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Welcome to a guide on one of the Lake District’s finest walks: the Old Man of Coniston. This isn’t just any trail; it’s a journey to the summit of a Lake District icon, known for its breathtaking views and a sense of achievement that sticks with you.
Starting from the Walna Scar car park, this circular route is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. It offers a clear path to the top and back, making it a solid choice for anyone looking to experience the heart of the Lake District without getting lost in the wilderness.
I took on this walk with my brother in September, and I’m here to share the ins and outs of this classic hike. From the time it takes to the gear you’ll need, I’ve got you covered. And I’ll also tell you about the perfect post-hike activity – paddleboarding on the serene Coniston Water.
So, lace up your boots, and let’s dive into what makes the Old Man of Coniston a must-visit for every hiker.
The Old Man of Coniston Walk
11 km return
Preparing for the Walk
Before you set foot on the trail, preparation is key. Here’s what you need to know to tackle the Old Man of Coniston:
Route Overview: The circular route from Walna Scar car park is your gateway to the summit. It’s a well-trodden path, marked enough to guide you but wild enough to keep the adventure alive. Expect rocky paths, steep inclines, and if the weather’s on your side, some of the most stunning panoramas in the Lake District.
- Good walking boots: Non-negotiable for the rocky terrain.
- Weather-appropriate clothing: Layers are your friend in the unpredictable Lakeland climate.
- Navigation tools: A map and compass, or a GPS device. Mobile service is patchy at best.
- Food and water: Enough to sustain you for the hike’s duration, which can be upwards of 3-4 hours.
- A camera: You’ll want to capture the summit views.
A quick dip into ‘Swallowdale‘ may not be essential kit, but it definitely sets the scene. This mountain isn’t just a climb; it’s a page out of a childhood adventure, and knowing its literary significance only adds to the experience.
Parking for Old Man of Coniston Walk
Walna Scar Car Park: Get there early. The car park fills up quickly, especially on weekends and bank holidays. Parking fees apply, so bring change. This is where you’ll start and finish, so remember your parking spot.
Use postcode – LA21 8HD or click the Google Map below
Starting the Adventure
Once you’re packed and at the starting point, the real journey begins. Here’s how to kick off your ascent of the Old Man of Coniston:
From the Walna Scar car park, you’ll find the trail clearly marked. There’s a sense of camaraderie as walkers nod to each other, a silent acknowledgement of the challenge ahead. The initial stretch is a gradual climb, a good warm-up for your legs.
If you’re coming from Coniston village, take the east road out towards Walna Scar. It’s a narrow lane with passing places, typical of the Lake District, so drive cautiously. Signs for the car park will guide you through the last few miles.
Pace yourself as you start. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and push too hard too soon. Remember, it’s not a race; it’s about enjoying the journey. The path will lead you through open fields before the ascent truly begins.
The climb gets steeper as you approach Low Water, the tarn that sits like a gemstone in the mountain’s embrace. The path can be rocky, so watch your step. This is where the climb tests your mettle, but also where the views start to open up, rewarding your efforts.
The Ascent to the Summit of the Old Man of Coniston
As you leave Low Water behind, the path to the summit becomes more pronounced, and the real climb begins. Here’s how to navigate this crucial stage:
The trail now zigzags upwards, a series of switchbacks that make the steep terrain manageable. Each turn offers a new vista, each ledge a vantage point. It’s a mix of stone steps and natural paths, bordered by grassy knolls and the occasional hardy shrub.
As you gain elevation, the summit cairn starts to peek over the horizon. It’s a beacon for those trudging the final metres.
Be prepared for the weather to change rapidly. A clear morning can turn into a misty afternoon at this altitude. If the mist descends, keep to the main path and trust your map and compass. It’s part of the mountain’s challenge.
At the summit, you’ll find the trig point—a geometric beacon that marks the peak’s precise location. It’s more than just a spot for a photo; it’s proof of your climb, a tangible goal reached. Take a moment here to savour the success.
Standing at the summit, you can take in the epic views. The landscape stretched out like a canvas, with Coniston Water glinting in the distance, Brown Pike and Buck Pike standing as sentinels to the north, and the craggy face of Dow Crag to the west.
The descent can be trickier than the ascent. Your knees and ankles are under more strain, and the path can be slippery, especially after rain. If you ascended via the main path, consider the Goat’s Water route for descending. It’s a less direct path but offers stunning views over the tarn and a different perspective of the mountain.
Keep an eye on the path and watch for loose stones. Use your walking poles if you have them. They can be invaluable for maintaining balance and reducing the load on your legs.
As you descend, you’ll have the opportunity to look at the route you’ve conquered. The view towards Dow Crag is particularly impressive, with its sheer drops and rugged profile. You’ll also pass by the old mine workings in Coppermines Valley, a reminder of the area’s industrial past.
The circular route will lead you back to Walna Scar car park. This is where you’ll feel a mix of relief and nostalgia as the journey ends. Before you leave, take a moment to reflect on the experience. It’s an accomplishment worth acknowledging.
After the descent, the adventure doesn’t have to end. Here’s how you can wind down from the hike and enjoy the rest of your day:
Paddleboarding on Coniston Water
For me, the day was far from over after stepping off the Old Man. I swapped my hiking boots for a life jacket and took to the waters of Coniston. Paddleboarding to Peel Island, the inspiration for Wild Cat Island in ‘Swallows and Amazons’, is a serene experience. The calm after the day’s climb is surreal, and the water provides a new perspective of the Old Man looming above.
Relaxing in Coniston Village
Back on dry land, Coniston Village is worth a look. It’s a place to refuel and reflect. There are plenty of cafés and pubs where you can celebrate your hike with a hearty meal or a pint. The Black Bull Inn is a popular spot, known for its local ales and welcoming atmosphere.
Exploring the Local History
If you have the energy, consider a visit to the Ruskin Museum in the village. It’s a tribute to the writer, artist, and social thinker John Ruskin, who had a deep connection to the area. Or, for a bit of industrial history, take a stroll through the Coppermines Valley and imagine the days when these now-quiet fells echoed with the sounds of mining.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse into the journey up and around the Old Man of Coniston, here’s some practical advice to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience:
Weather Considerations: The Lake District is notorious for its quick-changing weather. Check the forecast before you set out and be prepared for all conditions. Even if it looks clear, pack waterproofs – mountain weather can be unpredictable.
- Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
- Carry a first aid kit for minor emergencies.
- Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged, and consider bringing a portable charger.
- If you’re not confident in your map-reading skills, stick to the well-trodden paths or consider hiring a guide.
Using OS Maps:
Ordnance Survey (OS) maps are the gold standard for walkers in the UK, providing detailed and reliable navigation for your trek up the Old Man of Coniston. Before you depart, make sure to get your hands on the OS Explorer Map OL6, which covers the Lake District’s South Western area, including Coniston.
Here’s how to make the most of your OS map:
- Plan Your Route: Use the map to familiarise yourself with the terrain, pinpoint landmarks, and plan your ascent and descent paths.
- Check Symbols: Understand the symbols and contour lines to gauge the landscape’s difficulty and identify essential features like footpaths, streams, and crags.
- Stay Updated: Make sure you have the latest edition, as paths and access can change.
- Map and Compass Skills: In an era of GPS and smartphones, traditional map and compass skills are invaluable, especially if technology fails. It’s worth brushing up on these skills or even taking a short course.
Carrying an OS map not only helps with navigation but also enriches your walking experience, giving you a deeper connection to the landscape and its features. So, when you set off for the Old Man, keep your map at hand – it’s both your guide and a memento of your journey.
Lake District Map
OS Explorer Active Maps:
- 1:25 000 scale (4 cm to 1 km – 2½ inches to 1 mile).
- Laminated with a weatherproof finish, also suitable for dry-wipe pens.
- Great for walkers, hikers, cyclists, families, dog walkers, and horse riders.
- Includes roads, rights of way, permissive paths and bridleways, plus essential visitor information.
- Free digital download included.
- Other Ordnance Survey Explorer maps of the Lake District include English Lakes: North-Western Area map OL04 and English Lakes: South-Eastern Area map OL07
Parking at Walna Scar Car Park: Arrive early to secure a spot, especially during peak season. The parking fee contributes to the maintenance of the paths and facilities, so it’s money well spent.
Respect the Environment: The Lake District is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Stick to the paths, take your litter home, and keep dogs under control, especially during lambing season.
Leaving No Trace: One of the joys of walking in places like the Old Man is the unspoiled nature. Make sure it stays that way for future adventurers by following the Leave No Trace principles.
FAQs: The Old Man of Coniston
How long does it take to walk up the Old Man of Coniston?
The time it takes can vary based on your pace and how often you stop to rest or enjoy the views. On average, expect to spend around 5 to 6 hours for the full circular walk, including the ascent and descent.
Can kids climb the Old Man of Coniston?
Yes, children who are used to walking and have a reasonable level of fitness can climb the Old Man of Coniston. It’s a great adventure for older children and teenagers. However, the terrain can be challenging, so it’s not recommended for very young children or those who are not accustomed to similar walks.
What is the easiest route up Coniston Old Man?
The most straightforward route starts from the Walna Scar car park and follows the well-trodden tourist path. This route provides a steady ascent up to the summit and is the most popular path for first-time climbers of the Old Man.
Why is the Old Man of Coniston called the Old Man?
The name ‘Old Man of Coniston’ originates from the Old Norse language, reflecting the area’s history of Norse settlement. ‘Old Man’ may refer to the mountain’s profile resembling the face of an old man, which is a common form of mountain nomenclature, or it could be derived from ‘Alt Maen’, which means ‘high stone’.
Is Coniston Old Man Steep?
Yes, parts of the ascent are steep, particularly as you approach the summit. The path includes some steep and rugged sections, which can be more challenging in wet or icy conditions.
Should you go clockwise or anticlockwise at Old Man of Coniston?
This is largely a matter of personal preference. Going clockwise, you’ll face the steeper sections earlier in the walk, with a more gradual descent. Going anticlockwise, you’ll enjoy a gentler ascent but a steeper descent. Consider your fitness level and walking experience when deciding.
How high is Old Man of Coniston?
The Old Man of Coniston stands at 803 meters (2,635 feet) above sea level, making it one of the higher fells in the Lake District and offering impressive views over the surrounding landscape.