When: 20 April 2013
Present: Self, Stuart, Sacha
Also present: sunshine, blue sky, great views
Wainwrights: Coniston Old Man, Brim Fell, Swirl How
Hewitts: Coniston Old Man, Swirl How
Historic County Tops: Coniston Old Man
Trail 100s: Coniston Old Man (yes, 4 ticks for the price of one. Bargain!)
Conditions underfoot: mainly dry: some awkward snow patches (fortunately circumventable)
Time: 5 ¾ hours including a couple of fairly lengthy breaks
Absent: transportation foul-ups (for once) microspikes (might have been handy at a couple of points)
Dull hill quotient: Can’t see why Brim Fell is classed as a separate hill, but not going to argue.
Welcome to Wainwright Walks, the Malbec way, instalment 8: The Coniston Fells, or should that be titled, two young men, one young (ish) woman and an Old Man? It was time for another instalment, as usual with far fewer embroidered combat trousers than the Julia Bradbury version (bog-standard Craghoppers throughout ) rather more Merlot (no Malbec in the pub 😦 ) usually more curse words and considerably less art.
When we hit the Lakes it usually consists of the two of us with our mates Sacha (who for the benefit of the doubt I should point out is a bloke) and Liam. Liam was unfortunately busy the weekend we had earmarked but Sacha was keen for a return to the hills having last been hillwalking on a trip to Ullapool in August when he picked up his first Munros. On that trip he had debuted a day-glo orange breathable top so eye-wateringly bright we needed sunglasses, but this had fortunately been replaced by a slightly less eye-watering blue one.
The hard part of the weekend is probably the drive up. In order to get to the Lakes after work on a Friday night, it requires me to get up at 5.30am, 😯 drive round from Kent to a tube or train station in the North of London that has a car park, drop the car, get the tube/ train into the City, then after work reverse the process, pick up the guys and hit the motorway, usually taking about 4 ½ hours to get to the southern end of the Lakes. We’d got a cheap deal at a Travelodge just south of the Lakes on the Friday night – 19 quid a room which was a bit of a bargain and only 30 minutes drive from Ambleside. The problem was that having done this a lot of B&B/ hotels in the main tourist hotspots wouldn’t take us for just one night as they have a 2 night minimum policy. Grrr! So for the Saturday night we ended up in a hotel in Cockermouth, the loose plan being we would do something in the Southern Fells on Saturday, drive north and then do something in the Northern fells on Sunday. This sort of worked as it turned out, well for Saturday anyhow.
Sitting at my desk on Friday I was overjoyed to see a weather forecast for 90% cloud free summits for Saturday 😀 although Sunday looked ropey. This was pretty much how it transpired. We had a good run up to the Travelodge, then opened a bottle of wine and planned the route for the following day. The Coniston fells looked a good bet, good paths and the opportunity to pick off quite a few Wainwrights in one fell swoop if energy levels allowed. This was a minor concern as I had a cold and so wasn’t feeling my best. However given the weather forecast I was determined to get a good walk in and was armed with various types of Lemsip to fight it off.
This seemed to work and I felt okay the following morning, so we drove to Coniston, up the ‘interesting’ road to Walna Scar and were parked up in the car park by 9.30 and ready for the off at 9.45. The first thing I did on parking up was check the car tyres as the puncture light had started going off shortly after leaving the Travelodge, but nothing seemed to be up – the thing keeps going off when I don’t have a puncture and the one time I actually had a puncture it didn’t. We also – thanks to Sacha bringing a load of croissants – were able to dodge having to get breakfast at the service station as the last time we tried that at that particular service station it had been absolutely filthy.
We’d decided to go up the usual ‘tourist route’ to Coniston Old Man and then do a circuit, allowing us the option to pick off quite a few hills and with various drop-off points. The path is excellent and I can see why this is a hill that is done by a lot of people that don’t do hills – at least in the early stages. A nice walk in, and then the path starts gradually heading up by a series of zigzags, past a lot of old quarry workings which were actually quite interesting to look at. It was also a massive relief not to be carrying the ironmongery – the crampons and axes had been left in Scotland and although we’d brought microspikes we’d decided to leave them in the car. Kept thinking I’d forgotten something the reduced weight made that much difference. It was hot work and we were down to baselayers for much of the climb, at least until we got above Low Water.
The path was brilliant until we got to Low Water. After that though, it steepened considerably and there started to be bits that were banked out with snow. The snow wasn’t particularly hard but it was slippy and difficult to get decent purchase on so we resorted to going off-piste and circumventing the snow patches, given the lack of spikes. I’m not sure really how much help ironmongery would have been.
There was only one patch which gave any real difficulty – we watched some people ahead trying to kick steps, then giving up and going around it up some pretty steep grass. The zigzags were completely banked out and the snow patch was too steep to want to plough through it so we elected to do the same which required a bit of turf grabbing in parts. That was the last awkward bit though and the cairn was in sight with just a few more zigzags to negotiate. I was quite surprised, given that this hill is popular with non-walkers, at how steep the final bits of the ascent were and I don’t think it is a route I would have wanted to try in full winter conditions.
We eventually hit the top at just after 11.30, 1 ¾ hours after leaving the car. It was pretty windy on the top, so we didn’t hang about but headed off in the direction of Brim Fell. Coniston Old Man – as well as being 4 ticks for the price of one so a double BOGOF – was also my 20th Wainwright. The views from the summit were great, although the hill was starting to get quite busy, not that I can blame anyone for being up there on a day like that.
There is barely any drop and reascent to Brim Fell and I must admit I can’t quite understand why this is classed as a separate hill, other than because it has a bloody large cairn on it. However, I was certainly not going to quibble! We got there about 20 minutes if that after leaving the Old Man and didn’t hang about but pushed on to Swirl How as the wind was starting to get up.
Dropped down to Levers Hause, then up the other side to Swirl How. According to A. Wainwright and the map there is a drop-off point there but I could see zero evidence of it other than what looked like a vertical sheep track. Maybe there was a path there when AW was writing which has fallen into disuse now there is a good path along from the next hause/ col/ bealach or whatever you want to call it. Took a bit longer to get to the top of Swirl How, but at least it felt like it ought to be a separate hill! More good views and we ran into a guy dressed as Scooby Doo, of all things, turned out to be a stag party. We broke for lunch behind a boulder and contemplated our next move, although staying too long wasn’t an option as it was pretty windy by this point.
The obvious options from here are: break off and do Great Carrs and Grey Friar which is a bit of an annoying out and back, or drop to Prison Band and then either head for home or go up Wetherlam. Rather than necessarily add more distance on we decided to do the latter, I was starting to feel the long drive the previous day and also blowing my nose loudly on a relatively frequent basis. The drop down Prison Band is quite rocky and at one point it looks as though the path disappears over the end of a crag, however this is an illusion as there are a couple of rock steps which were easily negotiated by judicious use of the ‘arse crampon’ as I believe it is known. We decided not to head up Wetherlam in the end as the path was obviously banked out with snow at one point where it traverses the side of the hill and we also had our minds on a nice walk out and then some post walk drinks, so we dropped off at Swirl Hause and headed down to Levers Water. A lovely spot, and we sat here for quite a while chilling out and eating snacks before getting going back to the car.
The route back cuts up the side of Levers Water, through something marked on the map as ‘Boulder Valley’ and then across a corrie (or whatever the Cumbrian is for that) which has some amazing waterfalls, which didn’t come out in the photos as there was too much sun! A small drop over a bridge, then cut across to pick up the main path again back to the Walna Scar car park getting there at 3.30, which we felt was pretty decent time. We drove to our hotel in Cockermouth rather more slowly than we had hoped due to being stuck behind a tour bus for ages, but once there it was time to indulge in the inevitable post walk drinks, which due to a lack of Rioja in Cockermouth’s watering holes were Merlot (well in my case, anyway). What is the world coming to?!
A truly excellent day on the hills. 😀