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It's hard to imagine visiting Coniston without climbing Coniston Old Man. It hangs over the village like the Matterhorn hangs over Zermatt. Smaller of course, but in the same way it is an integral part of the landscape. Most people attempt it via the Tourist Path which climbs a short and direct route up its eastern side. This is OK and not without interest as it climbs through old quarries and passes the dramatically positioned tarn of Low Water. But in terms of what Coniston Old Man has to offer, it is not the best route and is best left for descent after exploring other routes first.
A far better choice is to head up around the back of Coniston Old Man and tackle it via The Cove and Goat's Water. This route is a little bit longer but is much superior because, on one hand the gradients are easier being in a series of manageable steps, and on the other hand the scenery is breathtaking. Access is via the ancient packhorse route of the 'Walna Scar Road' which heads from the village onto the raised moorland of Banishead on the southern flanks. From here the route turns into the very heart of the hills and climbs through the wild stepped corries of The Cove and Goat's Water. These corries are seriously impressive and are as dramatic a location as you could find amongst any British mountains. The tall buttresses and dark gullies of Dow Crag towering over the restless surface of Goat's Water is the scene that really steals the show, but along the way there is a lot to do and see so pick a clear day and get your monies worth from Coniston's grand old peak.
5 - 6 hours
1. From the main car park in Coniston turn left then left again past the Church to the bridge over Church Beck. Just over the bridge turn right and follow the narrow road up to the Sun Hotel; follow it past the hotel round the bend to the foot of a very steep hill; and the start of the Walna Scar Road. Climb the hill, which eases after 300m, and continues along it to the fell gate - and the end of the metalled surface. Above the fell gate, follow the road/track South West as it gradually rises passing the quarry access track and Boo Tarn (reedy pool). Continue up it as it steepens through a series of rock gates and heads to a junction at a large cairn.
2. Turn right off the Walna Scar Road at this cairn and climb the steep grassy slope North West, first into The Cove, then over rocks into the wild craggy bowl occupied by Goat's Water. It's worth taking a breather here as the impressive buttresses of Dow Crag are worth taking a look at. On its face are some of the finest rock climbs in Britain. Continue past Goat's Water and climb the steep path up the back wall of the corrie to Goat's Hawse. From here turn right and climb the curving path first East then South East on to Coniston Old Man and it's distinct summit cairn and trig point.
3. The descent down the 'Tourist Path' is well trodden and easy to spot in clear conditions. However if it's misty or you are unsure take a compass bearing from the summit cairn. The first 50m of the descent is to the South East, the path then swings North East and becomes more obvious. It is steep at the top but soon settles down into a series of easier zig-zags. Follow these down continuing in a general North East direction until you come to a shoulder just above Low Water. The path then swings round to the South East then East and descends through the quarry workings to arrive at a saddle and junction of paths at Crowberry Haws.
4. From here take the track that crosses South over the saddle and follow it down to the car park and gate on the Walna Scar Road. The Walna Scar Road can then be followed back down to Coniston.