Weekend walk: Coniston Old Man
with Bob Clare of www.lancashirewalks.com
Earlier this year the Times newspaper carried a story about a proposal from Lakeland mountain rescue teams for a signpost at a critical junction below Scafell Pike. One direction leads to an easy path – the other leads to a difficult scramble. Too many ill prepared and inexperienced walkers had strayed into Piers Gill a steep sided gully sometimes with tragic results. By placing a signpost at this point it would help to reduce the number of incidents. “NO!” said the We-don’t –want-signposts fraternity. “The fells should be left pure and unadorned and if visitors cannot get around without sign posts they shouldn’t be there in the first place.” This view does not take into account two factors. Firstly mountain areas are extremely difficult navigationally even with excellent OS maps. In mist they are confusing places to be so that experienced walkers can be prone to being “temporarily disorientated” (my phrase for being lost.) In the past experienced walkers probably accounted for the majority of mountain rescue incidents but now GPS phone apps have lured a new type of walker on to the fells made complacent by their trust in technology. Secondly mountain areas are not and never were pure and unadorned. They are places ideal for ski lifts, funiculars, rail and road tunnels, radio masts and radar stations. In particular since ancient times they have been mined for their metal and rock. Today we see the Lake District as a National Treasure – a world heritage site no less yet it is not so long ago when it was a hive of industry. The walk featured below takes you through extensive slate workings on the heights above Coniston Water. It would have been a busy and noisy place. So in the debate about a sign post above Piers Gill I am in favour – it seems a small modification to make for the sake of health and safety.
Start: Walna Scar Road car park LA21 8HD
Distance: 6 ½ miles
Time: 3 – 5 hours
Grade: Strenuous. First half of the walk is a sustained climb with almost 1,800ft of ascent.
Maps: OS OL6 The English Lakes South-western area
At the entrance to the car park a sign post posts you in the direction of Coniston Old Man 1 ¾ miles distant. The three quarters accounts for the approach (and the last part of the walk as you’ll return this way). It is a broad clear path with no complications in way finding. As you reach a col with a view down into Coppermines Valley turn left onto a path heading steeply up through old mine workings which are extensive. Low Water offers a pleasant place to pause if pause be needed but a rest will not make the remaining 800ft any less steep or unrelenting. The consolation is that when you arrive at the summit cairn and trig point the bulk of the climbing is done.
The large cairn invites a proper rest doubtless coinciding with lunch unless you are a very early starter. The next part of the walk is a superb yomp along a broad ridge heading north. For Wainwright baggers Brim Fell is probably the easiest you’ll ever climb unless you are a purist and insist on starting from the bottom! From Brim Fell continue northwards now with Swirl How in your sights. After dropping to Levers Hawse the path climbs first to Little How Craggs and then Great How Craggs before finally arriving at the well-made cairn that surmounts Swirl How.
After the moral boosting traverse of the ridge the descent to Swirl Hawse on Prison Band will seem awkward to state the least. It starts on a rocky path to the right of the cairn as you approach it. Though not technically difficult it requires concentration and the odd bit of scrambling as you edge to the pass. Ahead Wetherlam looms. At the junction go right on a clear path taking you to Levers Water. As you close in on Levers Water a judgement is to be made about its water level. The obvious path leads close to the outflow which has to be crossed to complete the walk. After heavy rainfall it will become difficult to ford this dry-shod. If in doubt keep to the right of Levers Water. On the far side pick up a path coming down from Lever Hawse, cross a rise and descend into Boulder Valley - in effect a right turn. Cross Low Water Beck over a foot bridge to encounter a boulder so large it is marked on the OS map – Pudding Stone. If I point out that this has good footholds and hand holds to enable the adventurous to get to the top of this huge rock this should not be interpreted as encouragement to climb the blessed thing. After the Pudding Stone continue to traverse the corrie below Low Water until you intercept the outward path that will return you to the car park.
- Walk devised by Malcolm McCulloch. Bob’s walks are now available as digital guides on the iFootpath website and App (see iFootpath.com)