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Coniston Old Man

 
   

 

© Ann Bowker

 

 

Height: 803m (2,635ft) GPS: SD 27237 97815 Walking Routes

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 Torver village.

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 traffic.

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.

Walking routes near Coniston Old Man

 

 

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