Catbells Lake District

June 2015 – This walk is not in Yorkshire but is very beautiful and less than a couple of hours away. Enjoy the photos…G..x

Chris is the culprit for this walk. He’s been talking this up for weeks. Well, OK, this is not Yorkshire so there’s a bit of a run in the car but it’s two hours well spent and if you chose your route carefully it can be through Wensleydale, Swaledale or even if you take the route that we settled on for speed, the A66 cuts across some fabulous moor and dale.

We set off in drizzly rain and the sky progressively breaks up and reveals heavenly pools that are as deep a shade of blue as I’ve ever seen complete with scattered clouds that gradually dissolve and reveal even more of the glorious sky.

This is the planned Catbells Summit Route
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So here we are in Keswick sitting at a cafe in beautiful sunshine discussing the finer points of having this fabulous scenery on our doorstep.

The plan is to take the ferry from the Keswick pier to Hawes End and the decision is to take the slow ferry to spend some time appreciating the scenery. For those of you who want a quick route, there is a direct ferry in the morning which take less than 10 minutes, ours is a 40 minute trip and it is well worth it.

We’re seated two rows apart and have to talk across a lady who is kind enough to allow us our childish quips whilst joining in the conversation especially regarding the beauty that surrounds us. The lady in question is from Yorkshire too but now resides in Central London and is here for just a few days to relax and unwind. Certainly the right place to do both of those things.

There are no facilities at Hawes End which makes it even more endearing. The track is clean and clear through the trees and certainly gets the heart rate up ready for the real ascent which is a walk of about 1 kilometre and above the trees. Once out of their shadow the track divides straight-on or to the right. We take the right fork which is purported to be a zig zag route and less steep. Now then dear reader, ‘less steep’ is without doubt relative. The other route is very, very steep and this one is only very steep. My intention is to walk with the team until my heart rate reaches 120 at which point I shall return to the lower route and walk that. Whilst I don’t normally share with strangers my medical history it is important to understand why sometimes, I need to take a route that is less challenging. I have what the doctors refer to as a AAA, an abdominal aortic aneurysm, it is currently being monitored and it is important to stay fit but not do anything stupidly extreme so I monitor my heart rate to give me an indication of the stress on my body. I’ll not bore you with more but suffice to say, I shall be taking the lower route but not before I go a little way up the standard one to get a bit of a glimpse of what I’m going to miss!

This is the alternative (easier) route
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So, for the time being, we take the right fork. The steps are well maintained but very irregular and the first zig treats us to some magnificent views looking across the valley with a house as a landmark of relativity for scale. The house seems tiny and the valley and surrounding mountains are vast and beautiful. We know how big a house is so the size of its valley cradle is astonishing. The next is a zag and we’re now looking over Derwentwater with tiny ferries, even tinier rowing boats with beautiful woody islands breaking the monotony of the flat calm water with inverted reflections of the surrounding mountains.

We conduct a few more zigs with a couple of zags and we reach a point at which it is time to take a break and for me to make the decision to return to the lower track. With a sob and a waving hanky we part and the team make their way to the first ‘scramble’.

Peter choses this one to fall on his camera. Now everyone knows that when we fall, the certainty of excruciating pain is an irrelevance compared to the embarrassment that accompanies being seen. However, for a photographer, falling on your camera is akin to an author deliberately throwing books on the fire. Peter looks around for an audience but the other ramblers are preoccupied with their own agenda and their objective is the top of this scramble.

As they reach this first summit the ridge beyond is surprisingly broad and the top is rounded so the grim thoughts of Striding Edge are far from the reality of this gentle path between the first mini-peak and Catbells summit. There is another scramble at the other end but even that doesn’t look as intimidating from this new angle.
The walk between summits is such that taking in the surrounding peaks, valleys and lakes is a pleasure. There are some beautiful clumps of tiny blue, yellow and white flowers which are assumed to be alpines of some sort, they contrast nicely with the green and the rocks.
The final scramble is not intimidating when viewed from the far end of the far end of the track but now, immediately under it, it looks challenging.

Earlier, Mac and Chris had broken cover and began their final push along the wide ridge between the two summits. They were holding hands and with the occasional skip heading towards Catbells proper. There was no sign of Heidi but there were plenty of other folks up there. Our intrepid pair were approaching the second scramble. It wasn’t billed as being anything challenging yet as it moved from being ‘just a steep bit in the distance’ to something ‘that would need a little bit of planning’ there was an anxious expectation building up inside and a degree of trepidation as the reality got close enough to touch. Indeed the reality was that our breakaways were now scrambling up this final challenge using hands and feet and on arrival at the summit, joined hands and punched the air in celebration. They were both a little moist which is probably the result of the strain of the scramble, the deep affection developed over the final push and the climax at the summit. They hug and the confused group of people who had reached the summit a little earlier cheered their achievement. Tears were shed and another hug before the realisation of such abandon was followed by a self-consciousness formal handshake and a nod, they are British dammit!

The rest of the team arrive 20 minutes later and find the 360 degree vista that hugs this beautiful county is enough to silence the garrulous teenagers that are gathered on this small peak of rock. It’s so stunning it isolates the sounds of the birds and wind and suppresses all other senses leaving just one; the view is everything…

Onwards and this time downward. The track is rather less severe now but leads to a craggy and uneven but otherwise well made and maintained stepway that ensures Derwentwater and her surrounding trees, bracken and ferns remain the natural backdrop to the descent.

Towards the bottom a surge of adrenalin, relief and natural excitement ensures an upbeat return along the banks of the lake following the well signposted and scenic Cumbrian Way.

As the team have traversed Catbells from above let’s return the commentary to me.

I return via the lower track by turning right at the final zag at about 300 feet above the lake and walk rather more sedately along the slopes of Catbells occasionally looking up to see if there’s any sight of the intrepid team. There are occasional glimpses of the more daring traveler above who take the opportunity to walk to the edge of the ridge and look down. They look very small and I’m reminded of Father Ted trying to explain to Dougal when he says, “The cows are not really that size, it’s just that they are a long way away!”

The track gently descends to a point which crosses the road and continues down some steps towards an intersection with the Cumbrian Way and at this point I’m walking the same path as the team but separated by about half an hour.

There are numerous places to stop and look across Derwentwater through the branches of the overhanging trees. They create a beautifully ornate frame for the perfection beyond and I stop numerous times to admire the lake and islands; however, the most stunning view and the one that I spend some time in sublime admiration is the view of lake with mountains so perfectly reflected as to create a natural symmetry that would be almost impossible to replicate even with precision instruments.

I pass several carvings, one is an open hand and another is a seat carved out of a huge tree trunk. The mix of natural and artistic beauty enhances the walk to new levels.

I arrive back at the Hawes End jetty in time to see two groups of school children swamp one of the ferries in excited but good humoured enthusiasm. I’ve met several groups today and they’ve been, without exception, polite and well behaved. Well done to the educators for a) setting these trips up and b) getting the mix of freedom and discipline right, it’s never easy but you’ve certainly got it right today.

The team are about 20 minutes away and have discovered the seat carved out of the tree trunk. George is trying to cajole them into a last push but they revolt and break out the sandwiches. I’m concerned that the ferry will be over subscribed and we’ll be here another hour waiting for the next one. After a little persuasion George has them moving again and we are quorate by the time the ferry arrives. Just in time as it turns out as at least 10 people are left behind for the next boat.

Dave, Mac and Chris opt to walk the extra 4 or 5 kilometres to Keswick and will meet us at the pub.

Back in Keswick George buys us an ice-cream for being good! Another pleasure that I would recommend if you’re passing the Hope Cafe or the Italian gelato cafe.

There are two routes for the reasons expressed in the blog. One over Catbells and the other around it at about 300 feet, the latter is easier if you have health issues. You would need to take more detailed advice if you are disabled. You’re looking at 8km if you do the higher route from and to Hawes End. If you prefer to walk back to Keswick you’ll add another 4km. If you choose the route I took around the lower tracks then the distance is about the same at 8km depending on any detours that take your fancy and I would encourage you to explore, it’s beautiful…G..x

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Peter Hymer for his photos. All photos are copyright of the person that made them.

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NB. The aneurysm referred to at the head of this article was repaired a couple of months after this walk and as reassurance to anyone who has a similar condition, I have spent two years since the op walking on some of the most ‘robust’ terain. If/when you have to have this repair done (and it is a very serious op) please be assured that it does come right and your life post op will be transformed. My thanks go to Ms Hansranni and her vasculour team at Jame Cook Hospital. x

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