Published 23 June 2011
If you've been reading this blog much, you'll know that I recently spent a week in the Lake District wandering around, trying to do some fells and trying out my new camping gear. I had some grand plans before I went, but with the weather, well few of them seemed to ever happen... And Day 3, Tuesday, was a prime example of that.
Planned version: Having done Crinkle Crags I now had big plans instore. I'd pack up the tent and head up to Bow Fell - one of Wainwright's top 6 fells. From there, I'd go ridge walk crazy and do Esk Pike, Great End and hopefully Scafell Pike and Scafell before heading to Great Moss where I'd wild camp. Exciting!
By now you may have noticed that none of my plans were really working out. I mean to do Bowfell, you need to be in Langdale. And I was in Coniston. But never mind for I'd always wanted to do the Old Man of Coniston and the weather forecast was pretty good even if the previous night had been very windy.
Studying my trusty Wainwright guide to the Southern Fells I worked out a way to make a day of it. From the campsite I would head to Trover before heading up past the Banished Quarry, along the Wanla Scar Road and then along Brown Pike, Buck Pike, and Dow Crag before coming down to Goats Hause. From there I could tick off Brim Fell before doing the Old Man then head to Coniston for a pint. What a plan.
The weather was good, if not a bit breezy, as I admired the huge spoil heaps of Banished Quarry which made the landscape look almost alien. The Wanla Scar Road was being used as an impromptu stream but the going was easy enough. However the wind was getting a little strong and I did wonder if it would get worse. However looking at the maps, the ridge walk I was going along seemed to stay a respectful distance from the craggy rock face that I'd been admiring all morning.
The Road actually gets you up very high, meaning that when you turn off for the ascent up to Brown Pike, you don't have much more height to go up. The turnoff seems to be the summit of the Wanla Scar Road before it heads down hill again, and as I approached that summit the wind speed suddenly increased by an insane amount. I wondered if it was just this spot that was bad and heading five paces up the road. I was nearly blown to the ground on twice and reluctantly decided that heading downhill was the safest option.
Coming down I could see a steady stream of people heading off up a path towards Goat's Water, and after looking at the map I presumed they were all heading up on a circular route to the Old Man. After some umming-and-arring, I decided to give it a try. The wind here was much gentler - a light wind to my back - and path well made and not a stream. Near Goats Water itself it became a bit of a scramble, but nothing difficult.
At this point I saw what must be the most surreal sight of my whole trip as a group of four came down past me wearing trainers and a gormless expression. Not entirely surprising - the Old Man is one of those fells that non-walkers feel compelled to do and then end up getting stuck because the weather changes and they're hopelessly unprepared. What was surprising - nay, flabbergasting - was that the sole man was carrying a baby in one arm. No sling, no baby carrier or anything. Just holding it in one arm.
Now this was a difficult section. Here was I, an experienced walker, and I was using both hands to scramble over rocks. And yet he was carrying a baby like he was having a quick wander around a shopping centre. Too stunned to say much, I just plodded on as they headed down.
If they'd come down fifteen minutes later, they might have had even more fun. I'd spent ages scrambling over the rocks around Goat's Water but just as I reached the end and was preparing to go up hill, I was hit by a frankly amazing blast of wind. All the way up, the wind has been gentle and on my back, but now it was hitting me face on at a horrendous speed.
As I stood, momentarily stunned, I saw a group of four people ahead of me turn around and start heading back down the hill and reluctantly, and for the second time that day, I did the same. As I did, huge hail stones began to hit the back of my head.
Getting back down and out of the wind was not easy. My 80 litre rucksack may have been mostly empty but it had a huge back plate that was catching the wind like mad. Imagine carrying a wide piece of MDF on your back and standing in the wind and you'll get the idea. I spent an amazingly long time trying to get out of the wind as quickly as possible, whilst doing it safely on the boulder strewn edge of the tarn - easily half an hour, and all the time with a howling gale battering me. Even when I got off the rocks, there was a long, flat path to walk over until I finally could descend and get out of the wind. And eat a sandwich too.
Back down on the lower path, the weather was lovely. The sun was shining, the weather was sweet year. And with a sigh, I knew I wouldn't be going any higher that day. I walked past Boo Tarn and saw a sign proclaiming it was the path to the Old Man. I looked at it, laughed said "Yeah, right". The Old Man would remain off limits once more, but I was determined that I'd achieve at least something off my itinerary. I followed the path down into Coniston and by half two was in the Black Bull drinking a pint of Special Oatmeal Stout.
I pondered going on the 4pm sailing of the Steamship Gondola to make up for it, but as I sat outside the pub writing a postcard, the hail hit the town as well. I went inside, and decided I could get close to the Old Man after all, and ordered a pint of Old Man Ale in consolation.