Tarns – Goatswater


I’ve written about Goatswater before, in the context of it being one of the family’s ‘stock’ walks, repeated from holiday to holiday. Tarns were just some of the easily-achievable destinations to which the family was limited by the respective strength and stamina of its two youngest members, my sister and myself. Targets like Throstlegarth and Mickleden were flat, but walks to places like Goatswater introduced us to the uphill climb that was neither too distant nor too strenuous for little legs.
On the main road from Broughton to Coniston, on the approach towards the Village, there were a number of Public Footpath signposts, pointing fellwards towards Coniston Old Man. On a rare holiday without my Uncle, the four of us tried one of these, only to have it peter out in the open on the moor east of the Old Man. We wound up in the Village, three of us hanging around in the sun whilst Dad walked back to retrieve the car: I still have a vivid memory of a crowd of lads walking up the road chorusing the Lovin’s Spoonful’s big hit, ‘Daydream’ a song perfect for the conditions.
Though I’ll never know, perhaps that experience is what prompted Dad to first buy a Wainwright: the Southern Fells would have been the book of choice, given our habit of limiting ourselves to the south western quarter. Certainly, when we next tried a walk from the Coniston Road, it was from much further away, near Torver, it was along a route described by Wainwright, and it took us to Goatswater for the first time.
The approach is gentle enough, starting along a farm lane at a bend in the road, and easing upwards through woods to gain a path following the beck that descends from the tarn, high above. There’s not much to see in the early part if the walk, between the trees and the outwards swell of land from the edge of Cover Moor, but it’s quiet and a gentle uphill walk.
The first point of interest on the walk is Banishead Quarry. It’s developed a certain degree of fame now, but in the Sixties it was completely unheralded, despite the spectacular waterfall pouring into the unnamed ‘tarn’ in its bed. Even Wainwright passed it by with nothing more than a cursory mention.
Admittedly, both tarn and waterfall are artificial, but they’re no less a sight for that. Dad and I tried to find the source of the waterfall and, despite obstacles, squirmed round just far enough to see that it actually fell sideways out of an otherwise untroubled beck. And clearly there must have been an underground outflow as the water level never increased over the following years when we passed: no danger of the quarry filling up and spilling over.
Banishead Quarry was the true beginning of interest in the walk beyond its exercise. From here, the way came out into the open, still below the lip of the Moor, but only a short distance below the line of the Walna Scar Road, rounding the foot of Coniston Old Man’s south west ridge. But the section up to the road, and again beyond it, was on steep grass, the steepest gradient of the walk.
When it was done, we were let out onto the upper part of Cove Moor, on a path that hugged the wings of the ridge, in a wide, fractal curve around the edge of the moor, aiming for the turn into the corrie that holds the tarn. A little bit of uphill scrambling to round the final outcrop and take that first sight of Goatswater’s rocky shores, where we would fetch up.
For my sister and I, Goatswater was the destination: the intrinsic fascination with water, and shores, where we would stand, compulsively throwing in any stones that would fit our little hands. Goatswater was long and narrow, contained within its steep-sided hollow, with the rough, wall-like flank of the Old Man behind us and, across the tarn, the cliffs of Dow Crag.
That was what drew Dad and his elder brother. They’d stand side-by-side, twin binoculars fixed on the crags, sometimes calling me over and trying to direct my trembling hands to find little flashes of red or blue that were cragsmen, suspended by rope on vertical stone. My Dad and Uncle would have been up there themselves if they had the chance, the equipment, the experience: instead, they would find miniature climbs on the rocks behind us, rope up and scramble up.
One year, at least, they roped my sister and I in, literally. One would stand above, with the rope belayed, whilst we would make our way up stiffly, the other to one side, filming our endeavours with the cine camera. I heard Dad praising my sister to her mother as a natural, commenting on how she would clean handholds out with her fingers. When it was my next turn on the rope, determined to win the same praise, I spent so much time digging the moss out of a spectacularly easy crack that the whole sequence of the film is of me stood there, making no upwards progress.
For all that it was so easy to access from easy country, Goatswater was a rough place. It was always cold, the surface of the tarn white and choppy from the wind hissing through the corrie. Dow Crag leant a great tone to the atmosphere, but we were so regular in our visits.
We never went further than the shore beside the outflow, the path petering out yards from there. There were no heights from which to get a perspective on the tarn so I always think of it in that first sighting, as I ’rounded the corner’.
A couple of times I suggested going further on, following the shores of the tarn, then heading up the trackless wall of Goats Hause. That would have enabled us to look down upon Goatswater as a whole, and also to see out the other side. I was always curious to see what could be seen on the other side: it was the foundation of my urge to climb all the Wainwrights. There was no path, but there were no difficulties, and it wasn’t too steep, but my suggestions always fell upon deaf ears. Eventually, we’d pack up and set off back, down the way we came, to Torver and the car. Until the next time.
Since those days, I’ve never been back to Goatswater itself, though I have twice seen it by the view from Goats Hause that my family wouldn’t stir themselves to see.
Both times I was crossing the Hause as part of a walk between summits.
My first occasion was years ago, at the very beginning of my solo walks, a day spent in the southern part of the Coniston Range. There was no visit to Torver, nor any diversion to Banishead Quarry, just a crossing of Cove Moor on the Walna Scar Road, to the top of the Pass, and then the switchback route along the ridge of Dow Crag and its subsidiaries, before descending to cross the Hause en route to the Old Man.
And, a decade and more later, in the bright sun of a late afternoon of a glorious day, the tail end of a walk along the whole range, from the Old Man to Dow Crag, and Walna Scar Pass and back.
To be honest, from the Hause, Goatswater is nothing much to look at, though for once the sun glittered on its waters the way it never did from the shore. It belongs to Dow Crag’s crags, sombre and dark, as if on the edge of a storm. Sun does not suit it. The view from the Hause is not the view I remember when I think of Goatswater.

Obscure Corners – Walna Scar


Walna Scar fell, and it’s road leading upwards

Technically, Walna Scar and its environs is not that obscure a corner. It’s a part of the Coniston fells, the continuation of the Dow Crag ridge after it has descended over Blind Pike and Buck Pike. But it’s not in the Wainwrights, or not to those of us old enough to remember the Blessed’s reluctant rejection of the very idea of the Outlying Fells, in the closing pages of Book 7.
On the other hand, there’s enough interesting and attractive country, and summits, on that long ridge accompanying the eastern wall of the Duddon Valley, and Walna Scar fell is the only 2,000′ plus top in those Outlying Fells, making it an obvious target for a day in which solitude is a primary desire.
And I confess that solitude was specifically what I required on this outing, as it took place on FA Cup Final day, 1998.
I am a long-term football fan, and I love the FA Cup. Since 1968, I have lined up on Cup Final Day to watch the whole proceedings, throughout all of BBC and ITV’s coverage (the BBC has always been best). I was seriously committed to the Cup Final, but I didn’t want to watch that year. Each year, I’d choose a team I wanted to see win, but the choices on offer were Arsenal under the still-relatively new Arsene Wenger and Newcastle United under the former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalgleish.
I passionately wanted to see Wenger lose the Final. I passionately wanted to see Dalgleish lose the Final. I could not sit there and see either of them win.
So, with no alternatives available short of crossing the Vibrational Barrier into Earth-2, I boycotted the game and went to the Lakes instead. I didn’t even discover the result until the Sunday paper was delivered. The Lake District is a wonderful alternative to most things under the sun.
The road to Walna Scar the fell is the road to Walna Scar the pass, of course. It was a sunny May Saturday, and despite the limited nature of my expedition, I didn’t award myself a lie-in: alarm at six, hit the road at seven, the Cumbria border at eight, and parked up at the head of the narrow, climbing lane past the old station generously before nine.
I have a history with the Walna Scar Road, dating back into my father’s life-time, when on a soporifically hot August afternoon, we took up Wainwright’s recommendation about the sweet and gentle gradients of the Boo tarn approach, long since obliterated by quarry activity. Easy it might have been in normal conditions, but all of us struggled to lift our heavy legs at all, and we managed no more than three zigs and two zags before giving up and trudging down to the shore of the Tarn to rest.
Later, at least one of our multifarious visits to Goatswater was made by following the Walna Scar Road as far as Cove Moor, before turning up into the wide basin above.
And one of my very first solo expeditions was to Dow Crag, and thence the Old Man, via the pass and the ridge.
The point is that, as far as the pass, the way is as rutted and eroded and busy as any walk in the Conistons is likely to be, and the solitude you seek will not surround you until you break with the processions and, at Walna Scar top, turn left, not right, up the bare, trackless grass slope that leads away from the high fells.
The top of the fell is absurdly easy to reach: 100 feet of climbing, and the ground levels out onto a wide, grassy top, with the small summit cairn less than fifty feet away.
But that brief ascent makes all the difference. The crowds have gone a different way, no doubt marveling at your eccentricity in going off in the wrong direction, and now you are on your own for the next couple of hours.
All the hard work has been done, but Walna Scar’s summit invites a gentle stroll west and south, towards the two subsidiary summits of West Pike and White Maiden, little more than half a mile away.
West Pike, the lower of the two, overlooks the Duddon Valley, a sovereign guarantee of beautiful views. Visit this first, and return to White Maiden.
This, for me was the highlight of the walk, as this narrow, slightly peaked top, looks out over a steep fall to the upper valley of the River Lickle, a place of closely planted trees and logging, a wilderness with no seeming access, especially from White Maiden. Further west, a jumbled ridge with no paths enabling the continuation of the walk, leads to the rough but shapely Caw, worthy of a separate expedition in itself another day.
There’s no more progress to be made in this direction, but the walk and the solitude can be pleasantly extended by descending the eastern flank of White Maiden, crossing a gently rock-strewn slope towards Red Gill, which, further downslope, becomes Ash Gill Beck. There are no paths, but when you reach the former bridge, cross the Beck and work left towards Ash Gill Quarry, where a good track heads across the fellside towards the lower slops of the Old Man.
I actually got into trouble near the bottom of this section, not from the landscape or anything like that, but from my left contact lens, which abruptly dried out completely on me.
This was not nice at all: it immediately became so dry, and so painful that I had to extract it, but I had not brought the lens carrying case with me, nor did I have my glasses in the rucksack. The lens was far too dry to even attempt to pop back in, and all I could do was to gently decant it into a compartment of my wallet (which I never usually carried onto the fells) and carry on with grossly mismatched eyesight: excellent in my right eye, extremely myopic in the left. It was such a hot, sunny day that it was far from ideal to maintain a permanent squint.
From the base of the Gill, it was a simple stroll towards the Walna Scar road as it emerges from the shadow of the Old Man. At this point, you might expect to kiss your solitude goodbye, but there are ways. I started down the old route back to Torver that I’d not walked in over twenty years, to give myself a view on Banishead Quarry and it’s waterfall and pool. Though this loses a small amount of height,, which is not recommended on a hot Saturday, it enabled me to strike off east, on sheeptracks that toyed with being intermittent, but which conducted me back comfortably to the roadhead, in peace and quiet. indeed, the main drag was visible more of the way, a hundred yards and more to the left, and if the track was ever seriously threatened, I would just have walked over there. But it kept me away from people until the time came to swing back towards the gate, and the car.
The quiet part of the walk is relatively short, there being no feasible link from Walna Scar fell and its subsidiary to any other high ground, and even the crossing of the lower part of the Moor cannot be said to be lonely, but on a day when you wish to get away from all others for a time, this is an enjoyable short expedition, during which you will learn nothing as to the progress of football matches taking place in London.Walna Scar fell, and it’s road leading from Coniston

The Coniston Round


Coniston Old ManThe Old Man above his Village

Before the restructuring of Local Government in 1974, the Lake District was divided between three of the ancient shires of England. These were Cumberland, which lent a variation of its name to the new integrated region, Westmorland, which was cleared from the map, and Lancashire, in the form of the Furness District, otherwise known as Lancashire-across-the-water, the water in question being Morecambe Bay.
The boundaries between the three counties met at the top of Wrynose Pass, as commemorated by The Three Shire Stone, with the county boundaries proceeding along the Duddon Valley to the south west, and the Brathay Valley in the east. Lancashire’s only range of fells was the Coniston Range, and their highest point, Coniston old Man, was thus the highest point in Lancashire.
But these days are long gone. The undistinguished Gragareth serves as Lancashire’s highest point now, a highest point impossible to detect on its flat and featureless top, whilst the Coniston Range remains among the most popular walking destinations in the Lakes.
Geographically, the Coniston group is built around a central, north-south ridge linking the two highest peaks, the Old Man in the south, and Swirl How in the north, with outliers to each side. Swirl How is the geographically significant fell in the range, with ridges spinning west, north and east from its neat, uncluttered top, to the south, an outlying spur to the west of the Old Man leads to the group’s finest cliff-face and its sharpest summit.
At first description, it would seem that to devise a walk that covers all the seven summits in the range in a single day would be an artificial thing, full of back-tracking. However, the proximity of the outliers at the northern end of the ridge, and the sheer bulk of that eastern outlier, Wetherlam, which runs to three southward ridges itself, enables the walk to be planned as a circuit of Coppermines Valley. In this manner, there is the barest minimum of walking over trodden ground during the day, and that towards its end.
The walk has to be based upon Coniston Village, where parking is easy to be had (and I am not going to reveal where free road parking can be found, in case you fill it up before I can get there).

The mouth of Coppermines Valley, surrounded by high fells

Coppermines Valley is reached along the lane at the side of the White Horse, which rapidly changes from tarmac to rough, land rover track, until the path begins to rise among trees, climbing to the mouth of the valley. Land Rovers, and cars with top notch shock absorbers can make it this far as the former miners cottages just inside the valley have been converted to holiday homes. The path turns away from them in disdain, climbing back upon itself to a platform from where the lake below first comes into sight. Here the path doubles back once more, and before long it can be seen angling across the rising fellside, making for a deep fold in the ridge a half mile distant.
Ahead, the deep trench of Coppermines Valley shows ample evidence of the mining and quarrying activity of centuries, and Wetherlam’s Black Sail ridge drops steeply into the valley, offering another potential route of ascent.
The current walk lies on the flanks of the Yewdale Fells, those splendid ramparts that look so impressive above the northern approaches to Coniston Village, but which are no more than a facade for the indefinite ground at the end of Wetherlam’s longest and loosest ridge.
Follow the path into the notch in the ridge. This, if followed, descends to Tilberthwaite, in its quiet valley, but when a track splits off left, crossing the little trench, transfer to this. In a short distance, it starts to climb upwards, onto the broad end of the Lad Stones ridge.
The ridge is primarily broad and grassy in its lower section, but there is a decided change in texture halfway up, as rock increasingly comes to litter the way, until the wide, untidy top comes underfoot, and the first north and westward views of the day come into sight, the Scafells being the centre of the picture. The unruly cairn is close to the steep edge overlooking Little Langdale and care should be taken approaching the lip of the summit to maximise the downward views.

Wetherlam, across Coppermines Valley

From here, the walk turns west, following a well-walked, surprisingly narrow in parts path, which crosses behind the subsidiary Black Sail summit. A short diversion can add this to the walk with a small expenditure of energy, but bear in mind there are many miles to go.
The path descends steeply to the narrow col of Levers Hause, from where an easy return to Coniston can be made, left, through Coppermines valley, if this were necessary. Ahead however is one of the highlights of the walk, the steep, hands on rock ascent of the Prison Band, a series of rocky towers leading almost the whole way to Swirl How’s top. There will have been ample opportunity to study this on the descent, together with the easier path to its right, which offers a steep ascent without undue excitement. Having done both on different occasions, I have to point you to the rock.

The Prison Band, and Swirl How beyond

Swirl How’s neat, uncrowded summit allows you to see the range almost in full, and to appreciate its geographical importance. The main ridge heads south, but Great Carrs and Grey Friar loom close at hand, and a simple study of the ground suggests that the next hour or so need not be a series of there and back again ridges.
Great Carrs, curving around the unfrequented valley of Greenburn Beck, looms close at hand. Wainwright describes the walk around the valley head as a seven minute stroll, and I am proud to have matched that timetable on two widely separated occasions. Admittedly, there is little sense of achievement associated with this crossing: the fell deserves an ascent across its own footprint at some point, to be properly enjoyed.
There is no need to return to Swirl How: from the lowest point of the depression, contour across right and down to join the long, straightforward downhill track onto the wide plateau of Fairfield, or just aim directly for it anyway, the ground being free from danger. Beyond, the track rises to approach the square top of Grey Friar. Apart from its spectacular view of the Scafell Range, there is little to commend the fell, though a decent walk can be made of the ridge from the Duddon Valley. Simply tick it, off, relish the view, and return to Fairfield.

Swirl How, Great Carrs and Grey Friar

It may be thought that an ascent back to Swirl How is now needed, with the fell looking like a green wall, but a well-engineered path curves away from the plateau to the south, maintaining a level contour around the head of the valley containing Seathwaite Tarn. The path encourages striding out with no effort, with the Tarn slowly curving into view as the valley opens below. there’s a point at which the path suddenly disappears, overrun by a wet patch of indeterminate width, but simply walk up the fellside about fifteen feet and a parallel path enables progress to continue.
It looks like the level route will take you to Levers Hawse, the lowest point on the ridge, and if you wish, conserve energy by going all the way. A better option is, when the upthrust of Little Gowder Crag comes level on the skyline, and the Tarn is in full view, zigzag up the fellside in wide sweeps, and gain the ridge for the rest of the walk. The openness, and the scramble over LGC are worth it.
At Lever’s Hawse, the broad path starts to rise again, crossing the broad back of Brim Fell. There is a tiny cairn on its flat top, but otherwise nothing to hold the interest, so march on, crossing the shallow dip in the ridge and follow a similar path up the wide northern side of Coniston Old Man, the highest point, by the odd couple of feet, of the day.
Where Brim Fell offers nothing to delay the walker, the Old Man’s top is a place for rest, contemplation and, in amongst the crowds, perusal of the views, which extend south as far as Blackpool Tower, which the more tripper oriented among the crowds will be actively straining to see. The true walker’s eyes will be fixed due west, upon the magnificent cliffs of Dow Crag, the final summit of the day.

The Old Man of Coniston and Brim Fell

There is no direct route possible, thanks to the deep trench holding the invisible Goatswater between the two fells, but the walk around the hollow of the tarn is easy throughout. Tired walkers will no doubt debate the wisdom of walking westward when Coniston Village and the car lies due east. This is the wisdom of doing this walk anti-clockwise: the leg-weary walker will be infinitely more enthused at adding to the miles to cross Dow Crag than he or she will for Grey Friar.
Retrace steps a hundred yards or so and take a route curving down to the left, across the flank of the Old man and onto the wideness of Goat’s Hause. The ascent on the far side, swinging around behind the fearsome crags, is without difficulty, although the highest point is, like such fells as Helm Crag and Harter Fell in Eskdale, achievable only by a short rock climb. First time visitors will feel obliged to complete the walk: those who have already scaled Dow Crag have the liberty of conscience to stand as close as they can to the final upthrust and call the job done, in the interests of aching legs. Continue along the declining ridge, rising at intervals to cross the lower tops of Brown Pike and Buck Pike, before descending finally to the summit of Walna Scar Pass.

Dow Crag from the Old Man

There has been enough opportunity in the final stages of the descent to see that the summit of Walna Scar fell lies only a few steps above the short green slope south west of the Pass. Walna Scar is not part of the Coniston Range, nor even in the Southern Fells, but it does feature in the Outlying Fells, and indeed is the only top in that volume to exceed 2,000′. Peak baggers will be tempted, but anyone having the excess energy to spring up this final slope should be subjected to steroid tests on the return to the Village.
Instead, turn thankfully east, negotiating the initially steep and, when last walked, extremely eroded upper section of the Pass. Gradually, the slopes level out, to cross the wide expanse of Cove Moor, by Cove Bridge. Beyond, the way is crossed by a profusion of routes, on the popular walk from Torver to Goatswater and the Old Man. Banishead Quarry, with its spectacular waterfall, is only a short distance downhill, but most walkers will have their sights set on the long tramp back. The Walna Scar Road descends gently between a pair of rock gateways, passes the shy, reedy Boo Tarn, at the foot of Wainwright’s favourite ascent of the Old Man, long since buried under the expanding grounds of Bursting Stone Quarry, and culminates at the parking area at the top of the narrow fell road down into the Village.
Unless a lift can be hitched from a departing driver grateful for you holding the fell-gate open for them, march on in what will hopefully be early evening sun, lit by intimate views of the country below the Old Man, and the unusual rib of the Bell, before arriving in the Village by the road next to the long-closed station.
If the Coop is still open, grab an ice cream bar. If the day has been hot, grab two: the first won’t even touch the sides.

The Bell, from the road back to the Village