A bracing Catbells walk in the Lake District with some great views

Overlooking Grisdale Pike from the summit

On another wet and windy day in the Lake District, we decided to walk the seemingly almighty Catbells itself. This Wainwright would take us up some steep climbing. It would also include a touch of scrambling. And best of all the views over the memorising Derwent Water and Keswick. And it all started at the very base of Catbells.

Why is Catbells called Catbells?

Firstly if you would like any information regarding the heights and where to park to walk this awesome Wainwright then please feel free to check out our information page on Catbells.

Catbells is a name that seems to stick with all the Fell walkers. It’s a much easier name to remember and one that once you know the name of it, travellers seem to want to know more about it. So why is Catbells called Catbells? It is said that it could be a confusion of the words Cat Bields, meaning the shelter of a wildcat. However, this has apparently been disputed over time.

Where to start with our Catbells walk

So on the morning of our climb, we decided to park at the very base of Catbells itself for our walk. To get here we came from Cockermouth on the A66 towards Keswick. Before turning for Keswick, there is a turning for Portinscale on the right-hand side. Here we followed the road through Portinscale. Which in summer does get very busy so be careful on the small roads.

Continue out of the village itself and through the back lanes. You’ll drive past Keswick Extreme. Once you get to a fork in the road you want to continue to the Grange/ Hawes End Centre. Follow this around and stay on the road, don’t turn into Hawes End Centre. This will bend up to the right. As you follow this road you’ll soon start to see Cat Bells the Wainwright come into view. The excitement then starts to grow more.

Going around the bends, you’ll soon drive over the cattle grid. As you take the next bend around to the left in the direction of Grange you’ll see the very start on the Catbells walk on the corner. This is where we walked back to start our climb. Continuing around the base of this Wainwright you’ll soon start to see places you can pull over to park. Some of them are big spaces to park and others relatively small. On good days we suggest getting there early to get parked up.

Three walking routes up Catbells

Hawes End to Catbells Summit route
Hawes End to Catbells Summit route
Little Town to the Summit of Cat Bells route
Little Town to the Summit of Cat Bells route
Manesty to Catbells Summit route
Manesty to Catbells Summit route

There are three different walks or routes up Cat Bells. You can start at the base where we will be for this climb, from Hawes End up Skelgill Bank. There is also the southern route, this is where you can start your climb in Manesty which is further on its way to Grange. This way goes up the back end of Catbells also known as Mart Bield. Thirdly you can also climb it from the western side as well, this is from a cute village called Little Town. You can continue to add in some distance if you want and start in the town of Keswick for an even longer and more rewarding day.

Starting the Catbells walk at Hawes End

Once parked up along the base of Catbells with Derwent Water on the opposite side we walked back towards the corner where we saw the beginning of our walk-up this Wainwright. The weather was already on the damp side of things so raincoats were a must in the backpacks. As you know if you’ve been walking in the Lake District before that the weather can, and will turn whenever it likes.

At the corner, we began our walk up Catbells. With some hikes that we’ve done with the Wainwrights, we’ve sometimes had a good hour walk to warm up. But with this one, it is straight into it. With that being said it always seems slightly tougher to begin with than usual. For the incline is rather steep to start with which takes a lot of people off guard

Robin friend on Catbells
Robin friend on Catbells

As we carried on climbing up the first section of this Wainwright called Skelgill Bank, the views already start to open up to you. Walla crag just across Derwent Water on the other side of the lake. On our hike, we came across a scruffy looking robin which had obviously been caught up in the weather too. But he was hopping around gleefully and followed us up some of the way.

We always say if we see a robin we’re going in the right direction. Having said that with this climb, you really can’t get lost on the Fell of Catbells. They have put fences up to stop you straying off the beaten path so you literally just have to keep climbing in the most obvious route.

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Memorial stone On Catbells Skelgill Bank

As we got slightly higher the drizzle started to hit, and the wind started to pick up. We only bumped into a hand full of people and most had their heads down in the weather too. Coats on and backpacks back on our backs we headed further up Skelgill Bank.

There is a slight bit of scrambling at this stage, but don’t worry, the best bit of scrambling is still to come. This is just a tester one. This is where there is a memorial stone for Thomas Arthur Leonard. Once over this then the view will start to open up some more. This is the main bump on Cat Bells which can easily be confused as the summit (the same as a lot of the Wainwrights). But it’s not quite that easy. You’ll begin to see the actual summit of Catbells and any tiny ant people at the top. Underfoot it’s pretty easy too. It is mainly rock and grass, some bits can get damp with the weather but all in all it’s a good path and wide in most places.

Hazel on Catbells with other Wainwrights in the background
Hazel on the walk to Catbells with other Wainwrights in the background

I know before, we have looked up to the summit of Cat Bells on our walk from this point and seen the rocky scramble at the top. It looks much more daunting then it actually is. The closer you get the more you’ll realise it is entirely possible.

We found some doggy friends that were running ahead of their owners. Which you get all over the Lake District. But as Alfred Wainwright said, this is a Fell close to Keswick and anyone staying there should have Catbells on their list. It’s a good climb that the family, grandparents and infants can climb together. You might even see the odd Fell runner zoom past you too, with a puffed ‘Hello’. Still absolutely remarkable they are.

Zoe and Hazel at the summit of Catbells on our walk up the Wainwright, True freedom seekers
True Freedom Seekers at the summit of Catbells on our walk up the Wainwright

The summit of Cat Bells is in sight

Some sections of Catbells you’ll notice flatten off which is a good place to catch your breathe and take in the surrounding fells. Barrow will seem like a sister to Catbells, with a similar figure and standing nearly next door to each other. These two are two that I can get confused with when driving through the Lake District.

The last and finally scramble is the one the leads directly onto the final walk to the Wainwright of Cat Bells. This is where things can get interesting. For this particular day with the wind blowing and the rain falling, we were looking for the scramble that goes up the centre but you can also scramble around towards the sides as well. Due diligence should be taken here as one wrong step could cause some injury.

Check the weather in the Lake District

Scramble up Catbells walk safely

We have been told before that if you are unsteady on your feet or get the nerves when scrambling then you should try this tip. Keep three points of contact at all times. Some will swiftly make their way up happily and confidently. But if you’re a newbie or just lack a little confidence in scrambling then three points of contact can help. It’s definitely helped us in the past and we still continue to use it. Three points mean, for example, two feet and a hand making contact. Or two hands and one foot if you are then climbing. It’s a simple trick but quite a safe one to know and practice.

Northern views of Skiddaw and Derwent Water
Northern views of Skiddaw, Skiddaw Little Man, Lonscale and Latrigg with all the dark green forest on it. Keswick is in the foreground with Derwent Water.

As you push on up through the top section of the walk up Catbells you’ll soon end up on the summit of the Wainwright. This can come as quite a surprise as it is a much bigger summit than some Wainwrights. There is a wonderful trig that marks the top of Catbells and a rocky outcrop. On top of that trig, there is also a plaque that tells you the surrounding Wainwrights too. I mean how helpful can a trig actually be? I find it utterly wonderful.

Views from Catbells the Summit

Northern views of Catbells walk

Here on a clear day, you can have 360-degree views of the Lake District as well as across Newlands and Borrowdale. To the north, you’ll see the likes of Skiddaw and Latrigg. Latrigg always makes me smile when we’re at the summit here. You don’t realise how small Latrigg is and how far it really is away from Skiddaw. And the gorgeous Dodd sat to the west as well. On a really clear day, you can see Binsey and Ullock Pike.

North-easterly to eastern views from Cat Bells

As you gaze naturally around to the north-east you’ll see Blencathra, and then to the east Bleaberry Fell and Walla Crag sitting amongst the trees. Helvellyn with its sisters, Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon Pike and Fairfield can be viewed on a clear day. Clough Head, Great Dodd, and Stybarrow can also be seen from the summit of Catbells.

Southern views from the top of Catbells

Southern views from Cat Bells of Castle Crag and Maiden Moor
Southern views from Cat Bells of Castle Crag and Maiden Moor

Moving more southernly you’ll see more Wainwrights including Castle Crag too. On a wooded slate Fell looking smaller than ever. In the far distance, you’ll be able to see the views of Ullscarf, Pike O’Stickle, and Glaramara.

You’ll also see a path that goes down the southern side of Catbells to a col and this is the walk which continues onwards towards Maiden Moor. This is a fantastic route and is known as part of the Newlands Horseshoe. It takes in Catbells, Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head, Hindscarth, and Robinson. For anyone wanting to bag the Wainwrights then 6 in a day is a huge achievement.

The Wainwrights you can see to the West of Cat Bells

To the western side, you’ll see Barrow, Causey Pike and Grisdale Pike as well. To name a couple more Wainwrights that you’ll see are Barf and Lords Seat on the far right of the photo below in the shade. On a clear day, it probably means circling around a couple of times to get all the views in as they seem to go on forever.

Overlooking Grisdale Pike from the summit
Overlooking Grisdale Pike from the summit of Catbells

Take in the views. Enjoy the sense of achievement on this one. It’s a perfect place to be for a while. For us, the rain stopped for a bit and the wind died down enough to stay a couple of minutes. We love looking down on Derwent Water which is always a special place for us. And the town of Keswick as well. Keswick is a spot on place to stay for climbing the Wainwright mountains in the Lake District.

The decline from the summit of Catbells on our walk

So after our viewing from the top and sending a quick video to one of our keen fell-walking friends, we then made our way south off of the summit of Catbells. It drops slightly until it evens off on the grassy area. It can get a little wet underfoot when the rain has fallen.

You’ll soon come down into the col. From here there is a distinct path heading up towards Maiden Moor or a route that leads down to the left. This is the one we’re taking. The majority of the route takes you down steps. Coming up from this side of Cat Bells on your walk can be tougher on the legs. We’re not a huge fan of steps and find them harder then inclines. Especially on the way down as well. They seem to play havoc with our knees.

But each step is a step closer to the bottom. We saw some more people coming up this way and they were puffed out, bless them. This is why we advise to the walk up to Catbells from the northern side via Skelgill Bank. The steps themselves pretty much take you all the way down. They are slightly narrower in certain places and quite deep too.

Steep steps on the way off this Wainwright Fell

The further down the Wainwright we got we updated each other on how our knees were feeling. For 29-year-olds we’re pretty fit but the one thing that seems to be a reoccurring issue is our knees. We think it started when we did the climb in Norway of Trolltunga. A 13-hour hike. On the way down our knees have never felt so bad. Find out more about us and what we’ve done here.

Which is why hiking poles are such an awesome thing. They take off some of the strain and make it easier for both inclines and declines. We always laugh and go with pain on the traffic light system. So green is I could walk all day, orange/amber is starting to get a touch of pain. And then of course red is quite simply I need to stop, take some painkillers and get home ASAP haha. Today we were doing good and were between green and amber on this Catbells walk.

Taking the walk around the base of Cat Bells

Closer to the base you’ll soon see a slight path that goes off to the left. This leads around the base of Catbells without having to walk on the road. A much better route. Here is where we turned off and it’s much easier to pick your pace up on this route. It still climbs a little up and down, but most of the way is good going.

The rain at this stage decided to make a full show and absolutely pelted it down. Our heads we down but we were laughing out loud. Thank goodness for the raincoats. I kept looking back on Zoe that was following close behind. At every decline, I thought we were getting closer to the end of the path. But on looking upwards to Catbells once more, I realised how far we still had to walk.

On the right-hand side, you’ll pass Brandlehow Wood. Again if you take the road path you can skip through this wood and alongside the Derwent Water back to Keswick. Inside Brandlehow Wood there is an awesome hands sculpture which you can literally sit in as well. Again it is worth a visit if you’re staying in the Keswick area.

Take a view of Derwent Water on our Catbells walk

Our walk up Catbells from Hawes End round route, up Skelgill Bank
Our walk up Catbells from Hawes End round route, up Skelgill Bank

On a lovely day, you might want to take advantage of the benches placed down here on the side of Catbells walk. They overlook Derwent Water and Keswick where you can see people having a row on the lake too. This is something we have had fun doing. Once when it was again raining and once when the sun was beating down beautifully. Check out our rowing experience here.

‘…the climb being coupled with a visit to Derwent Water for a sail on the Lake. Making the expedition rewarding out of all proportion to the small effort needed.’

Alfred Wainwright

The path does hit the road once, but don’t mistake this for being the end of the Cat Bells walk yet. Just in front of you, you’ll see a path then climbs away from the road once more. Continue on this.

Catbells and the final few steps on our wet walk

Finally, once you’ve walked all the way along this path you’ll come back out to the very first place you started at the beginning of this Wainwright walk. All you now need to do is walk back on the road towards the car or other transport you bought.

This route itself doesn’t take longer than a couple of hours and yet it still offers some of the best views around Keswick. And especially of Derwent Water. For us, the rain didn’t hold us back but we were happy to get back into the dryness of the car. We’ve walked Catbells multiple times now and it’s still one that impacts us when we do it. If we are ever in the area with a couple of hours spare we always head towards Catbells, Latrigg, Castle Crag or Barrow. All of these are lovely Wainwrights for beginners if you are staying in the Keswick area and want to stretch your legs.

Photo of True Freedom Seekers in the Lake District for earnings disclosure page

True Freedom Seekers

Hazel and Zoe

We hope you find our walks and adventures in the Lake District helpful. And we wish you much fun and success on bagging the Wainwrights yourself. If you want to share any stories with us then please feel free to. Have a super day.

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