All the Old Mans men
The days are getting longer, it is another sunny day and time to try a walk that might need a lot of daylight and good visibility. The drive up the Motorway is through thick fog but at the point where I turn off for the Lake District it suddenly vanished and it is another bright blue day. My route to Coniston means I approach the village from the south, continue northwards for one and a half miles after passing through it and take the single track road to Tilberthwaite.
From the car park is a constructed path that takes you past the old quarries, you can enter several of them through spectacular gateways in their steep regular walls. This is a splendid place to explore and to marvel at how the old timers made such big holes in the ground.
Past the quarries the path splits, the more obvious path going onwards towards the attractive head of Yewdale Beck but I can't resist the path that looks as though it is going up to a ridge. Not exactly a ridge, the path clings to the steep hillside crossing a couple of attractive small streams and passing more old quarries. Eventually after you cross Crook Beck you reach the large flat area adjacent to Yewdale Moss.
I hadn't decided which way I was going to climb Wetherlam, I thought I would see how it looked and initially just started climbing the steep grassy slopes in its general direction. The effort of the climb and the warm sunshine persuaded me to take my jacket off for a while. The extensive view northwards shows Fairfield and Helvellyn covered in mist.
Then I found a rising ridge, Steel Edge according to the map, this seems like a reasonable way up, the cold breeze quickly persuaded me to put my jacket on again. At first it is an easy gradient on a rising grassy ridge but there is an interesting looking rock outcrop ahead.
When you first get to the rock it is steep and quite exposed, there is nothing to land on below for quite a while if you fall off. There is a stony, eroded way through the rocks but it is easier and much more fun to climb up the hard dry rock. All too soon you arrive at a flatter area and after passing a small tarn you turn right on a path that takes you to Wetherlam summit.
On this path to the summit the views are extensive, Coniston Old Man is well seen with the large corrie it shares with Brim Fell containing Levers Water. The spoil heaps from the quarries are seen as being enormous amounts of waste material, despoiling a fine hill in that way just wouldn't be tolerated these days. Swirl How looks a fine mountain ridge from this direction, you wouldn't recognise it from its summit.
Wetherlam summit is a fine, rugged summit and the views are very extensive, all around are blue skies and high cloud, except for the fact that the Scafell group is hidden under mist. The path to Swirl How is marked by cairns but there is no need to find them, today I was just able to head towards my next objective and I found the obvious path.
The path follows the contours around the intermediate summit of Black Sails, I would have visited it if I didn't have a full agenda for the day. From the path is a view I have not seen before, Pike o' Stickle sticking up like a sore thumb with Pike o' Blisco in the foreground, Crinkle Crags and Bowfell are also well seen.
When you get to Swirl Hause you get a good view of Coniston Water with Levers Water in the foreground, Prison Band looks steep and intimidating. The climb up Prison Band is steep, rocky and strenuous but interesting and somehow far more satisfying than an easy climb up grass. The summit of Swirl How gives the best collective views of the Old Man's fells, not many places show you Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag as separate and distinct hills.
From Swirl How it is a simple ten minute walk to Great Carrs, it makes you wonder why not all of Swirl How's visitors take the effort to admire it from the view point on Great Carrs. On the walk to Great Carrs you pass the remains of a crashed World War 2 aircraft and beyond is a splendid view of the Scafell group, a view to give you plenty to ponder about.
What did I say about the view from Swirl How? The view from Great Carrs summit shows Swirl How, Old Man and Dow Crag in one eyeful and a view of the Scafells, snow capped and surrounded by bad weather. The way to Grey Friar is obvious and simple, just make a beeline for it across the flat area called Fairfield. There is no path downwards but you aim for the path you can see on Grey Friar, the view of the Scafells gets a bit clearer.
Grey Friar is another relatively grassy fell crowned with rocks, one cairn gives probably the best view of the Scafell group in the Lake District and the summit cairn gives you Dow Crag. On this sunny but cold day I sat out of the wind while I had a drink of coffee and as I was sitting down I noticed some low cloud in the direction of Harter Fell and some small snowflakes landed on me.
I retraced my step towards Fairfield and followed a faint path around the top of Calf Cove. By now Grey Friar was obscured by mist and shortly afterwards I had to put on waterproof trousers and winter gloves as first snow and then cold rain swept across the fells. Within twenty minutes the conditions had changed from bright and clear to cold and grey.
The walking is easy contouring around the head of Calf Cove with its occasional views of Seathwaite Tarn until you join the main path at Levers Hause for the climb up to Brim Fell. The weather has now settled down to being cold and misty, it is how I remember Brim Fell. I can't imagine that many people go to climb Brim Fell for itself, it is the ridge between Coniston Old Man and Swirl How and if you keep to the top of the flat ridge you can't go wrong. Why then are there so many large cairns along the top of Brim Fell?
At the barely discernible col between Brim Fell and the Old Man you can cut across the grass to join the path going down from Coniston Old Man to Goat Hawse. The path is alright but I hate losing all of this height when I know I will have to climb up the same way again later. From the hawse begins yet another climb, this time to Dow Crag, there are occasional glimpses through the mist of Goat's Water and the rocky summit of Dow Crag.
There is no easy path to Dow Crag summit, you have to clamber over rock to the highest pinnacle, perhaps the most pointed summit in the Lake District. The effort is well worth it when the visibility is good but you can't leave it anyway having got this far. I then scrambled off the summit back to the path down to Goat Hawse hoping that I was about to make the last climb of the day.
The climb to Coniston Old Man summit isn't that hard really but after seven hours you usually hope to be going downhill. There were still plenty of people on the summit but today wasn't the day they were going to see Blackpool Tower. I used the popular route to descend, a steep and eroded path, that takes you past Low Water.
I always remember the first time I saw Low Water, it was a beautiful almost turquoise colour but I have never seen it that way since. Today too it looked beautiful, half frozen with strange icy patterns and the water a dark green/blue shade unlike anything else I have seen.
The path then goes through the old quarry workings, it just wouldn't be possible to leave such a mess these days but it has a fascination that you wouldn't want to change now. As you get past the old quarries the path splits, one branch taking you to Coniston and the other in the direction of Torver. Just before that though are two large cairns on the left at the bottom of the last eroded section of the path.
In between the two large cairns is a smaller cairn and a faint path goes off to the left over the grass and through the boulders to Boulder Valley. This is where I have to be clever, how do I get back to Tilberthwaite without having to go down to Coniston and face at least a couple of miles slog along the road. While I was coming down through the quarries I could see many paths on the other side of the valley, is it as straightforward as it looks?
There is a path that takes you through Boulder Valley, past the Pudding Stone (a boulder with a name?) and across a wooden footbridge. You follow an eroded path down by the side of Low Water beck, above the active quarry and across the footbridge over Levers Water beck, don't forget to look up to see Simon's Nick. Keep following the path around the heads of the valleys and the path becomes a sort of earthwork leading to yet another footbridge over Red Dell Beck at the head of Coppermines Valley.
Then you start to head downhill a bit, through lots of ruined buildings and past some more mine entrances until you almost reach some cottages. Then uphill again, through more quarries until you reach a hairpin bend in the path and you go north to pick up Hole Rake. Ever upwards and northwards, glad to reach flatter ground hoping for a quick return to the car. The path disappears and the walk seems endless, I was hoping to see familiar landmarks but the only thing that is familiar is Wetherlam, without it I would have felt lost.
Eventually the occasional faint signs of a path lead to the tracks of a quad bike and I start to descend and finally I reach the road. Ten more minutes walk along the road to get back to the car, another fifteen minutes and it would have been dark.
Andy Wallace 6th March 2004
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