It’s late February and we have made a mad dash to the mountains. One of the benefits of working for yourself is setting your own deadlines and time scales, and so we checked the weather forecast, worked as hard as we could and managed to get a few days of respite in the Lake District.
It was unseasonably warm and so we made our way to hike up over the usually foreboding Old Man. My memories of the mountain (even in the heights of summer) being that it is usually cast in waves of shadow and has a stalwart presence. This day, the sun was in full glory without a cloud in the sky.
We started our journey from Walna Scar car park - full of frightening reviews claiming how hard it is to get there and a small car wouldn’t cut it. In drives myself, proving everything wrong in my tiny 1 litre engine. If you’re used to cumbrian roads and farm tracks, this car park is the perfect place for a circular walk without having to hike up a few miles of narrow, yet busy, road.
The trek from the car park is a nice gentle ramble, weaving around some of the lower fells - the views are already beautiful from this point, and indeed, the whole walk rewards you with miles upon miles of hills, mountains and lakes.
As you start to loop around, large graves of industrial heritage come into view, sweeping from the lower copper mines to the slate mines above you. You stride over thick coiled cable (used by many as a banister it would seem) that erupts from piles and piles of slate. You see lone standing and collapsed metal structures - old pulley systems to bring raw materials down from the mountain side.
It was breathtaking to see these abandoned remnants of industry strewn amongst such beautiful landscapes.
From here, a short climb takes you to a serene spot to rest your feet and hydrate before the final stretch to the summit of Coniston Old Man. Low Water is a small tarn with a reflection like glass, cupped by the mountains and surrounded by plenty of natures seats. The climb from here gets more steep, a zigzagged path above the tarn lending to dramatic views above the water.
The summit is slow to arrive. As you get closer, another mound makes itself known. Before long the large cairn and trig point comes into view along with the distant mountains toward Skafell Pike and out toward the Coast.
We had decided on a circular route that horseshoed around Goat’s Water, allowing us to conquer Dow Crag, Buck Pike and Brown Pike before descending back down toward Walna Scar. After finishing our summit picnic, we descended Old man and trod onwards toward the magnificent Dow Crag - its striking sculptures of fragmented stone pointing skyward. Here, you can traverse across the stone or skirt around the bottom. We intended to go over the tops, but it was a narrow walkway already filled with people - so we took the lower route and snagged a geocache on the way.
From here a lone Raven followed our trails - so much larger than I imagined them being. The beating of its wings made a breeze on the backs of our necks and its chattering squawk accompanied us across the ridge to Buck Pike - here it settled and watched us as we made our way toward brown pike and flew off down to Goat’s Water.
After conquering brown pike, our true descent had begun. The sun had been with us all day and had seen us hiking in just t-shirts in February. All base layers and fleeces thrown in the back pack. So after hours of rambling in the heat, the true thirst had kicked in. Despite carrying litres of cold water in our packs, we began to dream of a refreshingly cold pint awaiting our return off the mountain. But first we had a few more miles of ground to cover as we traversed a well established bridle toward the car park.
Back in the car, we head to Torver and to the welcoming Wilson’s Arms. With a pint of Windermere Pale by Hawkshead Brewery in our tired grip, we sat and soaked up the last of the winter sun in the sprawling and beautifully located beer garden before grabbing a bite to eat. Followed by a long soak in the hot tub under the clear night skies, we really felt like we were winning.
Old Man of Coniston - you may get some bad rep for being a bit of a grumpy fellow, but you sure changed our minds that day.