Published 18 July 2013

Near Skelgill Bank

“You know that 10:08 bus that we rushed down here to get?” I said, peering at the timetable fixed to the bus stop..

“Yes,” Catherine replied, hesitantly.

“Well it turns out it only runs on weekdays during the school holidays.”

“Oh. Is it not the school holidays yet?”

“Nope. But don’t worry. There’s this other bus marked ‘KCOL’ that runs on ‘Kendal College term dates only’ which runs only seven minutes later. That should be fine. We should still be able to make the connection at Keswick.”

We stood patiently at the bus stop, waiting for the 10:15 bus. Nothing arrived. I checked the bus stop timetable again, but there was nothing to indicate where the bus was. Nor, for that matter, what Kendal College’s term dates were. I peered at the timetable and established there was a 10:28 bus too. It had no bizarre restrictions; no confusing footnotes on the timetable,

The clock turned 10:28. Then 10:30. Then 10:35. The bus was nowhere to be seen.

Sam falls asleep almost instantly

What do you do when you’re in the Lake District with a seven month old baby? Do you, a) visit the Pencil Museum, b) sit around at the edge of Lake Windermere with a coffee, or c) strap on a brand new baby carrier, fling your child on your back and head for a Wainwright?

But which fell? Well, for some unknown reason, AW didn’t put in his pictorial guide a rating of how easy the climb would be when carrying a small child. So we had to guess. And given Catbells has a certain reputation as a family fell, it seemed as good an idea as any. All we had to do was get there from our rented cottage in Ambleside.

Now given we had a car at our disposal, loaned by Catherine’s parents who were gallivanting around Canada at the time, you’d think the answer would be obvious. But neither of us are particularly car people, and with the Lakes being a bit awash with cars, we decided we’d make use of the various public transport options instead rather than clogging up the place with one of our own.

After spending the evening scouring the complexities of the local bus timetable, I came up with a plan. We’d catch the 555 bus to Keswick. Once there we’d have ten minutes to stroll to our next bus – the 77A Honnister Rambler – which would take us to the foot at Catbells. Perfect. We’d be there at quarter past eleven, and it would all be a lot less hassle than driving down narrow lanes. What could possibly go wrong?

Well for starters, you pick a bus from the timetable that doesn’t run on the day you want it to. And then you go for a backup bus that also doesn’t run on the day you want it to – a check on the internet later revealing that Kendal College had broken up for the summer, the week before.

The boat from Keswick

When a bus finally did turn up (the 10:28 finally finally arriving a mere ten minutes late), all notion of a plan was firmly out of the window. The next bus to Catbells ran two and a half hours later, so was no use at all. Instead we headed to the launch to catch the ferry instead. But the ferry timings still meant we finally arrived at Hawse End much later than planned. By the time we’d given Sam a quick nappy change and feed, and wrestled him into the back carrier again, we were nearly two hours behind time.

Still, at least the climb would be simple, surely? After all, there was an army of school children all heading down. And if they could get up there, well what was to stop us with a baby? Hey, we’re experienced fell walkers, after all.

We headed up the path and almost instantly found the path to be slippery scree.

Now normally, a bit of scree is no problem. But then, when you’re carrying a seven month old baby on your back for the first time as Catherine was doing, suddenly it gets a bit more nerve-wracking. So nerve-wracking that Catherine froze in terror in front of the scree for ten minutes whilst the army of school children passed her by.

Eventually Catherine was coaxed forward (with brown paper bags on standby), and the path eased off, becoming a more gentle climb up. We’d picked the simplest ascent route; the one that, frankly, everyone does. Good wide paths in a straight line and (mostly) a gentle climb.

A mighty backdrop

The views were spectacular. Derwent Water to the left, Keswick behind and other members of the North Western Fells to the right. We climbed on, up and up to the first summit on the hill; a bobble at 338m above sea-level; a warm up before the main attraction of the 451m high summit.

It was just after that bobble that the path began to make way for more of a scramble; an awkward scramble of pointy rocks, and climbs. And this was a family fell?

Sam didn’t seem particularly bothered by it all; he’d zonked out in the back carrier minutes after setting off. But Catherine was less keen and opted to skip the summit of the fell, settling down instead with the child whilst I went on.

As I scrambled up, Catbells began to look less family friendly. Well, less parent friendly anyway. I gingerly made my way up, thinking how most six or seven year olds would have no trouble at all, but I was certainly glad not to have a small baby present.

Small cairn at the summit of Catbells

It was, at least, only a short scramble, and before I knew it, I was there, admiring the view. Wainwright described the view as “scenes of great beauty unfold on all sides” and he was not wrong. Catbells was my first of the North Western Fells, and looking around provided me with a plethora of exciting looking options; like a child, eyes pressed up close to the toy shop window, I looked around and wondered where I could go next.

But first I needed to get down, back to my now awake child and his mum.

“The views aren’t much different to what you’ve got here on Skelgill Bank,” I said when I’d made it back to them both. “You didn’t miss that much” I nodded, sagely, before we headed back down for the bus back to Keswick.

Video: Sam’s First Fell

See the tale told in video form.


Hazel Blackbourn

3 January 2021 at 8:07 pm

I love this story and the description of Catbells. Thank you so much for sharing. And Sam is so adorable. I hope he gets the climbing bug when he’s old enough to enjoy them for what they are and get bagging them too. And the bus services haha, so good, luckily we always have a car to hand so don’t have to rely on them. We also climbed it and enjoyed the walk so much. On a much wetter and windier day than yourselves though. Still, the views were there and we had a good laugh on the round route we took from Hawes End. You can check out our walk here if you like: I’ll be sure to keep reading your blogs and see what comes next. Best of luck, Hazel.

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