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The Ultimate Guide to the Catbells Walk, Lake District

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The Catbells walk is without a doubt one of the best walks in the Lake District. This guide has all the info to help plan your day at Catbells!

catbells walk

With simply stunning views over the lakes at Keswick and Derwent Water, the Catbells walk is without a doubt one of the best you can do in the Lake District.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this route enough. It takes you past forests, through the beautiful English countryside, before opening out onto jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Lakes. For me, this is what hiking in the Lake District is all about. This is why I love the United Kingdom so much.

I remember taking my partner Chloe on this route. She loves a long walk, but as soon as a hill or mountain is involved, she doesn’t like it. There’s just something about that word hike. However, this was the one route that got her into hiking a lot more. When you see the views at the top of Catbells you’ll understand why.

how long does it take to walk catbells
This is the view at the top of the Catbells walk

Obviously there are so many different trails to choose from in the Lake District it’s hard to decide which one to go for.

In this post I’ll specifically talk about the Catbells walk. As I’ve mentioned, this is one of the most popular walks in the Lake District, so I wanted to give it the love it deserves.

In the post you’ll find the best route, where to park your car, when’s the best time to do the walk and loads of other practical information too. Hopefully this post will inspire you to take on one of my favourite walks in England!

If you’re looking for some other things to do in the area, check out some of my favourite adventures in the Lake District. This includes taking on the epic Lake District Via Ferrata for those of you who are brave enough!

What is Catbells?

catbells height
Catbells is known as a “mini mountain” – it looks bigger than it is!

Catbells is a fell in the Lake District in Cumbria.

At a height of 451 metres (1,480 ft), it doesn’t sound high, but there are definitely a couple of steep sections that’ll get the blood pumping. Saying that though, people of all ages and fitness levels should be able to do this walk.

The Lake District writer and walker Alfred Wainwright even said this:

“It 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 topknott attracts the eye offering a steep but obviously simple scramble.”

Alfred Wainwright
cat bells walk time
This Cat Bells walk is one of the best around in the Lake District

You’ll find Catbells on the western shore of Derwentwater and close to Keswick too. I absolutely love Keswick and there are loads of things to do there. Keswick is an amazing place to base yourself to explore all the Lakes have to offer.

It’s unclear where the name Catbells comes from (sometimes you’ll see it as Cat Bells too), but it’s believed to be a distortion of the word ‘Cat Bields’, meaning ‘the home of the wild cat’.

Don’t worry though; you won’t come across any wild cats while walking here!

How long does it take to walk Catbells?

lake district walking
The Catbells walk time is between 2 and 4 hours

This is a bit of a “how long is a piece of string” question as it always depends on your level of fitness. Generally, the Catbells hike will take between 2 and 4 hours including stops.

The total distance of the walk is 3.5 miles (5.8 kms). When I was there, it took me around 3 hours including a fair few photo stops along the way. I stopped for a picnic lunch too.

I would say that the walk is of moderate difficulty. There’s one really steep section, otherwise it’s fairly straightforward.

Catbells walking route

The start point: Hawes End

The most popular start point in at Hawes End. There is a very busy car park here – I’d always suggest arriving early to get a space and avoid disappointment.

From Hawes End, there are plenty of signs that read “Cat Bells, 1 mile” pointing to the trail. The trail is initially a narrow stone path heading straight for the hills, so you can’t miss it. Remember, if you’re heading up it usually means you’re heading in the right direction.

One of the best bits about starting from Hawes End is you’ll see all the boats in the water of Derwent Water. Enjoy the views but they get better than this!

Section 2: Climbing up to the summit

catbells hike
The path to the summit is quite steep at times

If you keep on climbing up the hill, you’ll pass a memorial to Thomas Arthur Leonard. He was a pioneer in developing organised outdoor holidays for working people.

Keep following the path until you get to a rocky section. This is the one point where it becomes a bit of a scramble to reach the viewpoint. I promise you it’s well worth it though. Some people call Catbells a “proper little mountain”. Well, with the views from the top you’ll see why.

From the viewpoint you’ll be able to see Skiddaw to the north. The mountain range here is simply stunning, especially if there’s a dusting of snow on top of them.

Just below the viewpoint you’ll be able to see the town of Keswick. It’s hard to imagine living in a more beautiful spot in England.

catbells lake district
This is why I love the Lake District so much

As you can imagine, the summit can get fairly busy during peak season. If you come here early in the morning you *can* have the place to yourself – it all depends what time you head off at.

If you keep walking along the path a bit, there are a few spots where you can have stop to have a picnic. Personally, I’d always recommend this as opposed to stopping on the summit as it’s a little quieter. Then you can really drink in the views while having a bite to eat.  

Section 3: Following the path to Borrowdale

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The path continues onto Borrowdale

Once you’ve reached the summit, the path continues south downhill. There are a few paths that will lead off to your right to Little Town and the neighbouring valley.

Just keep on the same path heading downhill until you come to some steep stone steps. Take these down until you get to the Catbells bridleway – from here, take the fork on the left.

This path starts taking you back to Hawes End. The best thing about this section is you’ve got the view of the lakes to your right. Even though this view isn’t anywhere near as beautiful as at the top of Catbells, it’s still stunning.

Section 4: Heading home and swimming in the lake

catbells walking route
All the paths are clearly marked and easy to follow

The walk back to Hawes End will take around 45 minutes to an hour. Obviously this section is all downhill so it’s pretty easy breezy.

Once you get back into Hawes End, I really recommend going for a dip in the lake. It is cold but it’s super refreshing and it really completes the Catbells hike.

There’s a small beach at High Brandelhow, so you can leave your stuff there and jump into the water.

If not, you can keep on walking back to Hawes End and find yourself a pub for a pint.

Catbells parking

lake district cumbria
There’s also a car park near Little Town as an alternative option

As I’ve already mentioned, there is parking at Hawes End.

For those of you tight on time, you can also park on the other side of Catbells in Little Town. There’s a car park quite near the hiking trail, and here you can come up via an alternative route to Catbells.

Usually, this car park is quieter. Also, the route to the top is slightly quicker, so it’s a good option for those of you running out of time.

Alternatively, if you’re staying in Keswick, then you can avoid parking altogether by starting your hike here. It is a lot longer mind you!

Where to stay – Hotels near Catbells

The Leathes Head Country House Hotel

lake district hotels
There are some fantastic hotels near Catbells

A fantastic hotel near Keswick is the The Leathes Head Country House Hotel. This place always rates really highly and is one of the top hotels in the area.

Set in more than 2 acres of land and right in the heart of Borrowdale, this hotel has so quality views throughout the property.

Also at the hotel is a 2 AA Rosette restaurant. This makes it one of the best restaurants in the Lake District from a chef who only uses locally sourced ingredients.

I’ve stayed here once before and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s quiet, but it’s so peaceful too. Definitely one of my fave hotels in the Lake District that’s for sure.

Borrowdale Gates Hotel

catbells walk lake district
Just looks at the views in the background!

This hotel is in a perfect location if you want to have plenty of walks nearby. Set in 2 acres of tranquil wooded gardens, Borrowdale Gates hotel is a family-run hotel with gorgeous views of the Borrowdale Valley.

There’s a fantastic restaurant here that serves traditional British cuisine and Lakeland produce. You can also enjoy a lovely afternoon tea in the cosy lounge after you’ve finished the Catbells walk too!

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, take a look at the map below. These are some of the best hotels in the Lake District so hopefully you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Another amazing walk to do in the Lake District is seeing the Rannderdale Bluebells. When the bluebells are in full bloom, it is one of the most beautiful sights in the Lake District!

Are you thinking of doing the Catbells walk? What else are you doing in the Lake District? Let me know in the comments below!

If you’re looking for a little more outdoor inspiration, then check out my guides to the best hikes in the UK you haven’t thought about before, the best places for wild camping, and the best hiking near London.

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About the Author

  • Macca Sherifi

    Macca Sherifi is the founder of the multiple award-winning blogs An Adventurous World and the Great British Bucket List. Every month he inspires over 200,000 avid readers to travel the world.

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6 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to the Catbells Walk, Lake District”

  1. We ascended from Little Town with a nine year old and an unwilling Labrador. I have done this ascent before and i think it is the easiest way up. The views are incredible and i would recommend it to any able walker. We had the pleasure of following two Llama that were being led up to the ridge under Catbells. I think you can arrange these accompanied walks locally. Little Town is also a great starting place to do the Newlands Round.

    • Amazing, thank you so much for commenting. Walking behind a couple of llamas sounds fun, but potentially dangerous too with dodging poo!

  2. We completed this walk on Saturday using the trail suggested. It was absolutely stunning. There were parts of tricky incline, however there were a lot of mixed ages and abilities also doing the walk. I don’t actually think the photos do this walk justice, it is absolutely stunning and the walk around the lake at the end is just as beautiful.

    Thank you for bringing this walk to our attention, will definitely be doing it again!

    • Ah amazing, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed it Emma! It really is such a stunning walk in the Lake District, and as you say, it’s definitely one that all abilities can do.

  3. Stunning pictures, the views are unrivalled. Catbells is an absolute classic Lakeland walk. Unfortunately we didn’t have such good weather when we did it back in October! You can check out our experience in my blog, if you are interested but it looked very different to yours!

    • Thanks, I will! Yeah, we were very lucky with the weather when we went. I would love to do it in the snow though for a really different experience!


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