Castle Crag

Published 9 December 2018. Last updated 9 September 2020

A child looks out across Borrowdale from the side of Castle Crag
Is he contemplating which fell to walk next? (Hint: probably not.)

Spend a weekend in the Lake District, or some time during school holidays, and you’ll see lots of children out doing walks. They’re all dressed up in their child size walking trousers, fleeces and boots. Ready to tick off the Wainwrights together. All having fun out on the fells.

Well I presume they’re having fun. But anyway.

To get to that state of affairs is a bit of a family life goal for us. Although one that sometimes feels far away.

Part of that is an age thing. Having a two year old and a five year old, progress can sometimes be slow. It’s not been uncommon for our family to take over an hour to walk a mile. And, of course, you have to stop every ten minutes for extensive snack breaks.

But with a little planning, we thought we do family Wainwright fell-bag into a mini adventure. And if we got it right, it could turn into the first of many Waiwrights we would bag as a family.

The path that leads up Castle Crag
The path that leads up Castle Crag

The first thing to do was pick a fell. We were staying a week in Keswick so that narrowed it down to a few options. Although there were far fewer once I’d applied the “Have I’d already done it?” filter. But there were still a few options. Dodd. Sale Fell. Castle Crag…

Ah, Castle Crag. It’s a stand alone fell with no ridge walks to other fells, or anything. At a mere 290m, it’s also the smallest of the Wainwrights. For obvious reasons, it’s not uncommon for it to be a child’s first fell.

Tackled from either Rosthwaite or Grange, you can add to the adventure by getting the bus from Keswick. Hey, children love buses. For extra measure, we added a set of grandparents into the mix, to aid the motivational process. Oh and promised that we would go to a cafe at the end. Because there’s nothing that seems to excite our two more than knowing there’s a cafe to visit. Especially if it sells ice cream. Yes. Even on cold days in October.

Alighting the open top bus at Rosthwaite
It was time to get off the bus and head towards Castle Crag

So that was the plan. And that was why on an autumnal Tuesday morning we alighted the 78 bus at Rosthwaite, ready to bag a Wainwright. Did I mention the 78’s run by open top buses for much of the year? No? I should have. Nothing beats an open top bus. Except one that zooms along the winding, bumpy and narrow rural roads. It’s like a roller-coaster but in public transport form. Everyone should do it at least once.

We were going to walk from Rosthwaite to Grange. As Castle Crag sits between the two Borrowdale villages, it’s a great way to do it. And it also meant that we weren’t going up then going back the same way, which – if we’re honest – is a tad boring.

The stepping stones across the River Derwent
I mean, you could use the bridge further up stream, but this is more fun!

Enthused by our thrill-a-minute bus ride, we headed for more fun. How do you beat an open top bus? Well, stepping stones across the River Derwent of course! This should be fun, I thought, and I hopped across the twenty or stones to check they’d be okay for younger feet. They looked promising. One stone was partly under water, but not by much and there was enough space for some feet to stand on. The gaps between the stones were also not too long. I hopped back, reported on status, and the convoy across the Derwent began.

It was near that partly submerged rock that our five year old slipped. The water wasn’t deep. All that happened to him was that his trousers and feet got a bit wet. But in the kerfuffle a walking pole got dropped in the water.

Once son was safely deposited on the river bank, the hunt for the walking pole started. More boots and trousers got wet as two grandparents paddled through the water seeking sight of a metal stick. I went out there two, and in the confusion slipped on that same rock and ended up more soaked than anyone else.A rather lovely bridge crossing the DerwentOnce son was safely deposited on the river bank, the hunt for the walking pole started. More boots and trousers got wet as two grandparents paddled through the water seeking sight of a metal stick. I went out there two, and in the confusion slipped on that same rock and ended up more soaked than anyone else.

A rather lovely bridge crossing the Derwent
A rather lovely bridge crossing the Derwent

Watching all this from the river bank, was my partner Catherine. She had opted to do what more sensible people would always have done. With our two year old daughter, she had crossed the Derwent via a sturdy stone bridge. The two of them were the only ones of us to get to the other side whilst being bone dry.

Soggily, we carried on, walking along the riverbank until we came to the turn off up Castle Crag. Most of the ascent here is up steps. Steps that two year old Holly tackled with a determined look on her face. She may have been on the slow side, but she was sure going to try doing every single one. As she plodded on, the rest of us joined five year old Sam who was inspecting remnants of the former slate quarry. Of particular interest, an old entrance gouged into the hillside. Water was coming out of the old quarry, and the ground was heavily waterlogged. Which will be why a set of stepping stones led inside the hillside. How far they went, we didn’t find out. Well, none of us were keen on a second soaking.

Entrance to the old levels on Castle Crag
An old quarry entrance. To think that once people would have entered through here to get to work.

Fu and we were walking on a path that went up a giant spoil heap. As we walked, the chips of slate tinkled, like they were a musical instrument. This led to a quarry, a little below Castle Crag’s summit.

Quarrying had removed a fair chunk of the top of Castle Crag. There were spoil heaps everywhere, as well as bits of walls from the old quarry buildings. Sam spent several minutes enthusiastically exploring, before spitting a rather unusual rock. It was very smooth, curved and painted blue.

Sam holding a blue painted rock
Because only painted rocks will do.

For those not aware, there’s a craze for children painting rocks and hiding them in places for people to find. Well, I say hiding. Quite often they’re placed in full sight on gate posts or on top of walls. But if you’re not looking for them, chances are you won’t see them. Such is the popularity of painted rocks that groups have sprung up across the country, and rocks sometimes move between areas. Was the one that Sam found now a local rock, or one that had travelled for many miles? We didn’t know, but someone had left it on Castle Crag for someone else to find. And find it was.

In the time it took us to explore the quarry, a two year old and her mum had arrived. And now they had, we could make go up a little further to the small plateau summit.

It’s believed that a ancient hill fort stood here. So if you were wondering where the fell’s name came from, well there is your answer. Although don’t go looking for any remains. There’s nothing obvious to see.

The summit of Castle Crag. The plaque denotes the dedication of the fell as a memorial to the local men who died in World War I.

But there is a large rocky crown at the top, and it marks the highest point on Castle Crag. It also has a weather worn plaque in it.

Like many Lakeland fells, Castle Crag is under the care of the National Trust. It was gifted in memory of the men of Borrowdale who died fighting in World War I. Each man is named on the plaque. They died fighting for our freedom, and as long as people visit Castle Crag, they will not be forgotten.

The Castle Crag War Memorial
Castle Crag was given to the National Trust in memory of the men of Borrowdale who died fighting World War I.

We sat at the summit for a while. Partly to allow the kids to rest and snack. And partly so we could enjoy the view. Castle Crag’s modest height doesn’t mean it doesn’t offer a great viewpoint. It’s quite glorious, with the best bit being the view down the valley. In the foreground, Derwent Water. Behind that, the sprawl of Keswick town centre. And providing a mighty backdrop behind it all, stands the 931m high Skiddaw.

And then it was time to descend again. Back down to the top quarry, down the path made of tinkling musical chips of late, and down to the old Rigghead road.

The Rigghead Road - a path - next to Castle Crag
Cutting its way next to Castle Crag is the Rigghead Road

The Rigghead road cuts through a narrow gap between Castle Crag and neighbouring Low Scawdel (itself part of High Spy). In many respects, Castle Crag probably shouldn’t even be its own fell. Some guide book writers refuse to even mention Castle Crag for that reason. Even Wainwright says as much in his description of the fell. But he did include it, justifying his decision with the following:

Castle Crag is so magnificently independent, so ruggedly individual, so aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches, that less than justice would be done by relegating it to a paragraph in the High Spy chapter.

Our son bounced along the path happily as we walked down to. Perhaps it was the thought of the cafe that spurred him on. Or could it be the thrills of the open top bus that would take us back to Keswick.

But I like to think that Castle Crag had weaved its magic on him. Yes it’s small but it’s mighty. It captures hearts and minds, and puts a smile on many faces. And more than makes up for any potential soakings caused by slippery stepping stones.

The Rigghead Road in the Lake District
Heading towards Grange on the Rigghead Road

And as for the lost walking pole? Well we never did find it. The current of the river saw it disappear, never to be seen again.

If you see it, do let us know.

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