Catbells in gold

Catbells shines in a sunbeam: viewed from Maiden Moor. Skiddaw in cloud behind.

Date completed: 19th March 2019. Eight years ago, 19/3/11, I was on walk 34, and eight years and one day ago I was doing the same fells as I did today on walk 33. See below.

Weather conditions: It didn’t snow, but otherwise I had pretty much everything else at some point. Quite a chill breeze.

Flooding near Derwent Water

Flooding near Derwent Water

No big surprise considering how it’s been at home lately, but there was evidence of substantial amounts of rain having fallen over the last couple of weeks, most obviously the flooding at the head of Derwent Water (see picture). This had completely flooded out the path between Manesty and the Lodore Hotel, some of which I used when last in this vicinity (walk 125, two years ago).

Summits bagged: High Spy (2143 feet above sea level, number 191 of my second round), Maiden Moor (1887’, no. 192), Catbells (1481’, no. 193).

All three of these were bagged on the same walk last time, walk 33, which as noted above was done just one day earlier in the calendar: 18/3/11. However, on that walk I did them in the reverse order, attained and left the ridge differently, and the start and end point of the walk was different. So that feels like enough variety to me.

Rainbow over Newlands

Rainbow over Newlands

Start and end point: Grange-in-Borrowdale. This can be reached by #78 and, in the summer only, #77 buses from Keswick. The 77 services go through the village itself but to catch the 78 you need to be out at the end of the double bridge, on the main Borrowdale road.

I started the walk at about 10.40, when the Keswick bus (departed 10.20, ish) dropped me off. It took me about three and three-quarter hours, so I was in time to get the 15:00 service back to Keswick.

Distance walked: 8 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 2400 feet approximately.

Aspirational sheep

An aspirational sheep, in the early stages of the walk

Posh hotel at end: You’d think a village with the population, not to mention the tourist flow, of Grange could sustain a pub, but apparently not. There are two cafes in the centre, neither of them licensed and both often packed out, and then there is the Borrowdale Gates hotel on the northern edge of the village. This welcomes non-residents and will do you a bottled beer or wine: it’s a perfectly nice place but it’s really not set up to welcome walkers, particularly muddy ones. I wouldn’t expect your wet dog to gleefully bound through the lounge, either.

Route: I can’t think of anything to complain about with this walk. It’s relatively short, but it bags three fine summits and the views are stupendous. Even after all the recent rain the ground was not too soggy and I reckon that most of the time this will be a dry walk. It’s easy to access. There’s no long preamble or endless coda. Let’s do it!

High Spy from Grange

High Spy as seen from Grange, over the Derwent

From the bus stop on the main road, go over the double bridge and through the village of Grange — take care though, this road is often busy, particularly in the summer, with both walkers and cars. Just before the Borrowdale Gates hotel, look for the public footpath sign on the left, and take it. The climbing begins straight after, and does not really let up until the summit of High Spy an hour hence, but what the hell, at least on this walk you get almost all the effort of ascent done in one go.

The route being followed here is that depicted on Wainwright’s page High Spy 5, and that’s a better guide than I can provide. If anything I think the page exaggerates the difficulties, and certainly the clarity of the path is better in reality than suggested in the book. There seems absolutely no reason at all to bother scrambling up either of the rakes; the ‘drove road’ path is perfectly clear and palpably the best way through the line of crags that defends High Spy on this side.

The Amphitheatre

View up to Minum Crag, over the amphitheatre

Once in the ‘amphitheatre’ (actually, a perfect example of a hanging valley), the path remains fairly clear and there are quite a few cairns to guide you up to the ridge. The sharp peak you see ahead (see picture) is Minum Crag rather than the summit — sorry — but keep following the cairns and the ridge path will be attained in due course. Turn left, and you will reach High Spy’s substantial summit cairn shortly afterwards.

Once there, backtrack, and stick to the ridge path thereafter — in clear weather the route to Maiden Moor is obvious. There are fabulous views of Newlands valley to the left. Make a point of attaining the summit of Blea Crag (see Wainwright’s description of the ridge route), as this has an excellent view of Derwent Water. Maiden Moor’s summit is fairly flat but coming at it from this direction it is obvious that to reach the tiny cairn you need to stick to the left, Newlands side of the ridge.

Borrowdale from Catbells

Borrowdale, from Catbells

Catbells looks crazy from here, like a twisted little dwarf of a fell. To reach it, while there might seem to be a choice of routes ahead, actually the ridge path becomes very pronounced and impossible to lose. Stick with it as it curves right to the crag edge (see picture), drops to the col and then makes the short and simple ascent up to Catbells summit. Expect to share this moment with a substantial number of other people.

You could, from here, carry on along the ridge and walk all the way through Fawe Park to Portinscale and then Keswick, although do bear in mind this is another four miles or so. The Derwent Water boat launches, with landing stages at Hawse End and Brandlehow, also offer travel options (see the map on Catbells 4). But I returned to Grange. This involved backtracking once more, returning to the col and then bearing left, down the good path that drops, not too steeply, down to the road on the west side of the lake.

Maiden Moor

Maiden Moor, seen from Catbells

If it is the summer you could always wait around here for a 77 bus, as the service runs along this road. But if it is winter and/or you want refreshments, keep walking back to Grange. If you’re not too muddy, the hotel is there on the left; but remember to leave a few minutes from there to get back to the bus stop on the main road.

Sinusitis commentary: Well, there won’t be two walks in March, but I’m glad I got one in. If I hadn’t gone today there would have been an eight-week (minimum) hiatus in the schedule, as from this weekend I head off to the other side of the world until mid-April.

On the ridge, looking back to High Spy

I had a four-day window in early March to keep up my promised two-walks-per-month-while-on-sabbatical schedule, but two things conspired to prevent me adding to my tally. Number one, awful weather. Whatever tantalised us in late February with all that spectacular ‘early spring’ stuff has long been proven to be pure tease. March hasn’t been quite as lousy,  and certainly not as cold, as in 2018, but it’s not been great, and not only the flooded fields in Borrowdale but the sandbags packed around the walls of Booths in Keswick show this clearly. I’m glad I went for it today though, despite a very ambivalent weather forecast. Although a bit chilly, the mixture of cloud and (occasional) sun made for some great photos. The moment here, with Catbells illuminated in sunlight while everything else was dark, was just perfect. (See the picture at the top of the page.)

Upper Newlands

Upper Newlands. Hindscarth to right, Blea Crag to the left.

The other reason I haven’t been out much is a bout of sinusitis that I’m sick of by now. Two weeks ago this simple cold virus moved into my nasal passages and decided it liked the congenial environment it found there. It’s taken up squatter’s rights and I can’t shift it. The ocean of mucus that swishes around in my head has tides and backwash, it’s not just some stagnant pool, it moves, from ear to ear and nostril to throat and back. Gaaah, you don’t want to know. Suffice it to say that energy levels have been a bit low lately. Hence, the desire for a short and fairly hassle-free walk.

Summit view, Catbells

The summit view from Catbells. Bass Lake in the distance.

This was just what was needed under the circumstances. Fairly short, no wasted steps, interesting and photogenic. Even if this was only the third of my second round walks which exactly replicates the fells bagged of a first round walk [* see bottom], and that these were bagged on almost the same day of the year as that first time, I didn’t care — 2011 is a long time ago now anyway. This all felt pretty fresh, and except for the ridge itself (and that, reversed), the route was quite different.

Sinusitis has made me feel locked in my own head, but that’s been no bad thing lately, so I’ll pass on commenting on external events and note only now that it will definitely be at least four weeks until l get to return to Cumbria. The next walk WILL be in the Western Fells. Really. As of today I’m 69% of the way through Book 6 but only 45.4% of the way through Book 7. I need the summer bus services though — but they’ll be running again by the time I get back.

Near High Spy summit

Near the summit of High Spy, looking north

[*] I could suggest that the geeks among you work out the other two for yourselves, but I’ll spare you. They are walk 4 and walk 125, which both bagged only Castle Crag, and walk 77 and walk 130, which both got me the two summits in the Scout Scar chapter.

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