Banishead Quarry has always felt like a secret to me. Though an unusual feature, set directly on a well-used path on one of the Lake District’s most popular fells, it’s neither lauded, commented upon nor even mentioned as a feature in anything but the most brief of passing words.
The quarry lies on the southern slopes of Coniston Old Man – the highest point in Lancashire in the days when my home county still had a claim Across the Waters – lying below the Walna Scar Road. Walna Scar is a much-used pass from Coniston to the Duddon Valley which, for Wainwright’s purposes, marks the southern extension of the fells that feature in his Guides.
Beyond the Walna Scar Road lies rolling moorland, green and unfrequented, crossed by sheep trails rather than paths, though one or two routes do wander up from the southern skirts of the fell.
The best, and most defined of these, ascends from Torver, a small village halfway down the western side of Coniston Water. A farm road starts at a bend in the main road, rising slowly and peacefully through woodlands. This approach was pioneered by climbers seeking a quick approach to the face of Dow Crag, and this holds most of the attention, though the Old Man’s south ridge looks increasingly graceful as well.
The walk stays above the west bank of Torver Beck, but when a footbridge appears, use it to cross to the east side, with the ground starting to open out onto the moors. Banishead Quarry appears beside you very quickly. A body of water in a sunken quarry, a splendid waterfall at its far end, green grass around and the Old Man and Dow Crag towering above: why does nobody recommend you to come and look at this?
Enough people find their way here by themselves, as the sudden plethora of paths covering the very short distance to the Walna Scar Road demonstrates.
From here, you may join the Walna Scar Road to reach the western ridge, for the Duddon or Dow Crag, or tackle the Old Man’s south ridge, or turn right and walk back to Coniston Village. Or do what my family did when first we came here: press on, into the Cove, following the path the climbers made which ends in the hollow between the two fells ahead, on the shores of lonely and wild Goatswater. Those with binoculars will study the little dots of red and blue on the crags.
Forty years ago, you could find peace and quiet there with ease, among the Coniston fells. I wonder if it’s like that still.