Our day on Skiddaw (see post #210) had been a change from our local hills in North Wales, and a check on the weather forecast showed it looking fair for the day after. It didn’t take long to decide to grab another lakes day, but where? A short hill day before driving back to Wales (including a dog walk for Border Collie ‘Mist’) was looking favourite, and we were in the Northern Lakes so it had to be Cat Bells.
Cat Bells is regarded by many as a bit of a soft option, and no wonder. A height of 451 metres (1,480 ft) isn’t going to set many pulses racing, either through excitement or exertion, and it’s widely regarded as a family day out – so what’s wrong with that, I ask. The well-known Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright said of the hill, “It is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together, a place beloved. Its popularity is well deserved.”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been up here, but one occasion was July 23 1986. I remember it because it was the day that Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, and rather than stay at home with wall-to-wall royal wedding on the TV, I decided a walk up Cat Bells with my oldest daughter Kelly would be a good alternative. My youngest daughter Heather was too young to make the walk at two years old, but Kelly romped it at 3¾ – Cat Bells certainly is a hill for all ages.
The popularity of the hill has its downside – get to the start point after nine o’clock on a warm Sunday morning with good weather guaranteed and you can be certain that every parking space in the area is full. Well, not quite every space, and a bit of local knowledge soon turned up enough room for the camper.
Our route was the classic circuit – the path on the lower slopes of the east side of Cat Bells took us to the popular start point near Hawse End, followed by a southerly traverse of the Cat Bells Ridge before descending at Hause Gate and heading down towards Manesty.
We expected it to be busy, but found it not too bad – several family groups with kids mingled with the older generation, but there is enough room for everyone up there. Joining in with the fun were a couple of paragliders taking advantage of good soaring conditions over the summit ridge.
Despite all the family joviality going on, there are a couple of short rocky scrambles to add interest to the day – it’s the kind of ground that fell-runners hurtle up or down but where the less confident or those with creaky legs might suddenly think, “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be an easy day out!” In reality, the rocky bits really are short and add interest like a bit of extra seasoning.
Good old Cat Bells! – Not the biggest or the longest or most difficult day out in the Lakes, but plenty to occupy three hours or so. And did I mention the views? The photos probably give an idea, but if you have never been there, you’ll have to go and find out for yourselves!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock