After Scafell Pike and Helvellyn, Coniston Old Man is perhaps the most commonly climbed peak in the Lake District.
However, although the top is invariably busy, it is possible to approach it via a number of attractive routes which take you refreshingly off the beaten track to areas of relative solitude.
Although peace and quiet can be found in the Coniston range of fells today, for many years the hillside echoed to the sounds of heavy industry as a network of mines plundered the Earth for copper ore.
This circuit explores the historic Coppermines Valley and its derelict industrial sites before traversing the ridge that links the Old Man with Swirl How. The route is mainly on good paths, although it is rough and steep at times and, as always, you should be prepared to navigate, especially in bad weather.
Coniston to Levers Water
The beautiful village of Coniston is a lovely place to visit at any time of the year, offering great pubs and cafes, lakeside walks and attractions such as the Ruskin Museum or John Ruskin’s former home Brantwood, which is just a boat trip away across the water.
This walk begins on the small road which heads past the Black Bull pub and then the museum.
Continue along this road until it turns into a wide gravel track, which heads gradually uphill, first by a wall and then alongside the gorge of Church Beck. As the track bends around the hillside the wide cirque of the Coppermines Valley comes into view. The path flattens out beside the beck before a fork right which heads up the hillside.
Follow this and then bear left to follow another path which contours along the hillside towards some disused mine workings in the distance.
Mining began in the Coppermines Valley in the Elizabethan period and continued until the 1950s. The youth hostel which stands in the valley is the former mine manager’s house and the waterwheel next to it - which once powered a sawmill making floor sections for mine shafts - was restored in 2019.
The path takes you past a number of old mining structures and leads to the mouth of the valley known as Red Dell, by Red Dell Beck. To the left (west), a man made ramp leads up the hillside. Follow this, passing the entrances to a couple of disused mine workings en route, to emerge onto a ridge. From the ridge a narrow path leads to the shore of Levers Water.
Levers Water to Coniston Old Man
The existing tarn of Levers Water was dammed in 1717 to provide water for the mining activities in the valley below. Today it is a beautiful spot to stop for a sandwich or a swim and is often refreshingly peaceful compared to the more visited areas which surround it.
A narrow path runs north along the lakeshore and then continues up the valley. The going is rough and boggy at points but the path is quite distinct as it approaches the saddle of Swirl Hawse.
Swirl Hawse offers great views towards the Langdale Pikes and the Scafells, with a path leading in a westerly direction up the rocky slope known as Prison Band. Follow this to top out at the summit of Swirl How, with its distinctive pepper pot shaped cairn and more delightful views.
From the summit of Swirl How, an obvious path heads south and downhill to Levers Hawse, with Levers Water below. The route then climbs steadily to the top of Brim Fell before continuing on to the summit of Coniston Old Man via some large cairns.
Coniston Old Man to Coniston
Coniston Old Man and its summit cairn are generally quite well attended and with good reason. From here you can enjoy a fine outlook towards Morecambe Bay across the length of Coniston Water, as well as panoramic views of the Lake District. In the right conditions, it is also fun to try and spot rock climbers on the rocky expanse of Dow Crag to the west.
From the summit follow the path east, which begins to wind its way steeply down towards Low Water. From Low Water continue heading downhill, passing through old mine workings en route.
After the mine workings keep heading east to follow a path which drops down the hillside towards Church Beck. The path then follows the right side of the beck (heading downstream) until it can be crossed via Miners Bridge.
The wide gravel track then leads downhill back towards Coniston.