Catbells is often considered a good first mountain for children. I think this implies it’s an easy fell to walk. It’s really not; but it’s a short climb, easy to navigate and easily accessible. And if you (and your children) are up for the challenge, it’s both beautiful and rewarding, with fun scrambles and fantastic views.
The OS Explorer map covering this area is OL4/ The English Lakes- North Western Area 👉OS Explorer OL4 The English Lakes – North Western area (OS Explorer Map) (Amazon affiliate link)
The walk starts Hawes End. There is a small car park which we used (get there early if this is your intention) or for even more excitement, take the Keswick Launch to Hawes End Landing Stage.
The usual direction is to walk over the fell from the North (anticlockwise). This means you climb up the scrambles and then descend down stone steps. The scrambles are very do-able for children (but probably a little harder for the parents watching their three year old navigating a rock face!).
Just remember if you are carrying a baby like I was, your balance is definitely impacted, so you need to be confident! I found it easier with a back carrier so I could see my footing a little better. Our daughter loved these parts, and her small feet found footholds that weren’t much use for us!
After the first steep ascent/ scramble (Skelgill Bank) it is difficult to turn back, so you need to be sure that young children are up to completing the whole walk. If you find that you often need to carry your children on your shoulders for much of your walk, this might not be for you; until you’re back on the bridlepath they’re going to have to do it alone (unless of course you’ve got a proper carrier).
Check weather conditions before you go; you want children to enjoy it, which they’re less likely to do if it’s freezing cold or blowing a gale. In summer be mindful that the ascent has no shade, so hats and lots of fluids are a must.
It’s really not a walk children should be attempting in wellies or other casual footwear; make sure they’ve got something sturdy with a good grip. After a bit of a hunt we bought these Gelert Walking Boots for Jess, which we thought were great value for little feet growing so quickly!
The top of Catbells rewards you with glorious views over Derwentwater and down Borrowdale. Try to walk on a clear day so you can get the best of them!
The great views continue as you descend on the stone steps down, just be careful on rainy days as they can be slippy!
You have a choice of routes that you can follow here, if you wanted something a little shorter (just over 5km in total), take the bridleway that forks left (towards the coniferous woodland), and hugs the side of the fell back to the start of the walk. Where the track drops to the road there is also an option to drop down to the Lakeside path and take that route back. This gives good views all the way.
With children in good spirits, as our daughter was on this walk, you may fancy the longer route (10km), and continue the descent towards Manesty. After a brief walk along the road, you turn left towards the Lake and follow the path back all the way to Hawse End and the start of the walk.
Unless you fancy a detour heading into Grange, there are no facilities along the route. So you’ll need to take a picnic and/ or snacks with you. We found a great picnic stop on the side of Derwentwater, and enjoyed watching the launch pass us.
The path that returns to Hawes End is truly beautiful, winding through woodland along the Lake shore, with good prospects of the climb you’ve just completed. It’s fantastic. If you did get the launch to start the walk you could even pick it up earlier if little legs were getting tired!
Of course if the weather (or indeed the prospect of scrambling with an under 5) phases you, a great alternative is to take the bridle path half way up the fell and walk back along the shore line. You miss out on some of the fun but still get some great views.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you spend time enjoying this truly fabulous area of the Lakes. It’s popular for a reason!!
👉Nearby in the area you could also visit Whinlatter.