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The Coniston Fells are fronted by the rugged face of Coniston Old Man and the towering cliffs of Dow Crag. These two fine mountains are a big enough draw to spirited walkers but, add to this the stunning array of peaks stacked up behind them and it's easy to understand why a walk around this collection of fells has become such a Lake District classic. This version of the round is slightly truncated because it leaves out Weatherlam. This is done to take advantage of the high level nature of the main, ridge for although there are a couple of big drops, namely at Levers Hawse and at Goat's Hawse, the route maintains height giving the whole undertaking a pleasant lofty feel. All day long you are high on ridges with superb views to every quarter both out to the coast and back into the surrounding mountain.
The path up through the stepped corries of The Cove and Goat's Water makes the perfect ascent route into the Coniston Fells. All the way up it, it is bursting with interest that will keep you distracted through the hard work of gaining height. Fittingly, it brings you first to the highest peak, Coniston Old Man from where you can survey almost all the route for the day ahead. From here the next thing to do is to head north along the main ridge and summit all the peaks along it. You will need to back track after Grey Friar but there are a couple of handy side paths that will help you avoid too much re-ascent. This leaves Dow Crag and its outliers till last and as they are the most dramatic in terms of rock scenery they too make a fitting end to a great day in the hills.
7 - 8 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. 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 southeast on to Coniston Old Man.
3. From the big summit cairn head North up the main ridge. The first summit encountered is Brim Fell marked by its shapely well-built cairn. After this there is a gradual drop to Levers Hawse then a short steep climb to Great How Crags, which is more a shoulder on the ridge than a summit. Swirl How lies a little further on and is gained by a short but gentle climb.
4. Once you have topped out on Swirl How the next thing to do is to skirt West then North around the top of the crags above the wild and remote corrie, Broad Slack, this brings you to Great Carrs. From here the walk diverts off the main ridge and heads out along a subsidiary ridge to Grey Friar.
5. Grey Friar is the most remote peak of the range and makes a wonderful place to stop on for lunch. It affords views back onto the main ridge and also down into the wooded depths of the Duddon Valley. Return to the adjoining col from Grey Friar but don't climb back onto the crest of the main ridge. Instead skirt the western slopes of Great Carrs and Swirl How by the path that traverses around to Levers Hawse.
6. From here rejoin the ridge path South to Brim Fell, then leave it, and descend South West, directly to Goat's Hause. The ascent to Dow Crags summit is the last climb of the day. The path carries you close to the edge of the crags and gives breath taking views down towards Goat's Water. The summit of Dow Crag is rocky and exposed and is one of the most dramatic in the Lake District. It is poised close to the edge of the crags and although it is far enough back to be safe you still get a sense of the huge drop below.
7. Leave the summit rocks on their West side and join the intermittent path that heads South down the crest of the ridge. Buck Pike is encountered first closely followed by Brown Pike with its summit shelter. All that is left to do is to descend steeply West then South West to gain the top of the Walna Scar Road, which can be joined, and then followed all the way back to Coniston.