March 2008 - Walk Of The Month

March 26, 2007


The Old Man of Coniston

Date: 4th March 2008.
Map: Landranger 90 & 96 (view route in new window)
Weather: Glorious Sunshine all day, but with a cutting cold wind chill.

A circular walk from Coniston up the Walna Scar Road, up Brown Pike to Dow Crag, over to the Old Man. Then up the ridge to Swirl How, down and across to Wetherlam. Finally down the valley between High Fell and Above Beck Fells: 15.6 miles – as measured by a pedometer, about 12 miles on the maps (with detours!)

The walk last week in the Bowland Fells started with an earthquake at 1am. The previous walk the cat had woken me up. So since we were unlikely to have another earthquake, I set the Cat-O-Matic for 5:30 (I left the kitchen door open). Sure enough at 5:15 I was woken by the cat, who sat on me purring. I hit the snooze button (gave her a couple of strokes) and then rose before six. The weather forecast was glorious for the western side of the country. I decided to set out for the lakes after checking the forecast (see the February walk for the weather link), with the thought that it would be cold over 600m.

Photobucket A view along Coniston Water to the Old Man

The drive over from the M6 gave me some anticipation of the day ahead, with clear skies and snowy tops. I arrived at the car park in Coniston a little after 8am with a bucketful of change. Which was just as well because it cost £6 for a days parking, some of which will go towards maintenance of the paths? You can use a card if you need to. I wrapped up with thin layers beneath my fleece and Berghaus, expecting a hot inside, cold outside day.

Photobucket The path through woods to the Walna Scar Road

Photobucket The first views of the Coniston Fells

I left the car park and made my way through the waking village, passing an old chapel, before turning steeply uphill along an icy winding road. This brought me out to a wooded path, which ran alongside a small beck and eventually meets up with the Walna Scar road. The incline levelled off and it was a gentle start to the day, which was a good because by the end of the day I was completely goosed! The water down the path was flowing under the ice, which was slowly melting in the early sunshine. It gave some interesting sound effects as it crackled and splintered under my boots. The Walna Scar road must be an old route up over the hills, but made for easy walking for the first couple of miles.

Photobucket The Old Man is second from left

Photobucket Looking back North West - Fairfield in the distance

The tarmac road twists up to an old quarry, so be careful not to follow it for too long (like me!), but it was easy to drop back around the contours and meet up with the right track. The surface of the paths today was excellent, with graded stone well compacted, and easy on the feet.

Photobucket The path should look like this

Photobucket Brown Pike ahead, the path a bit steeper

The path winds it way up towards the first objective, the col between White Pike and Brown Pike. I passed an old packhorse bridge just below the Cove, a flattish area between the big ridges.

Photobucket Looking south west towards the Furness Fells and Morecambe Bay beyond

Photobucket Walna Scar ahead, then right up to Brown Pike

After the bridge, and a little further up (directly above the right side of the bridge in the picture above) I took a little diversion up a path to an old slate working. It was well worth it, as it had views over Blind Tarn immediately below and to Coniston and beyond to the east. I passed by a mass of slate spoil that looked ready to burst out down the hillside. It was steep and a little slippery up to some old buildings, but when I got there it was a perfect spot to sit and rest a while. There was a slate bench to perch on, and I thought what a perfect place for a picnic in the spring or summer. It would be around three miles from Coniston, and I think I’ll be heading up there this summer.

Photobucket Coniston Water, Ingleborough was in the distant haze

Photobucket The path up to the old slate works

Photobucket Pick the way along beneath the spoil heap then up to the left

Photobucket Blind Tarn, Old Man up to the right

I tried to scramble up a scree slope to the summit behind the buildings, but it was just a little too steep and slippery. So my head ruled my heart and I retraced my steps gingerly back down to the main path. A lovely diversion for a peaceful hour. Today was shear enjoyment, and not for rushing around – not that I could anyway. Just before the col, after rejoining the main path, I passed a small shelter that must be very welcoming on a cold wet day. I soon reached the Walna Scar and was rewarded with good views to the North West and beyond.

Photobucket The slate bench, right of picture.

Photobucket The small shelter beneath Brown Pike

The first view I recognised was Harter Fell with the Scafells beyond that. A nice place to take a deep breath. The wind was stronger now I was exposed to the elements and my nose was a touch frozen as I was now around the 600m mark. I turned 90deg and began the walk up to Brown Pike, the first summit of the day at 682m.

Photobucket Looking down to Watna Scar, Seathwaite down in the valley

Photobucket Brown Pike cairn, the Scafells in the background

The summit had a rounded wall to provide shelter for the weary, but it was occupied and cold, so I moved away along the ridge picking my route through the snow.

Photobucket Buck Pike, then Dow Crag at the end before dropping down and across

Photobucket Blind Tarn with Coniston Water in the distance

The views were now all around me and I had to be careful to pay attention to my footings as the snow was in drifts and ranged from 3” to 3ft. I didn’t stray too close to the edge as I didn’t fancy the walk back up! At this point I heard panting behind me and a Scottish terrier came scampering past, followed by his owner who was running the fells. He made light of the conditions and was soon far ahead of me. It must be nice to be that fit, but he had no time to enjoy his surroundings. The views were getting better as I progressed up the ridge, with the Old Man of Coniston prominent to my right and the tarns far below my feet.

Photobucket Heysham Power Station across the bay, Brown Pike at the end

Photobucket Blind Tarn, Brown Pike and the Irish Sea beyond

As I moved along the ridge towards Dow Crag the wind was becoming colder the higher I rose. So I donned my City scarf across my face and moved on towards the summit. There were some deep cut gulleys that fell away to the tarn below, they looked quite threatening close up, but I stayed back at a safe distance.

Photobucket The Scafell’s getting closer and looking very cold. Dow Crag at the end.

Photobucket Goat’s Water below the steep gulley…..yikes

As I reached Dow Crag I noticed that all the western facing rocks on the peak were building a layer of Ice. It made me shiver just looking at it. The Old Man was patiently waiting for my sweaty assault. It just sat there covered in snow, a big docile ridge!

Photobucket The summit shelter of the Old Man is the pointy black bit

Photobucket Goat’s Water from Dow Crag

There wasn’t anywhere to sit comfortably at the summit, so I found a sheltered spot, had a drink and ate an apple. Then applied a liberal coating of Lipsyl and a smear of Vaseline to my nose and cheeks to avoid the worst of the wind (the cheeks on my face).

Photobucket Brrrrrrrrrrrr.. The summit of Dow Crag

Photobucket Looking towards Swirl How across the valley

I made my way down the slopes off Dow Crag towards the dip before the Old Man, and all of the time with fantastic views all around. The path down wasn’t too snowy or steep so I had a good look around. I could give you a long list of the fells and peaks I saw, but unfortunately I don’t know most of them except by looking them up on a map. So if I get a few wrong please don’t be offended.

Photobucket The Scafell Pikes, Ulpha Fell in the foreground

Photobucket Goat’s Water below, Dow Crag on the right, Brown Pike to it’s left

Next on the route was up the side of a snowy Old Man of Coniston. The path was difficult to pick out, so I followed some footsteps – a mistake I should know better and taken a compass reference. But no matter, it made the walk up the flanks a little more interesting and certainly a bit more exertion was required due to the snow.

Photobucket Errrrr….no not that way thanks

Photobucket Just a bit to the right then up and over to the Old Man

I ploughed onwards and upwards and made the ridge someway from the summit cairn of the Old Man. There were quite a few people around the top and most had come up the tourist route, none in flip-flops and shell suits at this time of year. There were a fair few dogs as well, all behaved as I think it was too cold to do otherwise.

Photobucket Atop the ridge to the Old Man of Coniston – lunch beckons

Photobucket Coniston below – the tourist route snowy and windy.

Ingleborough top right I quickly moved along the ridge to the summit and took a picture of the very neat trig point. The views were great even though the cloud was now rolling in from the west. It was still mainly sunny, and was nice to sit down and have some hot soup and a roll. There was a fair crowd at the summit, but no one hung around for long. I finished my lunch and made off north along the broad ridge towards several marker cairns along the way. The path was easy walking, with occasional drifts of deeper snow. Most of the surface water today was ice, until I reached much lower down the valleys.

Photobucket The summit trig point – resplendent in the sunshine

Photobucket The Scafell’s in the distance, Swirl How on the right side of picture

Photobucket My glove, Low Water and Levers Water below Wetherlam

Photobucket The same view over Wetherlam, with Helvellyn in the distance – beautiful

Photobucket The broad hump of the ridge north with Swirl How at its end

Photobucket The ridge narrows before Little Haw Crags

The fells with their covering of snow made them look like Wainwright’s drawings – just black and white lines. I might get one of his books to check out and compare it to the pictures. The walk down the ridge was comparatively easy compared to the route up, but I still had to watch my step. The views as before were superb, and as usual I took too many pictures. So many that I filled the memory card and had to delete a few to complete the journey.

Photobucket Levers Water from Great How Crags

Photobucket Looking down towards Seathwaite Tarn, Harter Fell is the conical peak

After passing Great How Crags the next summit was Swirl How which marked the end of my journey north. The wind was still biting and my scarf was a very welcome cover up. The path up to Swirl How was filled in with snow, but it was nice hearing the crunch of the snow crust underfoot. I occasionally slipped a little, but that just served to remind me to pay attention. I can’t even remember what I was thinking about for most of the day as it was so relaxing being on high in such great weather.

Photobucket Up to Swirl How, the snow filled path leads to the summit

Photobucket The Old Man at the far end of the near ridge. Dow Crag on the right

I stopped now and again to get a good retrospective of where I had come from today. I was feeling a little weary, but I had Weatherlam ahead of me, and the descent into the valley. When I finally reached Swirl How it gave me further views north and a different perspective to the west. It also showed me the steep descent down the Prison Band. I was a little bit wary, as I passed a couple who showed me how deep the snow was down the slope. His trekking pole disappeared up to the handle!

Photobucket Nearly at Swirl How – Helvellyn in the distance. Wetherlam to the right

Photobucket The summit cairn of Swirl How – it was as cold as it looks

I turned east towards Wetherlam, but first had to negotiate the Prison Band. It was quite exhilarating striding down the edge. Very steep in places, and very deep snow drifts off the path. But good fun and slightly sheltered from the wind, it gave me a break from the wind chill. Definitely a good moment to keep the tired legs going.

Photobucket Directly north – the rounded pimple Pike of Stickle ahead

Photobucket The Prison Band down to Wetherlam – a sharp ridge in the snow

The weather had continued to be clear with bi, big views opened up to the north. I recognised many of the peaks and pikes I had walked when I went up Crinkle Crags and Bowfell in February. It was nice to have a different perspective. I passed a couple who had a couple of dogs with them – they loved mountaineering apparently and have been up over the Bad Step by a harness! I noticed there weren’t any Daschunds out today – too close to the floor – and it was definitely brass monkey weather.

Photobucket Looking back to the Old Man and Dow Crag from Swirl How

Photobucket Bowfell and the Crinkle Crags, Pike of Stickle to the right

Once I had come down to the Prison Band I had the choice of bailing out and walking down into the valley below or heading on to Wetherlam. I thought why not your only 53 once. The views from the band were just as good as higher up, and the clouds rolling by gave an atmospheric shot to the north.

Photobucket And another one – I just couldn’t stop clicking

Photobucket Wetherlam looking very snowbound to me

I watched another walker striding along with a couple of trekking poles and was a bit envious, as I was expecting to be walking along with arms spread out wide to keep my balance. There were enough footprints in the snow to follow and after I had taken a compass reading I saw the gent in ahead of me was on the same track. That made life easier as all I had to do was follow the right set of footprints. But as the snow had a nice consistency and took a good boot print, I quickly recognised the tread pattern and was quite confident I was on the right line – however that came back to haunt me on my descent from the top.

Photobucket Crispy snow up the slopes – nice and deep and even!

Photobucket Another shot of Bowfell and Scafell Pike from Wetherlam

Photobucket The Old Man opposite and the way down to the left I thought!

Photobucket I thought this looked like one of Wainwright’s drawings

Up on the top of Wetherlam at 763m it was the last of the day’s climbs and I was looking forward to a nice descent down into the valley below by way of Hen Crag. But with all the snow the paths were difficult to pick out and I was getting a little tired. I once again picked up some footpaths and followed them down the slopes. All went well for some distance, but instead of following Hen Crag down, I ended up going down into the valley via a gulley next to Black Sails. That taught me to pay attention. The slopes became steeper and filled with snow and boulders. I looked around me for a better route, but I was far down from the summit and without retracing my steps all the way back up I decided to descend by the gulley. I wouldn’t recommend you to do this, as it was slow progress and to be honest was a little hairy at times due to the slippery snow. More than once my leg dipped between boulders and it would have been very easy to snap an ankle here. Fortunately I didn’t, but it added some considerable time to my descent, which was tiresome but I have only myself to blame. But then again it was a bit of fun and the views were as always terrific. There is a path to follow down from the Prison Band and this would have been a good option, but I would have missed out on the views from the top.

Photobucket The sun is still shining on me – thank goodness

Eventually after much scrambling I came down to the valley floor, where I followed Church Beck down to Coniston. The valley sides were obviously very wet from the snow melt water and the ground was boggy, so it was back to rock hopping over the worst parts. The route stayed on the right-hand side of the beck down to the old copper mines, where it crosses over. I passed by some old tailings from the mines and had a pick over for some samples, but only found some fools gold (Iron Pyrites) – it does glint nicely in the sun. The old mines must have chased a mineral rich vein into the hillside, but became too expensive to run. Have a read at this link - The remains of the old wheelhouse are prominent as you crossover the beck. Now below you in the valley is the Youth Hostel and some new quarrying going on by the looks of it, probably something to do with the Hydro electric scheme being developed by United Utilities.

Photobucket This was the way I came down – not to be recommended!

Photobucket The Prison Band at the top – an easier route but still steep

Photobucket The old mine workings – the path follows the left side of the valley down to Coniston

A great view back to Swirl How at the top

Once past all the old mine workings, Church Beck has cut itself a deep gorge that continues down the hill into Coniston. There is a Hydro Electric scheme going on here, but I was so tired at this point that I couldn’t be bothered to read up about it.

Photobucket Church Beck getting deeper

Photobucket Nearly down in Coniston, going past Far end and my camera finger has fallen off!


I wandered down into the village, and invested in a long cold drink. Very tired and sore legs the next day. I had taken 8hrs today, but some of that was taken messing around and looking around. Also I hadn’t walked in snow for a long time and had forgotten how different it was. When I got home I gave the cat a pat and told her not to wake me up in the morning. But at 5am there she was…Cat-O-Matic!! What a day, what can I say; happy and relaxed. Walking - it really is brilliant!  

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