The Coniston fells are, as the crow flies and even as the bus pootles, the closest part of the Lake District for me to reach.
Yet in recent years, since I picked up a camera and started serious hill walking again, the Coniston fells have remained largely untroubled by the intrusion of my lens.
The main reason for this is that with it being so close, as kids we wandered this particular area rather more than other parts of the Lakes.
It may not be in the Guinness Book of World Records, but between the ages of 3 and 7 my little but getting slightly less littler legs summited The Old Man of Coniston a recorded 2,071 times.
Ok the veracity of this statistic may be debated in years to come, but we were definitely dragged up this particular fell way more than any other.
In an effort to flesh out my stock portfolio a little, a Friday evening poring over contour lines led to a concerted effort to head this way Saturday morning. In a rare turn of events it transpired I had all day to spare, and could spend it taking my time, stopping, snapping, deciding not to snap, absorbing at will, rather than the usual mad dash up/camp/dash back down which seems to have formed the structure of too many recent outings.
As is often the case I had loose route plans, but with the flexibility of having my bed for the night on my back. Which for me is one of the great things about wild camping, particularly in a compact accessible area like the Lake District. No enforced return to a start point. Fellwalking freedom.
The ‘plan’ was to head along the Walna Scar track, over Dow Crag towards the Old Man, and then form a more structured strategy at that point depending on conditions and remaining daylight.
I set off up the steep road out of Coniston, vaguely recollecting joyless memories of once cycling up it, and headed through the busy car park and out on to the Walna Scar road.
The wide stony track itself holds little satisfaction for me as a walker, however at least these days it doesn’t seem as interminable as it did 25+ years ago, and does form a fairly direct route towards Dow Crag.
In fact I soon found myself zig zagging its upper reaches and veering North East to the summit of Brown Pike.
It was blustery, though the wind was merely chilly rather than having the serious bite of winter it’s still had in recent weeks. Most of the sun however seemed to be playing over the western Lakes, and I had to make do with occasional fleeting rays of comfort.
However the only real weather factor on my mind was the forecast for the next day, which was due to deteriorate into gale force winds and heavy rain – hopefully well after breakfast time.
Given the breeze I was being buffeted by (which wasn’t forecast to be there) a camp with a bit of shelter soon began to be at the forefront of my mind when it came to the evening plans. Time to stop playing about with the camera and get a move on.
The sun teased me a few times here above Blind Tarn (which I don’t recall ever noticing as a kid; wonder how it got its name) and the scene has been bookmarked for a dawn shoot in future when it should take the full hit of first light raking in from the left over Coniston water.
On ahead, the rise over Buck Pike to Dow Crag is a gradual shift from grassy slopes to a boulder ridden summit. Dow Crag itself offers a pleasing airiness off to the right, numerous gulleys raking away at your feet and plummeting abruptly down to Goats Water, and views across to my next stop, the many – peopled summit of Coniston Old Man.
Actually it was reaching a time when the many people had already begun to dwindle, sauntering off in search of those fine things that society has to offer, like pubs and warm beds.
Dropping down to Goat’s Hawse gave me the first option for a slightly sheltered camp, though given the white crests whipping across Goat’s Water below, I knew that any slight change of wind direction would mean I’d lose any shelter I was getting from the surrounding rocks.
I couldn’t exactly see how wandering higher again would find me a more sheltered bedspot, but I still had some time to spare, and even under deadening skies there were sufficient gaps in the cloud to give hope for a few bursts of magic.
Of course these didn’t happen, you’d have heard about it by now if they had, but I did manage to find an unexpected pocket of calm as I wandered off the Old Man towards Swirl How. I had found my camp, with nice views over Levers Water.
These views didn’t last very long. The cloud continued to amass, and less than an hour after I’d settled down I could barely see the end of my tent. Waking up in visibility like this can be a little disorientating as you lose your bearings somewhat, but even if it persisted into the morning as I now expected, all I had to do was follow the edge of the ridge down to Levers Hawse and descend from there.
‘Sunrise’ brought about an agitation of the air as it often does, and sufficient tent swaying to knock me about the head a couple of times. However not enough of an agitation of the air to shift the cloud it seemed.
I’ve started to enjoy these nights of solitude a lot more recently, and draw positives from them even when they’re photographically fruitless. The obvious positive this time was the fact I didn’t have to act on the 4.45am alarm and could remain cocooned in the sleeping bag.
Two hours of dozing later nothing had really improved and it was time to make a move. Reliably informed via Twitter that the sun was out to play at lower altitude, I decided to drop out of the cloud and wind before brewing up a coffee, a little luxury I’m always willing to carry up a cold mountain. Nothing wrong with a little bit of wild glamping 😉
Though I was out of the worst of the wind, it was beginning to strengthen now, the squalls lashing smatterings of white across Levers Water, like shoals of fish breaking the surface to feed on some unseen insect.
Freshly caffeined up I packed away and began to head on back down to Coniston, my arrival delayed slightly by a last – gasp photographic frolic in the tiered cascades of Levers Waterfall.