Coniston Old Man

Coniston Old Man

Simon Whaley savours the views during this Coniston classic

Archive: November/December 2013

The exterior of The Thornhill Arms, located in Yorkshire's Calverley

TERRAIN: good tracks. Some steep rocky paths in places, and loose stones through mining area
DISTANCE: 7 miles/11.3 km
TIME: 4-5 hours
CLIMB: 2,982 ft/909 m
START/FINISH: Coniston village centre (GR: SD301975)
MAPS: Harvey Maps 1:25,000 Superwalkers Lakeland Southwest & Lakeland Central; OS 1:25,000 Explorer OL6; OS 1:50,000 Landrangers 90 & 96
TRANSPORT: Coniston Rambler 505 runs week-long from Ambleside and Windermere. Service X12 runs six days a week from Ulverston (, 0871 2002233)

Call me old-fashioned (and many do) but I like to see the view from a summit. In 20 years I’ve climbed the Old Man of Coniston four times but only seen the view once.

Ironically, on the previous three clouddogged climbs, the summit was packed; on my latest ascent, however, the skies were clear yet I had the summit all to myself. That’s when classics like this come into their own, with the ridge to Swirl How coaxing me forward, and Wainwright’s comments that the views from Swirl How are better than those from the Old Man echoing in my ears.


1. START Head to the centre of Coniston and, from its junction with the A593, take the lane (Sun
Hill) between the Coppermines Cottage Agency and Church Beck, and climb to the Sun Inn, forking right immediately after. Pass through a gate into a field, cross Scrow Beck, then follow the woodland-edge track. Pass through a gate and continue through the valley, with Church Beck on the right. Don’t cross Miner’s Bridge; instead continue ahead, on a smaller path, passing through a wall. The path bears left, climbing more steeply to the corner, between walls, before passing
through another wall. The route gets steeper, climbing to a track junction. Bear right, forking left soon after to continue climbing. The path narrows, meandering up to disused mine workings. Loose stones can make this section interesting, particularly after rain.

2. 1.5 MILES/2.5 KM Zigzag up to Low Water. Here the path veers left, to snake its way along the final climb to the summit of the Old Man, steep in places. The path follows the ridge top, overlooking Low Water, to the large summit cairn. Enjoy the views of South Lakeland, the Pennines and the Isle of Man, although Wainwright suggests in the fourth of his Pictorial Guides that tourists prefer gawping at Blackpool Tower and other man-made objects. While Dow Crag looks impressive and the Skiddaws can be spied from here, Wainwright felt the view from Swirl How offered the serious walker a better vista.

Reflections in Levers Water

3. 2.5 MILES/4 KM From the Old Man’s summit (2633ft), the route follows the obvious ridge past the OS trig point before dropping briefly, then climbing again to the summit of Brim Fell (2611ft). Continue ahead, dropping to regain the ridge, with good views of Seathwaite Tarn to the left. Ignore the steep path on the right, down Levers Hawse towards Levers Water, but continue ahead up Swirl Band towards the summit of Swirl How (2630ft) and a T-junction of paths. Wainwright was right: being closer to the Central Fells, the views from here include the Isle of Man, Scafell, Great Gable, Bowfell, the Langdale Pikes, Blencathra, Helvellyn, Fairfeld and the Pennines.

4. 4.25 MILES/7 KM From the summit cairn, turn right, to take Prison Band, dropping steeply in places, to a path junction. Turn right here, bearing left around the fell side to pick up the western
flanks of High Wether and Low Wether Crags, then dropping to the edge of Levers Water. Follow this to the weir, and bear left on a wider track to the stream’s left. Follow this downhill, and where the track turns sharp right, continue ahead on a smaller path, bearing gently round to the left. Pass through a stone wall, bearing gently left. Ignore a path off to the right and continue to drop into the
Coppermines Valley, eventually reaching a wide track just before a stream. Turn right here, passing a building and follow this between two more buildings (Youth Hostel on right) to another track. Turn left and follow this, to pick up the stream again, on the left, past a row of cottages (and a bridge) on the left. The track crosses the stream, is joined from the left by the track from the cottages, and drops steadily to the Miner’s Bridge. Turn right to cross this, then left to retrace your steps into Coniston.

Low cloud between the Old Man of Coniston and Wetherlam

Walking can be strenuous, and it is up to you to approach it with caution and if you are inexperienced to do so under appropriate supervision. You should also carry appropriate clothing, equipment and maps, and wear suitable footwear. The details given here were believed to be correct at the time of going to press but neither the author nor Country Publications Ltd can accept responsibility for inaccuracies.


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