Coppermines to the Brim

Church Beck, Miners Bridge by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerIt was raining harder than I expected it to be at home, it probably wasn't going to be much better in the Lake District on a day when I was hoping to get some photos of an interesting valley. It was still raining when I got to Coniston village but when I set off on the road towards Coppermines Valley Youth Hostel it had turned to drizzle so I was able to ignore it for a while. Coppermines Valley and the surrounding area bear the scars of much more mining and quarrying than a small village like Coniston could support; every stream, valley and rock outcrop has its own story to tell.

The road is tarmac to start with but by the time you get to Miner's Bridge it is still a good surface but not as hard on the feet as tarmac. Down to the left is Church Beck flowing swiftly over its rocky bed, by the time you get to Miner's Bridge the stream is at your level and either side of the bridge are some attractively rugged waterfalls. Then the length of Coppermines Valley comes into view with a massive spoil heap dwarfing what are now holiday cottages at the upper end of the valley. The hills are shrouded in mist and the many streams look like irregular white ribbons coming down to the valley.

Looking up Coppermines Valley by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerThe spoil heaps from mining and quarrying are undoubtedly ugly but there is a fascination about the amount of material moved by men using only hand tools. The active and dormant quarry works also add to the view, ugly and fascinating in equal amounts. The track is good enough for cars to get to the Youth Hostel, the building at the far end of the wide, flat valley before it becomes suitable for quarry traffic only. At this point a track veers of to an active quarry following Levers Water Beck while the real Coppermines Valley is ahead in the direction of Red Dell Beck.

The most intriguing of the copper mines are not in the valley of the same name, follow the track alongside Levers Water Beck past the ugly active quarry to a footbridge crossing the beck. There are a couple of Levels (entrances to horizontal mine shafts) near the footbridge but from the footbridge is a view up Levers Water Beck of the fascinating looking gash of Simon's Nick. This is the route I have come here for, having crossed over the bridge there is a precarious looking path across the spoil heaps high above the beck.

Coppermines Valley Youth Hostel by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI set off up the path, it was neither too strenuous nor too difficult but soon there is a view of a spectacular waterfall, the hard rock of the stream bed causes a fan shaped cascade. As you walk across the scree like surface it is obvious that it is a spoil heap, the copper coloured rocks giving a clue as to why this waste material exists, Simon's Nick is a deep notch in the skyline. As you get near to the dam of Levers Water you have to scramble over the hard rock that makes the waterfalls, there are enough footholds in between the slippery slabs.

There is some shelter in the lee of the dam wall but above it the rain can not be ignored any longer, waterproof trousers and gloves have to be put on now. There is a spectacular gash in the rock face here, how on earth did men using hand tools take a six feet wide by thirty feet high slice out of the hill. I had intended making a climb of Brim Fell End but I forgot to bring my Wainwright guide with me and the wet, windy conditions with a steep unknown ridge are a bad combination.

Levers Water Beck by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerHowever there is a faint path going up the ridge so I guess there is no harm in seeing where that will take me, at worst I will end up at Swirl Hause. The faint path goes steeply up scree or is it spoil heap, not on the ridge so maybe there is an easier way up. The path seems to be taking me high above Levers Water in the direction of Swirl How but suddenly it disappeared or more likely I lost it, I'm not going to go back so the only way is up.

A shallow groove, a grassy gully seems to be heading up towards a skyline but in this mist it could be a trap but my mental image of the map tells me I should be OK. It is a steep green slope but there is enough variation in the surface for it not to be too much of a slog. The biggest problem with these sorts of slopes is not the steepness as such but when combined with swampy areas it can be difficult not to slip or fall into muddy holes as you scramble upwards. I continued to go up towards he skyline until I reached scree, large slippery stones that aren't guaranteed not to move, the steep wet route was preferable at this stage.

Simons Nick above the spoil heaps by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerI got to a small ledge above the wettest of the slope and the surface changed to shorter grass on firmer ground with a liberal sprinkling of slippery rocks on top of the grass. I can see a col above that I presume is the gap between the real Brim Fell and its better known summit on the whale back ridge of Brim Fell Rake between Swirl How and Coniston Old Man. Fortunately my mental map is correct and just before I got to the col I found a path coming up from Levers Water that continues onwards and downwards to Low Water.

The drizzle hasn't relented all the way up, my clothing is very wet on the outside and the visibility is poor when I reached the col. I turned right for a short scramble up a small rocky ridge, taking care on the slippery rock but having had enough grass already to consider bypassing the rock. Above the short ridge is a big wide hill with no path, it is obvious to me that I should head for higher ground but it could be a scary place if you weren't used to the space and the mist.

Entrance to Copper Mine at Levers Water by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerBrim Fell is a much bigger hill than it looks from the ridge and it takes a few minutes before I reached the over cairned path over the whale back, this is one of the most cairned paths I have seen. I turned left at a cairn and followed lots of good sized cairns before I reached the summit, the cairn here is of a different class, it is carefully built of similar sized rocks rather than just being a heap of stones. This ridge walk is windy and misty, I don't remember it any other way, but if you keep to the ridge you can't go wrong.

After a short climb through the mist you can see the massive platform cairn at the summit of Coniston Old Man, the sheltered side is full of other walkers, the first other people I had seen on the day. It was time for a course correction, I wasn't going to finish my planned route before it went dark and I didn't fancy being beaten up by the wind again over Brim Fell. I set off back towards Brim Fell but took the obvious path branching to the left, obvious became eroded as I got closer to Goats Hawse. There is no clue that the splendid facade of Dow Crag is close and there is no point in descending to Goat's Water for the view of it.

The ascent of Brim Fell by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerAfter walking across the wet hawse the path upwards is over firmer ground on an obvious path at first, as you get higher there are more boulders and the path is easier to lose. The final scramble to the rocky summit of Dow Crag is one of the delights of the Lake District, excitingly exposed there is a climb over rock to the small summit. The absence of a view doesn't reduce the feeling of being exposed and the rocks are very slippery making it necessary to take care. The awkward slippery scramble up to the summit can only be complemented by an equally awkward descent down the other side.

Having got off the rocky summit there is an obvious path along the edge of the crags above the steep drop to Goat's Water. The views from here should be pretty fantastic, there are steep rugged gullies and you should remember the view from the other side of Goat's Water, it is a long way down. It is a long time since I passed over Buck Pike and Brown Pike, I had a strange feeling of not being sure of where I was with no visibility on an unfamiliar path. As the path changed direction I had to look at my map and fortunately I seemed to be where I thought I was, shortly afterwards I reached the path known as the Walna Scar Road.

Brim Fell summit cairn by Andy Wallace Andy FellwalkerTurn left and the road is a rough steep track, very eroded but not difficult you are more likely to see four wheel driven vehicles or motor bikes than people. Once the rough track becomes more reasonable it becomes viable for cars and less energetic pedestrians and makes a pleasant walk back to Coniston village.

Andy Wallace 6th November 2004

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