Sunday, 9 December 2018

Dow Crag via the South Rake & The Coniston Fells

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Route: Walna Scar Road, The Cove, Goats Water, South Rake, Dow Crag, Goats Hause, The Old Man of Coniston, Brim Fell, Levers Hause, Fairfield, Grey Friar, Great Carrs, Swirl How, Prison Band, Swirl Hause, Levers Water, Paddy End Works, Crowberry Hause, Walna Scar

Date: 09/12/2018
From: Walna Scar

Parking: Walna Scar car park
Start Point: Walna Scar
Region: Southern Fells

Route length: 10.6 miles (17km)
Time taken: 06:15
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 1058m
Descent: 1059m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Dow Crag (778m), The Old Man of Coniston (804m), Brim Fell (796m), Grey Friar (770m), Great Carrs (788m), Swirl How (802m)

Additional summits: None

Other points of interest: Moss Force

It was Alfred Wainwright who proposed the name 'South Rake' in his 1955 edition of the Pictorial Guide to the Southern Fells. The rake, a steeply slanted ribbon of rock and scree on Dow Crag, had been used for many years by climbers seeking a quick way back to the bottom of the buttresses but Wainwright introduced it to the masses as an interesting alternative to the main walker's paths.
Walna Scar
Crowberry Haws with the Coniston fells beyond
Arguably, the best place to start is at Walna Scar which is exactly what I did. It came as a slight surprise to find quite a few cars parked there already, despite it being before 9am. The Walna Scar car park provides an easy start to a day on the hills.
The Bursting Stone route to the Old Man of Coniston
Morning light over Coniston Water
The Old Man of Coniston
I followed the road as it gently climbs, the views of Coniston becoming increasingly better. I've walked the road on a few occasions but I've never ventured into The Cove or to Goat's Water. Part way along the road, a path branches off and climbs towards Dow Crag.
Departing the Walna Scar road
Following the path to The Cove
Until now, Dow Crag had been obscured but, skirting around the side of The Cove, the immense buttresses being to emerge. It's not until you reach the tarns outlet, however, that you get the full view of Dow Crag.
Buck Pike and Dow Crag over The Cove
Dow Crag
Easy Gully and Great Gully on Dow Crag
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Dow Crag and Goat's Water
The striking declivities of Great Gully and Easy Gully are what draw your attention first. They separate A, B and C buttresses - Dow Crag’s buttresses are labelled A – F in a south-north direction. The small gully to the left of A buttress is Easy Gully (easy by rock climbing standards). To the left of Easy Gully, hidden up until now, is the South Rake, a ribbon of scree that curves up from the base of A buttress.

To reach the South Rake requires a steep, loose scramble up the scree slope to reach the base of A buttress.
Goat's Water
At the foot of the scree
Easy Gully - identifiable by the pinnacle of rock at its entrance
Looking down the scree to Goat's Water
Great Gully
Traversing around to the South Rake
Easy Terrace
Great Gully
The South Rake
The South Rake offers a similar challenge to Lords Rake on Scafell though I think it's a superior scramble being longer and marginally steeper. It passes the imposing entrance to Easy Gully as it makes its way up through the rocks of Dow Crag.
Looking down the South Rake
The South Rake below Easy Gully
The Old Man of Coniston
Easy Gully
As the rake climbs higher it becomes a little steeper and splits, separated by a grassy spur. Either side is climbable and neither looks more challenging than the other. Eventually, I emerged onto the crest of Dow Crag's main ridge.
The South Rake
The right-hand gully
Looking down the left-hand gully
The final climb to the ridge
The view into Dunnerdale
A brief view of Coniston
Dow Crag's summit ridge
Clouds swept over the ridge while I made my way to the summit, obscuring the view while I was there. Fortunately, they did not hang around for long and cleared by the time I was descending to Goats Hause.
Dow Crag's summit
Dow Crag
A view to Coniston
Harter Fell
Brim Fell seen over Goat's Hause
Grey Friar and Swirl How over Calf Cove
Goat's Hause
Goat's Water and Dow Crag
Goat's Water
There's a steep 200m climb from Goat's Hause up The Old Man. After the climb, you're greeted by a splendid view of The Old Man as you reach the ridge where it's a short, almost level, walk to the summit.
The buttresses of Dow Crag
The South Rake
Approaching the Old Man
The Old Man is the highest fell of the Coniston group, topped by an odd slate platform/cairn combo - no doubt a result of its slate mining heritage.
Coppermines Valley and Coniston
The trig pillar on the Old Man
The large cairn on the summit
Coniston
Wetherlam
The Old Man has a fine view, down to Low Water and across the bulk of the Coniston fells. The face of Dow Crag is well seen, with the South Rake and gullies now easily identifiable. The light on the fells at this time of the day was magnificent but short-lived - high clouds were starting to roll in.

The Old Man of Coniston sits at the most southerly end of the north-south ridge that defines the main Coniston group. Brim Fell stands close-by while Swirl How and Great Carrs guard the northern end. A walk along the ridge is superb, though marred somewhat by the profusion of unnecessary cairns along the way. Brim Fell may appear to be nothing more than a simple bump along the ridge. It's not until you reach Levers Hause that it becomes apparent that it is a separate fell.
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Brim Fell
Cairns guide the way...
Brim Fell's summit cairn
Brim Fell is unusual in the fact that it has no footing on the valley floor on either side of the ridge. On the east, its boundary streams converge at 800ft and the flanks of Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam continue to the lake. Above the Duddon, Brim Fell is nipped off by Dow Crag and Grey Friar at an even greater altitude. The area of the fell is therefore small, but full of interest.

Once I had reached Levers Hause, I followed a faint path which traverses below the main ridge of Swirl How to reach the col at Fairfield.
Calf Cove below Grey Friar
Swirl How
Levers Water
Seathwaite and Seathwaite Tarn
Grey Friar
Brim Fell and Dow Crag
The traverse to Fairfield
Dow Crag
Grey Friar is a real outlier of the group. Despite being a large fell (it forms most of the eastern side of the Duddon Valley, it is the least visited of the group, thanks to its location off the beaten track. It has a very pleasant flat summit with a neat covering of grass, a real joy to stroll along. The summit rocks, capped by the traditional cairn, offer a wonderful view of the dark mass of the Scafells. It's well worth the visit. In the other direction, Brim Fell appears as a great mass ahead of The Old Man and Dow Crag, across the valley, takes on a wonderfully mountainous profile.
Dow Crag
Scafell and Scafell Pike
Grey Frair's summit
The Scafells
Panorama from Great Friar
Black Combe at the end of Dunnerdale
I returned to Fairfield and made the short climb to Great Carrs, passing the war memorial on the way. During a nighttime navigation exercise in 1944, the RCAF Halifax from RAF Topcliffe became lost in thick cloud while over the north-west on England. In an attempt to wait out the blanket of grey, they circled in the hope the cloud would clear, ultimately becoming hopelessly lost. To try and get a visual fix for the navigator, the pilot dropped the bomber out of the cloud base, with no knowledge of what was below him. Unfortunately, for both him, the crew and the aircraft, they were greeted by the great rising fells of Swirl How and Great Carrs. With no time to react, the aircraft hit the mountainside killing all on board.
Harter Fell
Fairfield and Great Carrs
Remnants of the bomber on Great Carrs
 Despite the crew perishing in the impact, the bomber remained largely intact and, to prevent other aircraft from spotting it and reporting it repeatedly, the wreckage was cut into a number of smaller, moveable pieces and discarded down Broad Slack, where parts of it are still visible today. Over the years, two of the four Rolls-Royce engines were recovered from the crash site by an RAF helicopter, one of which is now on display at the Ruskin Museum at nearby Brantwood. The undercarriage, together with a wooden cross and memorial cairn is on the top of the ridge, a sad reminder to us all of those men who never returned from the war.
Memorial to the crashed bomber
Great Carrs' summit looking to Swirl How
Swirl How would be the next destination - it sits just a short distance away. Despite not being the highest fell, it is the geographical centre of the group, radiating ridges from the summit to all four points of the compass. The summit is marked by a fine cairn on a stony top, built close to the Greenburn edge of the ridge.
Wetherlam
Swirl How
Swirl How's summit
The next leg of the walk requires heading down Prison Band, a steep, stony ridge that falls some 200m down into Swirl Hause. From here I would be treading some new territory by descending to Levers Water and back to the Coppermines Valley.
Looking down Prison Band to Wetherlam
Levers Water
Prison Band
A large cairn sits in Swirl Hause
Looking down to Levers Water
Great How Crags
The shores of Levers Water
Great How Crags and Swirl How
My intention was to cross the outlet to Levers Water and follow the Boulder Valley down towards Low Water Beck and the Pudding Stone. However, crossing the stream was easier said than done. I was unable to find a dry way across so, instead, followed the stony track past Kennel Crag to Tongue Brow before picking up a path with makes a high circuit of the valley, ultimately leading to the Pudding Stone.
Quarries in the Coppermines Valley
Levers Waterfall
Coniston Water
One of several adits along the route
Levers Waterfall
Peeking through the Coppermines valley to Coniston
An old quarry road leads almost directly from the Pudding Stone to the car park at Walna Scar where I found the car, still where I left it (always a relief). This was a superb walk, the highlight being the excellent scramble up the South Rake on Dow Crag. I'm ashamed it's taken me this long to get round to doing it but I've finally scratched that itch. Time to look at some other long-term goals...
Low Water Beck flows into the Coppermines Valley
Low Water Beck
Low Water Beck
Remnants of the disused quarries
Coppermines Valley
The path to Crowberry Hause
Foul Scrow