Cat Bells – The Lake District

Cat Bells is near the town of Keswick in the Lake District National Park, Cumbria. It is one of the most popular Wainwright fells. This circular route also includes the shoreline of Derwent Water.

Cat Bells is described as accessible for people of all ages but be aware that there are sections where there is no defined path and there is some challenging scrambling that will involve the use of your hands.

Derwent Water with Cat Bells in the distance

The summit is 451 metres (1,480 feet) high. The name ‘Cat Bells’ comes from the wild cats that used to inhabit the area before the 18th century. Although it is not a major peak in the National Park, it was the most memorable ascent I completed during my visit to the Lake District.

Enjoying a lake cruise is part of the experience of visiting the area.  This is an ideal way to begin the Cat Bells adventure. You can take a boat trip around the entire lake or stop off at various points along the route.

Keswick launch point

It only takes a few minutes to reach Nichol End where our walk began.

From the jetty, there is a straightforward flat track to Hawes End to the foot of Cat Bells. The steep ascent is clearly signposted with an obvious path that zigzags sharply up the mountain to reach the first scrambling section.  This is where the trail disappears. It is worth taking a few minutes to consider the best route before beginning the climb because it is easier to see from a distance. There are tricky sections.

The first scramble up ahead

Once this area is cleared, a false summit is revealed and the view opens up to show the col that leads to the real peak of Cat Bells.

The path along the col to the summit of Cat Bells

At this point in our walk, the weather turned but it was still safe to continue along a rough path towards another strenuous scramble leading to the summit. The difficulty increased along with the gusts of wind and the showery downpours. It required full concentration and provided a workout for the arms as well as the legs. I imagine it would be a completely different experience on a clear day.

At the highest point, the gusts were strong and the low cloud meant there was little opportunity to appreciate the spectacular view.

The summit

After completing several scrambles, I was a little apprehensive about what the descent would look like on the other side so it was a relief to discover that the path was much more like the slopes I am used to.

Although it is steep, the path is uncomplicated as it winds its way down to the shoreline of the lake. Derwent Water is three miles long, one mile wide and 72 feet deep. The full Derwent Water walk around the edge of the shoreline is ten miles long but this route only covers a section.

The flat terrain was a welcome break from the steep climbing earlier in the day.

Looking back at the climb from earlier in the day

The route follows the shore back to Hawes End for the return boat trip to Keswick.

The Lake District is notorious for being extremely wet and it definitely lived up to its reputation at the end of the day.  The heavens opened and the clouds released their cargo of hailstones onto the innocent tourists sitting in the outside section of the boat. This caused much laughter as we were all completely drenched and there was nothing we could do about it!

The walk route using memory-map GPS Navigation Software

It was a day of testing weather conditions, diverse terrain and challenging scrambling but this is an excellent route and I thoroughly recommend it.

The climb up Cat Bells was more adventurous than I had anticipated but it was an unforgettable walk providing a sense of achievement I will remember for a long time!

  • Please note that this is the route I followed. I am an experienced walker. You should take care and use your own judgement for your safety when planning where to walk.