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The Old Man of Coniston...
The Coniston Fells comprise a group of mountains in the south of the Lake District, separated from the other Southern Fells by the Wrynose Pass, and on the south side dropping abruptly down to the plains and rolling land north of Morecambe Bay. As they stand slightly apart from the other fells they provide an excellent place to view the whole of the Lake District.
The highest peak, The Old Man of Coniston, is also the southern-most 2000 foot mountain in the Lake District, so the vertical drop on the southern side is considerable, and it may be the best fell from which to observe the Grizedale Forest and the Duddon Sands, leading to the sea. The Old Man, as it is mostly called, is only 1m higher than Swirl How, further along the ridge, and there is some controversy as to which is the highest. However it is certainly the Old Man that is the most distinctive, standing guardian above the village of Coniston; it is also the first major peak you see when driving into the Lakes from Kendal to Windermere.
It is worth examining the face of Dow Crag from The Old Man to try and spot climbers; unlike some places in the Lake District, the crag is large and easily accessible, and played an important role in the development of climbing in the region. You may spot some people half-way up a route if you look closely! The group of fells then stretches north towards Swirl How, Grey Friar and Wetherlam. A classic walk is to ascend the Old Man from Coniston and follow the ridge round, down the Prison Band, a rocky rib that leads to Wetherlam, before descending back to Coniston.
The fells here have seen industrial activity for hundreds of years, where slate and copper were mined on The Old Man. It is thought that the Romans were the first to mine here, and they had a famous fort not far from here at Hardknott. The tarn of Levers Water has also been dammed to provide hydroelectric power, a sight you cannot miss from the ridge.
Coniston itself used to have a much larger population, and a train station to supply this industry, though it is famous now for Duncan Campbell’s attempt to break the world speed record on Coniston Water in the 1950s. It is also the setting for the Swallows and Amazons books, where The Old Man features as the mountain Kanchenjunga.
The ridge walk along the tops is excellent for the little drop experienced, meaning you stay high for the whole way along. The forest and lakes in the south-east are very different from the wild hillside and rocky peaks in the north-west, which is some of the most broken country in the area, featuring the Crinkly Crags and of course the Scafell range. Walks into the Coniston Fells are possible from Coniston village, Little Langdale, the Duddon Valley or from the Wrynose Pass. There are several tarns in the area, including the dramatic Goat’s Water, easily walked to if you want a short day and providing an impressive perspective wedged between The Old Man and Dow Crag.
If The Old Man of Coniston is busy, or you’ve had enough industrial heritge for one day, try heading up Wet Side Edge from Little Langdale to Swirl how, then back via Wetherlam to complete a circuit of what are known as the Tilberthwaite Fells.
The Coniston Fells, combined with Coniston Water and the the village itself, are The Lake District in miniature, leaving nothing wanting, and are therefore an excellent place to introduce people to the Lake District, whilst being a source of infinite possibility for frequent visitors.
Author: Alex Kendall
Alex is a freelance mountain leader and writer who works all over the UK and abroad. He currently lives in Cardiff where he likes running, planning winter mountaineering trips, and orienteering. His favourite place is Snowdonia, and he is trying to write a book.
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