Summer Solstice on Dow Crag South Rake

21st June 2013

I kind of got romantic with this walk as you can guess with its title, but like me, romance doesn’t come too easy. Penned during the early days of the month I thought why not celebrate the summer solstice or ‘The longest day’ by traversing something special. I have long been a fan of Dow Crag south rake ever since the day I first climbed it way back last May.

Dow Crag south rake doesn’t impose on your mind the way Jack’s Rake does, nor is it over too soon the way Lord’s Rake is. Dow Crag south rake starts as a steep scree climb above Goats Water, where once above the scree beneath Dow Crag’s A & B Buttresses look as imposing as they do magnificent, for the first timer this is kind of a jittery time so its best to let the calf’s recover from the scree climb & take in what is before you.

Joining me on the longest day is Tim Oxburgh & Father Shaun Church, Anyone familiar with my recent post may know that Shaun is in the middle of a two week summer break & is residing in the hamlet of Seatoller.

I finished work just after lunch & then made for a hair cut appointment, fuelled my car as Tim & I made for the south of the district where after a crawl up the M6 on a late Friday afternoon met back up with Shaun at a layby situated by Yew Tree Tarn, from here we took in the small drive through the village of Coniston before parking up at the car park at Walna Scar Road.


Wainwright Guidebook

The Southern Fells

-The South Rake:

Easy Buttress, Easy Gully and Easy Terrace are by rock–climbing, not walking, standards. Rock – climbers don’t seem to know the meaning of easy. True, most walkers would manage to get up these places if a mad bull was in pursuit, but, if there is no such compelling circumstances, better they should reflect soberly…and turn away.

There is however, a cowards way to the top of the crag. From the lowest point of the cliff turn left past the striking entrance to Great Gully and more roughly up to the foot of Easy Gully, which is chocked with stones. Here unexpectedly, (it is not seen until reached) a straight ribbon of scree in a shallow gully goes to the left (at a right angled tangent to Easy Gully) – this route, although steep and loose, leads directly to the ridge above all difficulties. Climbers often use this as a quick way down, and it is comfortably within the capacity of most walkers. Lacking a name, but deserving one, SOUTH RAKE is suggested.


Ascent: 2,627 Feet, 801 Metres
Wainwrights: Dow Crag
Weather: Warm & Sunny To Start Turning Overcast Strong Gust Towards The Latter Of The Evening Highs Of 21°C Lows Of 15°C Felt Like 8°C
Parking: Fell Gate Walna Scar Road, Coniston
Area: Southern
Miles: 5.2
Walking With: Tim Oxburgh & Father Shaun Church
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken: 4 hours
Route: Walna Scar Road – Boo Tarn – The Cove – Goat’s Water – Dow Crag South Rake – Dow Crag – Goats Hawse – Walna Scar Road

Map and Photo Gallery



Fell Gate Walna Scar Road 18:30 21°C

We arrived under the glorious of conditions, here looking towards Swirl How & Wetherlam, in the foreground we have The Bell on the right & the main Tourist path towards Coniston Old Man.

Fell Gate was busy for an early summers evening with a handful of empty cars (no doubt their occupants making the most of the evening sunshine) together with the non-walker types just up here to take in the fabulous views.

Shaun & I park side by side & are soon on our way, before we leave a woman walks over whilst her husband takes photos from an SLR Camera, what are you guys up to? Well, were heading up to Dow Crag & hopefully were going to get a nice sunset before heading back down, her voice generally sounded surprised possibly with a hint of enthusiasm as she smiled, Ohh that sounds nice.

Before we knew it we picked up track as the Walna Scar track as it lead us away from Fell Gate, all this with the sun directly in our faces (good job we remembered the sunglasses)


Boo Tarn in the shade.

Attractive in name yet such a pity less attractive by nature.


A close up of Stickle Pike from the Walna Scar Road.

The first couple of miles of the walk was done under shade but all that was about to change as we turned right towards The Cove a little further ahead.

The cloud above as it passed by the sun created fantastic silhouettes of the ridge we were about to climb.


 Brown Pike together with Buck Pike under evening silhouette.


Inspirational views over the Brown Pike / Dow Crag ridge.


Buck Pike & the imposing eastern face of Dow Crags buttresses.

Here schoolboy like we spoke about the ascent & what Shaun was about to expect, further to this we planned on what to do once we had gained the summit by the South Rake, Grey Friar could be an option I explained to Shaun, I think Shaun liked the sound of this as Grey Friar would be a new Wainwright to tick off.

Optimistic of a proposed route as I checked my watch I noted to Shaun; how about I show you Charmers Grave?


As time was tight I didn’t really want to spend any added time searching for Charmers Grave, If I found it first time then that was all fine & well but I didn’t really want to spend time searching for it, it turns out, I did find it first time of which I actually surprised myself as I’m known for having a memory like a sieve!


Charmers Grave.

Charmers was a member of the Coniston Foxhounds during the early part of the century who became crag-fast on Dow Crag. Charmers owner had to endure her howls throughout the night as they echoed down the valley knowing he could do nothing until first light, by then Charmer had fallen to her death & it was too late.

Members of the Coniston Fox Hounds erected this grave stone a little higher besides the path but found the grave was being tampered with, so much so they moved the stone never revealing its new location.


Goats Hawse from Goats water.

It seems that we are back in the shade as a little apprehension ascended upon me, from here the south rake is not visible until you reach its base,  here I had my reservations on just how dark the ascent may be… turns out we had more than enough light to make the ascent.

Apprehension dwindled we make our way to the base of the steep scree slope seen left.


The imposing Buttresses of Dow Crag’s east face.

Scroll down to the next picture to see the same photo with our route to the base of the South Rake shown in red.


As mentioned the ascent to the base cannot be seen from this side of Goats Water but the path through the lower scree can as it takes shape in the form of narrow zig-zags.

Once the base of A Buttress it reached the South Rake becomes more apparent as it ascends its way up behind Easy Buttress in a narrow straight line.

Time taken to make the ascent was one hour, in this as mentioned said climbers acted like school boys pausing to take in the climb more times than we needed to really, which just went to show how much the ascent was enjoyed, my last ascent took me forty minutes.


A & B Buttress together with Great Gully dominate the initial ascent up the steep scree slope.


Tim in awe beneath A & B Buttress.


Looking down on Goats Water from the scree run as Coniston Old Man captures the remainder of the evening sun.


Up close & personal with A & B Buttress as we reach the base of the South Rake.


We rest a while before we take on the ascent of the rake.


Dow Crag South Rake from the start of the ascent, Easy Buttress can be seen over on the left.


Shaun starts his ascent by the base of Easy Buttress.


Looking down on Tim & Shaun as we prepare our staggered ascents.


Tim checks out the views from an impressive solo climb up onto the top of Easy Buttress.


Easy Gully to our right from our ascent.

We space 15/20 part to allow for any rock fall as the ascent is loose in places & more solid in others, this does not stop one particular large rock that I dislodged with my footings coming down on Shaun & Tim , I shout with a slight croak rock fall! both Tim & Shaun hear the rock before my warning as promptly moves out of the rocks way.

A heart stopping moment for me which can only make me wonder how Tim & Shaun felt.

We press on with our ascent.


Ascending through this loose section meant for careful footings.


Looking back down the South Rake.


And up, as we manoeuvre over one of many rock steps along the ascent.


Grit beneath the nails.

I wonder how many of Father Shaun’s parishioners actually know what he gets up to during his spare time!

We’re not too far from the exit now as the Rake starts to narrow, so one last photo looking down the from the top of the South Rake.


Looking back down the Rake with a glimpse of the blue Mountain Rescue Stretcher Box at the base of B Buttress.


Coniston Water taken from the top of the South Rake.


Shaun emerges from the top of the South Rake looking more than pleased with his efforts!


Coniston Old Man from The South Rake.

Cloud has started to gather as we make our last steps & exit the Rake, the cloud you see in the photo is the same we had in our field of view…un-be-known to us behind us is a mass of low cloud fast approaching which is about to blanket the whole of South Lakeland.

Not before the last one of the last images of the evening sun before the cloud rolls in.


The sun disappears over Harter Fell for another day.

I guess we can only count ourselves lucky at our timing as we exited the South Rake, this photo was taken at 20:29pm as you can see the sun is still high should it not be covered in thick cloud (which was predicted) What wasn’t predicted was just how fast that cloud came rolling in.


Not before I took this photo from the top of Great Gully.

Here comes that cloud…


By 20:39pm Harter Fell & the Dunnerdale Fells are almost completely covered by the cloud which is heading this way.

Before we make the summit of Dow Crag it was time to re-route our plans, sadly for Shaun it doesn’t look as if we are going to make Grey Friar this evening as with the cloud came very low light.

My original descent via Brim Fell Rake was also in tatters as by now The Old Man together with Brim Fell was under a thick cloak of cloud, almost as if mother nature came in & tucked in Lakeland for the night.

As splendid as this was I couldn’t help but notice how frightfully quick that cloud rolled in, its got to be one of the fastest I’ve ever witnessed, views had gone from long distant to a matter of metres all in the space of ten minutes ….

With the cloud came a strengthened bitter wind, with an hours dull light left we had no option other than to end the walk early making the decision to exit via Goats Hawse & Goats Water.


Here looking back along the ridge towards what would be Buck & Brown Pike.


Here looking back on Dow Crag craggy summit.

Here we take out more layers as the wind started to bite through my exposed arms & legs.

With our decision made we make for Goats Hawse in chat as my intended route starts to disappear  in the cloud… oh well.

Descending to Goats Hawse


Goats Water & The Cove from Goats Hawse.


This time with Dow Crags, take a look at the picture below to see our ascent route up the South Rake from a Goats Hawse perspective.


Within minutes the cloud started to creep its way down the Buttresses of Dow Crag.


We can only mutter that we had the best out of Dow Crag & the South Rake before the cloud rolled in… ten minutes any later & our exit would of been completely different & for that we had to be thankful.


Tim lost in thought in how we managed to scrape through this one when not just forty minutes ago we was all up there in brilliant sunshine.


Goats Water mono.


Back at the car.

We make our way back under a dull light that gets darker by the moment, it is nearly the end of the longest day yet sadly we know our Solstice ended at 20:29pm. The 21st June 2013 was not a day that could be tampered with, its hoping to go come rain hail or shine, luckily we had our sun unluckily though it wasn’t to last… But, beautiful while it did.

My intentions had always been  to make the drive back home & not rough this one out on the fell side… maybe I made the wiser decision yet I couldn’t help think of friends roughing it out on Seathwaite Fell, I hope like me they were & are having a great time… we may have not had our sun but I’m sure as this evening proved who needs it when you get to spend a summer evening doing what you love.


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