My walking club (which has a Facebook Page) was at St Andrew’s Youth Centre in Coniston for New Year. We normally alternate between there and Hawse End on Derwent Water (where I was last year) but two years ago it was Buckden House in the Yorkshire Dales (and I went to Wales instead anyway) so this was my first time in Coniston for four years. I drove up on December 27th after the usual last minute packing frenzy and arrived at the centre at about 9pm. The next day I had a lie in and eventually went out for a short walk along the lake on my own. I had wanted to take a bike with me but my touring/utility machine was in bits so I took the fixie, which is not ideal for mountainous terrain! On the 29th I decided to try cycling round Coniston Water, which I did in an anti-clockwise direction in just under an hour.
When staying in Coniston the obvious mountain to climb is the Old Man of Coniston which I think I have done on every previous visit. On December 30th I set off up the Walna Scar Road with a fairly large group of adults and kids intending to reach the summit via Dow Crag. By the time we got to the top of Dow Crag we were in cloud and although it was just above freezing there was serious wind chill. After a quick lunch stop we dropped down to Goat’s Hawse from where most of the group descended via Goat’s Water while the rest of us started up the other side and got close to top of the Old Man before deciding to turn back due to high wind. I guess it was gusting about 80mph making it difficult to stand up, and more worryingly it was pushing us in the direction of the nearby cliff edge! We retreated to Goat’s Hawse and followed the path the others had taken back to Coniston.
On the 31st four of us went for a run up to Tarn Hows in the afternoon and then it was time to get ready for the traditional New Year meal and celebrations. Dinner featured Cumberland Sausage as usual and then it was downstairs to the games room for a music quiz devised by the kids and modelled on the BBC show “Never Mind the Buzzcocks”. After that we went back upstairs for the cheese course and then outside for fireworks. We had to pack up and leave in the morning so we didn’t stay up much beyond midnight.
Since I didn’t have to get back for work I had decided to stay on an extra three nights at the Ambleside Backpackers Hostel. After loading the car on the morning of the 1st I headed back up towards the Old Man, this time via the mines and Low Water, a route which was largely sheltered from the wind until I reached the summit (where it also started to snow). I had been thinking of carrying on to Swirl How but that would have meant heading straight into the wind so given the poor conditions I decided to retrace my steps. Back at the car I changed out of my wet gear and drove over to Ambleside where I found a place to park right outside the hostel.
Having already circumnavigated Coniston Water I decided to do Windermere as well so on the morning of Jan 2nd I got my bike out of the car and set off in the drizzle. By the time I reached Hawkshead the drizzle had become light rain and I was already getting wet when I found a sheltered place to check the map. I carried on down the western side of Esthwaite Water before encountering a hill which was steep and long enough to defeat me and my 72 inch gear – I ground to a halt and had to quickly unclip to avoid falling sideways! I continued on down to Newby Bridge where I rounded the south end of the lake and started heading back up the eastern side on the A592. The road was a bit of a roller coaster with lots of short climbs that gave my back and shoulders a good workout. By now I was completely soaked and thinking about finding a place to dry out in Windermere (if I had carried straight on to Ambleside I would have arrived too early to get into the hostel). Someone at the Tourist Information Centre suggested Booths supermarket, which turned out to to be ideal. I had a beef hotpot in the cafe then used the conveniences to wring out my socks and dry off a bit next to the radiator – I was there for about an hour and a half! By then the rain had eased off a little and I made short work of the last few miles back to Ambleside. After a shower and nap I cooked some pasta and then went to watch Skyfall at Zeffirellis.
For my last day I decided to do the Fairfield Horseshoe, again in an anti-clockwise direction. It was exceptionally mild in the morning with no rain and a relatively high cloud base which I entered as I neared the summit of Dove Crag. I briefly dropped out of the cloud again before the final climb to Fairfield where the wind picked up and it began to rain, so I checked my bearings and headed off down the path to Great Rigg. I was hoping to get a view again fairly soon but the weather had really closed in and it was only when I got down as far as Nab Scar that I caught sight of Rydal Water through a gap in the clouds which were now almost down to valley level. My feet were just starting to get damp as I walked back to Ambleside on the path through the grounds of Rydal Hall. Later that evening I treated myself to dinner at Lucy’s and had an early night, ready for the drive home in the morning. Overall a pretty good way to start the year.