Close to the busy town of Keswick, Catbells is one of the most popular walks in the Lake District and for good reason. The climb to the top along the ridge line offers epic views across this picturesque part of the Lakes, out to Derwent Water and Skiddaw in the distance.
The walk should take around one hour each way, making it one of the shorter fell walks in the area. With all the beautiful views of a much longer walk, it makes Catbells a great choice if you're looking for a half day adventure.
"Catbells is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the fell together"
Whilst the great Alfred Wainwright may have thought this is a walk for the whole family, don't be deceived into thinking this is a walk in the park. Firstly, your grandmother and infant would need to enjoy some steep sections and climbing up 400m! Secondly, Catbells has a little sting in its tail just before the summit to remind you that it is a fell walk in the Lake District. The scramble, not one for vertigo sufferers.
Whilst most people will be able do this walk, it requires a reasonable head for heights and an ability to scramble over a short rocky patch.
Catbells elevation & distance
Over the whole walk you'll climb approximately 400 metres (1,300 ft). This is set across either a 1.5 mile walk from Hawes End or 2.5 mile walk from Grange, making it steep in some sections.
Similarly, the descent takes you steeply downhill, which can be tough on your knees.
The Wainwright Route - Hawes End
You quickly see why Wainwright advocates starting the walk to Catbells from Hawes End. The lake is beautiful and you'll be treated to views of the summit and the ridge on the boat ride over.
"Words cannot adequately describe the rare charm of Catbells, nor its ravishing view."
The track starts in a small wood and soon opens out to the clear footpath up to Catbells summit, only leveling out once you are on the ridge. The track at this point is well formed and easy to follow, offering great views as it zig zags up to the ridge.
Just before the ridge is a small scramble which can be mitigated by following the path to the left. It can get quite busy during holiday season as you can see in the pic below.
Once above this small scramble you'll see our favourite part of the walk: the ridgeline. Take your time to soak up the panoramic views which get better and better as you head towards the summit.
With the lake and fells surrounding this beautiful ridge, it's easy to see why this is a Lakeland favourite.
After a flat, leisurely stroll along the ridge you'll come to the path leading to the summit of Catbells, a section which requires a bit more thought for your footing. This is where your scrambling skills come to play!
The Catbells scramble
Whilst the scramble to the summit may not look too bad from a distance, up close it's a bit trickier. The well formed path ends and becomes a rocky ledge for about 200 metres.
We'd recommend simply going through the middle as there is no straightforward path and the sides have some steep drops.
It looks like you can avoid the majority of the scramble by taking the path to the right. However, after a minute this path too becomes a scramble, and is actually much more precarious than the route up the middle.
On both routes, you'll need to use your hands for some sections, but in general we believe that most people can tackle this section, as long as you have a reasonable head for heights.
It's ideal to do this walk on a dry day when the rock is not at all slippery.
The summit is a pretty humble affair, a small rocky patch which can get the full brunt of the Lakeland wind! It wasn't a spot to linger on our visit.
From here you can choose to head back the way you came (climbing down that scramble is probably worse than climbing up) or take the easier way down which also means you get to see some different scenery along the way.
We chose the latter option and are glad that we did. It was a very pretty route, with much easier footing than the route from Hawes End. We always prefer a loop track but if you want an easier route overall we'd recommend using this path both ways.
The descent to Grange
You've done the hard work and getting down on this route shouldn't be too tricky. If you're uncertain on your feet, poles can be useful at this point. The path will follow the ridge directly in front of you from the summit, it will then veer left and head downwards towards the lake.
The views from here are beautiful as you have the lake and Keswick in front of you and the path is also lined with pretty ferns.
The track has some patches of rubble and uneven steps, but is well formed for the most part. Much of the track is made of large rocks cut into steps.
The track down is just over two miles long and ends at the Manesty Holiday Cottages. From here, turn right along the single lane road to Grange for a treat!
The tearooms in Grange
After walking half a mile you'll arrive at the quaint village of Grange and feel like you've stepped back in time. It's incredibly quiet here but for two tearooms: a sight for sore eyes after a windy walk!
We'd recommend the Grange Cafe (marked on the map below) which serves up good homemade cakes, tea and some unusual ice cream concoctions.
From here you can cross the bridge and get a bus back to Keswick and your car. Alternatively you can walk there, but it is an additional four miles.
Catbells from Keswick
The prettiest (but also most expensive) way to start the hike up to Catbells is by taking the boat from the Keswick Launch to Hawes End (location of the Keswick Launch on the map below).
The boats run every half an hour and take either 10 minutes or 40 minutes to get to Hawes End (depending on whether you get the clockwise or anti-clockwise boat).
A one way adult fare is £4.55 (about $7 USD). You can check the latest times and information on the Keswick Launch website. You can park at the Lakeside Car Park, but will have to pay (as with virtually everywhere in the Lakes).
Alternatively, you can get a bus to Hawes End or to Grange where you can walk up Catbells. There is a small amount of parking at the Hawes End car park, but it can get very popular so we'd recommend getting there early if taking this option. Limited roadside spaces are also available.
We highly recommend buying Wainwright’s Guide to the Western Fells on Amazon (link below). It’s a beautifully written and illustrated guide that gives you an in-depth and intimate feel for Catbells and this whole area of Lakeland.
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Have you hiked Catbells? Are you planning to hike in the Lake District? Let us know in the comments below!
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