It’s one of Lakeland’s signature hills – yet deftly escapes the masses. Trail takes on a mountain underdog with charisma to spare…
Back this mountain underdog and you’ll wish you’d climbed it sooner.
Have you heard the thing about when birds are born and the first thing they see – when the little bit of shell falls off their head – imprints on them as their mother? It’s why you end up getting baby ducks following cats around, and eagles being raised by otters or something. I saw this on either Planet Earth or Peppa Pig, so it’s either definitely true or definitely not true. But either
I think of this when I think of Causey Pike.
The first time I went to the Lake District I parked by Bassenthwaite and climbed Skiddaw, by the elegant Carl Side ridge that curls up to the summit like a swept tail. It was summer, I was hot and I didn’t enjoy it. Then I got to the top and turned around and saw the entire Lakes, and there, poking out of a blue mist, was an outline that imprinted on me: the buckled summit of Causey Pike (see page 3). And that was, in many ways, it for me. The first seriously positive association in my Lakeland life.
Ever since then, to me, that outline popping up in the windscreen as I’ve driven along the A66 has been my internal arrival bell to the Lake District. I can look up at Blencathra, Skiddaw, Helvellyn until they fall down but I won’t really get that fuzzy I’m-back-in-this-magicalplace-again feeling until I spot the outline of Causey Pike rising over the road ahead like the knuckles of a fist. That’s my imprint. And it’s never going to go away.
The thing is, looks clearly aren’t enough. There can’t be many fells hereabouts that draw the eye so greedily, but the ones that do – Cat Bells say, Causey Pike’s spiritual cohort just across the Newlands valley – are swamped with walkers keen to translate their visual appreciation into an ascent. And yet Causey Pike’s summit sees far fewer feet. I know this because I owned two that hadn’t been up there, despite the eyes they share a body with having stared at it in a kind of dopey wonder for years. But every time I intended to do it, something would come up and I’d tear off to climb something else. This had been going on for so long I was starting to get a complex.
Or – if you want to get deep – maybe it’s the fear of something called self-dispossession; losing the thing that keeps you curious, that keeps you hungry. Maybe I hadn’t climbed Causey Pike because really, deep down, I didn’t want to. Maybe I didn’t want to be left with nothing new to discover – the hillwalking equivalent of buying the complete set of Harry Potter books and reading all of the last pages in a row. Or maybe I just needed to get on with it. So today, I did just that.
One of the reasons why Causey Pike doesn’t see quite as much traffic as other hills nearby is because it’s not quite as accessible. You have to drive round the back of Keswick then down into the Newlands Valley, high
above Derwent Water’s western shore, then park up at the side of a road and walk up a valley. It’s hardly arduous, and actually rather nice – all sweeping hillsides and unfamiliar skylines at the end of a rising gorge running beneath the fell, broadside to its steep southern flank. It feels like a backwater, despite being just round the corner from Keswick. It just feels tucked away, that’s the thing, so it’s hard to sort of see your way up without looking at a map. Causey Pike actually sits just off the Coledale Round – one of the better-known horseshoe walks hereabouts – but most people don’t bother with Causey Pike. They put all their effort into the side with Grisedale Pike on it and miss out Causey on the final return leg, opting instead for the more conveniently descending Outer side. Not, it has to be said, a difficult thing to convince yourself of with tired limbs and the Coledale Inn in your nostrils.
But once you get up it, everything changes. So up I climbed. It’s not hard to see the shape of the hill even from below, but it’s not until you get onto the long, broad – but beyond the crest, pleasingly sheer – back of Causey Pike that you really start to appreciate its unique form.
The stubby 637m highpoint of a long ridgeline with Scar Crags at the western end, Causey Pike has four summits. Well, its summit has four bumps on the top.
But it’s nice that a feature so recognisable from groundlevel articulates so satisfyingly underfoot. These little grey hillocks are part of a blob of mixed rocky material called an olistostrome – a kind of sedimentary fatberg – and are great little watchtowers from which to consider the landscape around you.
And it does look very wild up here. Valleys are steep and tight, their jostly skylines unfamiliar above empty, tempting reaches. This isn’t the wild unknown – it’s the north-western fells of the Lake District, from a different angle. I enjoyed this. Just when you feel you know the Lake District, you find an angle that suddenly deepens an area with mysterious, warren-like valleys, like one of those old magic eye pictures, and you find yourself unconsciously planning walks, camps, explorations into places with half-familiar names and unfamiliar visions – certainly from here. The Derwent Fells, Buttermere Moss, Sail Beck, Wandope. What a wonderful place.
So it’s ironic that a summit so familiar for so long from below was in the end my key to unlocking a new appreciation for somewhere I thought I knew. Causey Pike had caught my eye a long time ago, but as I descended the steep nose of the hill down to Rowling End, and back to the car, I remember thinking: I wish I’d climbed it sooner.
Looking out from Causey Pike’s summit ridge, with the Coledale Horseshoe to the right and the wild north-west fells to the left.