The Old Man of Coniston

On Christmas Eve we thought there was no way better to get into the festive spirit than ticking a few more Wainwrights off our list. We therefore jumped in the car and decided to do a circular walk to bag another four or five summits – no better way to earn a guilt free Christmas binge-eating session! The fells were picture perfect with a festive sprinkling of snow and blue skies stretching as far as the eye could see. We set off from the car park thinking we’d have an easy enough six mile stroll over some of the most stunning peaks in Lakeland, however, we ended up having slightly more of an adventure than we anticipated…

We parked at Walna Scar car park just outside of Coniston to start the walk. Pay and display machines have recently been installed here, but these were out of order, so we got free parking which was lovely! There are a few Wainwrights in the vicinity of Walna Scar, and the idea was to head across to Dow Crag after summiting the Old Man of Coniston, but we decided to abandon this after reaching the summit of the Old Man of Coniston and experiencing some pretty wild weather!

Despite being very mild nearly all of the way up, with little to no wind, as soon as we reached the snowline the wind started to pick up and conditions were increasingly treacherous. Despite the sun and panoramic views it was brutal up there, with compacted snow forming icy slides across the entire path, and a wind chill of minus thirteen!

Looking across to Brim Fell from the Old Man of Coniston

It would be impossible for me to overestimate how cold it was on the summit. Luckily I was wrapped up warm in my many, many layers, and my water resistant pants kept me dry every time the wind blew me into a snow drift! However I did end up pretty thirsty after an hour or so as my water actually froze in my reservoir.

Not long after crossing over to Brim Fell we decided to turn around and head back down the way we’d come up rather than continuing on to Dow Crag. The wind was battering us all over the place and it was impossible to stay upright at times – definitely time to call it a day and head down to safety. Winter walking can be unpredictable and sometimes you have to recognise that the mountains will still be there another day!

The route up the Old Man of Coniston from Walna Scar is very easy to follow, without being very steep until you start the final ascent just after Low Water. It was here that the snow and slipping over started for us, and where we saw a lot of the ‘less well prepared’ walkers without proper boots or coats giving up and turning back! It was reasonably busy considering the time of year, but given that the Old Man of Coniston is one of the most popular fells in the Lake District I don’t think you can ever expect to have the fell to yourself, and at least it wasn’t swarming like I imagine it gets in summer.

The walk up is stunning with exceptional views right from the start. You pass the remnants of old slate mines, which seemed to be a popular exploration stop for families with kids, but be careful as we did see a few kids in tears after tripping over the scattered detritus! Starting at Walna Scar also cuts out a lot of the uphill as you start practically half way up (yes, I know it’s lazy, no, I don’t care).

Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Dogs need to be on a lead or under closed control for the entirety of this walk, as like many places in the Lakes, there are plenty of sheep knocking about. I’m going to have a little rant here so please skip to the end if you’re a non-dog owner/not interested – but if you are a dog owner, your dog should be on a lead around livestock unless it’s recall is 100% solid (and I mean 100%). Merry was on a lead for the entirety of this walk (I’ve photoshopped the lead out of this photo) as even though he’s never shown the slightest interest in sheep, I’m not sure that he wouldn’t ever go over and investigate. If you’re not sure – don’t risk it. On our way back down to Walna Scar we saw a group of three people with a collie, off the lead, approach a band of sheep. The collie raced after the sheep as soon as it set eyes on them and of course all the owners could do was screech ineffectually at their dog (ironically named Lucifer) to leave the sheep alone. Thankfully the dog gave up before it caught one, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less traumatic for the sheep, and could potentially cause any pregnant ewes to miscarry. Sheep are the livelihood of many Lakeland Farmers and they are well within their rights to shoot your dog if it’s caught worrying livestock – are you prepared to take that risk?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest… back to my dog friendly rating. I think maybe I’m being a bit mean and knocking off half a point due to my ire at the irresponsible dog walkers mentioned above – but even with the extra half a point dogs won’t perhaps enjoy this as much as a run around Grizedale Forest (which you can read about in my blog 5 Undiscovered Lake District Walks). Low Water did look incredibly inviting (if you’re a dog) and I had to bodily drag Merry past (no way I was letting him have a dip in sub zero temperatures and snow!), but I imagine this would be a lovely place to stop and let your dog have a drink and a paddle in summer. Also, by starting at Walna Scar, you cut out all road walking which in my mind is always a bonus.

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