As my wife will tell you, to her annoyance, I have an unhealthy ambition to one day be The Old Man of Coniston. You know, the crazy grey-haired pensioner who does his weekly shopping on horseback while herding his flock of lamas down the high street because they just really needed a walk. I really want to be that guy. Sadly, I have chosen the wrong town to live in if I want to be The Old Man of Coniston because I will always be trumped by the real Old Man of Coniston – the 803m mountain towing into the clouds.
Having the view of the Old Man outside our bedroom window, I have to say is one of the best things about waking up each day. The often mist-covered summit looks scary, dramatic and enticing. My wife and I always said we’d try and get up the top at least once a week but truthfully it’s been more like once a month, but once a month makes the adventure all the more special, something we look forward to.
There are many ways you can get to the top of the old man but there are two more popular routes. You can walk from town up the main road towards the main car park or up the Coppermine’s valley and turn left at the bridge over Church Beck. These two options are about an hour longer, there and back. If however you don’t have the time, or have young kids and don’t want to walk on the road, you could just drive up to the carpark.
The terrain from the carpark is very easy underfoot and fairly flat as you walk up. The Old Man towers to your left and off to the right is the valley back to the village and you start getting a better view of Coniston Water. This is one of my favourite parts of the walk especially in early morning light in the autumn with long golden shadows and sheep slowly waking for their day up the Old Man too.
You then meet the Coppermine’s valley route and turn left to start the first rocky bit up towards the old slate mines. Slate has been mined here for 800 years and the forgotten buildings are a wonder to explore, some of the caves are open so make sure you take a headtorch. From the mines, you climb up again to Low Water which is a good place to have a rest stop. In the summer it’s a great place for a quick swim. There is allegedly a spitfire wreckage down there from the second world war so look out for that and let me know if you find it.
After your refreshing dip, the zigzags begin. Up and up you’ll climb. The wind will start picking up and it is often a lot colder than you imagined so take gloves and a hat with you. Your lungs wanting to protrude from your chest does get somewhat overshadowed by the breath-taking views of Coniston water and the ocean off to your left.
Eventually, you reach the top where you can shelter from the wind behind the cairn or get a photo by the trip point. From here the panoramic views are second to none. On a good day, you can see the Isle of Mann to the west, Scotland to the north, The Yorkshire Dales to the East and Blackpool Tower to the south. Take some time to take it all in. You deserve it.
I often hate taking the same route back and the good thing about the Old Man is you don’t have too. You can head north and then east to come down via Levers Water or North and then west to return via Goat’s Water. Either way an hour or so later you’ll be back in the pub feeling rather proud of yourself.
The Old Man is one of my favourite mountains and I know it because I live here but there is so much to explore. Whether it’s caves, crags or crash-sites there’s something out there for everyone.