Southern Coniston Fells
The tour around Goat's Water in the southern Coniston Fells, climbing over Dow Crags and Brim Fell, and with a detour to explore Cove Quarry.
The Old Man of Coniston, the most southerly of the Coniston Fells, is one of the most popular climbs in the Lake District (probably due to its ease of access for travellers coming up from Manchester and Liverpool, its short climb (though steep at the end and passing through a disused mine), and its excellent southward views. It's also very expensive to park at the Coniston trailhead, and prices are only going up.
The car park in Seathwaite (not that one) on the western slopes of Dow Crag, however, is free—and the walk up Walna Scar Road (a medieval highway across the fells) is charming, if a little long, and affords you the chance to cross a whole buncha Wainwrights off your list at once. So that's the route we took.
Up Walna Scar Road
The climb up Walna Scar Road didn't take too long, and was at no point particularly difficult to navigate; and we distracted ourselves thinking about what it might have been like to climb this hill a thousand years ago: what the road surface was like, whether people climbed it for fun, &c. By and by, pelted by the wind and cloud, we came to a four-way junction at the top of the pass. To the right, a narrow path leading to the top of Walna Scar; to the left, the route up to the top of Brown Pike.
Brown Pike, Dow Crag, & Brim Fell
Not much to see from Brown Pike, and the sheer cliffs of Dow Crag beckoned, so we pressed onward through some thin snow. The climb up to Buck Pike, intermediary between us and Dow, looked intimidating but was easily surmounted; and then Dow was just a little ways on.
Dow Crags drops off vertically to the east, but the slopes are gentle and grassy to the west. Here and there we found little defiles between the crags—we considered the odds on someone climbing up one lately but steered well clear ourselves. The summit of Dow Crags is itself ornamented with a little crag you can climb on top of—not much to see when we went but the views towards Coniston on a clear day would have been spectacular.
Down from Dow Crags on an easy slope and we met the trail coming up from Goat's Water at the little saddle called Goat's Hawse (Hause, according to Wainwright). There's no clear path directly up to Brim Fell, regardless of what the Ordnance Survey says (their label for Brim Fell is also weirdly way off to the east), so we followed the main route up towards the Old Man of Coniston and the cut back to the little summit of Brim Fell. It's an easy walk, less than 10 minutes from the low point between Brim Fell and the Old Man.
Old Man of Coniston
Back towards the Old Man, with a bit of a climb up to the summit. We passed a group coming back down towards Brim Fell but by the time we made the summit there was no one else there—a rare treat! Took a couple of summit selfies and headed out.
We wanted to check out the mine at Cove Crag, so we headed down Old Man Breast (w/ a titter) and promptly veered off the beaten path. Slowly made our way down the steep face above the old quarries, making sure to keep well left as we went, dropping us just above the Jack Diamond Memorial Climbing Hut (locked). If we were doing it again, we'd have followed the South Ridge route down to the level of the old quarry and then cut right across the ridgeline.
Plenty of quarries and disused levels around here, enough to fill a whole day of exploring, but we just entered the one off to the right of the lowest quarry. High ceilings here and no water on the floor, mercifully. High piles of massive slates as well—wondered if these were blocking off some dangerous part of the mine, or if they were set aside for some other purpose.
Down the trail back towards Walna Scar Road and across the bridge before starting the long climb back up to the pass near Brown Pike. Near the top of the climb there's a little stone shelter, barely big enough for two people but an excellent photo opportunity.
We crossed over the top of the pass, back into the wind, and down the long road back to the car.
There's a fantastic little pub called the Newfield Inn, in Seathwaite on the way out. If you've got a spare half hour after the walk, they've got Wainwright ale on tap (along with a couple of other real ales), and a terrific menu-of-the-day of homemade fare. The minestrone we had was hearty and loaded with veg, and the scones we topped it off with were warm and sweet and generously loaded with cream: highly recommended.