Coniston Water, just three miles or so south of the Three Shires Inn, is one of the most well-known spots in the Lake District. Author Arthur Ransome famously used locations around the lake as the basis for those in his book Swallows and Amazons, while it was also the site of Donald Campbell’s water speed record attempts - and eventual fatal accident - in the 1960s.
This route takes you from the Three Shires Inn to Coniston via Tilberthwaite, passing through a number of interesting historical mining sites on the way. The paths and tracks are generally very good, although there is a steep and slippery scree section on the climb out of Coniston and some very wet ground on Coniston Moor. The path across Coniston Moor to Tilberthwaite is very faint at points and some navigation is required, especially in bad weather.
The Three Shires Inn to Tilberthwaite
With the inn behind you, turn right (west) on the road and then turn left down the tarmac lane opposite the old phone box (signposted to Tilberthwaite). Follow the lane past cottages on the right until the tarmac runs out and you eventually come to a wooden footbridge across the beck. Cross the beck and turn right on a wide track heading through woodland and then below piles of slate slag.
This path brings you to the little collection of buildings at Low Hall Garth, including a climbing hut, where it heads up quite steeply and then winds around onto the hillside overlooking Little Langdale Tarn. At a wooden fingerpost head uphill on a good gravel track (signposted to Tilberthwaite). This track climbs onto a plateau with lovely views back towards Pike of Stickle and Harrison Stickle, in Great Langdale. The disused Runestone quarry (now a good sport climbing venue) is hidden away in the hills overlooking the path and if you look to the east you can just about make out Hodge Close quarry as well.
The track begins to head downhill, coming to High Tilberthwaite Farm and a tarmac road. Go through the farmyard and continue walking along the road with open fields to your left and a steep hillside above you to the right.
Tilberthwaite to Coniston
Stay on the road but look out for a wooden fingerpost on the right pointing in the direction of Wetherlam. At the signpost follow a good track uphill past cottages and stay on the track until you come to a National Trust sign pointing straight on to ‘High Fell quarry access’. Turn left at this point, following a path which climbs steadily up the hillside.
The track continues uphill, overlooking the deep cleft of Tilberthwaite Gill and then flattens out to enter a wide area of moorland which sits below the flanks of Wetherlam. Go through a gate and cross a beck before the path swings left (south) and heads up the valley with another beck (Crooked Beck) on your right. The path eventually crosses the beck just above a little waterfall. Stay on the path as it heads up a gradually rising path known as Hole Rake, passing disused mine workings on the way.
The path leads past a little tarn before emerging above the Coniston Coppermines valley and zig-zagging downwards with views towards Coniston Old Man and the silvery expanse of Coniston Water. Copper mining in the Coppermines valley began as early as the Elizabethan age and mining activity continued in the area until the 1950s. The large white building in the valley is a youth hostel, located in the former mine manager’s house. A major project has been undertaken to preserve and repair structures in the valley and it is well worth exploring if you have the time.
Follow the path down to the wide gravel road leading to the youth hostel and turn left down the valley, with the beck on your right. The road descends beside the beck and then continues downhill with woodland on the right and a hillside on the left. If you keep following the track it eventually becomes a road leading into Coniston Village with all the attractions of the lake, cafes and some lovely pubs on the doorstep.
From Coniston to Tilberthwaite
At a bend in the path you will come to a wooden fingerpost pointing in three directions. Head through a gate (signposted to Yew Tree Farm and Elterwater) and follow the path alongside a wall. You will come to a point where a path from the village emerges through a gate in the wall. Here another path heads uphill on the left passing a sycamore tree. The path is quite hard to spot as it winds among thick bracken, but look out for the tree and you should pick it up.
This path then grinds steeply up the hillside towards Coniston Moor. For a relatively short climb this little path packs a punch and actually includes a short scree scramble, but the sweat and toil is rewarded with pleasant views back across Coniston village and the lake.
After the scree, the path soon begins to flatten out but becomes indistinct. It crosses a small beck and then continues to follow the beck before dropping downhill and rising again (look out for the occasional small cairn marking the way). You are now on Coniston Moor, a surprisingly confusing place for route finding. Use of a map and a compass bearing is recommended, especially in bad weather. Eventually the path becomes more obvious and then drops sharply downwards to the minor road leading up to Tilberthwaite.
The whole section over Coniston Moor can be avoided by continuing on the path running by the wall above the village. Instead of turning uphill by the sycamore tree just stay on the path, which eventually runs parallel to the main A593 and hits the minor road heading up to Tilberthwaite.
Whichever way you get to the Tilberthwaite road keep heading up the valley, overlooking Yewdale Beck on the right. The road passes the disused Penny Rigg mill where copper ore was processed in the 1860s and then crosses Yewdale Beck by the car park below Tilberthwaite quarry. Keep following the road, which eventually leads you back to High Tilberthwaite Farm.
Tilberthwaite to the Three Shires Inn
From High Tilberthwaite Farm stay on the tarmac road leading into woodland. This eventually becomes a wide gravel track which winds through the woods and leads back to the footbridge over the beck in Little Langdale. From the footbridge retrace your steps along the lane back to the road by the Three Shires Inn.