Cat Bells to High Spy

20th August 2017

Having contracted the black death I was forced to sit out the fells last weekend which hurt like hell knowing I had a free Saturday but I simply couldn't muster the energy so instead I did that thing that blokes do when they have man flu (a simple cold) I sulked.

Ok, I admit it was probably more than a cold but you get what I mean which even saw me turn down an invitation to do a walk with David who's just returned from Holiday. Having a free weekend wasn't so much a bad thing, it meant that I could catch up on some much needed house keeping on the website which kept me occupied for the best part of the weekend.

Had my last walk over High Street not been such a late start two weeks ago that particular day I was actually aiming to do this walk, Cat Bells to High Spy, it's a walk that I hold familiarity to but most importantly this exact route was the first walk that I completed solo at the beginning of my walking career, it's a walk that I tied in three fells together without returning by the same route and for that amongst other reasons this route will always have a special place in my heart. Since that day I have returned to walk the High Spy ridge as part of many other routes but every now and again I like to return to my roots.
Wainwright Guide Book Six
The North Western Fells

-Cat Bells

Words cannot adequately describe the rare charm of Catbells, nor its ravishing view. But no publicity is necessary: its mere presence in the Derwent water scene is enough.


Ascent: 2,143 Feet - 653 Metres
Wainwrights: 3, Cat Bells - Maiden Moor - High Spy
Weather: Overcast With Light Rain To Start, Turning Brighter, Light Breeze Over The Summits. Highs of 18°C Lows of 13°C
Parking: Roadside Parking, Gutherscale
Area: North Western
Miles: 9
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL4
Time Taken: 4 Hours 35 Minutes
Route: Gutherscale - Skelgill Bank - Cat Bells - Hause Gate - Maiden Moor - Narrow Moor - Blea Crag - High Spy - Dalehead Tarn - Newlands Valley - Above Little Town - Skelgill - Gutherscale

Map and Photo Gallery


Castle Head and Walla Crag seen over Derwent Isle and Derwent Water 08:30am 13°C

I arrived at Gutherscale around 08:15am after driving through an almost deserted Portinscale and managed to park easily next to a large motor home. The ground underfoot is saturated, evidence of the previous days rainfall which was still flowing down the tarmac lane and because of this I struggle to keep my laces dry whilst fitting my boots. Another car soon pulls onto the parking spaces put I don't see the driver who has parked on the other side of the motor home. The forecast today was for it to largely remain dry but low cloud would affect most areas so I hatched up a plan that if said cloud was blanketing the ridge I would first walk through Newlands alongside Newlands Beck to Dalehead Tarn, then ascend High Spy when the cloud would have hopefully cleared but there was no need to change my plan because from the A66 earlier I could plainly see that Cat Bells and Maiden Moor are cloud free.

I kit up in shorts and add a light windproof should I need it which was just force of habit I guess. By the time I was ready to lock my car I spot a chap starting his own ascent on Cat Bells after crossing the familiar cattle grid, he appears to be covering ground at some pace and by my reckoning it's probably the last I'll see of him. I join the path flanked by thick bracken where already the tinges of the leaves are starting to turn brown just in time for when Autumn returns, it doesn't seem two minutes ago when the bracken was ready to flourish.

Despite the mildness of the air it's cloudy overhead and the sun struggles to penetrate through the cloud cover leaving a dusting of sunlight over Derwent Water's surface, it's been a good few months since I last saw sunlight reflecting this way which was just another reminder that the district in approaching the transition between Summer and Autumn.

Up ahead, Skelgill Bank.

Cat Bells from Skelgill Bank.

With just one week away from the fells I seem to have lost a yard as I struggle with my breathing not helped by my still leaking nose which I am forced to empty (sorry) at what seems like five minute intervals, nevertheless I made it to Skelgill Bank in around twenty minutes and surprised myself by passing the walker who I had seen earlier just prior to reaching this spot. It's looking much brighter now and what with all the huffing and puffing I reckon this is as good a spot as any to remove my jacket.

Why I put it on in the first place is beyond me, like I say force of habit I guess.

Cat Bells and Hindscarth from Skelgill Bank.
I'll be more than happy if the forecast remains like this for the duration.

Cat Bells summit stone column.

I had noticed, but hadn't paid it really much attention at what appeared to be a cairn from the ridge from down below and even then I passed it off as a rather ambitious cairn but on reaching the summit I was quite surprised to find that a new stone column had been built for reasons I can only assume depicts the popularity of Cat Bells.

On top of the column a circular plaque showing the distance from summits within the vicinity rounded off by the words "Scenes of great beauty unfold on all sides, they are scenes on depth to a degree not usual" by Alfred Wainwright taken from Cat Bells chapter of the Pictorial Guide to the North-Western Fells.

Still feeling relatively surprised by the new stone column and caught within the words of Alfred Wainwright I would have seen the advancing shower which caught me by complete surprise which I might add only lasted a a few moments but was substantial enough to give me a good soaking hence this only shot from the summit.

Derwent Water and a distant view of Blencathra from Hause Gate.
I watched the shower pass over then kind'a fizzle out as it headed north over Keswick leaving in its wake quite a few ripples over the surface of Derwent Water. For now the skies will remain grey at a point when the cloud appears to be lowering too, this isn't what I had banked for but it didn't matter, I'm out on the hill and all that matters is here and now.

Maiden Moor and Hindscarth from Cat Bells.

Would you believe it the sun came back out.

I guess I should have known better, after all I have been walking the fells now long enough to know just how unpredictable the weather can be and the last twenty minutes or so just proved it. It just goes to show that you don't have to climb high to experience the ever changing Lakeland weather.

Well, fingers crossed this sunshine appears to here to stay with huge gaps opening out between the cloud and with it, more mild temperatures.

A close up of Cat Bells seen from the shelf route to Maiden Moor.
With the remains of Yewthwaite Mine down below while to the left the path I'll be using later to walk back to Gutherscale.

Maiden Moor seen from the top of Barnes Gill.
With Hindscarth, Scope End and Robinson in the distance.

A distant Skiddaw and Cat Bells from the summit of Maiden Moor.
Of all the Lakeland fell summits, the summit of Maiden Moor ranks very highly for me...

Causey Pike from Maiden Moor.
...not just because of the spectacular views.

Narrow Moor from Maiden Moor.
...but also because of views like this over Narrow Moor, this really is my kind of territory especially when out on a Sunday morning walk, just splendid.


Smell the Heather, taste the Heather.
Despite my cold and foggy head the smell of the Heather filled my nostrils from one end of the ridge to the other, the smell at times was strong enough to accompany me across the whole section of Narrow Moor, a real treat, certainly for my nostrils.

Looking back on Narrow Moor and Maiden Moor as I gain the shoulder of High Spy.

With High Spy now appearing on the southern end of the ridge.

That's Esk Pike over on the far left with Great End to the left of High Spy summit cairn, further right is Great Gable and of course Dale Head in the right of the foreground.

High Spy impressive summit cairn.
The ridge crossing from the top of Blea Crags (seen at the northern end of the ridge over on the right) was gained boy like while exploring the deep ravines of Eel Crags and Red Crag on the western steep flanks of the High Spy ridge. I scour for movement in the valley below and spot no-one, it's quiet and without a stir but this isn't the case for Dale Head where I spot two walkers in descent both steering towards Dale Head Tarn.

Dale Head, Great Gable, Hindscarth Edge and Far Tongue Gill from the descent of High Spy.
No matter how tempting an ascent on Dale Head is sadly today I decide to stick to my plan and return to Gutherscale via Newlands Beck. Incidently just in case you were wondering the name Great Gable is given to huge cliff like crags in the centre left of the picture (also known as Gable Crag) which appears to resemble Great Napes on Great Gable.

Descending towards Dalehead Tarn.
With impressive views over the Newlands Beck and the head of Miners Crag.

Dalehead Tarn appears behind the craggy outcrops over towards the right.
Despite it still being mid morning I think I'll treat myself to a late breakfast / early lunch when I arrive at Dalehead Tarn.

Dalehead Tarn.
Peaceful beyond words.

A distant Causey Pike seen over Newlands taken shortly after leaving Dalehead Tarn.

I devoted almost half an hour to Dalehead Tarn that morning, securing the best seat from the ruined sheepfold and shared 'mornings' with the couple who I had seen descending Dale Head earlier who continued to ascend High Spy after they also spoke "what a beautiful spot it was " I think they were German by the sounds of their broken English.

Causey Pike remained to dominate the skyline during my descent to the valley floor.
With lunch reluctantly over I re-shoulder while looking forward to taking in the descent via Newlands Beck, a descent marred by a rough and sometimes boulder-some path which soon levels out over green pasture once the valley floor is reached and to make up for the roughness of the path there are plenty of waterfalls off the beaten path to explore.

The Newlands Valley.
A narrow path steers alongside Newlands Beck which falls away steeply to the left, I am accompanied by the sound of gushing water where it falls into deep chasms some of which too precarious to venture too close to, but not all of them...

Newlands Beck waterfall.

And a little down stream just off the beaten track.
The scene certainly was enough for me to de-shoulder, tuck my arms around my knees and just take it all in for a few moments.

The view back up to Miners Crag (left) Newlands Beck, Dalehead Crags and Gable Crag.

The Newlands Valley.
With the rough descent behind me it was time to take in the valley from floor level which never fails to disappoint especially when it seems I had the whole of the valley to myself.

Looking back towards Dale Head and Hindscarth.

Views over Hindscarth, Scope End and Robinson seen shortly before arriving back at Little Town.
By the time I reached Little Town things were starting to feel and look much busier with cars double parked as I peered through the trees towards Chapel Bridge which is something that as a walker you learn to accept even though a little over four hours earlier Little Town still resembled the quaint hamlet that it actually is.


Swinside and Skiddaw from Gutherscale.

By the time I found at the old Yewthwaite Mines I could see that just above crowds were starting to gather on Cat Bells summit this along with the dozen or so I spotted still heading towards the summit I couldn't but help feel thankful that I had the summit to myself earlier even if it was raining. I'm not too far away from my car now and with the mildness of the afternoon I'm ready to replenish my thirst with a couple of Satsumas before I head home. The track back to the carpark is still flowing with water which I use to clean the soles of my boots before arriving back at a bustling car park, two guys are stood helping to reverse a large BMW alongside my car one of whom checks the gap between my car and the poorly fitting BMW "It's tight and you'll have to get out the passenger side" one guy says before he realises I'm the owner of the car.

"This yours mate" I get that sinking feeling but not because I think there's damage been done, and not even because the guy was rude because he wasn't, I got that feeling because I didn't get to end a walk the way I normally do but I guess in the end it doesn't matter, and I guess most won't understand what I'm on about anyway.

Until next time eh.


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