Catbells, Lake District, Cumbria

Blessed with fine spring weather and a week with no other commitments, I headed to the Lake District with my wonderful lady Kelly.  The Lake District is perhaps my favourite region of this Fair Isle, certainly my favourite region outside of Yorkshire!  I have been visiting the Lakes for my whole life and I never get tired of the place, I genuinely love the area and savor every visit.

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View across Derwent Water, Blencathra in the background.

The Lake District has a lifetime’s worth of attractions but the main draw for me is the abundance of beautiful mountains, hills and peaks (know in the Lake District still by the Old Norse term of Fell) to walk.  Of course, this is no secret and the walks of the Lake District are world famous largely due to one man, the inimitable Alfred Wainwright, whose guidebooks have inspired many generations of fell walkers since they were first published in the fifties and sixties.  In his seven guide books, he covers no less than 214 fells in the Lake District, in his own unique, humorous yet concise style. These fells have since been dubbed ‘Wainwrights’ and ‘Wainwright bagging’ has become a hobby/sport/obsession to many a walker.

Catbells (behind Derwent Island) from the launch at Keswick.

Catbells (behind Derwent Island) from the launch at Keswick.

It is one such Wainwright that we choose to trek on this mild April morning; Kelly’s inaugural Lakeland Fell and my first wander up one of the most popular summits of the Lake District, Catbells.  One of the ‘family fells’ situated around Lake Derwent with a ‘modest’ height of 1481’, it seemed like an ideal introduction to fell walking for Kelly.

The only way is up

The only way is up

We set off from Hawse End in mild temperatures and cloudy skies.  The trail begins at a cattle grid at a junction on the road from Portinscale to Grange.

Cattle Grid marks the beginning of the walk

Cattle Grid marks the beginning of the walk

The gravel path immediately becomes a steep ascent of about a mile towards the first ‘peak’ of the fell.  The path is well kept but punctuated with sections of rock outcrops and we are accompanied for most of our journey by an overly enthusiastic Labrador of another couple matching our pace (approximately).  We are soon at the rock escarpment of the first ‘peak’, marked with a memorial tablet to Thomas Arthur Leonard, a pioneer and activist largely responsible for making outdoor holidays available and popular to the ordinary working public.

Memorial tablet

Memorial tablet

Approaching the first 'peak' of Catbells

Approaching the first ‘peak’ of Catbells

View over Derwent from the first 'peak'

View over Derwent from the first ‘peak’

The view is spectacular and only the bracing wind serves to distract from the beautiful panorama of Grisedale Pike round to Skiddaw, Blencathra, et-all, onto Catstycam, High Seat and Helvellyn.

Selfie at the first Peak, the summit in the background between us

Selfie at the first Peak, the summit in the background between us

We press on along the ridge path to the summit.  The immediate approach to the summit quickly becomes quite a scramble with the pathway dissolving into almost sheer rock faces.  This sounds fairly daunting, but in reality there are any number of routes up this final twenty feet or so of rock and it makes for an exciting approach to the fell’s summit.

Trail to the summit of the Fell

Trail to the summit of the Fell

We reach the top and marvel at the incredible panorama.  It’s easy to see why this is such a popular fell and indeed we are in company on the rocky outcrop that forms the summit.

I can recognise many of the iconic fells making up the view, but am not sure of a few so try and identify them from my OS map.  At about the same time the wind picks up and blows it everyway except the way I want to read it, so I resort to plan B using my Wainwright guide.  This also proves tricky as my £2.99 compass apparently doesn’t point north!  Still, AW must have anticipated this and his excellent line drawings and diagrams suffice to identify the beautiful scenery.  The views are incredible with many of the iconic fells bordering the two beautiful lakes of Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite.

Panorama from the summit of Catbells.  Path towards Black Crag and Bull Crag centre

Panorama from the summit of Catbells. Path towards Black Cragg and Bull Cragg centre

View back over our approach, Bassenthwaite in the background

View back over our approach, Bassenthwaite in the background.  To the left of Bassenthwaite you can see Barf and Lord’s Seat (blog coming very soon) and to the right Ullock Pike and Longside. 

We stop for a little while and talk to the other walkers before dropping down the other side of the rocky peak and along the ridge trail leading towards Black Cragg and Bull Cragg.  This is an appealing looking walk itself that could lead to many attractive destinations around Borrowdale, but that’s for another day.  Today we reach the crossroads in the dip between the fells known as Hause Gate and begin the gentle ascent towards the Lake shore.

Footpath down from Hause Gate towards Manstey Wood

Footpath down from Hause Gate towards Manstey Wood

We stop as a pleasant little plateau about half way down just as the sun breaks through the clouds and enjoy our lunch.

Lunch site, good view

Lunch site, good view

The path then continues, past a memorial tablet and bench for Hugh Wapole, an early 20th Century author who made his home at the bottom of this very fell overlooking Derwent Water.

Memorial tablet

Memorial tablet

A wee rest at the Hugh Wapole memorial seat

A wee rest at the Hugh Wapole memorial seat

View from just above the  the Hugh Wapole memorial tablet.  the blooming spring Daffs in contrast to the looming rain clouds!

View from just above the the Hugh Wapole memorial tablet. the blooming spring Daffs in contrast to the looming rain clouds!

It offers a fine view and after taking it in we continue our descent before coming to the Old Green Road as noted in Wainwright’s guide.  The road runs alongside the tarmac road to Grange and the footpath branches into a variety of routes.  We choose the path that drops down through Brandlehow Wood and skirts the shore of the lake.  It’s a lovely end to a fine walk, with the sun just beginning to peak through the trees.  As an added bonus we come across and interesting wooden sculpture at the end of the woodland trail, two beautifully carved hands entitled ‘Entrust’.  It’s a celebration of 100 years of the National Trust and a fitting symbol.  Rather than try and explain it, I’ll let the pictures do the talking and you can reach your own ideas on the matter.

'Entrust'

‘Entrust’

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We loop round through the remainder of the wood trail that takes us back to the cattle grid where we began.  A fantastic walk, with beautiful views and excellent company.  I can see why Catbells is so popular and I resolve to return and use it as a starting point for a horseshoe walk around Borrowdale, but there’s another 213 Wainwrights to go before then…

View of Catbells from across Derwent Water

View of Catbells from across Derwent Water

If you have a few spare minutes, take a look at this amazing video showing most of our trail taken with a drone cam. (credit to youtube user savedpurplecat)

Further Reading/Reference:

http://www.wainwrightroutes.co.uk/northwesternfells.htm

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pictorial-Guide-Lakeland-Fells-Western/dp/0711227128

http://www.visitcumbria.com/peaks/Catbells/

http://www.douglashope.co.uk/T_A_Leonard

http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/9334791/the-herries-chronicles-by-hugh-walpole-review/

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7887/7887-h/7887-h.htm

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