise, we head along a gravel track which gave way to pitching in the sections where the path steepened. I was glad of the breeze, which kept us cooler as we made our way up the fell side. During this first section, Rowan struggled a little, but despite finding it initially tiring, and with a few sit downs to rest, he soon got his wind and was determined to continue onwards.
As we climbed, the views began to open up around us. Looking behind, we could see the tree covered hill of Swinside, with Bassenthwaite Lake just about glinting through behind it. To the left of the lake we could see Barf (snigger) and to the right was Skiddaw and its surrounding fells, all looking very inviting for another day.
Navigation is not a problem on Cat Bells. Due to its popularity, the path is wide and quite eroded, but even without the effects of footfall, the route simply follows the ridge all the way to the summit. Ahead, we could see the first section of steep rock to scramble up, and behind us, looking across the Derwent Water we could see sunlight catching the tops of Blencathra and Skiddaw. I just love the names of these mountains.
Once we reached the scramble, any tiredness was long forgotten as Rowan excitedly climbed up the rocks, his gloves giving him “extra stickiness”. He stuck to the bare rock all the way up, never wanting to take any of the erosion paths to the sides. Off to our right we could see Causey Pike’s pointed summit reaching up towards the clouds.
This stroll up Cat Bells is one of those walks that is really inspiring. Not only do you have the fun of little scrambles, but there are also fabulous views. I hadn’t previously walked that much in this area of the Lakes and all around were hills that I wanted to visit next. The view of the Derwent Water had opened up and we could see the islands dotted across the water. The islands are looked after by the National Trust and it is possible to hire a canoe to explore them – an adventure for another day, but you can find some details here.
Our next target was Skelgill Bank which climbed steeply ahead, with the promise of more scrambling to be had. By this point, Rowan was spending as much time on the rock as possible, opting to walk over any little outcrop along the path he could find, declaring he was “never going to take the easy route”.
Skelgill Bank attained, and after a little rest, we continued along the ridge. The scrambles were broken up with sections of easy, relatively flat walking which broke up the effort perfectly, giving enough time to catch your breath before the next scramble was reached. The beautiful Newlands Valley gave us something to admire as we strolled along the flat sections.
The summit of Cat Bells rising up imposingly ahead of us. The last section of clambering was more prolonged, but Rowan thrived on the challenge. He was very much helped by people commenting on how well he was doing – and for me it was lovely to see how proud that made him feel. One lady made his day when she announced that he must be Spiderman (most people don’t know he’s been bitten by a radioactive spider and can spin webs). It was also brilliant to see him get excited about the view when he sat down for a little rest.
Before too long, we reached the top. Rowan went to inspect the pillar that identified the view in different directions and after a photo on the summit platform of rock, we found a place to stop and eat our dinner.
As we sat, Rowan proudly drinking hot chocolate from his big man’s flask, I showed him the Wainwright guide book – in particular the view of Robinson and Hindscarth as this was what we could see ahead of us. We were both amazed by the drawing and how it tied up completely with what we could see. These two tops are now on Rowan’s wish list to visit.
We spent a long time relaxing in the sunshine at the top. It was a busy day and people came and went around us. One couple arrived with a drone to take aerial photos. Rowan’s day was made for a second time when they offered to show him how it flies and to take a look at the screen to see what the drone could see – including a little boy waving back at himself. You meet some lovely people on the fells.
Eventually, we had to press on though. We had a ferry to catch back to the car and I didn’t want to have march back along the shoreline of Derwent Water. There is a steep but very doable section of rock to negotiate before walking down to a wide path to Hawes Gate. Once down, Rowan loved the freedom of running along the grass.
Ahead of us we could see the route up Maiden Moor, enticing us upwards, but we were sticking with our plan. In the grassy slopes of the fell ahead, we could just about make out the dark opening of one of the mines. We had found the shelter of the wild cat and it must be sleeping! Luckily for us!
As we reached the bottom of the depression, we found a fab slate sign, embedded onto the path. A bit more reading practise and we made our way on the direction of the lake.
Before we began our descent down the fell side, we had a look at Rowan’s compass. We noticed how the red part of the needle always pointed north and the white part pointed south. We worked out that we were facing south (ish) but soon we would be walking north. Rowan was fascinated. As we started to head down the pitched path, he kept checking which direction we were going in. Start them young.
The path downwards was quite steep in places, which made Rowan a little nervous. We held hands, and I told him that if he ever felt wobbly or that he might fall, he should sit on his bum. And if the steps were too big, there was no problem with using his bum to get down. He managed much better after a couple of trial bums runs.
Eventually, the path became a gentle incline and we yomped along, admiring the views as we went. We spotted the road and knew we would soon be walking along the lake.
In the meantime, we enjoyed the nature along our path – bright yellow gorse bushes, their flowers like sunshine, and little trees showing signs of blossoms.
Eventually, we came to a signpost for High Brandelhow. We followed the path down to a gates and passing through we found ourselves in the shade of a little wood.
The path led down to the pebbly shore and the coolness of the water. It was very tempting to take our boots off to have a little paddle, but I was conscious of having to get the ferry back to our car so we pressed on.
I love walking through trees, looking at the different shapes, colours and textures. There were branches reaching down towards the water as if trying to take a sip, strange angular shapes, moss covered branches and tiny trees in technicolour green. So much to take in.
Soon we came to the Brandelhow hands sculpture. These beautiful wooden hands were commissioned 2002 to celebrate the centenary of the National Trust in the Lakes.
Continuing on, and after a climb on a fallen tree stump, we passed through a gate to find Low Brandelhow jetty. I checked the time and realised a boat would be along soon, so rather than walk all the way back to Hawes End, we waited here. It was a good choice. Within a couple of minutes, we saw the little boat heading our way. We boarded and sat outside, enjoying the ride back to Keswick, just as it started to rain.
Despite it being busy, Cat Bells really is a lovely little fell. If you liked the look of this walk, you can find a map here. We covered just over four miles and climbed around 580 metres.