Almost Picture Perfect in the Coniston Fells

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THIS is such a promising start. The early-morning sky is dark and clear; frost cakes windscreens and grass verges; the Lakeland peaks stand pale and ghostly at the head of the Duddon estuary. It is the perfect day for climbing Wetherlam and traversing a frozen ridge to the summit cairn on Coniston Old Man. Nothing can go wrong . . .

I leave my mother’s house and drive north through sleeping Cumbrian villages, along roads that wind around farm buildings and through dark woodlands. As I enter the small town of Coniston, the sun rises above the eastern fells and floods the sky with golden light. Mornings like these are to be treasured.

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This row of houses, stuck on the slopes of Wetherlam in Coppermines Valley, is known as Irish Row. It was built for 19th Century miners, many of whom came from Ireland. The highest mine in the valley is called Paddy End. You couldn’t get away with that now. Just as well.

This row of houses, stuck on the slopes of Wetherlam in Coppermines Valley, is known as Irish Row. It was built for 19th Century miners, many of whom came from Ireland. The highest mine in the valley is called Paddy End. You couldn’t get away with that now. Just as well.

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The view along Coppermines Valley towards Coniston Old Man and Brim Fell. The white building is the Coppermines Youth Hostel. It used to be the mine manager’s house. The white building to its right was the mine stables, but is now the Barrow Mountaineering and Ski Club Hut.

The view along Coppermines Valley towards Coniston Old Man and Brim Fell. The white building is the Coppermines Youth Hostel. It used to be the mine manager’s house. The white building to its right was the mine stables, but is now the Barrow Mountaineering and Ski Club Hut.

wetherlam 10I pull on my boots and climb the southern flank of Wetherlam (762m or 2,500ft) from Coppermines Valley. This is where disaster strikes, only I do not realise at the time. My Canon EOS 1100 camera begins corrupting my pictures. So I spend the day among impressive mountains, and in perfect atmospheric conditions, clicking a camera which is systematically devouring its own offspring. These things happen.

From the summit of Wetherlam I drop down into the gap at Prison Band, scramble up rocks to the cairn on Swirl How (802m or 2,631ft), and point the treacherous camera north towards Helvellyn and Skiddaw. Click. Click. Click.

Sunrise over Coniston from the spoil heaps of the Low Blue Quarry

Sunrise over Coniston from the spoil heaps of the Low Blue Quarry

wetherlam 7 wetherlam 8I modify my plan and head for Great Carrs and its memorial to the crew of a Halifax bomber which crashed into the summit in October 1944. There’s a cairn, the remains of a set of undercarriage, a plaque, a cross, and a wreath fashioned in the form of a Canadian RAF roundel. Poppies have been placed among the stones. They nod poignantly against the backdrop of the sunlit fells. Click. Click. Click.

I continue south to Brim Fell (796m or 2,611ft) and the summit of the Old Man (803m or 2,634ft). Neighbouring Dow Crag is bathed in sunshine and the Duddon estuary glistens in the freezing air. Click. Click. Click.

And then I descend eastwards down the tourist track to Low Water, and hover above Brandy Crag Quarry to watch the quarry fellas working the silver-grey slate with yellow diggers and the occasional gunpowder shot. Boom. Click. Click. Click.

I remain philosophical. It was a good walk on a good day.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Environment, Explosives, Footpaths, Hiking, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Quarrying, Slate quarries, Walking, Weather and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Almost Picture Perfect in the Coniston Fells

  1. I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but a few years back I decided to stop taking a camera with me on walks in the Lake District. I felt like I was spending too much time looking around me through a viewfinder and not appreciating the full view that normal human vision provided. Now, years later I look back on those walks and think ‘I’ll have a look at the photos. No, wait a minute, I didn’t take any. Oh, b******s.’

    There was the time I spent ages in Keswick looking for a pouch for a camera then on Ard Crags the battery was dead just after stepping out of the car. Or arriving near Thirlmere and discovering I’d forgotten my walking boots. There’ll be days like these, but at least the memory of the walk is still in your head.

    I did Swirl How an Great Carrs a few years back (possibly during the ‘no-camera-period’) The cliffs of the Carrs are awe inspiring and the 360 degree vistas are as good as any in the Lakes.

    Chris

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Chris. I’ve reached the stage where walking feels pointless without a camera. Like you, I went through a stage (2002-ish to 2006-ish) where I hardly ever took a camera, and I regret it now because I can hardly remember anything. I have to rely on notes scribbled on my copy of Munro’s Tables or sketchy lines on a map if I had the forethought to mark a route first.
      Anyway, at least I’ve never left my boots at home (socks, yes).
      I like Great Carrs. Took my parent’s dog and my wife up there once (in that order) in the snow and ice. That was in 1981 and she still plays hell about it.
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. Mjollnir says:

    What happened to dismal then? Bright and sunny up in those hills!

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  3. Hanna says:

    Beautiful walk and pictures, Alen. It’s a stunning light ❤

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  4. Some of my favourite fells there – I always do the walk clockwise though – I think that’s so you get the big ones out of the way first!
    Carol.

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  5. mbc1955 says:

    Lots of memories of the day I did this walk, on a long, sunny, early September Friday (though I contrived to add Grey Friar and Dow Crag into the walk, with a return down the Walna Scar Road). There were photos, but I’ve got a helluva lot more images in my head to savour.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Martin. So you did the full Coniston Round. That’s a great walk for a good day. I was tempted to do it last summer but ran out of food early on in the walk and missed out Grey Friar and Wetherlam. I shall return.
      Cheers, Alen

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  6. EchoohcE says:

    Looks like a nice day for it Alen, I hope your EOS can be fixed. I resisted getting a digital camera until 2005! Now I wouldn’t go anywhere without it. So far I have stuck with compact camera’s (small and light) and always choose one that takes AA batteries, so I can change them when they run out! Those disposable lithium batteries are brilliant – I change (two) batteries twice a year, and I take loads of photo’s.
    Cheers, Mike
    ps. My uncle (Alan Wood) worked in Barrow shipyards as a welder in the ’70’s; wondered if you knew him.

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Mike. I’ve had no trouble with the camera since Coniston. Now I’m wondering if the files were damaged during the transfer process, which is where I became aware of the problem. I was out on the North York Moors yesterday (new memory card), took loads of pictures, and had no problems whatsoever. I’ll just keep an eye on things. I’d never go back to film though. Digital cameras are brilliant, although there’s a lady a couple of comments up who would argue the toss over it.
      I worked in Barrow shipyard from 1973 to 76, then 1977 to 80, then 1988 to 91. I don’t recall Alan Wood, but there were hundreds of welders, and I was one of about 400 electricians.
      All the best, Alen

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      • Bill.S says:

        Hi Alen. I don’t know that camera in detail. But did you try taking out the card and putting it in a card-reader directly linked to the computer? I always do mine like that: it’s quick and there’s no faff. If it’s a big card you might need to use a powered hub. The pics might still be there… Whatever, those hills, beautiful in all weathers, will still be there. Regards, Bill.S

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        • McEff says:

          Hi Bill. I stuck the card in the card-reader slot on thr computer, and it was while they were transferring that I first noticed most of the pictures were unreadable. I’ve since downloaded a couple of apps which are supposed to save corrupted files, but the whole lot seem to be beyond repair. I’ll just have to live with it. New card in camera and things seem to be going okay.
          Cheers, Alen

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  7. Jo Woolf says:

    Hi Alen, Love your header image! 🙂 That made me laugh! What a shame about your pics, but it sounds like a brilliant walk anyway. The pics that you saved are fantastic. I like the analogy of a camera devouring its own offspring (maybe ‘like’ isn’t the right word). I hope that it has a less traumatic birth next time round!

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Jo. I shouldn’t say this but the header image makes me laugh too. Watch out for the three wise men making an appearance. Christmas spirit, and all that.
      Camera seems to be working okay now. But it’s worrrying in a way because I don’t know what’s wrong with it.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    A lovely round of fells you did there, pity about the camera but you did manage to save some really nice atmospehric shots there, its not all about the camera I keep telling myself, its about the walk as we full well know.

    Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

    Paul

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    • McEff says:

      Hiya Paul. It was a really good walk and I should be satisfied with that. What makes it painful, though, is that it was a perfect day for taking pictures. Still, there will be other days, so I’m putting it down to experience. Worse things have happened at sea.
      All the best, Alen

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  9. Scott Blair says:

    I’d be delighted if I got nine or ten photies as good as that from a walk. Sad to hear about the camera treachery though.

    The header is, indeed, very good. 😀

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    • McEff says:

      Hi Scott. I’d like to say I take a great deal of care when taking a picture but I just point the camera and it usually does the rest. But it doesn’t always work. The world is a cold and cruel place.
      Cheers, Alen

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  10. idrilberry says:

    I miss your Christmas Caravan in your header, Alen. It got me in the right Christmas spirit ❤ 🙂

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    • McEff says:

      I moved it so it was just on the Christmas Walk post, but now it’s reinstated by popular demand. An Easter one might work as well, come to think of it.
      Cheers, Alen

      Like

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