List of walks in date order, with links
Date Walk Distance
20 May 2011 A walk around Coppermines Valley, to Levers Water 6.5 km (4.1 miles)
21 May 2011 A circular walk to Torver, by Walna Scar Road 12.0 km (7.5 miles)
22 May 2011 A walk to the top of the Old Man of Coniston 9.4 km (5.9 miles)

This year's annual LUL old lags summer walking weekend was based on Coniston, our first visit to the Lake District. In other years we have done the Yorkshire Dales, the Brecon Beacons, the Howgill Fells, Dartmoor, the Isle of Wight, and Exmoor.

Black Bull
The Black Bull, Coniston

On Friday (20 May 2011) Dan, Ian, Bernie, Julian and I took the 09:30 train from Euston to Windermere, changing at Lancaster and Oxenholme, and then the No 505 bus to Coniston. Tim followed on the 10:30 train - he has a rooted objection to early mornings. We were staying at the Black Bull Inn, the home of the Coniston Brewing Company. We were to drink a lot of their beer over the weekend - it's very good.

We walked on Friday afternoon and on Saturday and Sunday, but by Monday the weather had deteriorated to a continuous downpour, so we decided to return directly to London, not bothering with a planned trip to Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel.

Group photo
Group photo


20 May 2011: A walk around Coppermines Valley, to Levers Water

6.5 km (4.1 miles)

Coppermines Valley
Coppermines Valley, from just beyond Miners Bridge

We checked in to the Black Bull, dropped off our luggage, put on our boots and waited for Tim in the bar. While we waited we sampled some of the Coniston Brewing Company's products. Once Tim had arrived (and had had a pint) we set off for a late afternoon stroll around Coppermines Valley - partly for its own sake, and partly to have a look at the Old Man of Coniston. Dan had found the route in an old book of Lake District walks he had dug out of his archive.

Tthe Old Man of Coniston
View towards the Old Man of Coniston

We took the lane alongside Church Beck, past the Ruskin Museum, to reach the Miners Bridge at the entrance to Coppermines Valley. Just beyond the bridge we turned off the track to the Youth Hostel and Coppermines Cottages to take a path that climbed diagonally up the east side of the valley towards Red Dell.

remains of wheel
Remains of the 45ft wheel at Red Dell

Between the bridge and the turn-off I found some small purple flowers I didn't recognise. Julian said the reminded him of some insectivorous plants he has seen. He was right - they were Common Butterwort, which catch small insects on their sticky leaves.

Thriddle Incline
Thriddle Incline

The path up the side of the valley gave fine views of the Old Man of Coniston and the abandoned mines and quarries in the valley and on the hillsides. It eventually comes to the bottom of Thriddle Incline, below Kennel Crag, passing the remains of various wheel pits and engine shafts. These included the remains of a building with what looked like a chimney stack, but the Ruskin Museum website identifies it as 'remains of the 45ft wheel at Red Dell' and has a photograph of it dating from about 1900. The 'chimney' supported a trough delivering water to the top of the wheel.

Red Dell
Red Dell

Thriddle Incline would presumably have once have carried a railway track, but the surface is now rough and broken. We plodded up it, and the path that continues beyond it to reach the top of Kennel Crag, from where it was a short walk to Levers Water.

Once a natural tarn, Levers Water was dammed and enlarged to provide power for the mining operations in Coppermines Valley. A water treatment plant has been constructed lower down and Levers Water now supplies Coniston with it drinking water.

View south-east
View south-east from the side of Kennel Crag

No one took up my suggestion that we could explore Boulder Valley, so we took the rough track south from Levers Water, under the western flank of Kennel Crag. There were a couple of large crows on Kennel Crag - possibly ravens? Missing Boulder Valley, I contented myself with wandering off the track to look at the Levers Beck waterfalls.

Levers Water
Levers Water

Where the track looped back on itself to take an easier gradient to the valley floor we continued southwards on a path that eventually arrives at the complex of buildings that was once (I think) Bonsor Upper Mill.

Along the path we came across a boggy section, where a number of common sundews, another insectivorous plant, were growing - I could see the small insects trapped on their leaves.

Levers Beck waterfalls

In the remains of Bonsor Upper Mill there was a jumble of old plant - wheels of various uses (including a Pelton wheel), pumps, ore trolleys, panels of track, and weighing machines. It looked if someone had collected the stuff with a view to restoration, but hadn't quite got around to it.

Ore trolleys
Ore trolleys, Bonsor Upper Mill

From the Youth Hostel we followed the track back to the Miners Bridge, and then retraced our way back to the pub for dinner and beer.

The weather had been excellent - dry and sunny, though with some cloud. It had been a very pleasant stroll to introduce ourselves to the Old Man. But the forecast for the following day was not good ...

Junk, Bonsor Upper Mill

Common Sundew


21 May 2011: A circular walk to Torver, by Walna Scar Road

12.0 km (7.5 miles)

Rigg Head and Yewdale Crag from Walna Scar Road

We had originally planned to climb the Old Man today. However, the local weather forecast posted in the window of the tourist office threatened continuous rain from midday onwards, but with better (though not good) weather the following day. We therefore decided to switch walks, and do a low-level walk to the Church House Inn at Torver which Dan had found in a CAMRA guide to Lake District pub walks.

Willy Scrowl
Willy Scrowl, behind Scrowl Beck

Julian had been browsing my copy of the Cicerone 'Lakeland Fellranger' guide to the Southern Fells and he had been taken by a picture of Banishead Quarry. I therefore proposed a variation on Dan's walk to see the quarry, by way of Walna Scar Road.

We set off after an enormous breakfast in the Bull, taking the back road to the Sun Hotel and then picking up the Walna Scar Road. The road is initially fairly steep, and it's metalled as far as the open access land below the Old Man. There are some lovely views from the road, back eastwards towards Coniston and the fells beyond, and northwards to the 'Scrowls' (Foul Scrowl, Dixon Scrowl, Willy Scrowl - perhaps 'scrowl' is a local term for an enclosed bit of craggy land).

Walna Scar Road
Looking back along the Walna Scar Road

At the end of the metalled road is a car park, and we could feel a little superior to those who had driven there - though I dare say they were planning to walk further than we were.

We carried on along the Walna Scar Road as far as the point where a footpath turns north to Goat's Water and Goat's Hawse, and a bridleway turns south to Torver, passing Banishead Quarry. As the weather showed no sign of the promised rain, I had hoped to tempt the party into taking a detour to see Goat's Water and look up to Dow Crag, but got no takers. I made a short exploratory run along the path, to see if it gave a better view, but had to return after a short distance.

Banishead Quarry
Banishead Quarry

We took the bridleway to Torver. It follows the east bank of Torver Beck (though there is also another path parallel to the west bank). Banishead Quarry proved to be worth the visit, being rather impressive, if a little smaller than the picture in the guide book suggested. It contains a lake, fed from a waterfall which takes water from Torver Beck. There is no obvious outlet for the water, which must seep away somehow.

Torver Beck
Torver Beck, above falls into Banishead Quarry

South of the quarry the bridleway picks its way through the quarry waste and soon crosses the beck to join the bridleway that parallels the west bank. This in turn took us to Scarr Head, a small collection of houses. From there we followed footpaths to Torver and the Church House Inn (next to the church, as it name suggests).

Tranearth climbing hut
Tranearth climbing hut

We had a couple of pints in the pub, which does a decent range of beers (including Bluebird Bitter from the Coniston Brewing Company). We had got the Black Bull to give us packed lunches (rather large sandwiches) so we didn't eat in the pub. The pub was friendly and I'd recommend it.

Dow Crag
View back to Dow Crag

From the pub we had a short walk along the A 593, towards Coniston, before we could turn off along a footpath over fields towards Brackenbarrow Farm. The footpath crosses the formation of the old Coniston Railway. It's now rather boggy, the drains failing long ago.

View from near Brackenbarrow Farm

Wikipedia tells me that the Coniston Railway ran from Coniston to Broughton-in-Furness. At Broughton-in-Furness it joined the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway to Foxfield. There were stations at Coniston and Broughton-in-Furness, with intermediate stations at Torver and Woodland. The line opened in 1859 and closed in 1962.

The Gondola
The steam-powered 'Gondola'

Beyond Brackenbarrow Farm the path goes through Torver Common Wood to reach the banks of Coniston Water at Torver Jetty. We stopped here to eat our sandwiches and watched 'Coniston Launch' and the steam-powered 'Gondola' go past.

Just as we finished eating, the promised rain started - late, but definitely continuous. We put on waterproofs and continued on our way, following the Cumbria Way along the lake shore and into Coniston, passing the Coniston Hall (16th century, owned by the National Trust, but not open to the public), which has extraordinary chimneys. I'd have liked to look for some of the Ironworks marked on the map, but it was too wet.

We were glad to get back to the pub - very wet, and in need of a pint. But a good, if rather short, low-level walk.

Coniston Hall
Approaching Coniston Hall in the rain



22 May 2011: A walk to the top of the Old Man of Coniston

9.4 km (5.9 miles)

Ruskin's grave
Ruskin's grave, Coniston

Dan and Ian had decided they had done enough walking, and some gricing was in order, so they planned to go and look at a preserved railway - I can't remember the details, but it involved open topped buses, boats and a steam train [1]. Bernie's joints were troubling him, so he decided to join them, which left just me, Julian and Tim for the assault on the Old Man of Coniston.

Church Beck
Church Beck, approaching Miners Bridge

The day opened with heavy rain showers, and the Church Beck, which runs behind the Black Bull, was flowing very strongly. I thought it prudent to check the forecast posted in the tourist office. On the way I visited Ruskin's grave in St. Andrew's churchyard. It's marked by a rather ugly Celtic cross, heavy with symbolism. The grave should have been marked by something in the Gothic style.

The forecast wasn't promising - showers rather than rain, but very high winds (up to 60 mph on the tops, with a wind chill of down to -9° C) and cloud obscuring the view. However, we decided that we had come to climb the hill, so climb it we would.

Coppermines Valley
Coppermines Valley

We set off to the Sun Hotel, to take the path up to the Miners Bridge along the west bank of Church Beck. On the way we saw a group of students being lead up the beck in wet suits (I think it is called gorge walking). I don't think they can have got far, as the beck was flowing very strongly, and the falls looked impassable.

Quarry road
Quarry road, above The Bell

From the Miners Bridge we were going to follow the standard tourist route to the summit of the Old Man, on the assumption it wouldn't be too difficult, as I at least had been away from the fells for many years. Wainwright is scathing about the route:

This is the way the crowds go: the day trippers, the courting couples, troops of earnest Boy Scouts, babies and grandmothers, the lot. On this stony parade fancy handbags and painted toenails are as likely to be seen as rucksacks and boots. In its favour, it can be said that the route is totally safe in the worst weather - the densest mist cannot obscure the spiralling ribbon of stones. But let's be fair - the scenery of Low Water is very good.

Looking over Coppermines Valley towards Wetherlam

Notwithstanding Wainwright, it turned out to be a very pleasant walk. In our case, the fancy handbags and painted toenails belonged to a great crowd of charity walkers, collecting for 'Help for Heroes', who caught up with us just above Low Water. A cheerful, if rather loud, group, complete with small children, smaller dogs and a stretcher with dummy casualty that was proving difficult to carry in the high winds.

Cable way pylon
Fallen cable way pylon

The route starts with a gentle amble across Levers Moss Scrowl, and then joins the quarry road up to the abandoned quarries below Low Water. I found the quarries fascinating, if rather grim. There are interesting relics to be seen, including the fallen pylons of a cable way.

As Wainwright says, the scenery of Low Water is very good. We paused there to put on all the clothing we had (including waterproofs), as it promised to be very cold higher up, and the wind would be too strong to start adding layers later.

Low Water
Low Water

The climb from Low water was straightforward, paved in places, with a fine view over Coniston and Coniston Water when the path crests the final ridge up to the summit. The final stretch to the summit is very rocky and there is no clear single path - people have picked a wide swath of routes to the top.

Coniston, from just below the summit of the Old Man

We were fairly sheltered from the wind until the final turn towards the summit, when the full force of the wind hit us. It was difficult to stand upright, but we got to the summit cairn, which provided a little shelter.

There is a trig point just beyond the cairn, and someone had placed a large rock on the top of it. As I approached the trig, a sudden gust blew the rock off, and nearly blew me over. I retreated back to the cairn.

The summit
Tim and Julian on the summit

It was clearly too windy to risk taking our planned route back by way of Brim Fell and Goat's Hawse (and thence down to Goat's Water and the Walna Scar Road). We therefore retreated the way we had come, back along the tourist route.

At the quarries we paused to eat our sandwiches (again provided by the Black Bull, and again very large), sheltering in the ruins of a building.

Low Water
Looking down on Low Water

Just before we stopped, I spotted some pretty little white flowers growing in the scree of quarry waste. I scrambled to see them - they were some sort of saxifrage, seemingly growing from a mossy mound. I later identified them as mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides). Further up I'd found another member of the saxifrage family, with the rather long winded name of opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium).

Low Water Beck
Low Water Beck, leaving the tarn

After lunch we continued down the quarry road, but as we had plenty of time I suggested that rather return all the way as we had come, we should continue on the quarry road to the car park on Walna Scar Road, then work our way back to Coniston across country.

Just before we got to the car park a shower hit us. We still had on the waterproofs we put on at Low Water, so we carried on. By the time we got to the car park, it had largely blown over.

Quarry debris
Quarry debris

From the car park we followed the footpath south along the wall separating the open land from the enclosed fields for about half a kilometre, and then turned east along a footpath to Heathwaite, a farm. We then followed Heathwaite's driveway to reach the old formation of the Coniston Railway (see the log for Saturday) on the outskirts of the town. As we approached it, a couple walking along the formation asked us if we knew where the old railway was. I told them they were walking along it - I don't know what they expected a dead railway to look like.

We dropped down to the formation and followed it to the site of the old Coniston Station. Nothing remains save the traces of a platform edge.

View north-east from footpath south of Walna Scar Road

The old station is conveniently near the Sun Hotel, so we stopped of for a pint or two - as did the tail end of the Help for Heroes walk.

Finishing at the Sun we returned to the Bull. However, I wasn't satisfied with the pictures I'd taken of the Common Butterwort on Friday, so I did a quick circular walk up to Coppermines Valley, going just beyond Miners Bridge, to take new pictures, walking up one side of Church Beck and returning down the other side.

A good day's walking, and all things considered the weather was kind to us. It was to be a different matter the next day, with continuous heavy rain, causing fields to flood and the becks to become raging torrents. We decided prudence was the better part of valour, and went back to London. But I'd found being back in the Lakes after so many years very exhilarating, and I'll be back again.

View north-west from footpath south of Walna Scar Road

[1] Bernie's notes:

Our boat from Bowness to Lakeside was the MV Tern which dates from 1891.  We returned on the MV Swan which was built at Barrow in Furness in then dismantled and sent up to Lakeside on the railway and rebuilt at Lakeside in 1938.

The Haverswaite to Lakeside railway has the only two Fairburn 2-6-4 locos in preservation. Fairburns were built at Derby and Brighton between 1945 and 1951. From 1951 the BR Standard locos (80000 series) were built at Brighton as a further 2-6-4 development.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage Common Butterwort Mossy Saxifrage