Friday 15 February 2013

A Snowy Day in the Coniston Fells

Friday 15th February 

A mainly misty walk up Coniston Old Man with fantastic views in the afternoon once the cloud cleared

Distance: 15km; Ascent: 990m; Misty on the summits; with Peter & Gary

I had the day off work today and for once the weather forecast actually looked good! Therefore I decided to go hillwalking :-)   A discussion on Twitter last night resulted in me driving up to Coniston this morning to meet Peter and Gary at the high carpark on the Walna Scar Road. We had chosen this start point to give us a bit of height advantage due to the fact I couldn't get there much before 11am.

We set off walking under mostly overcast skies, with the tops of the peaks covered by the cloud. There was a bitter, brisk wind blowing as we followed the Walna Scar Road WSW below the southern slopes of The Old Man of Coniston. It had been a number of years since my last visit and in the meantime the Walna Scar Road had clearly had some significant improvement works; it was also interesting to note that it's also been reclassified as a bridleway.

Looking up to the south ridge of The Old Man of Coniston
We followed the Goat's Water track for a few hundred metres before heading off rightwards towards the southern ridge of Coniston Old Man. The cloud intermittently cleared briefly to reveal glimpses of the blue sky above and the cloud free Eastern Fells - clearly we should have gone walking there!  Heading on up the south ridge, into the cold wind, we were soon walking on snow, most of which was pretty soft. At around 12:30pm we reached the summit cairn on The Old Man of Coniston (Nuttall, Marilyn, Wainwright, Birkett), together with the nearby trigpoint.

Snowy, misty summit of The Old Man of Coniston
We stopped in the lee of the cairn for lunch, before descending the north ridge. Around five minutes after we left the summit the cloud briefly cleared to allow us a glimpse back up the ridge to the summit.

A brief break in the clouds on the north ridge of Coniston Old Man
Heading towards Levers Hawse
Heading onwards across the soft, slushy snow we soon reached the large cairn on the summit of Brim Fell (Nuttall, Wainwright, Birkett). After descending to Levers Hawse, from where we briefly saw Levers Water, we began to traverse the steep slopes of Swirl How. The snow here was noticeably firmer in places so my ice axe was removed from my bag and placed in the somewhat more useful location of my right hand!

After a little over a kilometre of traversing we reached the col to the west of Great Carrs and then an eighty metre ascent brought us to the two cairns on the summit of Grey Friar (Nuttall, Wainwright, Birkett).

Remains of Halifax Bomber, which crashed here on 22/10/44
After resting for a few minutes we retraced our steps back down to the col, before ascending up towards Great Carrs. Soon we stumbled upon some of the remains of a Halifax Bomber, which crashed here in 1944, together with a memorial cairn. The sun was now starting to break through the clouds and after a little bit more ascent we reached the ridgeline. Here we were in for a treat as the combination on sunshine and cloud on the east side of the ridge resulted in a Brocken spectre!

Brocken spectre between Great Carrs and Swirl How
It was lucky that I had my camera on my chest strap as within a minute of taking this photo the sun went back behind a cloud and the Brocken spectre disappeared! I think this was only the second time I'd seen such a phenomenon. There were also good views along the ridge in both directions!

Swirl How
We briefly detoured to the north to visit the summit of Great Carrs (Nuttall, Wainwright, Birkett) before heading on to the summit cairn of Swirl How (Nuttall, HuMP, Wainwright, Birkett), which was half covered in hoar frost. By now the cloud had returned and a little bit of navigation was required to locate the small summit of Great How Crags (Birkett), which was a new peak for me.

Finally the cloud lifts as we head back towards Coniston Old Man
As we followed the ridge southwards, the cloud began to clear again so we decided to head back up The Old Man of Coniston in the hope of getting a good view of sunset over Dow Crag.  There were excellent views down to Levers Water and Seathwaite Tarn as we continued to follow the ridge, as shown in the following few photos:

Levers Water with Coniston Water in the distance
Seathwaite Tarn
Old Man of Coniston
Summit of the Old Man of Coniston
We reached the summit again at around 4:20pm, with significantly better views than when we were there four hours previously!  Unfortunately a further bank of cloud was heading in from the west, which didn't look like it was likely to clear before sunset.  Therefore we headed back down the south ridge, with good views over to the snow covered Eastern Fells.  We reached the car park at 5:30pm after another good days hill walking; and it was good to meet more new people :-)

More photos from the day can be found here and also here's a link to my Social Hiking map from the walk, complete with tweets and photos from the day.

N.B. 02/06/13 - Post date updated to actual date of walk, i.e. 15/02/13 (from 20/02/13) 


  1. Some cracking pictures, Gromit!
    Looks like a great day out.

    1. Thanks Alan :-)

      It was indeed a good day out. I really must try to go walking in the Lake District more than once every 6 months or so!