The Old Man of Coniston

Ill Bell and High Street

This is a classic circuit of the hills above Coniston. Up to the Old Man of Coniston, around the head of the valley to Dow Crag, along the ridge and back along the Walna Scar road. A change in character from last week’s route, the snow was nearly all gone and replaced by ice and frozen turf.

Another perfect weather forecast, sunny, cold and only a light wind. You can cut a big chunk of ascent from this route by driving up to the Walna Scar car park but it looked decidedly uncertain. A very steep single track untreated road with lots of ice patches. So I parked in Coniston and walked up. Plenty of sheet ice convinced me I was right. Plenty of cars at the car park suggested I was a coward.

Toward the Eastern fells

The Old Man of Coniston is one of Lakeland’s most popular summits but I saw almost no-one on the ascent. It was awkward on the frozen turf, especially with my big clumsy winter clown boots on. I slipped and fell almost immediately after leaving the track, not a positive start. This was the only slip of the day, thankfully.

I was taking a slightly non-standard route up, around the hillside slightly to pass the big quarry on it’s south side. The views this way don’t change much as you climb. You can see uninterrupted to the south and west, down to Morecambe Bay and out to sea. Then suddenly the huge cliff of Dow Crag appears, very close and impressive. One minute there’s just grass and sky, the next there’s a massive black rock face.

Dow Crag
Dow Crag

Continue up and there’s the summit and some people. Now the views appear. A 360 degree panorama. Great views of the Scafell range. I could even see the hills of Galloway in Scotland looking quite close. I was standing taking pictures when suddenly a man appears coming up the steep snow face, using ice axes and crampons to climb the gully. Then his partner a minute later. They were climbing Summit Route, a low grade snow/ice climb, which tops out right at the trig point.

Topping out on the snow/ice climb
Topping out on the snow/ice climb “Summit Route”

The walk is now quite different. The major ascent has finished and now you walk steadily around the skyline with Goat’s Water always below you. Dow Crag summit is the next top, a very nice scrambly rock castle that stands right above the precipitous face of the cliff, a 200 metre drop right below.

Looking over to Coniston Old Man summit from just below Dow Crag summit.
Looking over to Coniston Old Man summit from just below Dow Crag summit.

Then easy walking along the ridge until you meet the Walna Scar road again. This isn’t really a road, it’s a rough rocky track that today was liberally covered with sheets of ice.

As I neared the high car park the sun was setting and lighting up the distant ranges with lovely colours. I have to admit that although the views are wonderful it isn’t the best walk for picture taking. There’s a difference between a good view and a good picture. But this wasn’t really a picture-taking trip, more a great day in the mountains in great conditions.

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