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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

Conquering Catbells

It had long been a goal of Jo’s and mine to extend our walking and “bag” one of the Lakeland fells. However, we hadn’t anticipated doing so in quite such a challenging way, when we were in the UK for our summer holiday this July.

We’d started off on the road along the western shore of Derwentwater, where we parked the car above the lakeside house which featured in photos by my friend Francis Spooner and which had first drawn me to the Lake District many years ago. There were two options to go for our walk and get some photos of the lake: head down to the shore and take shots of the stony shoreline and picturesque house, or head upwards along the path and hope that it wound high enough to get a clear, panoramic shot across the lake and back to Keswick. Jo and I chose the upper path, on the basis that our return to the car would be easier if it were downhill.

After a few minutes’ walk, we quickly realized that the path wasn’t leading high enough, so we studied the adjacent hillside and elected to scramble up to get a better viewpoint. After battling through waist-high ferns for around quarter of an hour, we took our first break; enjoying the view whilst braving the very strong wind and trying to avoid the pebble-like sheep droppings all around.

Jo in the gale

Once we’d rested and drank, we continued up the ever-steepening hillside, following barely discernible tracks through the undergrowth which had been made by the omnipresent sheep. Onwards and upwards, through a small gully and prickly gorse, until we got to the view I’d wanted; a clear shot across the lake and to the fells and town beyond.

By that stage, we’d worked out that we were some good way up the hillside and with a probable descent of around an hour, we decided to carry on and try to get to the top of the hill; racing the grey clouds scudding into view as we got higher, and hoping that the ascent wouldn’t be made more difficult by rain. By the time we cleared the ferns, we’d been able to ascertain that there was indeed a path along the top of the fell, which would give us a much easier – if potentially longer – descent.

To give you an idea of how steep the going was, here’s a shot of the hillside once we were clear of the ferns. (Jo is indicating the path we were aiming for, along the spine of the fell.)

The way ahead

Once we’d finally made it to the top of the fell, I found an old wooden sign which had fallen to the ground and which told me what we’d ascended: Catbells, one of the more famous Lakeland fells and one which we realized we were familiar with, having followed Julia Bradbury’s ascent for television series Wainwright Walks. Julia and her camera crew had used the “proper” route – along the ridge – but we’d managed to scale our first fell without even planning it! Once on the ridge, it seemed silly not to make the last push and so, battling against a very strong wind coming in from the distant coast to the west, we scrambled up the last rocky slope and found ourselves atop the bare summit. From there, the descent via the regular hiking path (and a cross-country shortcut across the shorter radius of the looped path) got us back to the car, with a memory card full of photos, aching legs, happy memories of our strenuous ascent and a terrific sense of achievement.

Successful ascent!