The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Friday 16 June 2023

A Wetherlam and Swirl How Circuit (incl Great Carrs and Brim Fell)

Wednesday 14 June
Start Point: Coniston
Distance and Ascent: 15.6km, 1100m
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine. Breezy on the ridge.
On Tuesday afternoon I’d contemplated what to do on Wednesday. I didn’t want to have to drive anywhere, and knew that I had no unbagged Marilyns to collect, so I turned my attention to what other summits were nearby.

After an extended period of failed password resets when I feared I may have lost access to my log of bagged hills, I finally managed to access and establish that I’d not yet been up Wetherlam or Swirl How. “But you’re not bagging Wainwrights” observed Mick. True, but that wasn’t a good reason not to go up them, nor was it a reason to omit an out and back to Great Carrs that sits so close to Swirl How, with barely any difference in elevation, that it would have been silly not to visit it and gain a tick, even if on a list that I’m not collecting.

The weather was once again a little cooler than the day before (16 degrees at 6am today, with a forecast high of 26 or 28 depending on which forecast you looked at), but even so I was out walking at quarter past seven, so as to be back in time for elevenses.

A fabulous morning to be out. What colours!

On the shaded side of the valley, but still warm enough for a short skirt and vest.

The initial ascent up to ‘Coniston Fells’ was a path I’ve used a few times before, although always in the opposite direction. From there I was surprised to find my onward route to be a little trodden line, often grassy, rather than an eroded, well-used path. That surprised me, as surely Coniston is an obvious starting point for Wetherlam.

Where I’m headed. The trodden line was more obvious in some places (like in this snap) than others, although even where not so well defined, it was never faint enough to lose it.

Summit selfie atop Wetherlam.

Over there next

The next ascent, seen from closer-to

I passed three backpacking chaps on the next ascent. They were the only people I saw sufficiently close to talk to until I got back down to the mines. Having compared intended routes, onwards I went.

I was on my way back to Swirl How from Great Carrs when I met one of the backpackers again. He was also just doing an out-and-back, and I’d assumed from our previous short chat that he was also going to Great Carrs, as he’d referred to another nearby Wainwright. It turned out he meant Grey Friar (I hope he did also do Great Carrs!), and he explained that it made sense for him to go and visit it now as otherwise it sits on its own and would be awkward to bag. In hindsight, at this point what I should have done was to turn around and go with him. Instead, I now have one hill ridiculously near to where I was standing that I will need to visit separately (using the word ‘need’ in a loose sense, given that I’m not actively collecting Wainwrights…).

Whilst I’d completely failed to notice the sense of visiting Grey Friars, I had noticed that there’s the tiniest raise in the ridge to the north of The Old Man of Coniston that is also a Wainwright, and when I got to the point that I had intended to descend to Levers Water, I was having such a nice time that I thought I may as well quickly nip up it. Hence to Brim Fell I went. A look at the map suggested that the most obvious way back to Coniston from there was over The Old Man, and I dithered for a couple of minutes, eventually deciding that having been there only the day before, I would stick to the original plan (ignoring that I’d veered off it!) and descend via Levers Water. I passed the three backpackers on the way and having told them my route (which I clearly wasn’t on, and was now heading back the way I’d come) they playfully asked if I was lost.

Brim Fell with The Old Man of Coniston a short distance (and barely any ascent) away

I’m not sure the Levers Water descent was the best decision. The horribly eroded steep initial section was undoubtedly slower going than the engineered path off The Old Man would have been.

Incredibly, given that it hasn’t rained for some time, I managed to find a small section of bog as I made my way pathlessly past Levers Water. 

Levers Water, with my descent route beyond.

Then, having narrowly avoided a volley of flying rocks ejected with force from the rear wheels of a passing United Utilities vehicle as it negotiated a tricky bit of the track, I jogged back down to Erica, where Mick had cake waiting for me:

Another fabulous outing, and I could have happily chosen another one for the following day, if it wasn’t for the fact that we needed to go home.



The Old Man of Coniston and Dow Crag

Tuesday 13 June
Start point: Coniston
Distance and ascent: 13km, 875m
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine. 18 to 24 degrees whilst out (hotter later).
Whilst doing an out-and-back to Walna Scar from Coniston on Monday Mick & I talked about previous visits to The Old Man of Coniston. In February 2014 we had two aborted visits to its summit on consecutive days, but I remember having previously been to the top, probably sometime between 2003 and 2006*. It is, however, one of the few hills for which I have no record of the date of ascent, and, as we were unexpectedly sitting in Coniston with no plans during a spell of fantastic weather, that seemed a good reason to go up there again.

Tuesday’s forecast was a little cooler than Monday’s, so we had a lie-in until 6. At quarter past seven we strode off up the road.

Our ascent route through the remains of mining infrastructure was exactly as I remembered from descending that path 20-ish years ago. Mick had no memory of it at all, even though it’s quite distinctive and I’m sure he was with me.

After a couple of hard weeks, in the heat and on the back of the previous day’s efforts (he’d done a second circuit in the heat of the day, whilst I sat around in the shade) Mick clearly wasn’t enjoying this outing as much as he’d have liked. It was a fine day to break the ascent with some pauses to admire our surroundings and I felt sure (having had many a day that I’ve miserably hauled an unwilling body up the first significant incline of the day) that he would rally as soon as we started descending.

Remains of mining activities

Low water (and Mick)
Nearly there! 
Contrary to appearances, someone hasn’t just speared me in the shoulder with a javelin!

The expected rally didn’t come and Mick didn’t hesitate in agreeing when I suggested that he would prefer a more direct descent via Goats Water, whilst I went via Dow Crags.  

Over there next

After the relatively still conditions of the last day and a half, it was breezy on the top of Dow Crags. The reversal of my hat is to stop it blowing away, rather than a misguided attempt at fashion, and I had to be careful on the rocky high point.

Just as I stood atop the rock utcrop of a summit, Mick had stopped alongside Goats Water and (I assumed) was looking up. I raised my arm, but that didn’t provoke a response in kind; I now know that he just wasn’t looking at the right moment.

At the start of the outing, at the junction where we took the path up The Old Man, we had met a runner on his way down; a few paces later we overtook a chap who we didn’t see again. The next people I saw were a few minutes after I left the summit of Dow Crags, when I met a singleton and a couple. I saw no-one else until part way down the Walna Scar Road, where I hit rush hour.

As the car park at the foot of the Walna Scar Road came into view, so did Mick, and I caught him at the gate, from where I slowed down to walk down the road with him.

Back in Coniston, Mick was all for going straight out for second breakfast but I thought that if we were going to sit in an enclosed space alongside others, then politeness demanded us to at least have some semblance of a wash first. Not long later we were to be found suitably refuelling ourselves:


(*Since getting home I’ve even pulled out our digital photo archive and painstakingly gone through all of our photos taken between those dates. It turns out that back then we didn’t feel the need to take a camera along on our walks. We’ve got a few photos of holidays, lots covering house renovations, but nothing of hilly walks.)