Keswick Mountain Festival and 3 Peaks Challenge – Cat Bells X Walla Crag X Latrigg

If you’d spoken to me this time 10 years ago, I had no real hobbies. I had just left the cadet force (the only real activity I did outside of education), and very quickly descended into the typical spin-cycle of the day to day grind.

It’s genuinely ridiculous how we often pride ourselves with how hard we work, how many hours we put it and how much money we make. And yet, on the face of it, we can have all that and yet lead no real quality of life.

Back to present day, and I’ve found that I have way more free time to take part in the things that genuinely improve my enjoyment of that little thing we call life. The thought of sleeping in a field and speaking to strangers about the things we hold dear would have been far fetched years ago; but here we are, in the middle of a field, speaking to strangers about the great outdoors.

Keswick Mountain Festival is one of the UK’s main events when it comes to everything outdoors – competitive and fun events throughout the weekend (covering mountain biking, hiking, trail running and everything in between) are supplemented by a huge array of trade stands, bars and a main stage worthy of any music festival, all set within the picturesque backdrop that compliments Keswick. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

So there we are, stood at the start gate at 0700 Saturday morning about to take part in the Keswick 3 Peaks Challenge. This event was one of many held over the entire weekend, with this particular one seemingly suited to both Me and P. I mean, 30km can’t be that hard can it? We’re pretty seasoned hikers, and I’m especially familiar with what the UK has to offer over 1000m, so the idea of 3 peaks at barely 500m barely rang the ‘challenge’ bell in my head. Well, colour me bamboozled.

Do not underestimate the challenge that lays ahead of you if you choose to follow in our footsteps.

The route starts off in the centre of Crow Park, on the edge of Derwent Water (A pretty park in its own right, even better when the festival is in town). From here you follow the Cumbria Way, out and round Derwent Water, leaving the busy town centre behind you. If there is one rule when it comes to big hikes, it most definitely states that the longer you are travelling on flat ground, the more violently assaulting the ascent will be. This route most definitely follows this rule , with what seems to be a complete lull into a false sense of ease for the first 5km, right up until you get to the grassy northern slopes of the first peak of the challenge – Catbells.

From here, the only way is up, with an ascent of around 340m in about 2km of hiking. Round that off with a little hands and feet scrambling to reach the peak and you’ve got a proper lung-buster to start. What better way to warm your mind up than question exactly why you agreed to take part in such a ridiculous event.

Carry on up and over Catbells, bearing left at the pathway to drop back into the valley, finding yourself back on the Cumbria Way, heading North towards Derwent Water. After a brisk (and safely elevated) bimble across the marshlands to the southern tip of such, you come to a road that signifies the start of the second stage of the challenge – Walla Crag.

Now, I’d like to say that I’m pretty mellow when it comes to challenges and competition; a friendly guy that’ll have heaps of patience and take his merry time to take in the surroundings of the area, with little to no care as to the timed aspect of such a challenge. But, I’d be lying to you – strap a timing chip to me and I’ll be off like some sort of Sonic the Hedgehog wannabe, with no real chance of coming anywhere near the top spot; but don’t try telling me that!

But, if you are of sounder mind, this route can offer up some absolutely amazing views. From the limited pictures I took on the day, most of which where snapped while shifting, I’m sure you can agree that once again, The Lake District just wins. The understated drama of the peaks and cliffs, the tranquil expanses of mirrored water and the chug-chug-chug of the ferries traversing them all day long, the area gives everyone a chance to realise just how beautiful the world can be.

Enough of that anyway, you’ve got some forest hiking to do. A quick ascent from the aforementioned road takes you to a fire road that snakes through the forest that shrouds the shoulders of Castlerigg Fell – not that you’d see the peak through the dense trees all around. As you break-out onto clearer ground, a short stint to the viewpoint that is Walla Crag rewards you with arguably the best views into Keswick of the day – low enough to pick out the detail of the town, high enough to still feel just the right amount distance away from the crowds.

A short and sweet descent back into Keswick could be considered pretty brutal at this stage of the day – you’re feet will be sore, your mouth thirsty and your mind wandering; but here we are, passing the many visitors to the town centre, all enjoying the fruits of the various cafes, pubs and shops, while you are desperately trying to find the bridleway that’ll launch you back out of the town and towards your third and final peak of the day – Latrigg.

Once you’ve crossed the river, aim for the left hand side of the Leisure Pools at the top of the road and turn right into the car park – this is the start of what once was a railway, and is now a cycleway/pathway that stretches for many km’s out of Keswick. And yes, they’re some of the most gruelling km’s you’ll walk all day. With little to look at but the greying tarmac and the odd glimpse of what’s to come, it’s pretty hard going. But, there’s a means to an end and that end is getting ever so close at this point.

Now the next turn is up for debate – on the day it wasn’t anywhere near as obvious as I would have expected, and I’m pretty sure that we went the wrong way, but when time is of the essence I will happily and blindly follow a .gpx to get where I need to be, which is exactly what happened here. So feel free to follow my route (provided below), but I’m pretty sure there’s a better way to intercept the track that leads up and around the eastern edge of Latrigg.

Once you go through the gate that marks the start of the access land that shrouds Latrigg, a surprisingly enjoyable and relatively easy summit walk lays ahead, with what can only be described a sense of both relief and achievement as you embrace yet another awesome panoramic view of everything the area has to offer.

Latrigg Summit

The descent from Latrigg is pretty contrasted from the ascent, with a fast and steep path all the way down into Keswick – tighten your boots good and proper before you leave the summit if you’d like to be able to feel your toes by the end of it, put it that way.

As you get back to Keswick and everything the town centre has to offer, you have two options. For a real sense of challenge and competition, continue the route all the way through and finish up at crow park – our time came in at around the 6:50 mark, so take from that what you will. The other option, and by far the more enjoyable one, is to stop and relax in the town centre. A mug of tea, fresh scone and a healthy dose of people watching is exactly what 30km’s worth of hiking in one day demands, so who am I to insist you complete the entire route!?

All in all, this route is somewhat refreshing as much as it is challenging. It’s proper proof that you don’t need to be peak-bagging above 1000m to truly make the most of what the UK has to offer, especially if you’re looking for a that sense of achievement. On the topic of the Keswick Mountain Festival itself? Do it. Don’t even hesitate. Take full advantage of the incredible speakers that are on offer, giving you tales of the mountains first hand, taste food that you only seem to be able to find at just such an event, and spend copious amounts of money on things you definitely don’t need but you’ve got festival fever so why the hell not. Embracing the mountains is so much more than climbing up and down the contours of a map, and the Keswick Mountain Festival goes a fair distance in showing this.

Follow My route

Click the Outdoor Active logo below to follow my route.

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Remember to always carry the paper version of the map you’re using! I like to add a trace of my route and date it, providing a record of all the places I’ve been!

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