Brim Fell and the Old Man

Length 11 Kilometres | Highest point 803 metres

Brim Fell 796m, 2611ft, GR 271986
The Old Man of Coniston 803m, 2634ft, GR 272978


The vast bulk of Coniston Old Man dominates Coniston village. Its flanks are scarred by huge slate quarries, two currently being worked. The combination of scenic grandeur with Victorian prosperity brought several eminent characters to Coniston. John Ruskin, the artist, writer and social reformer, lived at Brantwood, with its superlative views of the Old Man. His neighbour the historian Collingwood had four grandchildren who were taught to sail on Coniston Water by Arthur Ransome, inspiring the writing of Swallows and Amazons. While the Old Man is an objective of pilgrimage for most fit visitors to Coniston, Brim Fell is often overlooked as a mere hump on the ridge and OS maps leave the summit unmarked. This walk is a challenging route up Brim Fell, which continues over Coniston Old Man but avoids the over-popular tourist routes.

The Old Man and Brim Fell from Wetherlam
The Old Man and Brim Fell from Wetherlam

The circuit starts and ends in Coniston village. From the bridge over Church Beck, walk up to the Sun Hotel and turn sharp right beyond it. Follow the path marked ‘YHA’ up beside the beck to Miners’ Bridge in the Coppermines Valley. Keep to the path up the fell without crossing the beck; after about 1km this joins a disused quarry road. 30 metres up the road, turn right along an old quarry track cut horizontally under a crag. A working quarry is a vast hole to the right. Pass through a disused slate quarry and up some rock steps to an upper valley, aptly named Boulder Valley, strewn with large boulders including the enormous Pudding Stone. Stop here to look for the next stage in the route. At the rear of Boulder Valley, the beck tumbles about 150m down from Low Water. The ascent route passes above the crags to the right of this waterfall up a green diagonal from lower right to top left (the top of the falls). It may look a little alarming from the Pudding Stone but, although steep, it is a perfectly safe route and no scrambling is involved. Cross the footbridge and walk NW across the valley to the foot of the crag and ascend on steep grass and then stony spoil from an old copper mine. The mine passage, complete with iron rail tracks and the rusted remains of a trolley, is about half way to Low Water. Continue steeply up to Low Water, in about 50 min ascent from the Pudding Stone.

Coniston Old Man summit ridge
Coniston Old Man summit ridge

At Low Water turn 20 degrees W of N and walk up a grass slope to the col between Raven Tor and Brim Fell summit. Walk west gently uphill over grass and rocks to the rounded top of cropped turf and stones, surmounted by a conical stone cairn. Fifteen minutes to the south along the ridge is the summit of Coniston Old Man (5km, 755m, 2hr 30min). This is capped by a massive man-made stone platform, with a substantial cairn on top. A triangulation point looks down on Low Water.

Sunset at the Old Man summit
Sunset at the Old Man summit

In mist the heavily used footpath to Low Water (and thence down the old quarry road) is easy to find. However it is very steep and loose underfoot. A pleasanter descent in clear weather is almost due south down the nose of the mountain. Routes are easily picked out down grass between the rocks. It is inadvisable to stray too far west, where there is a steep drop, while to the east, the huge eyesore of Bursting Stone quarry, is best avoided. At the Walna Scar track at the foot of the mountain, turn east for 1.5km to the fell gate (A shorter alternative to this walk would begin and end here). To avoid walking down the tarmac, take the footpath south from the fell gate, above the wall. At the fourth (wooden) gate, an ancient bridleway runs across a field and down a lane, past some cottages. The disused railway line, which formerly linked Coniston to the coast at Foxfield, provides an easy walk back into the village (11km, 753m, 4hr).

The Scafells from Coniston Old Man
The Scafells from Coniston Old Man

Coniston Old Man and Brim Fell may both be included in fine circular ridge walks over Dow Crag or Swirl How.