The Old Man of Coniston, standing at 803 metres (2,635 feet), is a mountain that has given me so many wonderful memories over the years.
Firstly it is where it all began for me. My dad had me, my mum and brother going up many a hill or on long hikes as kids, but as a young teenager we all went up here, The Old Man of Coniston (often called Coniston Old Man). I think it was the first time it wasn’t a slog we had been ‘dragged’ along on.
It opened my eyes to the feelings of what it means to climb high and be rewarded for your efforts. The epic Lake District views and the other mountains in the scenes, ones that I had now been spurred on to climb.
As you can see from the pics in this post, I have been back so many times; up this route that never gets boring for me. A walk up in winter, summer, plus autumn and spring; it does not matter. It is always a great walk.
Rain, shine, cloud or fog, nothing can dampen a good walk in the fresh air up the Old Man.
It is also a walk where you tread through history. You will pass through old slate mines where the remnants stand to this day.
Before we get onto this great circular walk, let us take a stroll through some of the history of this mountain.
The Name Old Man Of Coniston
As far as the etymology of the name, it comes from a mix of Old Celtic and Old Norse.
The Coniston part corresponds to the local village too. The word Coniston is derived from Old Norse ‘Konigs Tun’ which translates to ‘King’s Farm’.
Many people believe the Old Man simply came from locals calling it the Big Old Man but it is actually a corruption of old Celtic ‘Alt Maen’ meaning ‘High Stone’.
So it is the ‘High Stone of the King’s Farm’.
Coniston Old Man History
As you walk up onto the slopes of the mountain you will come across great piles of slate type rock together with the twisted metal that shows signs of an industrial past.
It is believed that slate mining has been done here physically on the Old Man since as far back as the 12th century, 1000 years ago.
They started mining copper in the valley and by the middle ages these were some of the biggest copper and slate mines in the country.
When you look at the area today you see calm, beautiful landscapes. But in its mining heyday you must imagine the thousands of people, the noise, the transportation all taking place in the area and on the side of the mountain, even deep into the mountain.
Now then, for parking at Coniston Old Man there are a few options. For this walk I personally recommend the drive up out of Coniston Village to the end of Walna Scar. There is a car park with space for around 70 cars, so arriving early is good if you want to park here.
Grid Reference: SD 288 970; come out of the village of Coniston on Station Road and as it bends left it turns into the narrow Walna Scar Lane.
Be warned, this lane is narrow and steep in parts so be careful of oncoming traffic or especially in winter when icy.
Alternative parking would mean parking in the village and walking up the road to Walna Scar to get to the proper start. It’s a slog you don’t need really.
The Walk Up
Out of the car park and look across the track. You will see the path ahead, gradually going upward into the distance.
It is a popular walk so you will see others heading out on their own way up there too most likely. It is a great dog friendly walk as well, but please be aware that there are sheep all over the fell.
It is a wide and well laid path to begin with and then after about half a mile you turn left and it gradually gets rockier and steeper.
About half way up you start to meet the remains of the slate mines. Old shafts turned to ruins lay either side of the path and underfoot you are stepping over slate type stones.
Heading up out of the mines area you are soon greeted with a magnificent view and place to rest. The glacial tarn that is Low Water.
Low Water is one of my favourite spots. To get to its shores it’s just a 100m or so detour from the main path of the mountain. On a calm day the reflections and surroundings are magnificent.
I would say this is the perfect spot for a lunch break, getting the flask out or a snack. The mountain shelters you from the wind beautifully.
At the far end of the water, hidden away behind the rocks you may find others who enjoy this spot as a great place to wild camp.
In 1713 this tarn was actually dammed and deepened to enable water used for power supply for the quarries below. Today all that has gone and you see it as nature intended with the original depth.
The Final Ascent
The path from Low Water to the top is where you get some super hard earned views as you zig zag your way up.
Low Water starts to look amazing as you climb above it and the rest of the Lake District comes into view.
If you see photos from The Old man of Coniston on social media it is most likely a view here on the final push to the top.
When you get to the summit, take a breath and take it all in. If you are lucky to be there on a clear day then you can see for miles and miles.
Being one of the extreme southern fells of the Lake District you can see all down the coast of England, even Blackpool Tower can be seen. Below you’ll see the length of Coniston Water.
Looking north you have virtually the entirety of the Lake District in front of you: the Scafell Pike Range and beyond.
Eastwards you can see all across to the Pennines.
If you are doing a linear walk then you turn around and go back the way you came. I love a circular myself so I carry on from the trig point the opposite way from the upwards path and gradually go downhill on the path that heads left.
It brings you out at the col between the old man and Dow Crag. Turn left down this new glacial valley and down to the tarn ahead, Goat’s Water.
This way down is so different from the way up; it really brings a sense of variety in the walk. Heading down and down from the tarn you get the big views ahead of you as you walk.
Eventually you meet a track. Turn left along the track and it takes you back to the car park at Walna Scar.
Distance – 5 miles
Time Taken – 3 hours