5 Fab Fells For The Family
We are very lucky in Cumbria to be surrounded by so many beautiful fells, and many of them are easily accessible to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and the correct kit—there’s some useful advice from the British Mountaineering Council here.
The main things to remember are to ensure you have decent footwear (with good socks), enough clothes to layer up at the top when it gets cold (including a Herdy hat!) and a reliable way to navigate up and down. Oh, and plenty of food of course. One of the perks of hiking is all the guilt-free calories you can consume, so pack your sarnies and plenty of chocolate along with a flask of hot tea or coffee.
Once your rucksack is packed and your boots are on, here are the best places to head!
Cat Bells/Maiden Moor: all the family
This is one of the first fells for many people; Cat Bells is situated alongside Derwent Water just south of Keswick and punches well above its weight when it comes to views. There is a well-signposted and well-trodden route to the summit, and what makes it perfect for families is that it’s not too tricky. There’s a bit of a scramble towards the summit (so the kids feel like they’ve climbed a real mountain) and you have a couple of options available to you once you’re on the summit.
If you’re all done and ready for home then head back down, but if you still feel you have the energy to crack on then you can continue on to Maiden Moor or even High Spy before dropping back down into Borrowdale (you could drop back down the other side of the fell instead, but there’s a coffee shop and a couple of pubs on the Borrowdale side so, your call.)
Black Combe: all the family
Black Combe is out on a limb in every sense of the word. It’s tucked away right down in the far south west of the county and is largely ignored by most folk, but if you’re after a lovely hike up a quiet fell, with a view that Wordsworth himself described as “…the amplest range of unobstructed prospect may be seen that British ground commands” then this is the fell for you!
Our favourite route starts out from nearby Silecroft and climbs fairly quickly to the summit before a long slow descent, looping around via Whitbeck and back to Silecroft, where you can end the day with a paddle in the sea. On a clear day the views from the top of Black Combe stretch down to Blackpool in the south and Scotland in the north. To the east are the Lake District fells and to the west, the Isle of Man. No wonder Wordsworth was so fond of it. Because the paths are so clear and wide it’s perfect for a family hike, plus there’s ample parking in a couple of large laybys in Silecroft, or you can take the train around the coast and enjoy some more spectacular views along the way.
Blencathra via Hall’s Fell Ridge – NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Before we even get into telling you how fantastic this route is we need to be very clear that it’s NOT AT ALL SUITABLE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN OR INEXPERIENCED HIKERS. This is a challenging route but, if you are comfortable on the fells and have all the right gear, it is one of the best ascents in the entire county. Although he never claimed it as his favourite fell, Wainwright wrote more about Blencathra than any other fell; there are a variety of ascents, including the notorious Sharp Edge, but Hall’s Fell Ridge is absolutely spectacular.
Wait for a clear dry day as there is plenty of scrambling involved, then find and follow the route out of Threlkeld, via Gategill and up Hall’s Fell. It’s a strenuous and rewarding route with plenty of opportunities/excuses to pause and catch your breath. Once you’re on the top you can take the gentle way down via Knowe Fell to stretch your legs out and enjoy the view on the way back to the car.
Red Screes – Older children only
If you’ve got older or experienced kids then Red Screes is another great family hike. There’s usually ample parking in the car park at the top of Kirkstone Pass (opposite Kirkstone Inn, which you may wish to visit for a long cold pint afterwards or a cup of tea in your herdy mug) and the route to the summit leads out from a gate at the far end of the car park. The route is steep but clear and there are lots of stone steps to help you on your way; it definitely comes under the category of “short, sharp summits”.
If you’re in Cumbria during the spring or autumn this is a great place to see a temperature inversion—when the clouds are down in the valleys and the fell tops are clear. From the top there are panoramic views of the fells and glorious scenes down along the valley below to Ambleside with Windermere stretching out beyond. Once you’re on the top you can either hang around there and enjoy the views or follow the circular route back via Caiston Glen—the only downside of that is that the last leg of the journey will be uphill, but at least there’s a pub at the top.
Pillar via Ennerdale – very long hike
Sometimes it’s not which fell you climb but what route you take which makes the hike so memorable. There are various routes up Pillar but by far the most impressive is the approach from Ennerdale—it’s a mighty hike and you’ll need a long summer’s day to complete it, but it is absolutely worth every single aching muscle.
Park up in the car park on the shores of Ennerdale, near to Ennerdale Bridge, and follow either lake shore to the top end of the lake (the north shore is easier but slightly longer, the south shore more challenging but shorter.) Carry on along the river until you reach the gently rising route up through Ennerdale Fell Plantations - it’s 6 miles to this point and you haven’t even begun climbing yet but the views are utterly breathtaking. From here continue on a large zig-zag to reach the summit then head back down over White Pike then back along the lake shore to the car.
We’re not kidding, this is a huge hike, but it offers some of the most spectacular views along the way. Plus there are lots of Herdwicks in the valley, which always makes a hike so much happier, don’t ewe think?