Wainwright Walks 2: Catbells Classic

Hills: Catbells, Maiden Moor
Date: Sunday 14 March 2010
Weather: A bit windy, otherwise good
Who: Self, Stuart (my husband) and friends
Time: In total 3 ½ hours

Welcome to ‘Wainwright Walks, the Malbec way, part 2: Catbells’ in which I (together with my husband Stuart and various other cohorts) continue my mission to bring our own particular brand of hillwalking (involving amongst other things a detailed scientific experiment to work out the optimum ratio of good evening/rioja/ Glenfarclas pre walk to headache during walk) to the Lake District. Not only were we following in the footsteps of A. Wainwright, Julia Bradbury, and her TV crew, we were following in the footsteps of another luminary of hillwalking and blogging … the one and only Fatdogwalks. (www.wherethefatdogwalks.com) whose post on the same hill we had recently read. I’m not really sure which is the hardest act to follow!

Again the route choice was down to me which was something of a leap of faith on everyone’s part, particularly after the unplanned scrambling on Haystacks the previous day. And particularly because this route involved a known scramble, albeit a very minor one according to A.W. I usually operate on the basis that if a dog can get up something then I probably can as well and it’s done me pretty well as a rule of thumb so far!

A good start was got off to – at least compared to the previous day – by the fact that nobody appeared to have a hangover, 😯 and equally nobody appeared to have any dubious Glenfarclas-induced stomach lurgies. The forecast for the day was, however, rubbish with MWIS predicting 10% cloud free summits with up to 45mph gusts of wind. Oh dear! Skiddaw once again had cloud blanketing its slopes so given all these factors, plus the fact that we had a 300 mile journey back to London to cope with later that day, we decided to go for another hill in the ‘small but perfectly formed’ category. To quote from A.W:

Words cannot adequately describe the rare charm of Catbells, nor its ravishing view. But no publicity is necessary; its mere presence in the Derwentwater scene is enough. It has a bold ‘come hither’ look that compels one’s steps, and no suitor ever returns disappointed, but only looking back often. It has only to be seen from Friar’s Crag and a spell is cast. No Keswick holiday is consummated without a visit to Catbells.

A fair bit to live up to, and the tone is rather odd for talking about a hill rather than (say) some fair maid of the outdoors. Come hither? Well since we did come or go hither (whatever the correct grammar is) I can hardly complain. I’d certainly concur on the view though, as they were excellent right from the start. Parking, however, is clearly a real problem and we were very grateful we’d got going early – there aren’t that many roadside parking spaces and they were already starting to fill up.

The initial ascent is on an excellent path, though a pretty steep one. You do however gain height very quickly and it’s comforting that the hill isn’t big enough for the steep ascent to go on that long! At about 350m you reach the first rocky step. This was straightforward and could probably be circumvented on the grass if necessary, although the grass was quite steep. The rock was much more polished than on Haystacks, though not a problem.

Over the top of the rock step, and we were onto the ridge looking over towards our main objective. Views continued to be great, although there were some strong gusts of wind to contend with. Not a massive problem though, and apart from the wind MWIS had pretty much got it wrong, though the view back to Skiddaw was still quite gloomy.

After the short ridge, there is a steep pull up to the summit with a couple of bits where again you have to scramble. To quote A. Wainwright again:

‘a steep but obviously simple scramble to the summit’

That was about right really. Definitely more straightforward than Haystacks, although at one point I managed to go slightly the wrong way up a step and end up having to haul myself up on my backside as the next step was too high for me to comfortably step up. Yes, I know, knees and/or your bum are not supposed to be one of the three points of contact, but what the heck. Got up fairly quickly and watched as the boys came up afterwards. It looks a lot less steep from this angle than it actually was but I hadn’t thought to take a picture from the bottom.

Without too much further ado we were up and on the summit, which according to A.W has no cairn. It does now! Someone has built a small cairn on the top, too small to appear in any of the summit pictures but there nonetheless. The views all around were excellent, and what’s more – despite this being a hill which A.W, Julia and everyone else had all said was liable to get busy – we had the summit to ourselves. (well, I thought we had but I’ve just noticed a couple of other people in the background! ) Spent some time snapping furiously away, before heading off along the ridge in the direction of Maiden Moor.

At the col between the two hills it was decision time. One of our mates and I were quite keen to press on but the other was a bit tired, so he and my husband headed back to the car with the car keys while we pressed on towards Maiden Moor, which is a slightly higher hill with again some excellent views, and apart from one rocky bit a very straightforward path. On the top relatively quickly. Only a tiny cairn on this one and there is another cairn not that far away, which although it is obviously lower, my mate wound me up sufficiently for me to need to go and tag it anyway. I’m not even supposed to be ticking off Wainwrights!

From the top of Maiden Moor it was obviously a really nice gentle ridge walk along to High Spy with very little drop and reascent required. However, time was marching on 😦 and we needed to think about setting off down the motorway, so we retraced our steps and dropped down from the col on a constructed, and somewhat steep, path down towards the road. Back at the car at 1pm, at which point I discovered the real reason why bottoms are not a point of contact in scrambling – I’d managed to rip a hole in my trousers!

Before heading back down the motorway, we made a quick stop at Castlerigg stone circle, somewhere I’d been to years ago and was keen to revisit as it has such a good setting. Then it was time to take a deep breath and face the deep joys of the M6/ M1/ M25 all the way back home. 😦

Made good time until we got stuck in traffic on the M25 … but at least there was a bottle of Jura in the house. Always a bit weird having the post walk drink hours after, and nowhere near, the walk! Irritatingly no photo, so the pre walk drinks will have to do…

All in all an excellent weekend 😀 and the first of a number of productive trips to the Lakes, one reason being because it is just about doable driving in a weekend from London which Scotland just isn’t. The hills may be smaller, but the views are still really good, and the YH in Keswick was a cracker. And despite the impromptu scrambling, our mate whose first taste of hill walking it was then bought himself a hydration bladder.. so clearly not put off for life, as was to be demonstrated on a number of subsequent weekends!


2 thoughts on “Wainwright Walks 2: Catbells Classic

  1. I’ve worn a few trouser-bums out – especially on Arran where the rock is very rough indeed!

    Another great report. I’m always surprised that Catbells is listed as one of the easiest peaks for beginners as I used to find it disconcertingly steep and narrow. Those scrambles are a b*gger in the wet too as the rock is very slippery.

    If you decided to re-do it along with Maiden Moor and High Spy, there’s a nice route down to Dalehead Tarn and then down to Newlands from there with lovely tracks back 🙂

    Wainwright used that kind of terminology as I think he loved his mountains so much he classed them as women. Probably a bit like I class them as male! 😉


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