Lake District Walks
Date: 25th March 2006
Distance: 9.4 miles
Ascent: 3607 feet
Time: 7 hours 45 minutes
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SD310976
A wet and wintry and sometimes dramatic walk around the Coniston fells.
Route Summary: Fir Trees B&B, Coniston - Church Beck - Low Water - Old Man of Coniston - Brim Fell - Swirl How - Prison Band - Black Sails - Wetherlam - Hole Rake - Miners Bridge - Fir Trees B&B, Coniston.
1. Scrow Beck
2. The Coppermines Valley
3. The Miner's Path climbing up to Low Water
4. Some old mine workings
5. The superb view from the top of the Old Man
6. A glimpse of Levers Water from above Little How Crags
7. The top of Swirl How
8. Levers Water from Prison Band
9. Descending Prison Band in the snow
10. Looking back up Prison Band to Swirl How
11. Swirl How and Great Carrs from Black Sails
12. My companion heading for Wetherlam from Black Sails
13. The Old Man of Coniston
14. Coniston Water
Walk Detail: After the disappointing weather of the day before (including my aborted walk on Holme Fell) I awoke to more rain in the morning but I was determined to manage some sort of walk especially as the forecast was for improving weather. Before setting out I was greatly fortified by what was the largest and certainly the best cooked breakfast I think I have ever eaten including 2 rashers of bacon, two sausages, 2 eggs, 2 pieces of fried bread and a piece of black pudding.
By about 9.30am the rain had stopped and I set off for a day on the fells in reasonably high spirits. The beginning of the walk revealed the tumultuous current of Church Beck which was full of the melting snow coming down from the hills on a day which was noticeably warmer.
The sudden appearance of the Coppermines Valley and youth hostel back by a circle of fells was a stunning moment. The climb was steep and rocky but I was encouraged by the odd patch of sunlight breaking through the cloud. However the path became increasingly difficult, one moment it was like climbing a lively beck, and the next moment skating over the icy surface of a heavily trodden path.
Arrival at Low Water heralded a further change in conditions. I was now in the cloud and the path was now reduced to a series of footprints in the snow. The final climb to the Old Man was the least pleasant part of the walk and there were times when I regretted the decision to set out especially since I was on my own. The conditions underfoot were quite challenging, in places the snow was at least two feet deep and you had to regularly dig your boots in order to get a foothold.
Along the way people loomed in and out of sight with the most memorable sight been a father and young son (aged about five or six) with crampons with the son attached to the father by a rope. The summit when I finally made it was covered in cloud and with no visibility at all to speak of I hesitated as to which route I wanted to take. The choices were to either go straight back down (which I really did not want to do) or head for Goats Hause or Swirl How.
I’d made the decision to head for Goats Hause when I spoke to a man I’d seen earlier on the ascent and whose confident use of crampons and ice axe had led a number of us to use his footprints. This man, whose name I never knew, said the best way was via Swirl How and Prison Band. When I expressed some concern about descending Prison Band in the current conditions he said it would be fine and offered his company on the route.
I accepted and what followed was a magnificent walk round Brim Fell, Swirl How, Black Sails and Wetherlam. My companion and I chatted all the way round. We shared many tips on where to go walking and while my companion was much more experienced (including Kilimanjaro) there were a few fells I had been on which he had not. We also shared a few laughs as we regularly went knee deep, and on occasion higher, into the snow.
As far as Swirl How we were still in the cloud level but as we began to descend Prison Band the cloud began to break and we shared some spectacular views and at one point could even see Skiddaw and Blencathra. The only summit we had a view from though was Black Sails as we were temporarily beclouded again on Wetherlam.
As we descended the south ridge of the latter the cloud finally lifted from the top of the Old Man. I found the whole experience uplifting. When we parted in Coniston we shook hands, almost certainly never to see each other again, but having shared a superb day together.