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Cat Bells and High Spy

A delightful romp high above two lovely valleys steeped in industrial history.

Distance 9 miles (14.5km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 2,460ft (750m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Generally good paths, indistinct above Tongue Gill, 4 stiles

Landscape Fell ridge tops, quarry workings, woodland, riverside path

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 4 The English Lakes (NW)

Start/finish NY 247212

Dog friendliness No special problems, though fell sheep roam tops

Parking Wooded parking area at Hawes End

Public toilets None on route

Notes Not advised in poor visibility


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 At Hawes End, walk up the road and at a bend take a stepped and rocky path rising steeply. Follow this, climbing steadily through small rocky outcrops before reaching Brandlehow. The onward route keeps to the centre of a grassy ridge, before rising through more rock outcrops to Cat Bells.

2 From Cat Bells descend easily to the broad col of Hause Gate. Go forward across Hause Gate on a grassy path and on to the broad expanse of Maiden Moor, across which a good path leads to the summit of High Spy.

3 Head down a path towards the col housing Dalehead Tarn. Gradually, the ravine of Tongue Gill appears over to the left, but finding the right moment to quit the Dalehead Tarn path is a hit and miss affair. Such paths as there are across to Tongue Gill are indistinct and invariably wet underfoot, but just keep heading for a fence.

4 Either of the stiles across the fence gives on to a path leading to a large cairn at the start of a path down to Rigghead Quarries. Take care descending the steep slate paths until the gradient eases alongside Tongue Gill itself. Keeping to the right bank, follow the gill to a path T-junction, and there turn left to a gate and stile, and footbridge.

5 The path now climbs gently and soon crosses a shallow col near Castle Crag. Go past the crag, descending, shortly to enter woodland at a gate. Cross a narrow footbridge spanning Broadslack Gill and follow a path down to the banks of the River Derwent. Just before the river, cross a footbridge on the left, and another a little further on, keeping to a path roughly parallel with the river until you reach a wall. Take a broad track following the wall and eventually walk out to a surfaced lane. Go right and walk up to Grange village. Go left and follow the road.

6 Just after Manesty Cottages, branch left on to a path climbing gently above the road to a stile and gate. Through this, go forward on to a gently rising broad track and, when it forks, bear right, heading for a path above an intake wall. Pressing on beyond Brackenburn, the footpath, which affords lovely views of Derwent Water, soon dips to make a brief acquaintance with the road at a small quarry car park. Beyond this gap, immediately return to a gently rising path, this is an old road, traversing the lower slopes of Cat Bells that will ultimately bring you back to the road at Hawes End.

Both Borrowdale and the Newlands Valley, like many parts of Lakeland, have seen extensive periods of industry from an early age. From the top of Maiden Moor scree can be seen issuing from the workings of an old mine in Newlands. This is Goldscope, a name that first appears in records during the reign of Elizabeth I, who imported German miners to work here. The name is a corruption of 'Gottesgab' or 'God's gift', so called because it was one of the most prosperous mines in Lakeland.

Copper was mined here as early as the 13th century from a vein 9ft (2.7m) thick. The mine also produced large quantities of lead, a small amount of silver and a modicum of gold. The mine's greatest period of production was in the 16th century, when Elizabeth made a serious attempt to exploit England's own resources to reduce dependency on imports. Ironically, it was German miners who largely worked Goldscope, encouraged by the award of hidden subsidies in the form of waived taxes. Copper ore was taken by packhorse to the shores of Derwent Water by way of Little Town. It was then transported to a smelter on the banks of the River Greta, at Brigham. From here the copper went to the Receiving House, now the Moot Hall, in Keswick, to receive the Queen's Mark.

The Rigghead Quarries in Tongue Gill produced slate from levels cut deep into the fellside and a number of adits are still open, though they are dangerous and should not be explored. But the real secret of these fells is wad, more commonly known as graphite, plumbago or black cawke - or the lead in your pencil. Its discovery dates from the early 16th century when trees uprooted in a storm revealed a black mineral on their roots. Shepherds soon realised that the substance was useful for marking sheep, and later for making metal castings and as a lubricant. Its other uses included a fixing agent for blue dyes, glazing pottery, a rust preventative, polishing iron and for casting shells and cannon balls.

Pencils, for which graphite was ultimately destined, didn't appear until around 1660, and then as wooden sticks with a piece of graphite fitted into the tip. As a result, Keswick became the world centre of the graphite and pencil industries. The first record of a factory making pencils appears in 1832. The Cumberland Pencil Company was first set up in nearby Braithwaite in 1868 and moved to its present site in Keswick 30 years later.

While you're there

Consider taking in Castle Crag. The ascent and descent from the main path is clear enough, but it is steep and not suitable for very young children. But what a fabulous viewpoint! To the east, the white-cottaged village of Rosthwaite sits comfortably against a backdrop of hummocky fells and steep crags, while looking northwards you'll see one of the finest views of Derwent Water, the Vale of Keswick and Skiddaw beyond.

Where to eat and drink

Grange Bridge Cottage Tea Room in the village of Grange offers a range of teas and snacks throughout the year (reduced opening hours in winter).


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