This was a day of revisiting old hills in new ways. The route from Coniston Old Man to Wetherlam in either direction is one of the classic lake district rounds. It’s one I’ve done numerous times and will likely go back many more, but not on this occasion, or at least not in the usual way.
I’ve never been a fan of the drive up to the parking area where the tarmac ends at Walna Scar road. The road is steep and narrow and the parking area is usually over crowded. Instead I parked in the village and slogged up the hill on foot instead to the gate at the end of the road where the track turns in towards the foot of the Old Man. After only a few hundred yards I branched off towards a small rocky outcrop known as The Bell. There’s a grade one scramble up the obvious rib in the picture below that I knew of but had never done. The great thing about playing in the easy grades is that you can adjust the challenge level to whatever you’re in the mood for on the day. If there’s a move you don’t fancy, just go a different way. Anyone who argues that you have to do exactly the line in the guidebook is missing the point in my view.
From the top of The Bell I wandered along a deserted hilltop to rejoin the main path below the steep the climb up to Low water. This is another place I rarely come to as I don’t often travel this route. I did this walk on a weekday so it was relatively quiet but on a summer weekend there’s a steady procession up through here. Low Water is an atmospheric spot on a gloomy day surrounded by looming crags and the detritus of past industry. On a few occasions walking in this area I’ve looked onto the eastern side of Brim fell that sits above Low water from the surrounding hills and thought it looked like there ought to be a way up the hill. There’s no path marked on the map but the trodden line in the grass suggested I wasn’t the first person to have had that thought. From Low Water to the summit of Brim fell I walked ground I’ve never walked before and didn’t see another soul. Mountains have a curious way of folding a lot of land into a small area. Even in somewhere as popular as the lake district it is still possible to find quiet corners if you learn to look past the lines on the map and to see the land as it is.
From the top of Brim fell there are a few options. The return towards the Old Man or the loop out to Dow Crag are both fine walks in their own right but on this day it was the ridge to the north towards Swirl How that called me on despite the freezing wind chill. The Coniston fells often seem to have a separate weather system to the rest of the lakes and today was one of those days. All through the day I’d seen snow showers blowing across the northern sky. By the time I reached Swirl How I could see a line of white capping the highest fells. From the Scafells in the west to Helvellyn in the east via Skiddaw and Blencathra in the north. My day in contrast had been overcast but dry and grew progressively warmer from here on out.
After the steep descent down prison band from Swirl How there’s a path that drops back down to Levers water and the coppermines valley beyond. The temptation of the easy roll downhill seems to be too strong for most people. This tends to leave Wetherlam as another of those curious quiet outposts reserved for the discerning few who make the climb uphill again. The polar opposite of the old man at the other end of the ridge, both geographically and spiritually. If the Old Man represents the hustle and bustle of lake district tourism, on Wetherlam you can still find a quiet spot to settle down out of the wind behind a convenient rock and absorb the view over a cup of tea or three. By this time May seemed to have remembered that snow was entirely inappropriate behaviour for a spring month and rolled out the sunshine and blue skies more in keeping with the season.
After taking it all in I descended via Wetherlam edge. A route I haven’t done in so long it felt completely new. The area from Tilberthwaite gill back to the coppermines valley is another of those curious places folded away by the landscape. It seems to be tucked away in between the more popular routes and you can only see it by deliberately going there. By that stage my tiring legs were glad of the easy roll downhill back to Coniston village reflecting on the pleasures of covering new ground in familiar places, using the less trodden paths and following my feet to wherever felt good at the time.