What’s the best first mountain for kids?

What’s the best first mountain for kids?

There so many great family walks in Britain that it’s hard to pick the best first mountain for kids. But here’s our favourite – Cat Bells in the Lake District!

A couple of months after our son’s fifth birthday, I decided it was time to climb our first proper peak together. I’d already carried him up a few hills in his baby carrier and we walked along Stanage Edge together when he was 3, but we wanted a proper mini-mountain for our next family walk.

Overlooking the Newlands Valley in the Lake District National Park

Nothing beats the lake District

I’ve always loved walking in the Lake District and Cat Bells was my first proper hillwalk as a kid, so it seemed like the obvious choice. It looks like a proper mountain but is still only a tiddler at 451 metres high. It’s rocky and pointy but technically very easy. And it’s in a wonderful setting near Keswick beside the beautiful lake of Derwent Water. Sold!

We waited for a good weather forecast, which arrived on May Bank Holiday weekend with blue skies, low winds and warm temperatures. Our little lad Sonny has always been adventurous and pretty much up for anything, but I still wasn’t sure how he’d react to the slog of walking uphill, followed by a steep descent on tired legs afterwards.

Heading for Cat Bells on the Hawse End Shuttle
Heading for Cat Bells on the Hawse End shuttle across Derwent Water

Choose a hill with lots of variety

I tried to make the whole day as exciting as possible from start to finish by loading it with as many distractions as possible so he wouldn’t get bored. The first was to invite his grandad (Sonny’s favourite person in the world, who coincidentally was also climbing his first Lake District peak). The second was to catch the Hawse End Shuttle boat from Keswick that starts the day off perfectly with a 10-minute journey across the lake to the base of Cat Bells.

Even better, we walked past an ice cream van at the foot of the ‘mountain’ that promised to still be there when we got back down – perfect motivation for a sugar-obsessed 5-year-old. Then the uphill started, and I quickly realised I should never have been worried. Firstly, this is a great family walk in the sense that the path is clear and easy to follow, and secondly that you’re very likely to be surrounded by lots of other families.

Admiring the views over Derwent Water from Cat Bells
Admiring the views over Derwent Water near the start of the walk

Don’t make the walk too challenging

The first phase of the climb up Skelgill Bank zigzags on a good stone path before an exciting but very safe little rocky section where children will love practising their scrambling skills. Then from the top of Skelgill Bank, you can see all the way to the summit of Cat Bells, which looks fantastic and like a proper mountain from this angle.

Easy scrambling on Skelgill Bank

The climb to the summit looks steep but is quite short and over very quickly, after some more fun and very simple scrambling sections. When you arrive at the broad rocky summit, sit down and have your lunch, drink in the views over Derwent Water and the Lake District’s northern fells, then choose your way back down. You can either go back down the way you came up, or carry on to the little dip at Hause Gate, then drop down towards Derwent Water before heading north back to where you started.

Celebrating with grandad near the summit of Cat Bells
Celebrating with grandad near the summit of Cat Bells

Cat Bells – the best first mountain for kids

People often ask me what’s the best first mountain for kids, and before our trip I always suggested Cat Bells. And now that we’ve finally done it as a family I haven’t changed my answer. It’s amazingly spectacular, great fun, technically easy and not too strenuous. And of course, it’s in the wonderful Lake District. What more could you ask for?

Three family generations on the top of our first summit together

10 MORE GREAT MINI-MOUNTAINS FOR KIDS

  1. Hound Tor, Dartmoor
  2. Golden Cap, Dorset
  3. Buster Hill, South Downs
  4. Mam Tor, Peak District
  5. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
  6. Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
  7. Side Pike, Lake District
  8. Sugar Loaf, Brecon Beacons,
  9. Holyhead Mountain, Anglesey
  10. Ben A’an, South Highlands

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