Lake District walk - Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 August 2017 | UPDATED: 12:16 26 August 2017
However many times you tackle Coniston’s iconic peak, a bright day never fails to inspire. John Lenehan takes the easy trail.
This walk has a bit of everything the Lake District has to offer with magnificent views, two great mountains, hidden tarns and, best of all, by doing the walk the way I suggest, it involves a lot less steep climbing to reach the summits of the two peaks.
The starting point of this walk means that straight away you are up in the fells. Purists might take the view that this walk should start in the village of Coniston but to reach my starting point on foot involves a trudge up a steep single-track road from the village. Given the number of cars usually on the car park it seems I am not alone in taking the motorised option.
1. Leave the car parking area and follow the Walna Scar Road. The track is wide and the walking is very good but eventually a few short steep sections are encountered and the track is a little rough but still good.
2. If there are a lot of walkers en route it is quite probable that most of them will leave the Walna Scar Road at this point and go right to climb the good path up to Goat’s Water and Goat’s Hawse. It can be tempting to follow the crowd when walking on a new route but resist the temptation to follow the majority at this point and keep on the Walna Scar Road. Carry on to Torver Bridge and a lovely stone foot bridge then take time to look up the valley behind you and admire the view between Dow Crag and the rounded western flanks of Coniston Old Man on the right.
Note: Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man are two dramatic Lake District mountains but in different ways. The drama of Dow Crag is natural. Its near vertical eastern face, with its huge crags plunging hundreds of feet from the summit to the deep tarn of Goat’s Water, was created by Ice Age glaciers and subsequent erosion. The dramatic Coniston Old Man was the result of the same sequence of natural events that formed Dow Crag. Much later men searching for slate gouged massive quarries and soon tunnels were driven into the mountain and millions of tons of slate were ripped out. It is probably one of the most visited summits in the Lake District but I wonder how many of the thousands that stand on the top realise that below their feet the mountain is virtually hollow!
Carry on following the track as it leaves the bridge and starts to climb gradually then steeply to the coll that is the Walna Scar Pass and the summit of the Walna Scar Road that from here descends into Dunnerdale.
On a clear day the view as you reach this point over to Harter Fell and the Scafell range is breathtaking.
3. At the coll take the obvious wide track that goes right and starts to climb the flank of Brown Pike. It is a little steep in places but it is relatively short and, once on the summit of Brown Pike, the path to Dow Crag summit is obvious. Dow Crag looks huge and the path below it looks steep, but the height difference between the two is 315 feet and this is spread pretty evenly along the length of the ridge. In reality, it is pretty easy walking.
4. Brown Pike Summit. The views just get better as now to the left the Isle of Man comes into view and to the right beyond the almost vertical plunge into the valley Coniston Lake and Morecambe Bay stand out as does the bulk of Coniston Old Man opposite. Follow the path as it skirts the ridge with the valley on the right and pass the heads of the huge gullies that cut the eastern crags of Dow Crag. It is easy now to see why they should not be used as an escape route in bad weather. The terrain now becomes rocky from to Dow Crag summit.
5. Dow Crag summit is on top of a small steep rocky tower and a bit of scrambling is required to actually stand on it. It is not really serious rock climbing but does require using hands to get up it. This has got to be the place to eat lunch on a warm, clear day and admire the stunning views. Leave the summit but, for obvious reasons, not on the valley side and scramble back to the path then bear right and follow the path that is now a little indistinct down to the coll that is Goat’s Hawse.
Note: Once at Goat’s Hawse take time to walk over to the left away from the Goat’s Water side and admire the view over Seathwaite Tarn and on to Harter Fell that from here looks a perfect pyramid.
Cross the Hawse and start to climb the good path uphill keeping right at the fork then keep on the path as it bears right and uphill towards the summit of Coniston Old Man. The path is steep as it leaves the Hawse but gradually gets less as it reaches the summit ridge.
Note: To the left of the ridge, the flanks of the Old Man take a different appearance. Gone are the rounded western slopes that have been on view for the majority of the walk. The north-eastern side is the complete opposite and crags plunge vertically into the cove containing Low Water Tarn. The views are good but, in my opinion, not quite as good as the views from Dow Crag. Wetherlam across the valley really does stand out as the impressive mountain it truly is. The valley between the two mountains looks peaceful today but over 100 years ago this was one of the most industrialised places in the Lake District. Copper mines riddle the slopes of Wetherlam and Swirl How above Levers Water and slate mines riddle the slopes of Coniston Old Man and the produce of both was cut, milled or crushed in huge factories that once sat in the valley. The noise must have been incredible.
6. Coniston Old Man summit. It is fair to say that on a nice sunny day you are very unlikely to be alone on this spot. The day we did the walk there must have been 40 people in various parties admiring the view.
Note: The proximity of the mountain to Coniston and the fact that the car park on the Walna Scar Road makes it a relatively easy spot to start the climb to the summit makes it a very popular tourist mountain. That doesn’t mean that the climb up from there or Coniston is easy as it certainly isn’t and there must be many sore legs of first time mountaineers that have underestimated it.
Leave the summit and take the obvious path that heads down in the direction of Coniston. The path is very steep and rocky but in places it is stepped to help ease erosion. It turns into the cove and below some old quarry workings then winds its way down to Low Water and runs parallel before bending right away from it and carries on down hill. Eventually the path reaches the ruins of what was a slate cutting building with the rusted shell of what was once the electric motor that ran the saw inside it. The motor was made in Leeds.
Note: This area gives an insight into how massive the workings were. Scattered around are the huge wire ropes that were part of an aerial overhead cable system that transported the rough slate from the workings above on and inside the mountain to be cut. If you look up the mountain there are still some support towers for the wire ropes in place. There are also railway tracks in place that carried the slate to and from the cutting saw.
Keep following the path as it skirts past a man made support wall and step over the two wire ropes that cross the path and keep going down hill. Eventually over to the right you can see the distant car park area on the Walna Scar Road.
The path eventually turns into a track and meets with the paths coming up out of the valley. The track itself bends sharp right here so simply this all the way to the Walna Scar Road car park area.
DOW CRAG AND CONISTON OLD MAN
Start and Finish: Car park area Walna Scar Road above Coniston Village
Distance: 6 Miles/9.65 Km
Time: 4.5 Hours
Terrain: Obviously a bit of steep hill walking but mainly on good tracks and paths. The descent from Dow Crag to Goats Hawse is rocky and the path is not as distinct as the rest of the walk and the descent from Coniston Old Man is very steep at first and rocky. Good boots are a must and walking poles would help on some sections if your knees are a bit dodgy. It is important for walkers to note that in bad weather DO NOT try to descend from Dow Crag via any of the gullies down to Goats Water they are extremely dangerous.
Map: OL6 The English Lakes South Western Area
Facilities: Public Toilets in Coniston Village.
Watering Hole: The Crown Inn, Coniston
John my friend and I ordered steak pie and chips and what a steak pie it was. To say huge would be an understatement and it looked as though the landlord had bought extra large plates to fit it all on. It was very good but did eventually defeat us. There is also a good range of real ales including a wonderful pint of Golden Ale. As driver I had to make do with orange cordial.
The Crown Inn, Coniston 015394 41243