Swirling Around Coniston

Coniston Old Man was published in Lakeland Walker
Coniston Old Man was published in Lakeland Walker

Simon Whaley savours the views from this Coniston classic.

Call me old-fashioned (and many do), but I like to see the view from a summit. In 20 years I’ve climbed the Old Man of Coniston four times, but only seen the summit view once. Ironically, on the previous three climbs, dogged by low cloud, the summit was packed, yet on my latest ascension, the skies were clear, and I bagged the summit all to myself. That’s when classics like this come into their own, with the ridge to Swirl How just begging me forward, along with Wainwright’s comments that the views from Swirl How are better than those from the Old Man.


1. Start

Head to the centre of Coniston and, from its junction with the A593, take the lane (Sun Hill) between the Coppermines Cottage Agency and Church Beck, and climb up to the Sun Inn, forking right, immediately after. Pass through a gate into a field, cross over Scrow Beck, and then follow the track along the edge of a wood. Pass through a gate and continue through the valley, with Church Beck on the right. At the Miner’s Bridge, don’t cross, but continue ahead, on a smaller path, passing through a stone wall. The path bears left, climbing more steeply to the corner, between stone walls, before passing through another stone wall. The route gets steeper, climbing up to a junction with a wide track. Bear right, and soon after, fork left, to continue climbing. The path narrows and meanders its way up to reach the disused mine workings. Loose stones can make traversing this section more interesting, particularly after rain.

2. 1 ½ miles / 2.5km

Continue zigzagging up to the edge of Low Water. Here the path veers left, to snake its way along the final section of the climb to the summit of the Old Man, of which some places are steep. The path follows the top of the ridge, overlooking Low Water, to reach the large cairn on the summit. Enjoy the views of South Lakeland, the Pennines and the Isle of Man, although Wainwright suggests in Book Four of his guides that its tourists prefer gawping at Blackpool Tower and other man-made objects from here. Whilst Dow Crag looks impressive and the Skiddaws can be spied from here, Wainwright felt the view from Swirl How offered the serious walker a better vista.

3. 2 ½ miles / 4km

From the Old Man’s summit (2633ft), the route follows the obvious ridge, passing the OS trig point, before dropping briefly, and then climbing once more, to the summit of Brim Fell (2611ft). Continue ahead, dropping once more, to pick up the ridge again, with good views of Seathwaite Tarn to the left. Ignore the steep path on the right, down Levers Hawse, towards Levers Water, but continue ahead, climbing, once more, up Swirl Band towards the summit of Swirl How (2630ft), and a T-junction of paths. Wainwright was right. Being closer to the Central Fells, the views from here include the Isle of Man, Scafell, Great Gable, Bowfell, the Langdale Pikes, Blencathra, Helvellyn, Fairfeld and the Pennines.

4. 4 ¼ miles / 7km

From the summit cairn, turn right, to take Prison Band, dropping steeply in places, to a path junction. Turn right here, bearing left around the fell side to pick up the western flanks of High Wether and Low Wether Crags, and then dropping to the edge of Levers Water. Follow this to the weir, and bear left onto a wider track to the stream’s left.  Follow this downhill, and where the track turns sharp right, continue ahead on a smaller path, bearing gently round to the left. Pass through a stone wall, bearing gently left. Ignore a path off to the right and continue to drop into the Coppermines Valley, eventually reaching a wide track just before a stream. Turn right here, passing a building and follow this between two more buildings (Youth Hostel on right) to another track. Turn left and follow this, to pick up the stream again, on the left, passing a row of cottages (and a bridge) on the left. The track crosses over the stream, is then joined from the left by the track from the cottages, and drops steadily to the Miner’s Bridge. Turn right to cross over this, then left to retrace your steps into Coniston.


Grade: Hike.

Terrain: Good tracks. Some steep rocky paths in places, and loose stones through mining area.

Distance: 7 miles / 12.5km

Time: 4 − 5 hours

Climb: 2,982ft / 909m

Start/Finish: Coniston Town Centre (GR: SD301975)

Maps: Harvey Maps Superwalker Lakeland Southwest and Lakeland Central (1:25,000), OS Explorer OL6 (1:25,000), OS Landranger 90 and 96 (1:50,000).

Transport: Coniston is served by several bus services.  The Coniston Rambler 505 runs 7 days a week from Ambleside and Windermere. Service X12 runs 6 days a week from Ulverston.

© Simon Whaley