On a sultry day a couple of weeks ago, we walked up from Coniston to the Coppermines Valley, under the shadow of Coniston Old Man itself. Even as we took the steep track beside the pretty and dramatic Church Beck the grey clouds lifted and the heat increased.
Just past Miners’ bridge the track levels and reveals the mining landscape beyond. Something resembling a mining area in the old Wild West. Great heaps of spoil and the remnant cottages of the miners, one of which is now the Coniston Coppermines youth hostel.
We went a few yards into some of the old workings. Even though I spent much of my youth caving and potholing I wasn’t seriously tempted to go in any further. These old adits and shafts are dangerous places if you don’t know what you are doing.
I did wonder how many bodies of over-curious fellwalkers lie deep inside, the water dripping on their bones?
We stood in front of one adit not far from the Levers Beck. A continuous blast of wind came from within, as though the great lungs of the mountain were expelling air at us.
If you’ve read Arthur Ransome’s novel “Pigeon Post” then you’ll have some idea of the atmosphere of the place. The mines, which were worked by German and Dutch miners in the first Queen Elizabeth’s time, were going through a period of revival at the time Ransome was penning his classic tale.
On then and ever upwards to Levers Water. Although I’d looked down on it from the mountain ridge high above, I’d never been right to it before.
As we sat there, resting from the heat, I thought of the great mountain beyond. Coniston Old Man itself.
I hold it in some affection for it was the first Lakeland mountain I ever climbed, way back in 1996. A few days before I’d fallen scrambling through a hedgerow on Dartmoor. A silly thing to do! A tree root had crashed into my chest as I went down, cracking two ribs. Very painful, but I still made the top of the Old Man, not to mention several other Lakeland fells and Ben Cruachan in Argyll the following week.
I’d forgotten how painful cracked ribs can be, especially if you need to cough or sneeze. I was reminded a couple of days after the Coppermines walk, when I fell on a footpath on Loughrigg and cracked another one – of which more next time.