Series 2 – 05: Torver to Goatswater


To my surprise, this second uphill ‘stock walk’ had slipped my memory, even though I included a piece on the waterfall into Banishead Quarry in the first series. But the narrow upland valley in which the wild Tarn of Goatswater lay, beneath the giant, black cliffs of Dow Crag was very much a favourite destination.
There was a false start to begin with. Along the Broughton-Coniston road, on the way into the village, were separate signposted paths towards Coniston Old Man, and on a sunny day in 1966, with just the four of us, we set off up one. It lead nowhere, petered out on featureless slopes, and somehow we found our way back into the Village.
Mam waited with us children, in the baking heat, whilst Dad walked back alone to fetch the car. I still recall a group of lads walking up the road from the Lake, happily singing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s big smash, “Daydream”.
Did that little expedition prompt Dad to start buying the Wainwrights? (for they were his, not his brothers, and mine after his death, though I had no control over them until I began walking alone). No way of knowing now, but later that year, with my Uncle restored to the group, we set off from a bend in the road near to Torver, halfway down the Lake and back to Broughton, following another sign – Coniston Old Man 4 miles. But this path was in The Southern Fells, and those nearer the Village were not.
A farm road led to a steadily ascending path through woods, and there was the quarry with its spectacular falls, an obvious subject for Dad’s camera. And unknown too, then as now.
Above, a steep path on grass demanded effort, but led quickly to a crossroads with a major footpath at 90 degrees. This was the Walna Scar Road, leading towards the Pass of the same name, but we crossed it, climbing across an angled moor beneath the great sweep of the Old Man’s south ridge and the half-hidden crags of the Dow: a place where, a decade earlier, a Coniston schoolboy had taken photos of a UFO, and looking down on the lake where, less than a year later, Donald Campbell’s Bluebird would lift from the waters and somersault to oblivion.
Above the Moor, a long path trailed the rocks of the South Ridge, before rising to turn into the narrow basin between the two fells, and the path’s end at grey Goatswater.
We never went further. The path vanished, but it would have been easy to parallel the tarn’s shore and ascend to the rim of the hollow, but no-one else wanted to think of it. Dad and my Uncle would study the crags through their binoculars, dreaming of a world outside their reach, then perhaps one would scramble up the somewhat easier and smaller rocks on our side of the cove, and throw down a climbing rope that would be tied round my sister or I, as we practised the most basic and totally safe of rock-climbing.
One time, Dad filmed us with his cine-camera. I overheard him praising my sister for the careful, professional way she cleaned the dirt out of her handholds, and when my turn came, envious of her, I spent so much time cleaning out the handhold that the film ran out before I moved upwards.
We came here often, including one occasion when we set off from the roadhead above the Village to walk Walna Scar Pass, but, on a hot day, broke off at the crossroads to trace our way into the sheltered hollow of the Tarn.
I’ve never been back. Twice, once in each direction, I’ve crossed Goat’s Hause, with the tarn beneath me under afternoon suns, and on Cup Final Day in 1998, avoiding a game in which I couldn’t stomach seeing either Manager succeed, I crossed the moor to Walna Scar Pass, pottered on the Outlying Fells beyond it, and on a scorching afternoon of partial sight – one contact lens simply dried out beyond any hope of popping it back in and my glasses were left in the car – I returned by Banishead Quarry, taking a squinting look at an old haunt unseen in almost a quarter century, and unchanged in every respect.
These places, these walks, and a couple of other spots, are where I cannot help but be close to a family that no longer exists.
The picture is of the classic first sight we always had of Goatswater, rounding the edge of the mouth of the cove, with Dow Crag as an exciting and forbidding backdrop.

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