The Old Man of Coniston

old man coniston

The old man of Coniston

The Old Man of Coniston is a fell in the Furness Fells in the English Lake District. It is 803 m (2,635 ft) high, and lies to the west of the village of Coniston and the lake of the same name, Coniston Water. The fell is sometimes known by the alternate name of Coniston Old Man, or simply The Old Man.

Highest Fell in the Range?

Before the 1974 revision of county boundaries in England the Old Man was the highest fell in Lancashire. This assertion rested upon it being higher than its near northern neighbour, Swirl How. There appears to be some doubt in the current literature over whether the height of Swirl How is 802 or 804 m, following resurveying.

If modern measurement has not added 2 m to its rival then The Old Man of Coniston is the highest point in the Furness Fells, and the seventh most prominent mountain in England.


The Coniston (or Furness) Fells form the watershed between Coniston Water in the east and the Duddon valley to the west. The range begins in the north at Wrynose Pass and runs south for around 10 miles before petering out at Broughton in Furness on the Duddon Estuary. Alfred Wainwright in his influential Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells took only the northern half of the range as Lakeland proper, consigning the lower hills southward to a supplementary work The Outlying Fells of Lakeland. Later guidebook writers have chosen to include the whole range in their main volumes.

The central part of the Coniston range can be likened to an inverted 'Y' with Brim Fell at the connecting point of the three arms. The main spine of the ridge runs north over Swirl How and Great Carrs and south west to Dow Crag and the lower hills beyond. The third arm is a truncated spur, running only half a mile to the summit of the Old Man before tumbling away south eastward to the valley floor. This ridge end position gives the fell a sense of isolation and increased stature, with steep faces on three sides.

Goat’s Water

To the west is the deep trench containing Goat’s Water. This elongated tarn has a depth of about 50 ft. and contains trout and char. Enclosed by high ground, it has an outlet to the south through a field of boulders.[3] This is one of the headwaters of Torver Beck, which passes a disused quarry near the Tranearth climbing hut, keeping the workings topped up via an artificial but extremely picturesque waterfall. The stream finally issues into Coniston Water to the south of Torver village.

The southern and eastern flanks of The Old Man of Coniston

The southern and eastern flanks of The Old Man are composed of rough ground, deeply pockmarked by slate quarries. One of these quarries, Bursting Stone, is still operating to produce an olive green slate. Across the southern slopes runs the Walna Scar Road. This was the original trade route between Coniston village and the settlements of the Duddon Valley and is now a public bridleway. The first section rising steeply from Coniston is a metalled road, maintained partly to provide access to the quarry. This leads to a carpark at an altitude of 740 ft, a popular starting point for climbs. Beyond here motor vehicles are prohibited, but the track continues to its summit at 2,000 ft, crossing the ridge to the south of Dow Crag.

Coniston Old Man has no connecting ridges

Coniston Old Man has no connecting ridges other than that to Brim Fell, but a discernible rib falls due east via Stubthwaite Crag and Crowberry Haws. Below the tourist route path, this rib climbs again to The Bell, a fine rocky top (1,099 ft) with excellent views of the lake and village.

Low Water

Nestling beneath the northern face of The Old Man, and cradled between it and Raven’s Tor, is Low Water. This fine corrie tarn has been dammed in the past to provide water for the quarries, but all of its water now issues via a fine cascade of falls into the Coppermines Valley. This area, shared with the neighbouring fells of Brim Fell and Wetherlam, is heavily scarred by historic copper, nickel and cobalt mining, particularly in the latter half of the 19th century.

Summit and View

The summit of the fell carries a unique construction, a combined slate platform and cairn. The popularity of this climb has resulted in the resident sheep being quite tame, and they show no fear in rifling unwatched bags for food. The extensive view from the summit includes much of the southern Lake District, Morecambe Bay, Blackpool Tower, Winter Hill, the Lancashire coast and the Isle of Man. Perhaps the highlight is the close up view of Dow Crag.


The fell is normally climbed from Coniston village via Church Beck and the mines (the tourist route). Alternatives include the south ridge and the path to Goat’s Water, both ascending from the Walna Scar Road. The carpark at the top of the metalled section provides a headstart for these routes. The Walna Scar Road can also be reached from Torver, or from Seathwaite in the Duddon Valley, although the latter results in an indirect climb via Dow Crag.

Slate & Copper Mining

Coniston has been Lakeland's centre for slate and copper mining for 500 years. The well known ‘Coniston copper mines’ are reputed to be some of the largest copper mines in Britain, with a vertical distance of around 2,000 ft.

Old Man Quarries

The nearby slate mines on the North East flank of the Old Man, are known as "Old Man Quarries", though sometimes given the individual names of: Brandy Crag, SaddleStone and Moss Head. All the workings are more or less underground, apart from Low Brandy Crag, which was opened out into an opencast quarry in the 1980s by Burlington Stone, and is still operating today. Most of the lower levels in Saddlestone are blocked, though the Moss Head Quarries are still open.


There is a beer brewed by the Coniston Brewery that is known as Old Man.

The Old Man of Coniston is the inspiration for Kanchenjunga, the mountain Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons climb in the Swallows and Amazons novel Swallowdale.

Tremendous Landscape

The tremendous landscape of streams, lakes and mountains including the Coniston Old Man, which rises to 2,633 feet and can be walked in various ways to suit all abilities, and Dow Crag provides some of the best rock climbing in Great Britain, while lake-shore walks to Torver are very popular. Grizedale Forest, which is not far away, is the ideal landscape for Mountain Biking.

Simply, Coniston Old Man is one of Lakeland's higher fells

The Old Man of Coniston standing proudly in the south west of the Lake District, the Old Man of Coniston (or, simply, Coniston Old Man) is one of Lakeland's higher fells. Even non-climbers will enjoy the stroll from nearby Coniston up Church Beck and into Coppermines Valley to see the scars of the fell's industrial past. As the name 'Coppermines Valley' suggests, the sides of the Old Man were the scene of much industrial exploitation, firstly for copper mining and later slate quarrying. Those activities have left their blemishes, although many visitors find that the remains of these works add an unusual interest to their walk.

Breathtaking views all around

The successful climber can enjoy breathtaking views all around, none more so than the aspect to the east, back over the town and Coniston Water. there are some great hotels in coniston too. Its worth a stay.

Ruskin Avenue Coniston LA21 8EH Tel: +44 (0)15394 41533 Local website:

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