Cat Bells is a 451 metres mini mountain that over looks Derwentwater in a spectacular fashion. This walk is one of the most popular in the area with all age groups. Considered to be easy.
Start your climb at the northern end of Cat Bells to be quickly rewarded with stunning views of Derwentwater on your left and the Cumbrian Mountains to your right. The closer you get to the summit the more spectacular the views become. With towering fells and stunning lakes visible in all directions.
The climb is pretty steep from the northern start with a bit of rock scrambling along the way. However, once you reach the summit the walk down the other side, along the ridge, will give your legs a rest whilst enjoying spectacular views. Before making you decent.
Nik was still smiling from ear to ear after his little climb up Coniston Old Man. Feeling rather pleased with himself that he’d managed to get me almost to the top of such a tall mini mountain. So before we’d even arrived at Derwentwater he’d ear marked Cat Bells as our next challenge.
Before we met Nik had already climbed the most famous of fells in the Lake District. So for him, Cat Bells wasn’t really a challenge, just pure indulgence. The real challenge for him was getting me to the peak.
The challenge for me was to push through my fear of heights. I should point out that I don’t have just a passing fear of heights. My fear can literally stop me from crossing even the simplest of road bridges. Once it starts, it quickly becomes debilitating, leaving me dizzy, feeling sick, clinging to what ever I can on my hands and knees and unable to think reasonably. It’s not as simple as seeing an edge, unfortunately. For me, the perception of an edge is all I need. I was determined, however, that on this occasion failure was not an option.
Nik purchased an OS map from the site reception. Whilst doing so the warden advised him that the best route was to start from the northern end. Saying that it was a steeper climb with more rubble on the path. However, once the summit was achieved it would be a nice easy meander down the other end.
Having just climbed the Old Man with all its loose slate we didn’t consider this to be much of a challenge. Looking at the fell from the lake, the climb looked fairly easy and it didn’t appear to have too small a ridge. It’s usually the visibility of an edge that does me in. We were both happy that I could do this.
The northern end of Cat Bells is about an hours walk from our site. So we walked along the lake path for about half the journey before heading upward through a woodland to the road. Where we found a path that climbs to the footpath, roughly a third of the way up the hill. We then walked this path to our start point.
Because we were already a third of the way up, the path we took to start our climb was pretty steep from the beginning. Nik didn’t seem to have any problem with it and from my perspective was positively enjoying himself. Taking photos at every opportunity.
Cat Bells has two peaks, the first not much of a challenge to Nik. Before the first peak, after the steep climb, the ground levels out. Here you have the first real opportunity to see the stunning view from all directions. Before reaching this point I was already starting to struggle, as I could clearly see the view over the lake. So Nik chose this spot to stop and have a little refreshment, giving me a chance to regroup.
Whilst sitting on this little grassy ledge we started to notice the different types of people that had chosen to make this climb. There were, of course, the usual fit, healthy and fearless men, women and teenagers striding along the path. But also we noticed so many other brave people who had made this hill their personal challenge. An old woman, who was clearly fighting for every forward footstep. A woman who had osteoporosis and had to choose her climb carefully. And an American father with a pre teen that needed to be encouraged to continue forward every step of the way. Including their journey downward at the other end. I found this all very encouraging.
The next part of our climb was only a short walk to Skelgill Bank, which is 338 metres high. To achieve the peak from this direction you do have to scramble up a rocky area.
For me, this is a scarey hands and knees jobby, with Nik encouraging and guiding the whole way. The whole experience lasts for less than a minute for those who are agile, felt like a life time to me.
Nik has said that he was expecting it to be a smooth walk up to both peaks. Especially as this hill is so popular. He was very surprised that there was so much climbing up some quite difficult areas of rock. Obviously, he was made more aware of this because he was looking for the best route for me to take. Add to that, Nik was climbing the peaks with camera equipment and two dogs on leads. This became his handy cap. Without this, he may well have scrambled to the top without realising the difficulties it would present to those of us with varying physical and mental handy caps.
Once at the top, I was able to sit and look at the stunning view, whilst Nik took photos. It really is the most rewarding experience climbing to the top of a hill. Regardless of how hard or easy the climb, I have never, not been rewarded with a spectacular view. This was no exception.
To get to the tallest peak, Cat Bells, Nik had to hold my hand along the ridge. It is pretty wide with no fear of falling off. But by this stage, the fear was already there and determined not to give in I needed a little assistance.
The climb to the top of Cat Bells isn’t as easy as the guides make it sound. You do have to climb up a pretty hair raising rocky path.
At this point we both noticed a few people who had been taking the whole experience in their stride, pause and regroup before making the climb.
You have two options for a route up, one takes you through the middle of the ridge, but it does require a bit of rock climbing. The second option is to follow a path around the edge of the ridge before climbing. Neither option is particularly easy.
Because Nik had the dogs and Oscar isn’t the agilest rock climber. He had no choice but to take the outer route. Again this gave him the opportunity to view a hill climb from a different perspective. He was effectively one handed. He said the route was pretty hairy.
No way I was going around the edge. So I literally, crawled on my hands and knees through the middle. Nik was at the top giving encouragement and telling me which direction was the best. With lots of help from my loving husband, I did make it to the top. I couldn’t stand up without Nik holding me, and I wasn’t at this point able to look at the view. Unfortunately, the top was all jagged rock making it impossible for me to sit and take it in.
So, Nik led me off the peak and safely down the hill to a spot that I could sit, catch my breath and enjoy the view. Nik also had to go back and get my phone as it had dropped out of my pocket while I was sliding down the peak on my backside, oops.
From here the path is wide enough and flat enough that I had no problem enjoying being at the top of a mini mountain. This also gave Nik the freedom to take photos and gaze longingly at Maiden Moor, which can be climbed by simply following along the same ridge. Not today I’m afraid. I’d had enough high and scarey for one day.
The climb down from here isn’t quite an easy meander, as described by our site warden.
The path is actually quite a steep stoney stairway. Not something I usually have problems with. However, after a week of walking and climbing, with out of practice legs, I found this a real work out for my knees. Nik loves going up hills, but has always hated going down and found this path quite a challenge too.
Our day was tiring and difficult in places, but we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Ok not straight away at some points. But it was another challenge met by both of us and we both felt great at the end of our day.
Unfortunately, I’m now having to kerb Nik’s enthusiasm. Having overcome this obstacle he is looking for the next mini mountain to help me conquer. There really is no going back now. He’s the best.
Our favourite photos of the day
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