Picking a child’s first Lakes fell can be a tricky proposition. On the one hand, you want them to stretch their abilities and have a fun day out. But too much ambition risks turning a potentially memorable mountain outing into a trip punctuated by moans and a litany of ‘Are we nearly there yets’. Add in the challenge of variable weather and even the most experienced adult can find themselves leading a gang of wet and tired kids asking why they’re spending half term chewing soggy sandwiches behind a stone wall on Binsey when their friends are sunning themselves on the Coast Brava – which can be a difficult question to answer.
The walk leader has numerous factors to weigh when picking a good walk. How old are the children? How confident are they on the fells? What do they enjoy most – are there gently rocky scrambles en route for the more adventurous, rivers in which to paddle, anecdotes and stories that keep spirits up and minds engaged?
The selection below is a varied list of recommended smaller fells for those notching up their first few Wainwrights. They are suitable for children aged five plus. Most provide safe passage to sensible kids without adults holding hands all the way up – though care should obviously be taken at all times. Walks range from between two and six miles and offer a mix of fine views, consistent engagement, varied and fun routes, and a sense of achievement when complete. Where appropriate, snack stops are suggested. The relevant Wainwright route number is highlighted for each ascent.
1. Loughrigg Fell – 1,099 ft (2–5 miles)
This central fell has it all; easy access, panoramic views from a fine rocky summit and bluffs, pools and paths galore to explore – most of them in (supervised) safety. Its proximity to Grasmere, Rydal and Ambleside make it a deservedly popular family day out.
For younger children the most direct ascent is either made from Red Bank (a straight, if steep one-mile beeline to the summit – Wainwright Loughrigg Fell 5) or, for more charm and interest, from Skelwith Bridge (4 mile round, Loughrigg Fell 10), where a quick detour to Loughrigg Tarn offers paddling at the end of the walk. A third alternative is from White Moss (3 miles round, Loughrigg Fell 10), where woodland adds variety. Bluebells in spring carpet the ascent blue.
Snack stop: Picnic spots abound; just head a few yards off any of the paths. Of the numerous post-walk refreshment options, it’s hard to beat the cakes at child-friendly Chesters by the River, Skelwith Bridge, or The Apple Pie Bakery, Ambleside.
2. Black Crag – 1,056ft (2 miles)
Like Loughrigg and neighbouring Holme Fell, Black Crag is small in stature but big on views, with a superlative 360 degree panorama featuring a skyline of the Langdale and Coniston Fells, Windermere stretching away to the east.
The connoisseur’s route (a 2 mile round trip) starts at the lane bend just west of the Drunken Duck Inn (roadside parking), then climbs up through broadleaf woods before passing through a conifer plantation to the tussocky humps that lead to the summit trig point – pictured below.
There are hiding places galore en route – both in the woods and on the open fell beyond – and bar the steep (and rocky) ascent out of the woods, the route is free from danger. Make a day of it by walking down the summit spur to the tourist honeypot of Tarn Hows.
Snack stop: The Outgate Inn, Outgate, has a good kids menu.
3. Helm Crag – 1,329ft (3 miles)
If you tell a five year old there’a a mountain called The Lion and the Lamb – then point out the rock features from the A591 below – it’s fair bet they’ll want to race you up there. Fortunately Helm Crag above Grasmere doesn’t disappoint.
Wainwright’s Helm Crag 4 route is steep enough to be fun and short enough at 1 1/2 miles for most young walkers to cope with. Trees, crags and impressive views over the vale of Grasmere maintain attention.
The summit, with its impressive rock formations, will thrill most young adventurers, but it should be treated with caution – there are craggy drops and overhangs. And while many kids will enjoy the mild scramble to the top of the first formation (the Lion) with adult supervision, the second – and true summit (The Howitzer) – is out of bounds even for many adults. Both have precipitous drops from them.
You can either return the same way or loop back, southwest, via the hause before Gibson Knott on a path that winds downhill through bracken.
Snack stop: Lancrigg, near the base of the ascent, offers veggie food and afternoon teas in a beautifully sunny and secluded fellside spot. Kids can look out for wildlife, from rabbits to deer, in the extensive gardens.
4. Holme Fell – 1,040ft (2 miles)
For another low-lier Holme Fell punches well above its weight, with manifold interest packed into a tiny area.
Ascent can be made from the NT car park at Yew Tree Tarn (climb to Uskdale Gap then strike west) or from Low Tilberthwaite. Both gain the summit with less than a mile’s steady uphill pull. Woods, boulders and heathery open fell mean there’s plenty to explore.
Ascent from Tilberthwaite offers the added bonus of a string of abandoned mining reservoirs – now delightful pools and picnic spots (though paddle with care). Whichever route you ascend, a short summit scramble is sure to please.
As with neighbouring Black Fell, the view is exceptional, with the Langdales, Wetherlam and full-length Coniston Water beautifully presented. Unlike Black Fell, the summit, and many of its slopes, have steep and craggy drops, so do stick to the paths.
5. Fellbarrow – 1,363ft (3 1/4 miles)
The pastoral lowlands in the vale of Lorton live life in Lakeland’s slow lane, its woods, meadows and fells well off the tourist track.
North of Loweswater rise the lesser heights of Low Fell and Fellbarrow, the latter offering a particularly fine and child-friendly 3 1/4 mile circular of easy walking across open country. From the summit adults are able to point out the sea, inland peaks – even the coast of Scotland.
Park just north of Thackthwaite, follow the drove road between gnarled old trees onto the open fell, then follow Wainwright’s Fellbarrow 5 ‘circular’ by ascending his route A, then enjoying the airy ridge walk over Smithy and Sourfoot Fells to return via route B.
Snack spot: Pick a fine day, take a rug and sprawl out for an afternoon of peace (kids excepted) in the sunshine. Adults can enjoy their reward with a pint of ‘Gold in the award-winning Loweswater Inn afterwards.
6. Catbells – 1,481ft (3-5 miles)
Ask a dozen Lake lovers a recommendation for the best low-level fell and Catbells is likely to top a few lists. Whether it’s the views (superb), rolling ridgeback (fun), easy access (the ascent begins at the car park above Hawse End) or the Beatrix Potter connection (Miss Tiggywinkle lives behind a tiny door on the fell’s west flank), it’s got a name as a family classic – not least thanks to Wainwright who described it as a “family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together”.
While this is all true, it is more demanding than many adults give it credit for, with a series of steep scrambles that will tax or thrill (probably both) younger climbers. The airy ridge offers a taste of real adventure, and with ever-changing views of Derwent Water and the Northwestern Fells throughout, there’s interest every step of the way.
The most direct ascent is from Hawse End (Catbells 5) over Skelgill Bank. Loop back by dropping down to Hause Gate then descending west towards Little Town to pick up one of the grassy terrace paths that return to the car. Look out for Miss Tiggwinkle’s elusive front door as you go.
For a half-day adventure, make use of the Derwent Water launch to reach the walk start at Hawse End. Then drop down from Hause Gate to Manesty to pick up a return launch.
Snack spot: Picnic spots don’t get much more idyllic than the beaches along Derwent Water’s shore. If kids are getting bored of Squirrel Nutkin tales (Derwent Water is the lake upon which Nutkin and co set sail for Owl Island), challenge them to a skimming competition.
7. Grey Knotts – 2,277ft (1150ft from Honister Pass, 2 miles)
For a taste of the high fells, shave 1,000ft from your ascent by parking in the NT car park at Honister Pass then heading steep and direct up Grey Knotts (Grey Knotts 7).
It may not be the most memorable Wainwright, but the one mile route is Lakeland proper, the summit cairn perched on a rocky outcrop that kids will love exploring (under supervision). The summit environs – with tarns, bluffs and rocks – are a young explorers playground, though it can get boggy. Best of all, children will get their first up-close views of the Lakeland giants, from nearby Gable to the Scafell massif beyond.
If you don’t want to retrace your steps, slope down to meet the path to Great Gable and the old tramway. Make a full day of the trip by continuing along the summit spur of Brandreth (follow the fence) towards Great Gable and then returning back to Honister, north, via the tramway.
Snacks: The summit tarns offer picnic spots in a wild place and the café at Honister Slate Mine caters well for kids.
8. Knott Rigg – 1,824ft (2 miles)
Knott Rigg is the shapely fell that rises on the right as you head over Newlands Hause from Newlands valley. At 1,824ft it’s the second highest on this list, but like Grey Knotts you get a height advantage from the start by parking at the Hause (1,096ft).
From the free parking area the route is a simple matter of walking up the well-trodden grassy path for just under a mile (720ft ascent – Knott Rigg 3). A couple of rocky scrambles add challenge, while the ridge – like many in the North Western Fells – gives a feel of airy adventure, along with widespread panoramas over not just the surrounding ridges, but also Buttemere and Newlands. On a fine summers’ day, heather blooming, there are few better places to lose a few hours, and unlike other choices on this list you’re unlikely to be among crowds.
Young people with energy to spare can continue the ridge to Ard Crags or return to the car and cross the road for the five-minute detour to Moss Beck waterfalls.
Snacks: Sykes Farm Tea Rooms in Buttermere sells some of the best ice cream in the Lakes – all made using milk from their Ayrshire cow herd.
9. Castle Crag – 951ft (3-4 miles)
Castle Crag comes with an important caveat: steep drops are all around. But that’s precisely why young ones will love this adventurous escapade that shows great things can come in small packages.
At just shy of 1,000ft this outcrop in the jaws of Borrowdale has just about everything you’d put on a Swallows and Amazons-style kids wishlist: scrambles, woodland, scree and quarry holes (the largest of which, High Hows, was once summer residence of the self-proclaimed Professor of Adventure, Millican Dalton). The view down Derwent Water is one of the best in the District.
The most popular ascent is from Grange (Castle Crag 5), where the walk transitions from level tracks in rich woodland and alongside the River Derwent to a pulse-raising final heave up rocks and spoil heaps. You can return the same way (3 mile round trip) or pick out any number of alternatives through Dalt Wood. Just remember to keep your eyes, and if necessary, hands on young members of your party as you gain height. The summit, in particular, demands care.
Snacks: Grange has two cafés – both of which are child-friendly. Grange Bridge Cottage Tea Shop also has a delightful riverside garden.
10. Lank Rigg – 1,775ft (5 miles)
The wildcard of the pack, Lank Rigg – in the lonely moorlands of the far Watsern fells – is unlikely to be the most obvious candidate for getting kids inspired by the high places. But as every Wainwright bagger knows, it has an ace up its grassy sleeve in the form of buried treasure! And there are few kids who are likely to turn down the opportunity to become treasure hunter for an afternoon
The treasure in question was originally left by Wainwright himself, who, in an act of ‘unparalleled generosity’ in April 1965 buried a two shilling piece beneath a stone close to the summit. The tradition has endured, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a few coins around the same spot now (just lift a few of the larger summit stones and you’ll find gold.)
What the walk (Lank Rigg 6) misses in excitement it makes up for in peace and quiet – an introduction to wilderness walking with plenty of rivers to paddle in and gentle ups-and-downs for young feet to run around. At a little over five miles in length (and around 1,400ft ascent), it’s also a manageable half-day excursion.
Finally, a word on that summit prize: to avoid disappointment it may be worth sending a fit adult ahead to ensure there’s enough treasure to go around. And obviously replace (and/or better) anything the kids take home with them.
The relative remoteness of Lank Rigg and the lack of obvious paths make Lank Rigg unsuitable in poor weather.