A little used way to the Old Man
09.10.2009 25 °C
Beyond the harsh grey stone of the old quarries rose the jagged skyline of the Coniston Fells; Swirl How, Wetherlam and closer at hand, its summit hidden by the intervening craggy slopes, Coniston Old Man our destination for today. So it was that a party of 3 set out on a warm day in early June - myself, Jacqui's Dad Pete and his elder brother Mike who hadn't been on the fells in a year and seriously doubted whether he'd reach even Coniston Old Man's modest summit.
We'd driven up to the last car park on the Walna Scar Road in an effort to gain precious height and it was this track we now followed towards the Walna Scar pass, the hot weather dictating a slow pace from us all.
Having studiously avoided the popular ascent route to Coniston Old Man through the Coppermines Valley and the infamous zig zags above Low Water - a route that has all the charm of Rossett Gill or the pony track up Ben Nevis - we reached Boo Tarn. Boo Tarn is described in the Wainwright guide "The Southern Fells" as a small reedy pool which is exactly what it is. Perhaps Boo Pond would be a more appropriate name though in "The Southern Fells", Wainwright also describes this route as one of the best ways up Coniston Old Man - also true.
Passing the wide track - which actually leads to a quarry - we followed the narrow path just beyond it with the stream in a small ravine to our right. This led us steeply up the fellsides the views opening out behind as we gained height. As we ascended we wondered about the mine workers. They would have faced a long climb before even starting what would have been a physically hard job, in all weather too - the Coniston Fells are not often as benign as today - then a long walk down at the end of the day.
Lunch and a long rest was had on some rocks that could have been made for that purpose with wonderful views over Coniston Water and most of South Cumbria. The sun had gone in now and a few spots of rain fell from a high overcast though it was still warm. After some considerable time - my own lunch stops are rarely more than 15 minutes - we set off once again and followed the path across the mountainside and up towards where Brown Pike appeared over the intervening slopes.
Presently, as we rounded the side of Coniston Old Man, the hidden valley leading up to Goats Hause appeared below with the mountain tarn of Goats Water shining blue green below the grey precipices of Dow Crag opposite. Here above an old mine building, the path began a steep climb of the slopes above until after a while the angle eased and we arrived - rather hot as the rain had stopped and it was still warm - on the broad easy slopes of the south ridge. The path here became sketchy in places but the large cairn could clearly be seen on the summit maybe a quarter of a mile ahead.
A short time later we were enjoying still and warm conditions on the summit, taking in the wonderfully expansive views that Coniston Old Man has to offer. The distant detail was somewhat obscured by a haze but to the north was one of my favorite Lakeland scenes - that of the cirque of mountains surrounding the head of Eskdale from Scafell around to Crinkle Crags - a wild aspect indeed. Closer at hand the ground fell steeply away to where Levers Water and Low Water sparkled among the rocks far below at the base of the craggy slopes. It was though with some relief that we looked down the zig zag track to Coppermines Valley, glad we'd not come up that way. It would have been hot work today!
The Low Water route was an option for descent but as Mike was now over the moon at finding the going much easier than expected, we opted for the longer but more interesting route to Goats Hause and down past Goats Water below Dow Crag. From there we'd follow the Walna Scar track back to the car and Coniston where 3 pints of Bluebird awaited.