Hiking Cat Bells + High Spy + Derwentwater | Lake District

by Vanessa Wanders Miles

If you are looking for an iconic Lake District route, hiking Cat Bells will not disappoint. This fell is considered a mini-mountain in comparison to some of its mighty neighbours but it what lacks in height it makes up for in incredible views across Derwentwater from Borrowdale.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. It comes at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.

Why is it called Cat Bells?

It is believed that this iconic peak is a distortion of ‘Cat Bields’, meaning a wild cat’s shelter. So it seems in the days of old, the countryside had many wild felines roaming around.

Why you should climb Cat Bells?

Cat Bells is one of Wainwright’s North Western Fells with magical 360-degree panoramic views of the Lake District from Skiddaw, Blencathra, Keswick, Derwentwater, and Borrowdale.

The summit of Cat Bells is only 451m and Wainwright says “Catbells is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together, a place beloved. Its popularity is well deserved; its shapely topknot attracts the eye, offering a steep but obviously simple scramble to the small summit” 

For Beatrix Potter fans, Cat Bells was the backdrop for scenes from The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-winkle. It brings her books alive to know that they were inspired by the surroundings of the writer and illustrator whose love for the Lake District was immense. She not only featured in her stories but was an active campaigner on local conservation issues.

Hiking Cat Bells + High Spy + Derwent Water

Walk Essential Information

Starting point: Hawes End Car Park

Route: Circular moderate walk

Walk distance: 16.7 km

Walk time: 4.5-5 hours

Total ascent: 646 metres (High Spy)

GPX Walking links



Transport information for hiking Cat Bells

Parking for Cat Bells

This is a popular hike, so head out early if you want to catch a free parking space at Hawes End as there is only room for around 10 cars. It is best to visit out of season or midweek. Alternatively, there are many pay-and-display car parks in Keswick and you can take the boat across Derwent Water.

Public transport for Cat Bells

The Keswick Launch operates regular boats from Keswick to Hawes End and is a fun way to start your day.

The nearest train station to Keswick is Penrith. The area is pretty well-connected by bus so whether you are coming in from Lancaster, Kendal, or Carlisle, the Visit Keswick website will have the latest travel details.

Where to stay near Cat Bells

Keswick would be the perfect option for a longer stay whilst hiking Cat Bells. You are quite literally spoiled for hikes in this area but you have cycling, wildlife watching, water sports, and much more!

Camping in Keswick

There is an abundance of camping, caravanning, and motorhome spots in Keswick and the surrounding area. Check the latest campsite deals and reviews on Tripadvisor


Accommodation in Keswick

Keswick has some truly wonderful hotels, cottages, country houses, and holiday homes to suit any taste and budget, you can even spoil yourself with a spa or hot tub! Why not check out the eco-friendly accommodation options in the Lake District?


Route Description: Cat Bells + High Spy + Derwent Water

Hawes End Car Park to Skelgill Bank

Follow the sign that points up to Cat Bells saying it is 1 mile / 1 hour so you know you are in for an incline. Start the hike up the clearly defined gravel path. You will spot another sign by National Trust asking you to stick to the footpath to help fix the fells.

The path weaves from left and right with a small rocky scramble where you will find a memorial plaque for Thomas Arthur Leonard inscribed as the “Father of the Open-Air Movement in this Country”. Leonard was a Victorian social reformer who was instrumental in setting up the YHA, Ramblers Association, and the National Trust.

Continue on the path along the ridge at Skelgill Bank that leads to Cat Bells.

Mild scramble to Cat Bells

With Cat Bells’ summit in sight, the route gets steeper reaching the last mini scramble. You can take the rocky side to the left or a little easier route on the right.

There is a trig to signify the summit of Cat Bells where the rewards are truly magnificent with lush green valleys and the pristine body of Derwentwater. The perfect spot to stop for a snack before moving on to Maiden Moor.


Walk across Maiden Moor to High Spy

Maiden Moor is the grassy level plateau at 576m high linking Cat Bells and High Spy and separates Newlands Valley and Borrowdale.

Leaving Cat Bells, follow the path passing Bull Crag which still offers views of Skiddaw & Blencathra on the other side of Derwent Water. This slowly disappears as you traverse across Maiden Moor towards High Spy.

High Spy, part of the Borrowdale Volcanics, has an elevation of 653 metres above sea level and is surrounded by crags to the east and west as it falls away steeply to the valleys towards Derwent Water. High Spy misses the ‘Marilyn’ status by 2 metres as its topographic prominence stands at 148 metres.

Head to Rigghead abandoned quarry

Continue hiking with Dale Head Tarn in the distance. You will arrive at a path where you can go right towards Dale Head or left towards Borrowdale. After passing through the style you will begin your descent to the disused Rigghead Quarries on Tongue Gill flanked by High Scawdel and Low Scawdel.

At Rigghead Slate Quarry, there are old huts and tunnels where you can hear running water inside, I decided it best not to venture too far in to be on the safe side. Borrowdale Slate was extracted from several sites in the valley including Honister and Yewcrag. Formed as a result of tremendous forces and heat from volcanic activity over 400 million years ago, it has provided a livelihood for people in Borrowdale for over 350 years.

Leaving the quarries behind, watch your footing on the steep descent on the steps created by the old quarry workers. It can be hard not to look up and take in the incredible view. 

Walk to Castle Crag

Follow the path down and cross the stream on your right-hand side. Veer towards the left to reach Castle Crag which you will walk past on your right again.

Castle Crag the only Wainwright below 1,000 feet and high up on the top, there is a memorial dedicated to the memory of 2nd Lieutenant John Hamer and ‘the men of Borrowdale’ who lost their lives in the First World War. I wasn’t going to run up to check out the stone plaque, I will save that for another walk!

Walk to Manesty Park via Low Steel Knott

Continue following the path from Castle Crag, you will walk past High Steel Knott to your left, through a gate to the woodland area passing Low Steel Knott. Cross the bridge and follow the path to the left.

As you reach River Derwent, you will see some chalets and tents which is the start of Hollows Farm. As you walk down the tarmac road, you reach the main Hollows Bed & Breakfast with the working farmland.

Walking through the farm past the cowsheds, the path veers to the right. Follow the wall to your left and through the gate. Take a right, cross the bridge over Ellers Beck, and traverse along passing Yewdel Knott. Next, you should make your way down to the road which you will be able to see clearly.

Walk through Manesty Park and Brandelhow Park

Enter the National Trust’s Manesty Park and wander through the woodland and down to the southern edge of Derwent Water. Continue along the Cumbrian Way to Brandelhow Bay through to Brandelhow Park.

Brandelhow was the birthplace of The National Trust in the Lake District. The 108 acres of the Brandlehow estate were purchased with money raised through public subscription. Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the Trust, planted a tree at the official opening of Brandelhow to the public in October 1902.

Near the landing stage at Low Brandelhow, you will stumble across this wooden sculpture of cupped hands called ‘Entrust’ which commemorates the centenary of the National Trust’s first-ever land purchase in the Lake District. It’s pretty understated considering it was the start of great things, however, this land art works well with the environment.

There are three jetties along this stretch – High Brandelhow, Low Brandelhow, and then Hawes End where you will find Cumbria Outdoor opposite St. Herberts Island. The adventure-seekers accommodation is easily recognisable by the shelved kayaks or maybe by the paddleboarding sessions on the water’s edge.

If you parked in Keswick, you can jump back on the boat. Otherwise, head away from the water up towards the road leading past Gutherscale Lodge next to Hawes End Car Park.

Keswick Travel Guide: Booking + Planning Resources

If you’re hoping to make the most of your trip to Cat Bells and Keswick, here are some useful links to get you started!

Hotels + Restaurants in Keswick

  • Booking.com – Find the best deals on places to stay in Keswick
  • Tripadvisor – From local pubs to tea rooms to lovely restaurants, explore the great selection of places to eat and drink.

Tours in the Lake District

Transport in Lake District

Gear for Lake District

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. It comes at no cost to you. Thank you for your support.

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