Sunday, 24 March 2013

Coniston Old Man via Swirl How

A while ago I was invited to an Outdoors Magic meet based at the YHA's Coppermines Youth Hostel in Coniston in the Lake District. The weekend planned was perfect timing as there were no other commitments and no football matches. However due to United's success in cup competitions this year a league game which I have already pre-paid for with my season ticket ended up being re-arranged to the Saturday I was due to be in the Lakes. This and the fact I had a difficult week at work, threatened to ruin my plans to head north. Knowing I would regret it if I didn't make the effort to go I decided not to miss out on a chance to walk up a mountain and see my outdoor buddies even if it was now just for the one night.

YHA Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel, Lake District National Park

After watching United beat Norwich in what was actually a much more exciting match than predicted, I headed north. It was an easy journey though I was forced to drive a lot slower than normal as my car needs its wheel alignment tracking fixing. By the time I reached the South Lakes junction on the M6 my hands were in pain from the wheel wobble I experienced every time I went over seventy miles per hour. I arrived in Coniston after a fun drive through the dark and empty country lanes and headed straight for the Black Bull Inn. I ordered a pint of refreshing Bluebird Bitter from the bar then sat down and listened to the guys comparing aching limbs and sharing stories from their days long walks. I was quite jealous as I knew they would probably have got better weather than I was likely to get on the Sunday. Some of them had also done the only route I am yet to do in the Coniston Fells, the route up Wetherlam via Steel Edge. We headed back to the youth hostel along the treacherous pot hole infested dirt track. It was one of the worst roads I had ever driven my poor old car up. We spent the rest of the night playing Jenga. It was my first time and I found it surprisingly stressful for a table top game! Unfortunately most of the guys were tired after their long walks so I was soon left by myself in the common room.

Tunnel, Paddy End Works, Copper Mines, Coniston

After a night of battling to ignore the bellowing animal like sounds of two snoring Yorkshire men I woke feeling a little sore headed. The curtains had been left open on the window in our dorm. It was a deep window sill with a tall wooden frame and a view of the countryside. It reminded me of the lounge window on Craggy Island and I half expected Mrs Doyle to go flying past the window. I have to say I wasn't overly impressed by the youth hostel, though I struggle to be impressed by most youth hostels these days. The kitchens always seem to be huge and incredibly well equipped yet the showering facilities are often useless and dirty which never makes sense to me. I find my love for youth hostels fading by the year as I grow older. I've no tolerance anymore for lack of facilities and snoring Yorkshire men. I said goodbye to the guys at the hostel and made my way along the track towards the old copper mines. I've done most routes and bagged all of the peaks in the Coniston Fells but I'd never walked up this track before.

Tunnel Entrance, Paddy End Works, Copper Mines, Coniston
The track came to an abrupt end at a bridge over the river by the mimes. There wasn't a right of way around or over the fence that traversed the bridge, despite the footpath sign on the other side pointing the way of the boulder valley route. I decided instead to follow the track that circles the mine spills to reach the far side. Half way around there looked to be another route that caught my eye. This route was the valley of the outflow from Levers Water above. I could see a path traversing the loose scree on the left hand side of the valley. The path looked loose but I was intrigued by the impressive waterfalls tumbling down the centre of the small hidden valley. Before I ascended the valley there was an old tunnel entrance that I explored.

Waterfalls in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water
The path was easy enough to traverse though it was very loose, steep and narrow in places. I certainly would have though twice had it been covered in snow or raining heavily. The waterfalls were fantastic though. One or two of them had huge pools at the foot of them that would be a great place to take a dip on a really hot summers day.

Waterfall in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water

Waterfalls in Coppermines Valley below Levers Water
As you can see from the above photo, one of the waterfalls was like a chute from a theme park. Eventually the path reached the flat outflow area below the long concrete and stone dam that holds Levers Water.

Brim Fell above Levers Water, Coniston Fells
Levers Water was only partly frozen, just around the edges. It was completely still and reflected the stunning backdrop of the frozen crags of Gill Cove Crag, Little How Crags and Great How Crags.

Swirl How above Levers Water, Consiton Fells
I walked up the eastern side of Levers Water through the boulders and over ground that was getting wetter as I ascended towards the ever decreasing and melting snow line. The ground was fairly boggy at times and I often had to circle around huge areas of peat bog before picking up the more defined path towards Swirl Hawse.

Swirl Hawe, Coniston Fells, Lake District National Park

Levers Water below Coniston Old Man, Brim Fell and Great How Crags
At Swirl Hawse the snow was half a foot deep so I put on my Microspikes and winter attire ready for the narrow and sometimes hands on scramble up the Prison Band ridge towards Swirl How. The view back towards Levers Water was awesome with the ridges coming down from Great How Crags, Little How Crags, Brim Fell and the Old Man of Coniston looking almost alpine.

Swirl How summit cairn, Coniston Fells, Lake District
The Prison Band was easy enough with the spikes on, without them it would probably have taken twice as long as there were several hands on scrambles over icy rocks and unstable snow. From the summit of Swirl How I could see all of the fells that make up the Langdale skyline.

Cairns, snow and clouds on Brim Fell

The Old Man of Coniston beyond Brim Fell summit cairn
From Swirl How I turned left and headed south towards Brim Fell and then the Old Man of Coniston. I I sat at the summit cairn on Brim Fell and ate my lunch with a big smile on my face. It was apparent from this view point that the Old Man of Coniston and the southern most fells had received a much larger dump of snow than the rest of the Lake District. Even the Scafells and the Helvellyn range both in view and much higher had less snow.

Approaching The Old Man of Coniston from Brim Fell

Myself on Brim Fell, Coniston Fells, Lake District
On the approach to the Old Man of Coniston there were a lot more people than I had seen on the rest of the ridge. There were several dogs too which were scaring the hell out of me every time they wandered off towards the cornice that hung perilously off the edge of the ridge above Low Water. One Jack Russell had me laughing though as it waled in front of me trying to get a grip on the ice and ended up looking like it was on a treadmill.

Approaching the summit of The Old Man of Coniston

Walkers on north east slope of The Old Man of Coniston

Frozen Low Water below The Old Man of Coniston
Low Water is a few hundred metres higher than Levers Water, it is open side is north east facing and is shadowed from the winter sun by the north eastern ridge of the Old Man of Coniston. It was therefore completely frozen over and looked spectacular from the summit of the Old Man of Coniston.

The Old Man of Coniston summit trig point pillar

Myself at The Old Man of Coniston summit trig point pillar
At the summit I asked a fellow walker to take a photo of me, took a few of my own, then started the descent of the surprisingly difficult north eastern ridge of the Old Man of Coniston, often referred to as its tourist route.

Frozen Low Water below The Old Man of Coniston

Frozen Low Water on descent of The Old Man of Coniston
This route can be a little bit tricky for the average tourist at the best of times but on a day like today it was pretty scary even for someone as experienced as myself. Despite this though there were many people ascending and due to the sunny weather and many people helping each other along most people looked like they were having fun. I was certainly glad to have my Microspikes on my feet and caught the eye of many inquisitive and jealous onlooker. At a few tricky sections, as you'll see from the photo below, it was actually easier to go down on your backside.

Easiest way down!
Eventually I reached the snow line around the mines below Low Water. I removed my Microspikes and winter gloves and walked the rest of the descent route. Instead of walking the usual route via Church Beck I turned left and headed down to a stile over a fence and crossed the wide pebble valley floor to reach the road to the Youth Hostel then drove back home satisfied after a great day out.

YHA Coniston Coppermines Youth Hostel, Lake District National Park

Route Map...

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  1. Love it round there! Am walking vicariously at the moment due to a rugby injury, but storing up some ideas for mobility again.....Shame about the hostel, it looks so beautifully situated there.....know what you been about the snoring though.....

  2. Top photos Jamie - it looks like you had a good walk on the Sunday.
    If you look closely at the cross-sectional profile of that long skid-mark (Easiest way down photo)I reckon you'll find it matches LMM's derriere!
    Good to meet you for the first time, we must go and drink some beer. Or go for a walk.

  3. I think I'm just getting old Howellsey and prefer to pay another tenner and have the luxuries of a B&B! :-)

    Was a great walk JJ. I was really surprised at how much snow there was on that north eastern ridge of the Old Man, understood why you lot had your axes out the day before. Was great to meet you finally too. I felt like we could have bored everyone for several hours talking passionately about our local area, I think we sent them all to bed early! Let me know if you are ever walking past Castlefield en route to the curry place! When was the Mobberley drinking cycling event you mentioned btw?

    1. Oh bugger, it was Good Friday - it's always Good Friday. Soddit....must check t'interweb more often.
      There'll be a curry soon but being realistic it won't be Easter Week, too much going on - including a multi-day trip with the Pieman.

  4. Jamie,
    You possibly spent less time taking the easy way down than some others ;)
    Good to meet you very briefly