Old Man of Coniston

Tuesday 13th September 2022

My first ever walk in the Lake District! I’d skipped the chance to climb Scafell Pike on Monday, as the weather was abysmal and it was more than an hour’s drive from the campsite. But Coniston was only twenty-five minutes north of where I was staying. I hadn’t ranked the Old Man too highly on my to-do list but it would be very convenient and probably worth doing.

Link to the original route I (mostly) followed on OS Maps

I decided to leave my car in the Old Station Car Park on Old Furness Road. I still had to pay £8 for the day but it might save me a few metres of elevation from the town itself. Some attempted to park alongside the road and without paying… But there were signs stating that these roads were for residents only and I felt it was a bit… Disrespectful to have parked right outside of the car park when there were plenty of spaces and most visitors were prepared to pay.

I was following a route I’d found on OS Maps, although I’d felt torn between a choice of two routes with minor differences.

I chose a footpath that would follow close to Church Beck and guide me towards a huge amphitheatre of mountains.

A few other walkers were on the west side of the river and presumably, taking a more direct route to the Old Man. Even on a Tuesday in September where kids and teachers were back in school, this was likely to be a fairly busy day.

I passed the hydro-electric dam before I met the sign below:

I’d never considered that any car or visitor would’ve attempted to drive to this location. But their is a youth hostel in quite the ideal location.

Then I would turn right and begin a journey towards the summit of Wetherlam.

I huffed and puffed my way up, gaining elevation quickly. A local dog walker passed me. Aside from them, I was alone on this side of the valley. A couple of wrong turns and now fingerposts or waymarking. But I would myself heading in the right direction.

A beautiful view of Coniston Water, far below and to the south-east.

I could even see further south to the coast an presumably, Morecambe Bay.

I joined Hole Rake, then veered to the left of Above Becky Fells. Between Lower Hows and Hen Crag and I could soon see the cairn of Wetherlam.

Well. I’d assumed that this was the highest point of what is apparently also a Wainwright (my first Wainwright). But it was clear to my eyes that higher ground was beyond.

Another cairn and this was more likely to be the one at 762m above sea level.

I paused for a short break while up here. Alone and at peace; still a long way from the Old Man of Coniston.

I continued west along Keld Gill Head and before the next descent, I almost caught up with two other walkers.

I continued on to a pass at Swirl Hause. One footpath leads south to Levers Water. But I would continue west along Prison Band and then up towards Swirl How.

A few minutes of scrambling and there were other people around the summit cairn. Another Wainwright (probably?) ticked off. Not that I was looking to bag or collect them! I would continue on to Great Carrs before thinking of lunch.

I found this memorial to a crashed Halifax Bomber. Also surprised that it isn’t marked or mentioned on the Ordnance Survey map. Yet other bomber memorials around the UK (thinking of the Brecon Beacons) can easily be found.

This route I was following heads west out to Grey Friar and then back to this very point. I’ll assume it’s another Wainwright… But I looked at it and couldn’t see the point in exerting myself so much. This walk was already taking a bit longer than I’d expected and, I’ll be honest, I’d underestimated the physical challenge of those “rolling, green” Lake District fells.

I’d overheard a couple of other walkers who’d also decided to not make the same detour. While I stopped for lunch at Great Carrs, overlooking this gaping valley with Greenburn Beck far below. Others had sat on the sun-blessed rocks above. To avoid their chatter, I’d opted for a low seater which was surprisingly soggy.

Now then. Time to push on and within the next hour, I’d reach the Old Man of Coniston.

Following Swirl Band, I continued heading south and with confidence.

Cairns led the way along my final ascent to the summit. I passed a couple of others heading down, almost certifying that I was on the correct path…

But, no. I had made my way to the top of Dow Crag. Prematurely! Staring across to another summit which looked suspiciously busy compared to my current position… GPS on my phone confirmed THAT was the summit of the Old Man!

It was easy enough to correct myself. It was more that I’d have to return here and climb Dow Crag again, later.

My mistake had begun at Levers Hawse. Instead of maintaining high ground above Black Crag, I veered to the west and took a lower route (highlighted in yellow) and wouldn’t realise my mistake at the next junction.

So. Now on the correct path towards the Old Man of Coniston.

Some believe that its name comes from the fact that this mountain “looks like an old man lying down”… That could be a matter of perspective. I couldn’t see it and one could say this of many hills around the UK.

I prefer the theory that this is a poor translation from two Celtic words “allt” (hill) and “maen” (stone). Both are still used in modern day Welsh and you’ll see ‘allt’ used in Scottish Gaelic too.

There’s a pretty mighty cairn at the top of this one and with its own surrounding wall.

At 803m above sea level, this was currently the highest point I had visited in the Lake District. I was pleased to have done this on a day of such little cloud.

I returned to Dow Crag and continued south past Brown Pike. From there, I would join Walna Scar Road. A long walk later and I’d meet tarmac for the first time in hours.

I’d also decided to not follow an optional there-and-back trek to White Maiden and White Pike.

At the site of a former quarry, there was a small car park that I was completely unaware of. This was the Walna Scar Car Park. Pay and display is still required and they do charge a little bit less than the £8 I’d paid. You have to manually open and then close to gate to or from the road to gain access.

There was also an ice cream van!

Back at the car park and the fee-dodgers had long since departed. One of them was a minibus running his own outdoors-themed business. Surely, he could’ve done the honest thing, paid to park and then written the cost off as a business expense?

As for my first walk in the Lake District, it had been a cracker and a beautiful day to have been on the hills, fells and mountains! I’d enjoyed this one more than I’d anticipated. I’d probably tackle it again one day. From here on, I was back to the campsite for a final night in my tent there and looking forward to another day’s walking beyond.

The original route/inspiration that I was following. I walked a good 12.75 miles including my own misdirected diversions.

Thanks for reading.


Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in Weston-super-Mare, close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset and I enjoy time spent outdoors, whether that's walking, camping or backpacking. My day job involved making furniture from recycled wood (I'm a furniture maker and carpenter by trade). I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Walks With Olly (walking, camping and kit) You can also find me on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My second YouTube channel is titled 'Walks with Olly'.

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