Walk 1911 - printer friendly version
Coniston's Magnificent Seven Walk
Author - Stephen Starkey
Length - 13.0 miles / 21.1 km
Ascent - 4440 feet / 1345 metres
Grade - hard
Start - OS grid reference SD288970
Lat 54.363525 + Long -3.0972644
Postcode LA21 8HE (approx. location only)
This strenuous Lake District walk takes in the tops of all the major fells in the Coniston range (7 Wainwrights) plus a number of other scenic treats, as well as a World War 2 bomber memorial, in a long but rewarding day out. There are a number of options to shorten the day, but some require a willingness to ignore what the map tells you. However, there is a sense of pleasure and satisfaction to be gained from walking all the peaks in a logical group in a single outing.
You could start the walk from the main car park in Coniston. However, as a born and bred Yorkshireman, I am averse to paying for a days car parking when, by getting out of bed a little earlier, I can park for free at a disused quarry at the top of the Walna Scar road (grid ref. SD298970). Not only does this save me the car parking fee, it also saves the effort of climbing in excess of 180m, far easier to let the car gain the height on the road! Be warned however that lots of other people would appear to share these sentiments and so the Walna Scar "car park" does fill up early.
From the gate separating the old quarry from the tarmac road, take the footpath heading north, signposted to the Old Man of Coniston. This is a well made path, gaining height gradually, that allows for good initial progress with pleasant scenery around. After about 1.4km you will arrive at a junction with the main "tourist" path to the Old Man cutting across. Turn left along this path for about 25m then take the smaller path leading off to the right. This path heads North West through Crowberry Haws, eventually arriving at Low Water Beck (Grid ref. SD281984). After crossing the beck, there are two alternative routes. The more obvious, stepped path ahead leads in to the aptly named and quite spectacular Boulder Valley. Whilst Boulder Valley is impressive in its own right, personally I prefer to take the less obvious path on the right that, initially, descends alongside Low Water Beck.
The first part of this path is quite rocky and, from June to November, is partially obscured by bracken. As the path gradually swings away from the beck and starts to climb gently again around the flanks of the impressive Grey Crag, it also comes free from bracken and the rocky terrain also eases. The path brings you to a footbridge across Levers Water Beck (Grid ref. SD282990] near the main Coniston – Levers Water paths. At the bridge, the spectacular Levers Waterfalls are seen to the left, with views of the valleys to Coniston off to the right.
Rather than crossing the bridge for the main paths, turn left and climb the steep, rocky path on the left of the beck for the best views of the waterfalls, plus the Northern part of Grey Crag, complete with caves and a Tryfan "Adam & Eve" pair of rock pillars. Irrespective of whether you opt for Boulder Valley or the Levers Waterfalls path, both eventually lead you to the beautiful and picturesque Levers Water. The reservoir and surrounding fells are reminiscent of the views around Cadair Idris in Snowdonia. Unless there has been an almighty, non-stop downpour for a week or more, the outlet from the reservoir dam is either dry, or, at worst, damp but safe as a crossing point to the East side of the reservoir, where a path leads steadily north.
After leaving Levers Water, the path occasionally becomes indistinct in a marshy area but, generally speaking, the next section of path can always be seen. If in doubt, just keep heading North, with the crags of Black Sails to your right and the saddle of Swirl Hawse ahead. The path eventually takes you to Swirl Hawse (Grid ref. NY278007) and a junction with the Wetherlam – Swirl How path. I'm not a great fan of "there and back" walking, but this is one time I make an exception (a) to top all 7 of the Coniston Wainwrights in one outing, (b) the spectacular views over the Langdales and (c) Wetherlam is one of my favourite peaks.
So, to follow the full route, turn right for a 1.2km detour along the obvious path to Wetherlam, then returning by the same path. The overall route can obviously be shortened by ignoring the trip to and from Wetherlam. On returning to Swirl Hawse, continue in a Westerly direction to climb the ridge known as Prison Band and on to the summit of Swirl How with superb views all around. The Prison Band ridge does give some exposure but the going is straight forward at all times. The next objective for the day, Great Carrs, is visible to the North around the edge of Broad Slack Crags, and is easily gained by continuing to follow the main path around the crest of the crags.
From Great Carrs, head back in the direction of Swirl How for about 200m, but heading slightly down hill of the main path. This will take you to the memorial to the crew of the Halifax bomber LL505-S that crashed here in 1944, the memorial containing parts of the wrecked aircraft. From the memorial, head gently downhill, aiming for the obvious path leading to the saddle named as Fairfield on the OS maps (Grid ref. NY 266007). Take note of the small cairn at the saddle as a pointer for the return route. From the saddle, take the obvious path to climb the prominent shoulder to the summit of Grey Friar. This is a great place to take in the views of Brim Fell, Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag which lay ahead. On a clear day, the summit of Grey Friar also offers fine views of the Scafell massif and the fells at the head of Great Langdale. All in all, Grey Friar has just enough to warrant a second “there and back” element to the route.
From Grey Friar, retrace your route back as far as the small cairn at the Fairfield saddle. From here there are 4 visible paths on the ground ahead, though the OS map indicates only 3. With the exception of the left most path that leads NW and down hill towards Wrynose Pass via Wet Side Edge (and an expensive taxi ride back to Walna Scar), any of the others are viable. However, the right most one is the recommended option as it does not involve gaining any unnecessary height. The OS map would have you believe that the path stops about half way around the hill but reality is that this is a good, clear path all the way to Lever Hawse. As the path contours around towards Lever Hawse, wonderful views of Seathwaite Tarn reservoir open up in the valley to the right. These are views that you don't get from the main Swirl How - Coniston Old Man path on top of the ridge due to a quirk of the contours.
A shorter alternative route would be to take the main path towards Coniston Old Man from Swirl How, omitting Great Carrs, the bomber memorial and Grey Friar, but to me this misses out large parts of the variety and attraction of this route. Shortly after Lever Hawse, at grid ref. SD270993, a minor path leads off to the right and leads direct to Goats Hawse if you want a shorter alternative. This path is not marked on any map I have seen but is so obvious on the ground that, for some totally inexplicable reason, in perfect visibility, I once took this path by accident when intending to follow the main path to Brim Fell and Coniston Old Man. Don't ask me as to this day I don't know how or why !
Having ensured you are on the main path, follow it along the edge of the ridge over the top of Brim Fell and up on to the summit of the Old Man Of Coniston, enjoying excellent views to the East over Levers Water, the Coniston and Furness Fells. At the summit of the Old Man, take the time to also admire the view of the spectacular Dow Crag to the West across Goats Water. I haven't tried it personally, but if you are confident descending in fading light and follow the "tourist" path down from the Old Man, I suspect that the summit of The Old Man could offer spectacular sunsets behind Dow Crag. One day!
The maps of the area would have you believe there is a path from the summit of Brim Fell direct to Goats Hawse. Having the benefit of experience of walking the area quite regularly over the last 2 years or so, I can only conclude that this is either a path on somebody's wish list; pure fiction; or a path not used for so long it is indistinguishable from the surrounding moor. Whichever, it is far easier to go to the summit of the Old Man then retrace the route slightly to the very obvious split in the path, where a path to the left leads down hill to Goats Hawse. Here is the last of the easy options to shorten the route, by following the stepped path steeply down hill to Goats Water then the obvious, gentler path leading down to Walna Scar Road.
For the full route, continue west along the saddle above Goats Water before starting out on the last climb of the day, on the curving shoulder to the top of Dow Crag. The main part of the climb is a lot easier than you may imagine from the maps. However, scrambling ability, steady nerves and a real head for heights are essential in order to stand atop the awesome summit of Dow Crag. You are far more likely to meet climbers rather than walkers at the top of Dow Crag as it is a magnet and iconic peak for climbers, often ignored by walkers, but don't tell everybody. Drop down from the summit either to the South (if confident) or to the West (if less sure) and then pick up the main path heading south along the ridge. Care is needed not to stray into some of the beautiful but dangerous gullies which have seen a number of serious accidents, including fatalities.
The ridge path leads on to the minor top of Buck Pike, which offers superb views back towards Dow Crag, and then on to Brown Pike. The section between Buck Pike and Brown Pike reveals memorable views of Blind Tarn nestling below the rock faces of Brown Pike. From the top of Brown Pike, head South West for a short, steep descent on a good path leading to a path called Walna Scar Road. Turn left along Walna Scar Road to start the trek back to the car. This final section of the walk should not be underestimated. Although down hill all the way, the first part is deceptively steep. Furthermore, the path is rocky throughout and, in many sections, you will sink ankle deep in the gravel, making for really tough going at the end of a long day in the hills. After about a mile of battling your way through the energy sapping gravel, you will arrive at a stone bridge crossing the outlet beck from Goats Water.
On more than one occasion my feet have been grateful for a dip in the "refreshing" water of this beck. From the bridge, there is a further 2.4km / 1.5 miles of pounding the stones of the Walna Scar Road back to the quarry and the waiting car. This is a tough day out in the fells but a very rewarding day nonetheless. By leaving the Old Man of Coniston and the spectacular Dow Crag until last, there is also a real possibility that the hordes that flock only to the honey pot summits will have long since started to make their way down from the hills, allowing you the opportunity to enjoy the summits in relative peace. If you were to consider doing the route in the reverse direction, the path from Levers Hawse to the Fairfield saddle is not too obvious. On reaching the first of the two nadirs of the hawse, you come across a cairn. Continue ahead until starting to climb out of the second nadir. On reaching the third cairn, a faint track can be seen heading to the left, just before a prominent group of rocks, which becomes the path to Fairfield Saddle.