The Old Man of Coniston…an old friend!

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Distance: 6.5 miles

Wainwright count (round 2): 3

Wainwrights (round 2): Dow Crag, The Old Man of Coniston

Who with: Susie (The Patterdale Terrier)

In an effort to blow off the festive cobwebs, and the additional pounds gained from over indulging, I decided to come out of my week long hibernation and get some fresh air. Where better to walk than Coniston, one of my favourite places.

After a 5.30am alarm, I arrived in Coniston at 8am, after a bit of faffing at home (the norm for me), and I decided to park in the disused quarry, at the bottom of Walna Scar Road. When I arrived, there was only one car already parked up, with another arriving shortly after I had got myself organised.

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Susie was itching to get started, and being a Patterdale, she is certainly at home on the fells and usually comes over all giddy when she sees we are ‘heading out’. With this in mind, I locked the Land Rover and made tracks.

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We headed up Walna Scar Road, with the sun having not yet appeared over the Furness Fells on the other side of the valley, so we had the pleasure of watching it rise, as we made our way along the rocky track. There was little wind, blue sky and we were watching the sun rise…what more could I ask for! We made our way under Nettle Crag, and past the turn-off (foot path) which heads up to Goat’s Water, which is a very popular route up the Old Man and one I have done myself several times…lovely walk. Not long after this footpath, we crossed Torver Bridge, with the sun now taking hold, low in the sky over the fells opposite.

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Continuing on, the path climbs slightly more steeply as you reach Goatfoot Crags, and head up the final stretches of the ‘road’. I think my Land Rover could just about get up this road, but not without a) some modifications, or b) an expensive trip to a garage afterwards! As we walked under the disused quarries, where the path steepens, we arrive at the junction at the brow of Walna Scar, on an absolutely glorious morning – it was perhaps 9am at this point, so still relatively early, with the full day ahead of us.

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If we turned left (South), we would head up White Maiden, if we continued straight on (West) we would drop down into Dunderdale with Seathwaite, but instead we took a right (North), and headed up the glorious track towards Brown Pike. The views in every direction were unbelievably stunning, with the warmth from the sun giving the surrounding fells a real glow. As we were now on the tops, an icy wind picked up, which reminded us that it was January after all, but the conditions were perfect for an adventure on the fells. This moment right here is why I enjoy the great outdoors, and when people ask ‘why do you bother walking up a hill, to walk back down’…well this is the answer. If only you could transport them to this point in time, which would surely answer their question without the need for words.

Reaching the top of Brown Pike, at 682m, we stopped in the conveniently placed shelter for a respite from the wind, and to soak up the morning sun, whilst enjoying a cup of coffee from my flask. It was here as I was enjoying the view, I started chatting to a nice bloke who lived locally and had been out with his wife on the fells the day prior in the rain, and told me that he had just sent her a photo of the perfect conditions we were enjoying today, as she was at work…he said her response was not too polite. It is nice to bump into others on the fell, who share the same passion for these wonderful places, and it is rarely awkward to find something to talk about, whether it is the weather (good or bad), the path, how far to the summit, which route they are taking, and sometimes you help each other, in some small way, and help each other to enjoy the day on the fells that bit more.

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As we walked on towards Buck Pike, before reaching Dow Crag, which stands at 778m, there was a fantastic vista, which took in Blind Tarn, which sits below Brown Pike. The sun shone over it, lighting up the water, in a majestic way. This went in the mental note pad, as a potential wild camp location for the future. A perfect location to enjoy the sun come up that’s for sure.

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It was here that I met two lads, who had picked their way up the screes of Dow Crag, from Goats Water, which they described as treacherous. I am not brave enough, or perhaps stupid enough to tackle such a route. I have looked up at these screes many a time from Goat’s Water and to say they do not look inviting is an understatement.

After enjoying the amble in the sun along these tops, the views getting better and better as I climbed, I checked the watch and it was 11.30am, so I decided to stop for an early lunch. Susie’s ears pricked up when I mentioned food, so we dropped out of the Baltic wind, which was well below zero, providing freezing conditions literally. It is easy to see how so many walkers get themselves into difficulty, with some requiring the services of Mountain Rescue, when you see glorious conditions in the valley’s, it is hard to believe the difference in conditions a few hundred metres up. Something I will touch upon later.

I added another layer, whilst we stopped for lunch above Goat’s Hawse, as we found a fantastic windbreak in the form of a large boulder, which provided refuge from the conditions, even providing a few moments of sunshine, which wasn’t to last, at this altitude anyway. After sharing my lunch (ham, potatoes and cabbage) with Susie, which was leftovers from the prior night’s tea, we made our way down into Goat’s Hawse.

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It immediately got busier, with people appearing from the Goat’s Water route, which we had passed the path for earlier in the morning. We stopped for a moment, and as I turned around to admire the views of our morning’s accomplishments, there was a thick, dark cloud heading in, which brought with it plummeting temperatures as the sun disappeared – literally within minutes. This reaffirms my point around the different conditions which sit above such a sunny valley.

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I was considering heading over to Swirl How and onto Wetherlam, a walk I had done previously, also in a thick mist funnily enough, but decided against this, as the weather forecast that I had viewed last night, was proving accurate, almost to the minute! Instead, we picked our way to the summit of a busy Old Man of Coniston, which was now covered in a thick mist, and dropped down out of the mist towards Low Water. In hindsight, I should have carried on, as by this point it was 12.30pm/1pm, and I was met with a stream of people who were heading up this iconic fell. I’m not anti-social, and quite enjoy meeting people on the fells, but it was as if a few dozen coaches had parked up and off-loaded all their passengers, which made the rest of the walk slightly congested (for my liking anyway).

As we passed Low Water, the path showcases the rich history of the slate mining industry of Coniston gone by, and something that should be celebrated both locally and as a country, as these industries literally helped to shape a nation. Flashbacks of this environment were extremely vivid, from when my parents brought me up here as a young lad sparking that inevitable life long love of the great outdoors. Coniston was one of my late mum’s favourite places and somewhere that will always be close to my heart. It seemed fitting that my first fell walk of the year would be up the Old Man of Coniston….pure coincidence, or fate perhaps.

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I began to feel slightly anxious by a minority of the herd of people heading up to enjoy this beautiful fell, in so much as some were in shorts, others had jeans and trainers on, which is something of a bone of contention for me, especially in Winter. I am all for people exploring the fells of the UK, but I read so much on social media about Mountain Rescue call outs that were avoidable, due to the ill equipped, or inexperienced fell walker. Hopefully my concern was for nothing on this occasion, but I did feel that some felt that conditions on the summit would be the same as they left in the car park, and that concerned me somewhat. On previous occasions, I have spoken to passers by and advised them of the conditions, which is usually well received, but who am I to challenge them?!

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As the path headed under Subthwaite Crag, I arrived at a cross roads, where I would be heading right where the car park lay 1km down the old quarry track. I was quite shocked, although shouldn’t have been by the number of people that had passed me heading up, but there must have been 50+ cars at the car park when I returned. I stark difference to the couple when I set out earlier in the morning, and given that this is just one of the routes up the Old Man, it left me wondering how many other walkers were enjoying this fell on such a lovely winter’s day…

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