The Harry Griffin 2,000 footers Walk 3 -The Coniston Fells

13th March 2015

If any walk was going to bring about the enormity of the Lakeland two thousanders today's walk was it & a real tester of the challenge ahead.

As with my previous two thousanders my decision on where to walk is based upon the forecast which saddens me a little as winter still holds onto the fells with clenched fist, the contrast between walking over sodden ground & snow over long distances is huge as I come to the point where I'd be happy to let spring in & close the door on winter completely.

I'd been keeping an eye on the forecast which seemed to switch & change the closer it got when it came to a point that the forecasters predicted rain from early morning through to midday the decision was then left to me so I have no one else to blame for how miserable or indeed, well, the walk would turn out.

It just so happens the forecasters were only half right despite a few early morning showers it stayed relatively dry for much of the walk, the only shock being was that fresh snow had fallen over the previous night meaning I would be trudging through snow for much of my walk which meant a whole new different mind set had to set out if I was to get through todays walk successfully.



Freeman of the Hills

'The Coniston Fells'

I have learnt to come to terms with the beauty of the mountains - but the perfection of it all, the grey rocks, the quite tarns, the soaring heights, still remains, and there are memories around every corner. How many times have I sheltered under the arch of Cove Bridge, eating damp sandwiches in the rain.

Harry Griffin

Ascent: 4,084 Feet - 1,245 Meters
Summits over 2,000 ft Wetherlam - Wetherlam south cairn - Black Sails - Swirl How - Great Cars - Grey Friar - Brim Fell - Coniston Old Man - Dow Crag - Brown Pike - Walna Scar - White Maiden
Weather: Patchy rain to start turning overcast with snow showers clearing around midday for brighter spells. 30 mph gusts across the summits. Highs of 7°C Lows of 6°C Feels like -2°C
Parking: Pay & Display Car Park, Coniston
Area: Southern
Miles: 14.1
Walking With: On My Own
Ordnance Survey: OL6
Time Taken: 8 Hours
Route: Coniston - Sun Hotel - Miners Bridge - Lad Stones - Wetherlam - Black Sails - Swirl Hawse - Prison Band - Swirl How - Great Carrs - Grey Friar - Fairfield - Levers Hawse - Brim Fell - Coniston Old Man - Goats Hawse - Dow Crag - Buck Pike - Brown Pike - Walna Scar - White Maiden - Walna Scar Road - Cove Bridge - Little Arrow Moor - Fell Gate - Sun Hotel - Coniston

Map and Photo Gallery


The Sun Hotel, Coniston 08.28am 6°C

The Sun Hotel is deemed to be the official starting point for todays walk just as Harry Griffin had done back in June 77 only then Harry had the complements of the hotel Car Park to leave his car. As times have changed since then & parking here without being a guest would be plain rude I left my car (and a pocket full of pound coins) back at the Pay & Display car park situated at the centre of the village only minutes earlier.

The car park was almost deserted as Coniston itself despite the shop-keepers it was only the bin men who were out so early given this isn't the weekend which I suspect would be much more busier., for now it's just me as I walk the lanes after a couple of rights & lefts I soon found myself at the Sun Hotel under official starters orders.

Behind the Hotel I make a right and head for the Ruskin Museum at which point it started to drizzle & then rain, my track steepens as I leave the tarmac road before passing over a Cattle Grid, then through a steel gate. The rain persists as I pass through a heard of sleeping sheep, some of which I startle as they bolt or typically pee. With the heard behind me my track once again steepens as Miners Bridge comes into view, around about the same time it stopped raining.

Miners Bridge.

I accompanied the roar of Church Beck from as far back as the Ruskin Museum but never really saw how much rain had fallen the previous night until I arrived at Miners Bridge where I was met by a deafening roar as the water flowed over waterfall after waterfall before being funnelled through the narrow like gorges further down stream.

Time to press on.

The old Miners Cottages historicaly known as Irish Row with the Red Dell Valley & the Black Sails ridge in the distance.
It was now time to pick up my path which would see me gain the Lad Stones ridge before summiting Wetherlam, here the path lends its way up the fell side where options open up to continue towards the Red Dell Valley or do a cheeky right switch back which saw me flank the spoil heaps seen in the next photo.

Looking back down the path with distant views of Coniston Water.

It had started to rain again during my Lad Hows ascent which had a mix of hail & snow mixed into it, views were bleak to say the least as a blanket of cloud slowly drifted over the Old Man as my thoughts turn to that's heading right my way, but thankfully I was wrong as the cloud lingered then lifted over the space of my ascent.

If you look closely towards the centre right of the photo you can see where the path splits for Lad Hows or where it continues behind Irish Row towards the Red Dell valley. During my early career as a fell walker I failed to check my map here as I continued past Irish Row for well up to half a mile before releasing my mistake, now every time I return here I am always reminded of that simple mistake when I should have checked my map.

Hole Rake (Coppermines to Tilberthwaite via Yewdale Moss)
Although I hadn't been walking too long I soon arrived at Hole Rake which is always a significant landmark as it marks the true climb onto the Lad Stones ridge, the contrast between the ground underfoot from here on in changes dramatically as I'm about to reach the snowline at a mere 1,200 ft.

Black Sails & Wetherlam from Lad Hows.

Conditions dipped as I shouldered Lad Hows as an ever increasing cloud cover threatened from above I now had to deal with fresh snow underfoot which had a depth range between one & five inches.

The wind blew at me from a southerly direction which meant my walk towards Wetherlam's summit would be done headlong into the wind as thoughts turned to switching over from the left, to the right side of the ridge where for some odd reason, I felt was most comfortable walking.

Plus, I should get some views over the Steel Edge ridge too.

Wetherlam's Steel Edge ridge from above.
I drifted across the ridge pathless to fall back in line with what I would consider to be the summit approach path although there are many, the one that runs the Tarns at Lad Stones is always the one I prefer to use.

Here, a rather bleak look back on Lad Stones.

Wetherlam south ridge summit cairn (NY289 008)

With Wetherlam's true summit still a distance away I came across my first two thousander of the day at the south cairn, which, was just another reason why I wanted to steer right along the ridge as I knew I would locate the first of two summit cairns this way.

I had been walking without my hat & gloves as by the time I arrived at the south cairn my hands, face & ears were starting to feel the pinch from the wind chill. It was here I down pack where I would carry out re-adjustments & of course add my hat & gloves.

I wasn't to take them off until I would reach Coniston six and a half hours later.

Here, more bleakness as I glance back along the ridge.
Wetherlam south cairn can be seen in the distance over on the left.

Wetherlam summit cairn.
I soon found myself at Wetherlam summit cairn where after a solitary tap from my walking pole & a pat from my right hand I wondered off towards my third two thousander, Black Sails.

Wetherlam summit cairn.
Not before a quick look back at the summit.

Swirl How & Great Cars from my Wetherlam descent.
With care I picked my way over boulder after leaving Wetherlam summit before traversing Red Dell Head where views into the Greenburn Valley set off a wonderful array of colour on what had been upto now, a monotone morning since leaving Coppermines.

Red Dell Head with views over Black Sails & Swirl How.
I punched through the snow as I steered myself off path towards my third summit of the morning in Black Sails, here my eyes deceived me as I break away for the mono tone summit seen as the highest point in the photo, it was only when I crested the last few yards did I realise I was indeed on a false summit, the two thousander found just a few yards further west.

Black Sails summit cairn.
On any other given day I'm sure I'd have set of exploring the views back along the Black Sails ridge but sadly, time is against me as I again lay one hand on the cairn before making my pathless descent over Swirl Hawse & Prison Band.

Coniston Old Man & Levers Water from Swirl Hawse.

Prison Band & Swirl How seen over Swirl Hawse.

On long walks such as todays I like to split the route up into sections depending upon how arduous the route is; this is section one where I would gain Swirl How by Prison Band, the walk has two other sections which I've split up for both mental & physical stability.

The steep route favours my kind of walking style, steep in ascent met by swift climbing with regular stops, makes for a really enjoyable ascent!

Here, looking back at the Black Sails ridge over Swirl Hawse.

Views back over covered ground towards Black Sails & Wetherlam.
Where I do believe the sun came out for a brief moment.

Then went back in again.
Here, Coniston Old Man can be seen beyond the top of Great How Crags, I'm not too far from Swirl How summit now.

Swirl How summit cairn.

The last push towards the summit was met by deep snow that had drifted over the path, the new snow that had fallen previously had fallen on old snow making for reassuring foot purchases all the way towards the summit.

I had been sheltered during the ascent where once I found myself at the summit I didn't quite know what to do with myself as I seemed to remember walking in circles, was I confused? I hope not, just bitterly cold & eager to get out of the wind.

Great Carrs as I cross the Top of Broad Slack.

If ever I could lift a particular crossing or distance and place into a top ten favorites the crossing of Broad Slack would surely rank high in my league.

The wind was at its strongest & gave maximum wind-chill here even causing ones mind to divert from this wonderful route to gain Great Carrs by, so much so for the first time today I reached for my hood if only to give the side of face a little respite from the thrashing it was receiving.

Swirl How, Black Sails & Wetherlam seen from the Top of Broad Slack.

In the other direction Brim Fell & Coniston Old Man can be seen in the distance.

Great Carrs summit cairn.

Although I hadn't quite reached what I considered to the half way gaining Great Carrs took my tally of two thousanders to five which meant I still had seven more summits to reach.

Positive thinking is key.

En-route to Great Carrs summit I pass the site of the World War Two plane wreckage & the Memorial left there, I decided that after I have made my summit I would follow my footprints back to the Memorial as I would with each visit to Great Carrs.

Grey Friar from World War Two Halifax Bomber crash site

Grey Friar can be seen behind the site of the plane crash when on October 22nd 1944 eight airmen were killed when their Halifax Bomber crashed into the side of the fell.

What was left of the wreckage was pushed over the Top of Broad Slack & still remains there to this day.

After a few moments spent, I press on towards what I regarded as the 'second section' of the walk; ascent on Grey Friar.

Grey Friar.
The traverse of Fairfield offers a fantastic respite from steep or strenuous climbs although I wasn't to be fooled as I knew it's a slow & steady slog to reach the summit once the base of the fell is reached, nonetheless, thoroughly enjoyable.

The Matterhorn rock found on Grey Friar summit plateau.

The Matterhorn rock.
Found just a few yards north from the main summit approach path.

Approaching Grey Friar summit.

My stomach was telling me it was lunch time as I decided to pick a spot out of the wind behind the summit cairn where hazy views opened up towards the cloud topped Scafells, Slight Side escaped the cloud & so to did Cam Spout Crag, Rough Crag & Pen, all of which are summits that are included in the Two Thousand footer challenge, despite not being able to see the Scafells I had a good long distance view of the routes I would take throughout the course of the project.

I only ate two of my four sandwiches saving the rest for later towards the end of the walk where I guess my appetite would return, until then I re-shoulder my pack before making my Grey Friar descent back towards Fairfield.

Levers Hawse & Brim Fell from Fairfield.
A single grassy track navigates south towards Levers Hawse & Brim Fell, the track leads away right at a stone cairn found half way along the Fairfield ridge, the track cannot be seen in this photo as I left it out on purpose but it is clear to pick out even when there is snow on the ground as it takes on a steady ascent towards Levers Hawse.

Levers Hawse, Brim Fell & Dow Crag seen from Fairfield.
I've used this track many times & have always come to the conclusion that even in summer the path is always saturated & boggy, today would be no different. Small negotiations had to be made which at times caused slower progress which didn't really amount to much until the moment my right leg slipped clear from beneath me causing me to fall hard not long before reaching Levers Hawse, the whole left side of my body had taken a soaking from elbow to ankle, yet despite this it was only my ego which was a little damaged, the wind dried me off just a treat.

Views over Seathwaite Tarn towards Harter Fell (Eskdale) & Green Crag.

Meanwhile views eastwards took in Lad Hows & the Black Sails ridge over Levers Water.

Ascent on Brim Fell.
It was while at Levers Hawse did I notice a sudden change in light as the whole fells suddenly took on a 'dusk affect' almost as quickly as emerging from a tunnel, I turned around to see that the cloud that was blanketing the Scafells that I had seen from Grey Friar was now making its way over Wrynose towards Great Carrs, I had a little cause for concern but not much should the cloud finally catch me up as I could do nothing about it, with this I head steadily from Levers Hawse towards Brim Fell, following the stone cairns all the way.

Coniston Old Man from Brim Fell summit.

The fading light continued as I look back on the advancing cloud which seemed to linger over Great Carrs 'that'l do me' I thought as I make the fantastic traverse to Coniston Old Man.

Shortly after leaving Brim Fell summit I heard voices as I make a quick turn around to see three walkers emerging from the direction of Brim Fell Rake, it all suddenly fell into place that these must be the same people I saw from Levers Hawse summit Raven Tor too, they had with them a small dog which wore one of those illuminated jackets, good idea I thought. However I soon heard raised voices as the three walkers split up across the summit shouting a dogs name of which I couldn't quite make out. My stomach sank as it appeared they had lost a dog, their voices had panic in them, their shouts too.

By this time I was close to reaching the Old Man as on more than one occasion I too checked about the whole summit area but couldn't see no movement at all, coming from a dog lover I truly hoped the dog would be found soon as my only memory from both Brim Fell & the Old Man where of panic sounding shouts for a lost dog.

Brim Fell from Coniston Old Man.
I didn't need to tell the succession of walkers who by the time I reached the summit making their own way to Brim Fell as from here, we could all hear the shouts for the lost dog.

Wetherlam, Black Sails, Swirl How, Raven Tor, Low Water & Levers Water taken from Coniston Old Man.

I stood at the summit, my whole day had been quickly forgotten about as the shouts continued, I scour the whole area for movement as the three walkers make their way back to Raven Tor.

I spot no movement at all before collecting my walking poles from the summit Trig Point, wrapping them around my wrist & slowly make my descent towards Goats Hawse.

Dow Crag & Goats Water from my Coniston Old Man descent.

I made good progress towards what I considered to be my 'third' section of the route, this was the ascent on Dow Crag from Goats Hawse, on what I deemed to be the last push as from Dow Crag, it was mostly all down hill.

In the back of my mind I prayed the dog would be found as thoughts turned to what if it was your dog, how would you feel? gut wrenched was my only answer. Despite the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach I had to turn my thoughts to the route in hand, I had been walking close to six hours with only a sheltered ten minute break but I felt good, in fact my legs still felt strong as I could smell that twelfth summit just yonder the Dow Crag ridge.

Coniston Old Man over Goats Hawse.
It was just a simple hello as I passed these two walkers who had just descended Dow Crag themselves, time to press on I guess.

Dow Crag summit soon comes into view.
Unsurprisingly the wind had wipped up by the time I reached Dow Crag when all that was left was a simple scramble to the summit top where I met a family of walkers including a Boxer dog which made for some brief & crowded conditions.

Buck Pike, Walna Scar & White Maiden seen shortly after leaving Dow Crag summit.

It felt great to be on my last three summits, all of which could be clearly seen from Dow Crag, ahead Buck Pike is seen just along the ridge but is rejected as a two thousander by Francis Falkingham who between 1961-1964 compiled not just the Lakeland 2,000 ft list but a list of all the summits in England over 2,000 ft.

This was the same list that Harry Griffin was following who despite the list being updated by Nick Wright in 1974 found Falkinghams list more precise.

I have since read although not particularly about Buck Pike that Falkingham would reject such summits as they did not stand alone, whether that is the point here we will never know as he never gave reason for his rejection.

Nonetheless Buck Pike will be summated although not included in todays walk as a two thousander.

Passing the top of Dow Crag south Rake.
I had great views of The South Rake from my Coniston descent including the snow packed gully, what I hadn't realized was just how much snow was still left in there.

Here, looking back towards Dow Crag.
All the while keeping an eye on that approaching cloud which by now, blankets Great Carrs & Swirl How.

Rejected Buck Pike.
I could have gone around the summit base but chose to make a summit instead, and, like the rest of todays summits Buck Pike receives a solitary tap from my walking pole.

Brown Pike over Blind Tarn
'Blind' because the Tarn has no visible outflow...I press on across the ridge towards my tenth two thousander.

Black Combe & Walna Scar seen from Brown Pike summit.

Brown Pike, Buck Pike & Dow Crag from Walna Scar summit cairn.

My summit time at Brown Pike was brief as thoughts turned to summating Walna Scar & of course White Maiden then, the two half mile walk back to Coniston.

I left Brown Pike by the path seen in the photo, it had been some time since I was last on Brown Pike & I couldn't quite remember what type of path would greet me, thankfully the path steadily descended over easy gradient directly towards the top of the Walna Scar Pass, it was here I pass on my hello to a solo walker who seemed to emerge from no-where carrying two walking poles as he headed off in the direction of Seathwaite.

The gentle grassy pull onto Walna Scar was met with ease as I arrived at my eleventh two thousander.

From Walna Scar, White Maiden seen left is my next summit.

This looks to be a fantastic ridge & couldn't feel more isolated than it actually is which is why I wasn't surprised to see recent muddy footprints as I made my way for White Maiden.

Beyond White Maiden at the far end of the ridge is White Pike, a summit that just fails to meet the two thousand mark.

On any other day White Pike would be given a summit, after all I would have walked the whole Walna Scar ridge, yet as it wasn't required, and time was getting on I too made the decision not to make the summit.

Brown Pike, Buck Pike & Dow Crag from my final summit, White Maiden.

I never gave White Maiden a thought until I could see it which was from the Old Man which even now seemed a greater distance, and indeed time away now. On reaching White Maiden I had completed all twelve two thousanders which required a little celebration.

My left over sandwiches...

Sadly I found it difficult to swallow the bread as my mouth was incredibly dry in the end I left more for the birds than I actually ate; polished of however by long gulps of fruit juice which quenched my thirst, it seemed I too had not only gone hungry, but a little dehydrated too.

With a mixture of low light & grey cloud I took in the views into the Duddon Valley & beyond the Duddon Estuary which looked much closer than the seven miles it was from my perch here on White Maiden. I eased my bum on the most comfortable rock I could find which boded well at my second only rest stop.

I had to make it back to the top of Walna Scar Pass as a slight feeling of accomplishment drifted over me, it is way to early to be waving the finishing flag but I figured after today I now know what is before me, with this I head down the track under gentle gradient all the while spotting little figures walking from Goats Water, they can't see me as I am a good distance away at which point the feeling of accomplishment was replaced by envy as I uttered, I bet their not parked in Coniston as I am!

Joking aside, the walk back will take me over Cove Bridge where Harry Griffin penned the words for the paragraph at the top of this page.

Cove Bridge.

The Bell, with Black Sails & Wetherlam now under cloud.

The light seemed to have one last show of strength as I walked those miles across Little Arrow Moor, it was here the wind had completely died down to the gentlest of breezes. On reaching Fell Foot the walkers I had seen were by now long gone as I pass through the car park holding the steel gate whilst a car drove through as I receive a thanks! in return.

It felt good to have the comfort of tarmac beneath my boots.

Back at the Sun Hotel, Coniston - 16:30pm

Walking the Walna Scar road back into Coniston gave me time to reflect on how well the day had turned out from the rain & snow showers to the brief hints of sun I experienced on Swirl How & Great Carrs, the last half mile of my road steepens as my steps materialise into stamps before emerging at the bottom of the road & into reality where two 30mph speed limit signs somehow stick in my head the moment I enter Coniston.

I expected Coniston to be busier than I found it as locals go about their everyday business as I catch one resident washing the windows of his cottage from a ladder, in the other direction a man talks on his mobile phone while pacing up and down. Me, all I had to do was cross Church Beck once more & back into the High Street from where my car is parked just a short distance away, in it, a small flask of coffee which I can only assume has turned luke warm, nevertheless I sip four lid fulls one after the other before gathering all my gear into the boot ready for the journey home.

I say goodbye to Coniston through my rear view mirror as I pull away, the shoppers, the people filling up with fuel completely unaware on what a great time I had on the Coniston Fells.


Back to top