1974 was a black time for hill-going Lancastrians – it was the year that ‘They’ changed the county boundaries and the Old Man of Coniston, the highest point in Lancashire at 803 metres (2634ft), became part of the new county of Cumbria. It wasn’t as though they didn’t have loads of fine mountains already, but it was decided so that was that – the highest point in Lancashire now is Gragareth at 627 metres (2,057 ft), a fine hill, but a poor consolation prize.
Chris and I (and Border Collie Mist’) often head back to this area as a change from North Wales, and it never disappoints. There’s a great parking area to overnight at with the camper (if you know the area, you know where I mean, if you don’t then tough! – I’m keeping it quiet). The classic route here is the Old Man of Coniston by the old mine workings and Low Water, then on to Dow Crag via the col at Goat’s Hause returning by the Walna Scar Road.
The initial path through the old mine workings is fascinating, and I always say I will return to explore the area – some day! The ruins aren’t an eyesore, but more a monument to the working men who toiled here. Beyond the mine workings the scene suddenly changes as the path arrives at Low Water – my lifetime mountaineering mate John Bamber can see the slopes above the small lake from his house twenty miles away, and when the snow routes are looking good he’s one of the first to know.
Beyond Low Water the route gets steep, but this doesn’t last long, and soon the slope levels out as it reaches the summit of the Old Man. Where to go next is a bit of a dilemma – the ridge north to Swirl How makes a great route, but equally fine is the circuit round to Dow Crag. On this occasion Dow Crag was decided on, so it was down to the col at Goat’s Hause, before heading upwards again.
Dow Crag is the name of both the summit of the mountain and the rock-climbing crag below it. This was once one of the most important climbing crags in the Lake District, but it involves a longish walk in for modern tastes, and its popularity has declined – we saw only one climbing party on the crag on ‘C’ Ordinary, a fine but relatively easy rock climb.
After Dow Crag it’s a glorious stroll along the ridge linking Buck Pike and Brown Pike, with the tiny jewel of Blind Tarn hiding below, totally invisible from the Goat’s Water path. A short final descent and it’s down to an ancient highway, the Walna Scar Road. The walk back gives great views of the Old Man and Dow, and plenty of time to plan the next trip north to the Lake District.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock
p.s. I’m posting this while on a trip to Sweden and Norway, so please forgive me if I’m slow to answer comments.
I thought Gragareth was ours (Yorkshire) not yours (Lancashire)?
I do that round a lot (Swirl How ridge and Dow Crag usually) but always the other way around. I car-camp up the road to Broughton – I have a lovely spot there and it’s a quiet road. If you mean you camp up at the top carpark for Walna Scar, I won’t even drive up that road in a car, never mind take a big van up it! 😮
Nay lass, yer not tekin our new highest top 😉 Some say Green Hill is the highest top, but Gragareth is so flat on top that it’s probably in both countries. Anyhow, you’ve still got Whernside 😀
A nice peak the Old Man – ever done the Boo Tarn route from the old Wainwright guide? That’s a good one too – might head up to Coniston next few days after reading this. Great post.
We once went up Conniston Old Man on a New Year’s Eve, to be on the summit at midnight. It was supposed to be a bit of fun – and of course it was in hindsight! – but the weather was unbelievably bad and it did turn into a bit of an epic! I could write a post about it really…. 😀
Hope you enjoy Norway and Sweden. We had a fantastic time there in the van a few years back.
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