Catbells

Date: 31Dec 2019 Weather: 3’C, sunny, light winds
Height gain: 1,171 ft Distance: 3.1 miles
Time taken: 2 hours 40 mins Wainwrights: 115 of 214

Route:  From roadside parking above Brandelhow Park half a mile south of Hawse End up the side of Catbells joining the main path at Skelgill Bank up to the summit.  Descent south to Hause Gate, turning left at High Ground to follow path back to the road.


We’ve been waiting for a clear and sunny day to climb Catbells – one of the last remaining short walks we have left outside of the less accessible parts of the Lakes.  The weather has been wall to wall dreary whenever we’ve had time available outside of Christmas preparations and visiting but we’re promised a one-off beautiful day to end the decade.

I express my concerns about heading for Catbells on the only nice day in a peak season week but S says we can handle a few extra people for once.  My assessment of how busy it’s likely to be proves to more accurate than S’s.

We wake up to clear blue skies and light winds as promised – amazing really given the foggy, drizzly weather of the last few days.  We’re up and on the M6 in good time and decide to stop at Tebay for food – we know the pasties and sandwiches are expensive and dull but it’s better than heading into a crowded Keswick and the cakes should be good.

We last stopped at Tebay at 8.30am on Good Friday and it was absolutely heaving.  At 10am on New Year’s Eve it was much quieter and food was acquired without any hassle.

We turn off the M6 and onto the A66 and Blencathra looks stunning in the clear blue winter sun from many miles away.  As we drive past Threlkeld every layby is absolutely packed with cars which have crammed themselves onto surrounding verges and every other conceivable place a car can be squeezed in.  As I look up at Blencathra I can see a procession of brightly coloured walkers on all visible routes.  Uh-oh – this doesn’t bode well for a quiet day on Catbells.

We turn off the A66 towards Portinscale and carefully negotiate our way around cars, vans and people as we head towards Hawse End.  The low winter sun is in front of us making visibility a challenge and I worry for the walkers which line the roads for most of our route.

Cars have parked wherever they can and the Hawse End car park is of course full when we arrive.  We take a sharp left and follow the road up towards Grange.  People are parking all along the road and after half a mile we find a spot that will fit our car.  We’re perilously close to a drop into a ditch and I have to hang onto the car door frame to make my way round to the back of the car.

We start putting on our boots and about 30 seconds later a large Audi pulls into the last remaining space behind us.  We help to guide her into the space – she’s blinded by the winter sun as we were – and are left with a small amount of space to try and get boots on and rucksacks packed.

Finally we’re ready and we follow everybody else up the steep path up the side of the mountain.  There’s a family immediately behind us with an enthusiastic little boy who may have got a new gadget for Christmas – he loudly announces how many steps he’s done as he makes his way up the hill.

We pause to let them pass us and his voice disappears up the hill.  We look behind us as we wait and even though we’ve only climbed 150ft the views over Derwentwater are already stunning:

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We enjoy the views for a couple of minutes before turning back and joining the procession up the steep path:

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The photo doesn’t do justice to just how steep the path was and the many pairs of boots had worn the grass away to slippery mud in the steeper parts.  There were lots of families out and the children were mostly enjoying the challenge of the climb, their little legs wheeling in the mud as they tried to maintain traction.

We’re nearly at the ridge when S loses his footing on a particularly steep and muddy section and goes sliding downwards before coming to a disgruntled stop.  His left side is coated in thick mud from elbow to ankle and he’s not at all happy.  I think we’ve created a new super-hero – “Mud Man” – what would his special powers be?!

We carry on and reach the ridge to join the main path .  The view north down towards Hawse End looks good in the rich winter light:

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We turn around and join everyone else heading towards the 600ft of steep crag towering above us.  Catbells is known as a popular walk for all the family but it’s a steep ascent and actually quite challenging in places.  The many under 10’s all around us seem completely undaunted as they make their way confidently up the crags – and it must look even more huge to them.

There are a real mix of walkers out today – some experienced people and some much less experienced.  The route up the crag feels like the Hilary Step at peak season as we all queue waiting our turn to shuffle up the steepest part of the rocky path:

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The enforced slow pace helps to keep the breathing steady and we soon reach the top:

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….. it’s a very crowded top:

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But that doesn’t stop the views being stunning, here looking north east over Derwentwater with Blencathra and Skiddaw behind:

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Looking east into the Newlands valley we can see Ard Crag, Eel Crag and Sail and the rest of the range all sharply drawn in the clear light:

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We move off the summit and I spot a person clearly longing for a solitude they won’t find today:

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We descend a little and find shelter and a relief from the crowds beneath Mart Bield where we have our lunch.  The wind isn’t strong today but it is bitingly cold so the shelter and the sunshine is welcome as we eat.

We don’t hang around and soon turn back up to the main path to head south down towards Hause Gate.  There are plenty of people choosing this as their route up:

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The path down to the Hause is blissfully shallow – a much better choice as a descent than going down those steep crags we came up earlier and which people were finding very challenging to come down.

We reach the Hause and the path off to the left which we need to take.  People ahead of us are starting down it very gingerly and it looks like it’s going to be very steep.

I reach the junction and look down with some trepidation but happily the path fixers have been here and there is a good stone path laid all the way down – not like the near vertical grass and mud we came up thank goodness.  It is steep, though, and the rocks are very slippery in places so everyone is taking it very carefully.

It’s unusual to see so many people finding a descent more challenging than I do.  I’m slow and careful, but there are people going even more slowly and looking well out of their comfort zone.  The lady in the smart wool coat with her handbag over her arm looks like this is so not what she had in mind for today.

After 500ft or so of very steep descent we reach a crossroads – we can either carry on and walk round the lake and back up to the car or turn left and pick up the path which will take us directly to the car – we decide to head straight for the car given the crowds we can see on the shoreline in the distance.

I look back up at the route we’ve come down:

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And then across for another look at beautiful Derwentwater in the afternoon light:

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Our path levels out and we can pick up our speed for the last three quarters of a mile back to the car:

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Not so may people take this more direct route and we enjoy walking at our own pace at last.  We get back to the car and join the many other people taking off their boots and trying to turn their cars around on the narrow road for the journey home.

The weather was perfect for enjoying the stunning views from Catbells and despite everything we’ve enjoyed our short walk to round off the decade.  We’ve also now got our target down to two figures – only 99 to go to finish round two.

We won’t make a habit of doing very popular walks at peak season, though.  Did I mention it was a little busy out there today?!