Dow Crag

Published 17 November 2019

The very rocky summit of Dow Crag

Dominating the skyline of the village of Coniston, is a fell known affectionately as the Old Man. The ascent of this 803m behemoth is a popular walk, but most people simply go up and then go back down again. But the Wainwright fell bagger notes that there’s two equally majestic fells nearby. And so they plot a walk that takes in Dow Crag and Brim Fell as well. It was a walk I decided to do on 7 July 2019.

I couldn’t understand it.

The climb up the the Old Man of Coniston is one of the most popular walks in the Southern Fells. It was a Sunday morning. It was very sunny. And I was walking on a road that’s the signposted route to the Old Man. So why was it not full of walkers? Where was everyone? Why was I the only one walking up this ridiculously steep road?

And equally, what were all these cars doing? All these cars going up the Walna Scar Road? This road that ended in the middle of nowhere? Where there was absolutely nothing?

Now it could be it was tiredness from the very exertion of walking up the road. Or it could be that my brain was a bit sleepy after I’d got up at 6am and driven for two hours to get to Coniston. But none of it made any sense.

The Wanla Scar Road, full of trees
Walking up the Walna Scar Road

It was only when I got to the end of the road and saw the car park that it was all put together. The dawning realisation that there was a simple reason why I had seen no one else stumbling up the Walna Scar Road. They’d all driven. And if I’d done the same, I could have saved myself a mile of walking, 300m of ascent, and £8 in car parking charges.

But then, a certain Alfred Wainwright had started from down in the village. He hadn’t driven up here and parked his car before wandering off to explore the local fells. No way. He’d walked up that road like me. Probably. And what was good enough for him was good enough for me.

Mind you, he didn’t have a car. Nor a driving license. So…

But based on the occupancy level of car park, me and AW were in a minority. The car park was heaving. Well, I say car park. The whole thing looked rather rough and ready. Like a load of drivers had found a plot of land and had taken it over. Which was probably how it had started. Although in 2017 a plan to redevelop the area into a formal car park. It would have pay and display machines and everything. It didn’t look particularly great now, but would those changes be an improvement? It was hard to know for sure.

From the multitude of cars set forth a multitude of walkers. And they were all heading up to the Old Man of Coniston, that benign fell that watches over the village below. But that was not my aim. Not yet anyway.

The path up to Consiton Old Man
The path up to Consiton Old Man

At one time it was possible to drive along the Walna Scar Road all the way from Coniston to Seathwaite. Nowadays access beyond the car park is strictly forbidden. The sign I passed at the edge of the car park said so. So the large campsite with at least ten tents, three cars, two vans and a heap of deckchairs at the side of the road, a few hundred metres on, was quite a surprise. They were rather stretching the definition of wild camping to the limit.

Maybe there’s something to be said about formalising the parking arrangements at Walna Scar.

My plan was simple. A three-fell walk that would end at the Old Man, but that would first take in a lesser known fell, Dow Crag. And I’d reach it mostly by following the Walna Scar Road.

It’s a route that Wainwright didn’t particularly recommend, preferring an ascent of Dow Crag from the village of Torver instead. A route that had more interest in his mind. But then, he hadn’t parked his car next to Coniston’s tourist information office.

Walna Scar Road, with Dow Crag in the background
The Walna Scar Road. Or path as it is here.

Not that the Walna Scar Road is bad. After the initial ascent to the car park, it slowed down its ascent rate, providing a long, but gentle climb up. A climb with lots of great views of the local fells, down to Coniston Water, and towards the sea. Was that Sellafield over there in the distance? Why, yes it was.

And there were mountain bikers too. Lots of mountain bikers.

My walk coincided with the annual Jennride. Never heard of Jennride? Nor had I. But it’s a weekend of biking in memory of Jenn Hill. Jenn was deputy editor of mountain biking magazine Singletrack, who died of lung cancer in 2015. Based on the number of bikers heading past me towards Coniston, it was a popular route. Although one that, based on the looks of some of the cyclist’s faces, required quite a bit of exertion!

Some sort of old entrance on Brown Pike
Entrance to the Mines of Moria?

But most noticeable of all was the dark, dramatic, sinister, rocky side of Dow Crag. It’s western face looked like it belonged to Mordor. The kind of place that Sauron would reside. Where orcs would be forging machinery and swords. It also looked like the kind kind of place you just want to climb up. Well, you would if it didn’t look so ridiculously scary. Those orcs didn’t help though.

Another turn-off directed walkers for the Old Man up an alternative path to Goat’s Water, and Goat’s Hause. I carried on the Walna Scar Road for another mile, past disused quarries, and the turn-off for the hamlet of Torver. Then the road began to ascend in height, as I made my way through the gap between the hill known as Walna Scar on the south, and Brown Pike on the north. Neither get the full Wainwright treatment, although Walna Scar has a place in his follow-up guide book, The Outlying Fells of Lakeland.

Leaving the Jennriders behind, I took the path up Brown Pike. A short climb took me to its summit, equipped with a a circular stone shelter and a cairn. This proved to be a worthy spot to rest before tackling the adjoining fell, Buck Pike. Again, not a Wainwright, even if it was 744m in height.

Summit of Brown Pike
The summit of Brown Pike is well equipped with a cairn and a shelter.

The higher I got, the rockier the fells became. By the time I’d passed over Buck Pike and was getting close to Dow Crag’s, there were rocks and boulders everywhere.

Dow Crag’s summit was noticeable from miles around. All pointy and bold. Even viewed a quarter a mile away from Buck Pike, it was obvious that to reach the highest point would require a little scramble.

This thought had crossed the mind of two other walkers a little ahead of me. And as I approached, one of them began to scale the rocks for a celebratory photograph.

I reduced my speed a little, giving them time to take their snaps, paying little attention until a loud, sudden, shriek.

The summit of Dow Crag in the distance
My first Wainwright of the day


With a start I looked up.

“There’s a wasps nest up here!” she explained to her partner, as she began to scramble down as fast as she could.

Whether there was a nest, I didn’t know. But what was clear was that Dow Crag was a place wasps liked to hang about at, and that there were several hovering around the very summit of the fell.

As they raced to get away, I paused for a moment, wondering what to do. Were a few wasps going to stop me getting to the very top of this Wainwright?

I quickly decided that yes, they were. Although I compromised by scrambling to a point about a metre below the summit that the wasps didn’t seem to be particularly excited by. That seemed good enough when all was said and done. I quickly snapped a photograph of myself at the top, then started making my way down again. And if the wasps noticed me, they didn’t say anything. I think, when all is said and done, it was better that way.

Next time: Brim Fell

The author on top of Dow Crag in the cloud.
Don’t ask me what’s on my face. I really have no idea.

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