Of all the 214 Lake District peaks described by Alfred Wainwright in his Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, only one fails to nudge above 1,000 feet.
Step forward the squat but noble Castle Crag, a steep-sided, pine-clustered mini-mountain in the belly of Borrowdale, a few miles south of Keswick. It’s a lovely, rugged hill to look at (Wainwright himself described it as “aggressively unashamed of its lack of inches”) and a cracking proposition if you’re with kids.
For aspiring young fell-baggers, Castle Crag offers not only a manageable adventure in terms of altitude gained and miles walked, but an epic undertaking in terms of the wraparound scenic rewards – particularly when they learn that parts of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
were filmed on nearby Derwent Water, visible from the summit.
Above all, it’s a great little hike that offers just the right amount of challenge and provides a ‘grown up’ taste of walking in the Lake District.
Castle Crag walk
5 miles/8.2 km | 3 hours | moderate
1. Splashing stream
Follow the track from the far end of the National Trust car park at Seatoller. Take the left fork, then turn left at the stream.
At the T-junction, turn right and follow the track through two gates to another stream. Cross over, continuing straight, until you reach the main path. Turn right.
2. Bumpy Borrowdale
You’re now on the old miner’s path for Honister Slate Mine, leading directly to the base of Castle Crag. Stay on this trail as it winds along the hillside, crossing numerous gills and affording glorious views of the mellow dips and folds of Borrowdale, surrounded by higher fells. The path is a pleasant and gently undulating one, snaking through beds of bracken. Keep your eyes peeled for high-flying buzzards.
3. Peak picnic
At Castle Crag itself, follow the obvious path to the top. It’s a fairly short, fairly sharp zigzagging climb – testing enough to feel you’ve earned your summit sandwiches. The views north, to Derwent Water and beyond, are superb. A memorial at the summit commemorates local Borrowdale men who died in the First World War.
4. Dreamy Derwent
Once back at the foot of Castle Crag, turn right rather than retracing your steps. In the woods, take the right fork across the footbridge, then a short while later, turn right immediately before the river, following the sign for Rosthwaite.
This is another lovely stretch, sticking close to the burbling course of the Derwent. Keep the river on your left, eventually reaching the charming YHA Borrowdale – perfect for an ice-cream stop. The path along the river continues back to Seatoller, with one chain-assisted scramble.
Castle Crag map
Herdwick sheep on Castle Crag
Along the walk you’ll hopefully see cuddly herds of Herdwick sheep – although I’d advise you not to try and cuddle one – and caves dotted about on the eastern flank. Professor of Adventure Millican Dalton made one of these caves his summer dwelling in the 1920s, after he quit his life as an insurance clerk in London to be a teetotal, vegetarian hermit.
He made his own clothes, baked his own bread, grew potatoes outside the entrance to his cave and foraged hazelnuts from the surrounding woodland. He was also a popular guide for lady walkers – what a shame he lived and died before my time.
Mining finished here in the 1960s, leaving a scarred but still beautiful crag for climbers and walkers to enjoy. The old quarry along the walk is an eerie place – large fragments of rock jut up from the broken ground like weatherworn tombstones – a poignant reminder of a once thriving stone walling industry. The fragments of slate are cleared away regularly, but a mystery person keeps returning to reassemble them in ornamental piles. I wonder if it’s Millican Dalton’s ghost?
Borrowdale is one of the wettest valleys in England, receiving around 140in of rainfall per year. A sign on one of the houses in a nearby village reads ‘In Loving Memory of a Sunny Day in Borrowdale’.
So, be prepared for the weather to change if it was pleasant when you left Grange. You may encounter horizontal rain and a windchill at the top of Castle Crag.
Or you may cheat the clouds, like I did, and have a clear vista of Cumbrian landscape. It all makes the huffing and puffing up the scree worthwhile. I couldn’t stay up there admiring the view for too long. I sped down the slopes again before I froze.
How to get there
There are only two routes in and out of Borrowdale, on the B5289. The 77/77a circular bus route serves Grange and Buttermere.
Find out more
Grange Bridge cottage
Grange, Borrowdale CA12 5UQ
After a walk on the fells, this cosy tearoom is a sight for sore eyes.
The Langstrath Country Inn
An old miners cottage with a roaring open fire and an excellent menu of Lakeland dishes.
Grange, Borrowdale CA12 5UQ
This welcoming farm offers
self-catering in a cottage, B&B in the farmhouse and camping.
Words: Ben Lerwill