The Old Man is the highest point in historical
Lancashire, though following the 1974 revision of county boundaries in
England it now lies, for administrative purposes, within Cumbria. This
assertion rests upon its being higher than its near northern neighbour,
Swirl How. There appears to be some doubt in the current literature over
whether the height of Swirl How is 802 or 804 m, following resurveying.
If modern measurement has not added 2 m to its rival then The Old Man of
Coniston is the highest point in the Furness Fells, and the twelfth most
prominent mountain in England.
The Coniston (or Furness) Fells
form the watershed between Coniston Water in the east and the Duddon
valley to the west. The range begins in the north at Wrynose Pass and
runs south for around 10 miles (16 km) before petering out at Broughton
in Furness on the Duddon Estuary.
The central part of the
Coniston range can be likened to an inverted 'Y' with Brim Fell at the
connecting point of the three arms. The main spine of the ridge runs
north over Swirl How and Great Carrs and south west to Dow Crag and the
lower hills beyond. The third arm is a truncated spur, running only half
a mile to the summit of the Old Man before tumbling away south eastward
to the valley floor. This ridge end position gives the fell a sense of
isolation and increased stature, with steep faces on three sides.
To the west is the deep trench containing Goatís Water. This
elongated tarn has a depth of about 50 ft (15 m). and contains trout and
char. Enclosed by high ground, it has an outlet to the south through a
field of boulders. This is one of the headwaters of Torver Beck, which
passes a disused quarry near the Tranearth climbing hut, keeping the
workings topped up via an artificial but extremely picturesque
waterfall. The stream finally issues into Coniston Water to the south of
The southern and eastern flanks of The Old Man
are composed of rough ground, deeply pockmarked by slate quarries. One
of these quarries, Bursting Stone, is still operating to produce an
olive green slate. Across the southern slopes runs the Walna Scar Road.
This was the original trade route between Coniston village and the
settlements of the Duddon Valley and is a public byway open to all
The first section rising steeply from Coniston is a
metalled road, maintained partly to provide access to the quarry. This
leads to a carpark at an altitude of 740 ft (230 m), a popular starting
point for climbs. Beyond here motor vehicles are prohibited, but the
track continues to its summit at 2,000 ft (610 m), crossing the ridge to
the south of Dow Crag.
Coniston Old Man has no connecting ridges
other than that to Brim Fell, but a discernible rib falls due east via
Stubthwaite Crag and Crowberry Haws. Below the tourist route path, this
rib climbs again to The Bell, a fine rocky top (1,099 ft) with excellent
views of the lake and village.
Nestling beneath the northern face
of The Old Man, and cradled between it and Ravenís Tor, is Low Water.
This fine corrie tarn has been dammed in the past to provide water for
the quarries, but all of its water now issues via a fine cascade of
falls into the Coppermines Valley. This area, shared with the
neighbouring fells of Brim Fell and Wetherlam, is heavily scarred by
historic copper, nickel and cobalt mining, particularly in the latter
half of the 19th century.
The summit of the fell carries a unique
construction, a combined slate platform and cairn. The popularity of
this climb has resulted in the resident sheep being quite tame, and they
show no fear in rifling unwatched bags for food. The extensive view from
the summit on a clear day includes much of the southern Lake District,
Morecambe Bay, Blackpool Tower, Winter Hill, the Lancashire coast and
the Isle of Man. Perhaps the highlight is the close up view of Dow Crag.
The fell is normally climbed from
Coniston village via Church Beck and the mines (the tourist route).
Alternatives include the south ridge and the path to Goatís Water, both
ascending from the Walna Scar Road. The carpark at the top of the
metalled section provides a headstart for these routes. The Walna Scar
Road can also be reached from Torver, or from Seathwaite in the Duddon
Valley, although the latter results in an indirect climb via Dow Crag.
routes near Coniston Old Man