Every time I go to the Lake District, I wonder why I don’t go there more. Living in Manchester, I’m lucky to have four National Parks within two hours from my front door; the Peak District, Lake District, Snowdonia and Yorkshire Dales. It is part of the reason that I moved there, and inevitably exploring each and every corner of these wild places has become second nature. So when I was invited to head out hiking in the Lake District with George Fisher and Patagonia, I obviously said ‘yes please!’ in the blink of an eye. Not that I ever need an excuse to head out hiking, but this seemed like the perfect one.
It was still hard to drag myself out of bed at 5.30 in the morning, leaving the city as the sun came up along with a handful of early-morning commuters; probably heading to their air-conditioned offices for days spent tapping on computer keys. Even when it started raining on the drive up, I felt very grateful to be heading outside for the day, and also grateful that at the last minute I had decided to throw my raincoat into my backpack. The night before I had optimistically packed sunglasses and shorts, then remembering this is England I had also added gloves and a waterproof to my backpack for good measure.
By 9am I was sat having coffee with some of the team from George Fisher, upstairs in the lovely Abraham's Cafe which features wooden beams, vintage rucksacks and photography from around the world. Not long later and we were jogging hurriedly down to the pier in Keswick in the hope of catching the Motor Launch across to Hawes End at the bottom of Catbells. Unfortunately, as the wind was high and the water was choppy, the boats weren’t running that morning, so we set off rambling through the April showers - stopping after a few hundred metres to put our coats on, and then again around one hundred metres later to take them off again.
My companion for the day was Jem, a new member of George Fisher’s team who I joked would be my tour-guide for the day, before he shattered my hopes by telling me he had only lived in Keswick for a few days. Despite that, I gave him full control of map-reading while I took photographs and soaked in the Lakeland views.
Luckily, Jem excitedly told me that he loved having his photo taken and obligingly took control of the camera at some points as well. It appears that most of my favourite photos from the day include him, so I was lucky to have such a willing model, who also succeeded in telling me all about Keswick’s climbing scene, pointed out the surrounding fells and filled me in on Derwentwater’s famous mountain dolphins. I think that last one may have been the result of one too many cups of tea and hill-walking delirium…
Before all that, our first point of call was Lingholm Kitchen & Walled Garden. This secluded cafe on the Lingholm Estate features a selection of delicious cakes, like Vegan Brownies and Pistachio and Polenta cake, and a beautiful garden with an array of Spring foliage, a flower-filled glasshouse and even a few grazing Alpaca. Apparently, the walled garden was the inspiration behind Mr McGregor’s garden in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit; and indeed, I could almost visualise a cheeky rabbit in a blue coat munching cabbages, with the angry farmer waving his garden rake in despair. As it was too early to stop to eat (and we had been walking for only around half an hour), we picked up sandwiches and cakes for our lunch - that we then struggled to stuff into our backpacks - before beginning the ascent up Catbells.
Catbells is known for its distinct shape, admirable from the town of Keswick as its slopes gently rise above Derwentwater. Its popularity comes from this fact and due to its relative accessibility for all. Wainwright himself said;"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.”
Proving Wainwright’s statement, we actually found ourselves rambling alongside a family of three generations - grandfather to granddaughter - and my love of being out hiking on the fells was reinstated by the reminder of the friendships and relationships it forms and consolidates. So while some may commit to the hike up Catbells for a day, avid hikers can include it in a longer circuit along the ridge towards the fells of Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head and beyond.
This was our initial plan, but after we were nearly blown off the summit of Catbells by 50mph gusts of wind, we settled on a lower level walk. Despite the weather, it was a treat to be atop such an iconic Lakeland Fell, looking down towards Keswick, where our hike had begun, and across to Skiddaw, Blencathra, Bassenthwaite Lake and the Newlands Valley, with a fine view of the gently rising peaks of Borrowdale in the south.
As we descended from the relentless wind at the summit, we found a sheltered and peaceful spot to eat our Lingholm sandwiches and make a plan for the rest of the day. The sky was still a light shade of grey, but it was dry and warm as Spring appeared to be on the horizon. I was glad of my Patagonia jacket, with a ventilated back that meant I didn’t sweat despite carrying a full backpack (marginally less full after we had scoffed our sandwiches and cakes).
I was also trying out some new RPS Rock pants - named after Rock Paper Scissors, the pants are designed to be versatile to wear for climbing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. So far, I found them to be light, airy, breathable but also weather-resistant against the rain and wind. I was keen to test them out climbing, though we wouldn’t be playing on rock today but we did take the opportunity to stop at the just-opened-for-summer Shepherd’s Cafe, a popular spot with climbers. Situated at the bottom of Shepherd’s Crag, I could certainly imagine the big grassy garden to be filled with coffee-drinking, ice-cream-licking rock-lovers on a warm summer’s day.
From there, we decided to venture up again to the lovely Surprise View, which looks down onto Derwentwater, before following the road for a while through mossy green forest to the water’s edge. As we made our way to one of Derwentwater’s ‘beaches’ we saw an approaching boat, and skipped along the shore for the opportunity to whiz back to Keswick on the water. It was the perfect way to end the day, with the sun on our faces and the sound of whooshing water as the boat took us past some of Derwentwater’s many green islands, with the distinct shapes of the surrounding fells rising above us in the distance.
There is something about a walk in the Lake District that leaves you feeling exhausted but so very alive. Ours was varied; from fell to lake, forest to crag, cake-stop to lunch-stop to tea-stop… and then that soaring feeling of travelling by water at the end of it all. We had seen a lot, talked a lot and laughed a lot, and as I drove back to Manchester that evening - my cheeks reddened from the wind, the sun and the pleasure of having spent the day outside - I promised myself to spend more time in lovely Lakeland this summer. What better way to settle your soul than by walking in the hills with good company and unpredictable weather!
By Athena Mellor