Walking the Wainwrights in 30 Walks - Walk 4 The Coniston Fells

28th Febuary 2016

Well, after several weeks of complaining about too much rain the Lake District has experienced its first consecutive days of frost in the valleys and the remaining snow on the high fells has been nicely topped up by more snow making the fells right now...a walkers dream. This of course had to happen while I was in work although many a friend has taken advantage of the drier weather and who could blame them.

We're back on the subject of Sunday walking which if you are a regular reader you may well know that I try to keep my Sunday walks more low key than my Saturday walks due to not having much of a recovery day the day after but all that was thrown out the window on my last walk and the same applies to todays walk, I'll just have to ache in work which is becoming the norm as of late.

Today I shall be collecting seven Wainwright summits on what is popularly known as the Coniston Round, despite having a special fondness for these fells and having visited them more times than I care to remember todays route will see me walk the round in a anti-clockwise direction first taking in Dow Crag from Fell Gate before continuing on towards the OId Man and Brim Fell from where I'll leave Leavers Hawse due west to collect Grey Friar before doubling back past the Halifax Bomber World War II Memorial from where I will summit Great Carrs and thereafter, Swirl How before descending Prison Band and on to my final summit of Wetherlam.

Wainwright Guide Book Four
The Southern Fells

-Coniston Old Man

The Old Man is no Matterhorn , nor is Coniston a Zermatt, but an affinity is there in the same close links between mountain and village, and the history of the one is the history of the other.

Coniston without its Old Man is unthinkable.


Ascent: 4,500 Feet - 1,372 Meters
Wainwrights: 7, Dow Crag - Coniston Old Man - Brim Fell - Grey Friar - Great Carrs - Swirl How - Wetherlam
Weather: Bright and Sunny to Start Turning Overcast. Highs of 7° Lows of -1°C Feels Like -3°C Across The Summits
Parking: Fell Gate, Walna Scar Road
Area: Southern
Miles: 12.5
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken: 6 Hours 40 Minutes
Route: Fell Gate - Walna Scar Road - Cove Bridge - Brown Pike - Buck Pike - Dow Crag - Goat's Hawse - Coniston Old Man - Brim Fell - Levers Hawse - Swirl Band - Grey Friar - Fairfield - Great Carrs - Top of Broad Slack - Swirl How - Prison Band - Swirl Hawse - Red Dell Moss - Wetherlam - Black Sails Ridge - Levers Water - Boulder Valley - Walna Scar Road - Fell Gate

Map and Photo Gallery


The Bell, Black Sails and Wetherlam from Fell Gate 07:20am -1°C

According to the meteorological experts today marks the official end of Winter time which saw me for the first time this year time my arrival in Lakeland with the sunrise which worked out just perfectly, I arrived at Fell Gate under brilliant blue skies and frost coated fields as far as the eye could see. I've only been away due to a mix of work and bad weather for two weeks but in that time seasonal changes have taken place and this morning they were plain to see, daffodils and snowdrops now line the lanes almost ready to flower and there's even a hint of song in the air if you listen quietly, small changes like this never go unnoticed and today my seasonal radar was on red alert.

It was great to see the sun rise which split the dark skies with streaks of white light across the east horizon, then came the afterglow revealing the frost covered pastures and fields where new born Lambs grazed alongside Ewes, it didn't just feel like Winter was behind us, but Spring was already upon us, and there's no greater feeling than that after those dreary winter months. Fell Gate was soon reached after driving through a deserted Coniston, there was no one around except the attendant at the petrol station who I spotted whilst driving past. I put the car in to second gear and began the steep ascent to Walna Scar dodging huge pot holes and ruts left behind by plant machinery, by eck, anyone who is unfortunate to get caught in that, isn't coming out without an expensive repair bill. I soon reached the metal gate at the bottom of the pass and left my car running to open it, it was here I got a taste of the still, yet bitter air as I propped the gate open using two rocks on top of one another. The car park was deserted with the exception of a VW camper van and an Audi which looked like they had been there all night judging by their frosted windows. I parked easily and proceeded to kit up feeling once again that brisk morning air which left a drip on the end of my nose.

The puddles had frozen around the car park and so to had the familiar 'lake' which in reality is nothing more than an oversized puddle found towards the far end of the car park, conditions felt perfect and before I knew it I was locking the car and striking out towards Boo Tarn, the moon, still visible in the western sky.

Passing a frozen Boo Tarn.

Coniston Old Man seen over The Cove.
The morning light was just fantastic casting shadow and revealing the sharpness of the wild grasses, it feels such a long time ago since I last saw colour so vividly on the fells.

Brown Pike from Cove Bridge.

I was hugely tempted to switch my original route of walking to the top of Walna Scar Pass at times swayed by either an ascent on Dow Crag South Rake or even to gain the ridge ahead via Blind Tarn, both hugely tempting options but in the end I opted to keep with my route all because of how significant Cove Bridge now is to me.

"How many times have I sheltered under the arch of Cove Bridge, eating damp sandwiches in the rain"

A.H Griffin June 1977

The Stone Shelter found a short distance below the summit of Walna Scar Pass.

Views over Walna Scar, White Maiden Black Combe and the Dunnerdale Fells from the ascent of Brown Pike.

By the time I reached the summit of Walna Scar the morning light was casting huge shadows across the adjoining valleys and with this came a little heat from the sun. I had already taken my hat off and my hands were starting to feel clammy inside my gloves which I opted to keep on as I was soon met by a brisk wind swept in uninterrupted from the Irish Sea.

It's only a short yet steady climb in order to gain Brown Pike summit and I was blessed with long distant views of the snow capped Scafells which made the ascent a rather slow one due to how many unscheduled stops I took.

Buck Pike and the distant Scafells from Brown Pike summit.
It was only now did I notice a scattering of fresh snow had fallen in patches on top of old snow, at 2,130 ft. (650 meters) it was more than pleasant to walk across although as you can see much of it was completely avoidable, the snow line would change with the more ascent that I would gain as you will see a little later into the walk.

The clearest of views as I head across the ridge towards Buck Pike.

Pausing to look back on Brown Pike with views of Blind Tarn below.
After weeks of walking in rain and low cloud we get views as good as this, it doesn't get any better.

Views over Harter Fell (Eskdale) and Green Crag towards a cloudless Cumbrian Coast.

Dow Crag summit with the snow capped Scafells and Esk Pike beyond.

Having left Buck Pike behind I descended the ridge slightly spotting a wild camper on Dow Crag west ridge, he was well clear of the summit leaving his tent no doubt sheltered from the winds, a good spot I thought although I doubt I'll bump into him as it looks like he's just about to leave.

I press on towards Dow Crag summit.

Goats Water seen shortly before my I summit Dow Crag.

Despite wandering over to get this view of Goats Water it had completely escaped my attention to check on snow conditions at the top of Dow Crag South Rake although judging by the amount of snow I found at the top of Easy Gully further on, it may have been a wise decision on passing on South Rake today.

I'm blaming the wild camper as I was rather curious to where he had got to.

Pausing to look back over Easy Gully towards Buck Pike, Brown Pike, Walna Scar and White Maiden.

The Scafells Broad Crag, III Crag, Little Stand and Esk Pike seen over Mosedale.
I clambered up towards the summit of Dow Crag from where I took this photo, despite the summit being instantly recognisable from almost every direction the summit isn't a place (even in good weather) where you can sit and enjoy your views, here I drop off slightly whilst taking in distant views over the Mosedale Valley and the Scafells, something of which it seems, I haven't set eyes on in what seems like a lifetime over the course of Winter.

Looking back over Goats Hawse towards Dow Crag.

Having left behind the summit of Dow Crag I took in the descent towards Goats Hawse where I then spotted the wild camper, in fact, not too far ahead. I wondered why he was travelling rather slowly before realising that my own progress had slowed down due to conditions underfoot as now any patches of snow that lay across the path had frozen completely and were best avoided which of course slowed my own descent slightly.

The wild camper had stopped by the time he had reached Goats Hawse and I was surprised to see him de-layering to a T-shirt while opting to retain his hat and gloves, thoughts started wondering as soon enough I was on his heel and was ready to pass him, eh up belting morning I chirped up as I walked passed him, it was quite stubborn of me to not stop and strike up a conversation which I put down to being completely focused on the job in hand.

The young chap who by now had wandered off to take some photos of Goats Water was going to get a shock once he reached the summit of the Old Man no doubt, but yeah, I agree it was quite Spring like when out of the wind.

I continue with my ascent reaching sometimes unavoidable ice patches that had formed across whole sections of the path, ahead the sun glared down on me leaving my eyes to water and not being able to completely define my route ahead, it felt a little frustrating but once around the ice patches I was walking on solid ground once again stopping every now and again to look back on Dow Crag Buttresses and the wild camper who by now had disappeared, perhaps he's headed back to Fell Gate.

I press on.

Dow Crag gullies and buttresses.

Coniston Old Man.
Nothing could have prepared me for the view that greeted me once I gained the summit shoulder of the Old Man, it was almost like I was in two different worlds going from one extreme to another, with Spring like temperatures to full Winter conditions in just the click of a finger, but despite the shockingly cold wind chill, I wasn't complaining, it was simply magnificent just to be here.

Coniston Old Man.
If I shake my tail I might even get the summit to myself.

Coniston Old Man summit.

Surrounded by a foot of snow, Coniston Old Man summit Trig Point.
There hasn't been many moments when I had the summit of Coniston Old Man to myself and today I relished my time here. Having jabbed both my walking poles into the snow I start to take on my views with a strong Winter sun behind me which if anything is casting my shadow ten feet in every direction across the whiteness of the snow. This hinders my photo opportunities but not my time spent here.

Looking back on Coniston Old Man.

No sooner had I put my camera back into its case and turned around I spotted the young guy from earlier who was still wearing his T-shirt despite the wind-chill, this time we stopped to chat having asked him how did his evening go, all I got was the one reply 'it was cold' but the sunrise was worth it he explained, we went on to todays walk and as it turns out we are both following a similar route with the exception that he wasn't sure if he was going to summit erm...whats that one called over there? Grey Friar I answered, aye I may go there too, well if you do I'm sure our paths will meet again, if they don't have a great day mate.

With this we head off in our separate directions, although after a quick look back the summit of the Old Man was now occupied by two walkers who had just appeared from the direction of Low Water.

Brim Fell is just ahead.
It certainly wasn't T-shirt weather and I'm not ashamed to admit I had my hood up to shield the side of my face from the cross winds as I walked across the ridge towards Brim Fell.

Distant views of a sun lit Morecambe Bay as I approach Brim Fell.

Coniston Old Man from Brim Fell summit.
It's only less than half a mile which separates the two summits of Brim Fell from Coniston Old Man but it has to be one of the best, shortest ridge walks in the whole of Lakeland.

Views over Levers Hawse towards Great How Crags, Swirl How and Great Carrs.
I still had my hood up as I took in the descent over Levers Hawse only stopping to curiously admire snowboard and ski tracks that had been left behind in the old snow that had now frozen solid. Ahead my route now diverts below Swirl Band via a faint path you may be able to spot over the craggy outcrops in the centre of the photo, in any weather this is a great way to reach Grey Friar despite the path being singular and narrow it's quite prominent all the way to the Col below Grey Friar known as 'Fairfield'

Views over Levers Water towards the Black Sails ridge, Wetherlam and the Lad Stones ridge from Levers Hawse.
It was shortly after taking this photo did I meet two chaps along with a Labrador on route to Brim Fell, we exchange our 'mornings' followed by nod's and smiles.

Seathwaite Tarn seen from Levers Hawse.

Stopping to look back over Levers Hawse, Brim Fell and Dow Crag.
It didnt go un-noticed that there was a build up of cloud arriving in from the east which I will keep my eye on because it's much ealier than forecasted.

Meanwhile my views towards the Scafells were magnificent as I reached Fairfield.

Ascent on Grey Friar from Fairfield.
I soon reached a pile of stones which marked the traverse back to Levers Hawse which wasn't entirely uneventful due my clumsiness which saw me side step awkwardly leaving me on my side after a rather acrobatic fail in trying to keep upright...it certainly was one of those moments you were glad you were on your own.

Harter Fell (Eskdale) from Grey Friar summit.

I guess Grey Friar can be classed as an out and back in todays route but not so arduous due to the route I took from Levers Hawse which kinda felt like a cheeky little cheat. The summit is reached in no time at all plowing my way into the short but steady ascent without pause all the while knowing that the sun had now been obscured by cloud behind me, the difference was felt with a cold wind.

Despite feeling rather chilled once more I told myself that I would down pack and do some readjustments one of which was to take off my sunglasses and put them back into the lid of my pack and while I was there, I might as well tuck into that Snickers bar while I'm at it.

Pull up a boulder, there's no rush.

Views over the Mosedale valley towards Slight Side, The Scafells, Broad Crag, III Crag , Great End and Esk Pike.
While chomping on a frozen Snickers bar.

Here's a closer aspect this time with Scar Lathing, Cam Spout Crag, High Gait Crags, Pen and Yeastyrigg Crag in the foreground.
Lost in wonder...

The Matterhorn Rock.
After a quick ten minute break I re- shouldered and strode out towards the Matterhorn Rock found about sixty yards east from the summit cairn, despite visiting the summit many times the sight of the Matterhorn Rock never fails to impress me.

Grey Friar from Fairfield.
I was soon back at the Col between Grey Friar and Great Carrs and I was gearing myself up for the steady slog towards Great Carrs summit, the path is again well worn and easy to follow and after my previous summits, felt much harder on the legs than it should have, nevertheless I press on towards the Halifax Bomber WWII Memorial with hopes of maybe catching a fleeting photo as I always do when I pass this spot, except today I arrived exactly at the same time as a couple who were reading the Memorial, it looked like there first visit and I didn't want to spoil it, after a quick Hi I pressed on towards Great Carrs summit.

Distant views over Little Langdale towards the Eastern, and Far Eastern fells from Great Carrs summit.
From the Memorial I made my way towards the rocky outcrop that marks the summit of Great Carrs from where I could spot more and more walkers on Wet Side Edge seen in the foreground over The Top of Broad Slack on Swirl How summit, further more walkers are spotted in the far distance on Wetherlam which is where I'm heading next, but first I had to summit Swirl How which is only a short distance away.

Looking back on ground covered towards Swirl How, Brim Fell and Dow Crag from Great Carrs summit.

It would appear that the sun is trying to break through the cloud leaving the fells looking as wintery as they felt!

Good times.

Swirl How from The Top of Broad Slack.

Great Carrs looking rather sporadic along with its Scafell backdrop.
It would seem the brilliant Winter sun that I had enjoyed all morning was fading to just a memory and from now I would have to make do with glimpses of sunlight such as this that I captured whilst making my ascent on Swirl How.

Little Stand, Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and the Scafells from Swirl How summit cairn.

I soon made it to the summit of Swirl How passing another walker along the way wearing a Winter jacket and shorts soon followed by what looked like a mother and son duo all heading towards Great Carrs summit. My time spent at the summit of Swirl How was brief due to the wind chill but mainly due to the fact that I wanted to get the descent of the Prison Band underway, mainly because, I didn't quite know what to expect although I had catered for the worst.

From the summit of Swirl How I followed the singular track negotiating solid snow underfoot, which could be avoided although a pair of spikes (not crampons) may have been of use should I have to stuck to the path. There are sections of Prison Band which are part scramble, which in good conditions are great fun although today I found these routes glazed with black ice which were best avoided, in descent today I used the path to the right which avoided such scrambles leaving just the one small pitch just above the large cairn at Swirl Hawse, in all a quick yet tweaked descent was had and I was soon in ascent once more heading over Red Dell Moss towards Wetherlam.

Prison Band from Swirl Hawse.
Looking much less menacing than it actually was.

The Scafells, Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Little Stand, Cold Pike and Pike of Blisco from Wetherlam summit.

Large groups of organised walkers are passed on route to Wetherlam before arriving at the last push just below the summit, here I spot two walkers carefully negotiating glazed ice that had covered the route and with this, chose to gain the summit by an outcrop of boulders shortly followed by a steep bank of wild grass, thereafter the last few yards I too picked my way over the ice covered rock before making my way towards a crowded summit.

There were many walkers on the cairn when I arrived so instead I remembered about a quiet spot I had found from previous visits that would guarantee time out of the wind from where I'd start an early lunch. Damn it! it's only the young chap from Dow Crag who you may remember from earlier who was occupying my 'secret den' you ok there I smile, we strike up conversation and I'm not bitter that he's took my little hiding place, I de shoulder and eat lunch in a cool wind.

By the time I had lifted my head up all the walkers had gone and so too had the young chap, with this I pack my half eaten lunch away and take this photo from the summit cairn.

It's time to head back to Black Sails from where I'll start to make my descent.

Red Dell and a distant Coniston from the top of the Black Sails Ridge.

I had remembered about the ice found on my ascent of Wetherlam and instead opted to descend via the grassy flank of the fell thereafter I soon found myself crossing Red Dell Head (Moss) which was thankfully layered in ice making the crossing much easier than I had expected. Ahead the group that I had just seen at the summit of Wetherlam were making slow progress over two patches of hard snow that covered the path.

My route ran into much the same as I scan a trail using the lay of the land and not opting as others before me had by gaining ground on a rocky outcrop which is easily mistaken as the summit of Black Sails when in fact, the true summit sits behind marginally higher, gaining the ground between both outcrops was the best advantage in how to start my Black Sails descent.

Pausing to look back on Red Dell Head and Wetherlam from the Black Sails ridge.
I had been looking forward to seeing this view of the Black Sails ridge all day and I wasn't disappointed.

Coniston Old Man and Raven Tor seen over a glistening Levers Water.

Levers Water.

There was a couple sat along the bank of Levers Water who looked to be enjoying the sunshine, and who could blame them, it was almost Spring like again and it was here I de-layered to enjoy my walk through Boulder Valley in Spring like comfort.

I round the grassy shore of Levers Water picking up a narrow but prominent path at the very foot of Raven Tor passing two large mine shafts that have now been fenced off from the public, soon after I trace my way over a boulder-some path topping out over looking Boulder Valley, ahead, in the distance I spot dozens and dozens of cars whose windows glisten under the glare of the sun, but my walk isn't over just yet.

I follow a grassy bank into Boulder Valley passing one in particular impressive boulder much the size of a small house before crossing Levers Water Beck at a narrow wooden footbridge, where I pass the Pudding Stone which has a group of climbers stood on top of the giant boulder watched on by by-standers, I fail to take a photo due to just how busy the area is and I feel a little let down by this.

Ahead I keep with my narrow path which steadily climbs out of Boulder Valley revealing Coppermines far below, a reminder that here on the flank of one of Lakelands most popular fells, mining is still going on to this day. Two ladies are passed who sit down sipping from flasks, they are deep in conversation but still manage a hiya.

My narrow path has widened and soon I will switch taking care to keep right which will lead me back towards Fell Gate, the cars look much closer now.

The Bell with the Lad Hows ridge in the distance.

Looking back on The Bell, The Black Sails Ridge and Prison Band shortly before arriving at Fell Gate.

More and more walkers are passed, most of whom are just out on an afternoon stroll or a dog walk, Fell Gate is soon reached and gone is stillness that I encountered just over six hours earlier, instead cars are packed together and mine now is no different, I arrive back and kit down behind my car before remembering that I still have half my lunch left which I finish while watching paragliders soar high above all the summits that I had set foot on today.

With lunch finished I open a bottle of Diet Pepsi, take a long swig and put my car into reverse gear.


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