One Minute Mountain: Coniston Old Man

Introducing Britain's favourite hills... This week, one of the best-loved summits in southern Lakeland

Sunset from Coniston Old man, 90 kb
Sunset from Coniston Old man
© david morse

Height: 803m

Personality: Big grassy lump meets graceful rocky peak: it's hard to say which won

What's in a name? Coniston Old Man, or the Old Man of Coniston (no one seems know which way round it goes) is a linguistic mashup, reflecting Cumbria's chequered history. Coniston derives from the Old Norse Konigs Tun - King's Farm; the Old Man bit originates in the Brythonic maen - stone.

Who does it? Nearby Dow Crag is the climber's choice. In contrast the Old Man is almost exclusively pedestrian. You'll meet everyone here from grinning holidaymakers to gurning fell runners, nursery school kids to your grandma and her dachshund.

The experts say: "There are few days when the Old Man does not play host to visitors and in summer the blazed path to the top carries processions of pedestrians young and old, and there is often a noisy congregation at the summit" reckons old man Wainwright.

Unusual feature: Industrial heritage. Centuries of mining and quarrying have left their mark, particularly on the flank overlooking the Coppermines Valley (the clue's in the name). Far off you'll see the towers of Sellafield. Somehow none of it detracts.

Pub quiz trivia: Coniston Old Man was the inspiration for 'Kangchenjunga' in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books, but the fictionalised lake is more like Windermere. So much for consistency.

Why climb it? Whether it's the quick climb from the Walna Scar Road or a longer route via either Low Water or Goat's Water - idyllic hill tarns, both - the summit is very achievable. You're up high on the southern extremity of the big Lake District fells here, with a view that spans both the mountains and the low land to the south and east, where Coniston Water leads the eye out towards the shining sea.

Want to get hands-on? For an alternative mountaineer's ascent link the grade 3 scramble of Low Water Beck with a rambling but surprisingly good grade 2 line up the Low Water flank of Brim Fell.

Where to stay? Try Coniston Coppermines YHA, right at the foot of the hill (for details see here)

And afterwards? You can't beat a pint of Coniston Bluebird Bitter

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