The 4 best Catbells walks, near Keswick, with route maps

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The summit of Cat Bells (left of centre of the photo) overlooking Derwent Water, near Keswick in the English Lake District. Cat Bells is one of the most popular walks in the Lakes and for good reason. For any new visitors looking for walks near Keswick - it's a must-do walk and there are 4 classic routes featured on this blog post.

Cat Bells - one of the Lake District's most popular fell walks

Cat Bells has a modest height of 451 meters (1,480ft) but it's a very popular walk as it is near the market-town of Keswick and it offers superb views of the surrounding fells and Derwent Water for its relative low height compared to the much higher surrounding mountains. It's an excellent walk for those new to fell walking as it has a bit of everything, including a little bit of scrambling up some of the steeper parts, but distance wise it's not very long so can be done quite quickly, and you will get some cracking views on a clear day.

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How long does it take to walk up Cat Bells?

The walk up to the Catbells summit, if you park at the closest point, is about 30 to 40mins and most people walk up form the northern end which is the steepest way as shown on the route maps in this blog post. I also highly recommend walking up the steep northern end first and coming down the gentler southern side.

How long does it take to walk up and down Cat Bells?

This depends on the route you take as there are a few options of varying length as shown on this blog post. The quickest route up and down the shortest distance can be done in an hour but that would be rushing it. I recommend allocating more time and doing one of the circular routes featured on this blog post, depending on how much time you have.

How hard is it to climb Cat Bells?

I would class this as a moderate walk, whilst short in distance and quick to do, it is steep in 2 short sections (if done head-on from the northern end) and there are 2 little scrambles up steep rock that require you to use your hands, which isn't difficult in dry conditions but those new to fell-walking and who are a bit scared of heights may not feel comfortable in some of these more exposed positions.  Some may say it's an easy walk in the context of all the Lake District mountains if you are an experienced walker, but usually those who tackle Catbells are first-timers to the lakes so be prepared. Wear suitable walking footwear with good grip (especially in the wet) and take an extra layer or two for the top (it always gets a bit chillier on summits once you stop for a rest) Check the weather forecast (it can change quickly in the Lakes) and take a drink and a snack (you'll thank me for it :-). That being said there are some excellent views to be had for a walk that only takes 30 - 40 minutes to get up to the summit.

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The walk to the Catbells summit is best done from the northern, steeper-end via Skelgil bank. It has a couple of short little scrambles where you might have to use your hands. All perfectly safe in dry conditions and make the walk a little bit more fun and varied (if you are not very mobile or a bit scared of heights you might find it a bit of a challenge though!)

Why is Cat Bells called 'Cat Bells'?

It's unclear why the name is Cat Bells but it’s probably a corruption of an old english term in reference to where wild cats still roamed the area. Rest-assured they don't now :-)

How high is Cat Bells?

451m is it’s elevation and it's a well-known and distinctive landmark overlooking Derwent Water and Keswick with impressive views of the surrounding mountains, like Skiddaw on clear days.

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The view looking across Skelgil Bank towards the town of Keswick at the head of Derwent Water on the right with Skiddaw mountain in the distance and Bassenthwaite Lake in the far distance to the left. For a relatively quick walk  - the views are some of the best in the Lakes.

Where is Cat Bells?

Cat Bells is a popular walk near Keswick in the English Lake District, Cumbria. It overlooks Derwent Water lake and has superb views for it's relatively modest height compared to the bigger Lake District Mountains. If you are on holiday in the Keswick area and staying in a cottage or Bed & Breakfast then put this walk on your list ;-)

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The 4 best Catbells Walking Routes

The 4 best and most popular walking routes to Cat Bells and back

Often those who walk to the summit of Cat Bells are relatively new to walking - so I thought I would share some of my favourite and best routes to Cat Bells. The routes are of varying distance and starting points - and which route you choose all depends on the time you have available really and your modes of transport. In all the routes I highly recommend heading up the steepest section first to Cat Bells via Skelgil Bank, and coming down the southern end. It can be a bit tricky coming down the steepest end. 

#1. The quickest circular Cat Bells walk route 

This route is the quickest circular walk which returns via the western edge of Cat Bells over looking Newlands Valley (It's not as quick as a straight 'up & down the way you came' but circular routes are just better and more interesting aren't they? :-) 

Catbells Walk Distance: 4.8km, 3 miles
Walking Time: 1.5 hours
Walk Difficulty: Moderate 

Whilst short in distance and quick to do, it is steep in 2 short sections (if done head-on from the northern end via Skelgil Bank and there are 2 little scrambles up steep rock that require you to use your hands, and those new to walking who are a bit scared of heights may not feel comfortable in some of these more exposed positions.  

Walk Start: Car Park near Skelgil Bank (or Hawes End boat landing stage)

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[Click map to enlarge] This is the quickest route to the top of Catbells and back. It starts at the Car Park at the foot of Skelgil Bank, and then it's straight up Skelgil bank - onto the summit of Catbells and the down the western edge of Catbells via Brunt Crag then onto Skelgil. This gives good views of the Newlands Valley. The full route can be found here and downloaded as a .gpx file http://outdoorsgps.com/route/show/432687_catbellsfromskelgill

Here you can see the elevation of this quick route - it's a fairly steep climb up Skelgil bank which might get you out of breath :-) but after that it's quite easy

Catbells view from summit Cat-Bells-Catbells-walk-Keswick-Derwent-Water-Lakes-Lake-District-map-route-best-views, How long, How high,
The view from the summit of Catbells is pretty impressive and for a walk of maybe only 40 mins to get here it's well worth it. You'll get stunning views of Derwent Water, Keswick and here in the distance you can see the mountains of Skiddaw & Blencathra shrouded in cloud.

#2. My best Catbells short circular walking route (with stunning views of Derwent Water)

This is my favourite short circular walking route because of the amazing views of Derwent Water on the entire walk, even on the descent.

Catbells walk Distance: 6.2km, 3.8 miles
Walking Time: 2 hours
Walk Difficulty: 
Moderate (2 scrambling sections up Skelgil bank)

Walk Start: Car Park at Skelgil or Hawes End ferry landing stage

This is another quick route up to Catbells and in my opinion is worth the extra 0.8 miles compared to the previous walk as the views over Derwent Water are superb along every step of the way. You can also view the google map route below. 

As you can see on this elevation chart of the walking route - once Catbells has been tackled it's plain sailing on the way back :-)

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On this photo I have illustrated the path you will take on the Catbells route above so you can get a feel for the kind of terrain you will be walking. If you click the banner link below it will take you to a dedicated blog post on this particular route with lots of photos of what to expect. 

Catbells walk route best Lake district near Keswick

#3. Catbells walk, returning via the Cumbrian Way, along Derwent Water's edge

If you have time then this is a great route and is the most varied as you return through woodland and the edge of Derwent Water.

Catbells walk Distance: 6.7km, 4.2 miles
Walking Time: 2.5 hours
Walk Difficulty: Moderate (2 scrambling sections up Skelgil bank)
Walk Start: Car Park at Skelgil or Hawes End ferry landing stage

This is an excellent way of walking Catbells as it gives a lot of variety and different views. As well as the great views from Catbells, you also walk through the woodland of Manesty Park and along the Cumbrain Way along Derwent Water's edge around Brandelhow Bay and onto Brandelhow Park.You can either start from the Skelgil Car Park or any of the 3 Ferry landing stages along the route. The full route can be found in google maps below or on this link http://outdoorsgps.com/route/show/496186_cat-bells-via-skegil-bank-manesty-park-derwent-water-edge-brandelhow-bay-brandelhow-park 

Once you have tackled Catbells on this route - its a nice leisurely stroll along flat terrain on Derwent Water's edge back to the start 

The descent from Catbells via the southern end is much gentler and you will see some stunning views of Borrowdale, Manesty Forest and over to Walla crag and the Ashness Bridge area. On this photo Manesty Park is in full view and on the longer walk you can walk through the forest to vary the walk up.

#4. Catbells from Keswick - the long way

If you've got time on your hand's and don't want to travel - then why not walk from Keswick! It's obviously longer at 4+ hours - but a nice walking route to do

Catbells Walk Distance: 15.1km, 9.4 miles
Walking Time: 4 hours
Walk Difficulty: Moderate (2 scrambling sections up Skelgil bank)
Walk Start: Keswick town centre

This route is ideal if you want to start from Keswick and fancy a longer walk or don't want to travel via car/ferry/bus to the usual starting points nearer Catbells. The walk begins along the Cumbrian Way out of Keswick and heads to Portinscale and Fawe Park and then you walk up to Catbells via Skelgil bank in much the same way as the routes above. You would then return along the easter edge of Catbells then onto the same way back to Keswick via The Cumbrian way - or you could even catch the ferry back at the landing stage at Hawes End if you time it right! Full route can be viewed here and downloaded as a .gpx file http://outdoorsgps.com/route/show/416956_lake-district-catbells-1-1
When walking to Cat bells from Keswick you have plenty of time to warm up before you begin the ascent of Cat Bells - with a leisurely stroll back to Keswick

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The summit of Catbells overlooking Derwent Water near Keswick. In terms of accessibility - Catbells is one of the most popular and best walks in the Lake District. For any new visitors to Keswick in the Lakes - it's a must do walk

Extending your Catbells walk

I have only shown the most popular Catbells routes on this blog post to help those unfamiliar with Catbells in planning a walk. For the more experienced walkers with more time on your hands - then after Catbells you may want to head on upto Maiden Moor, High Spy or even Dale Head! You can make the walk as long or as short as you like really!

Where to park for a Catbells Walk?

Whilst free to park, there isn't great deal of car parking spaces at the very foot of Skelgil Bank (maybe room for 10 cars or so) which get full quite easily. If this is the case, head along the road to Grange on the eastern edge of Catbells where there are sections where you can park on the roadside, again not massive amounts of car park spaces, so on a weekend with good weather it may prove tricky to find a spot. Tip - get there early, do the walk out of season or do it midweek.

Catbells where to park the car parking
You can just about make out the road along the eastern edge of Catbells here (left of the photo) which leads to Grange, and you can see the tiny cars parked on the road side. This is your best chance of finding somewhere to park (and its free).

I hope this little blog post sheds some light on walking up Catbells and for those unfamiliar with the the area it helps you plan your walk! I really recommend Catbells if you are in the Keswick area as it offers some stunning Lake District views.

Post by Stuart Hodgson 
'The Hiking Photographer'

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