Jul 1 2008 Oliver Shenton
Mount Everest, at 29,028ft above see level, is the highest mountain on Earth. By comparison, the Old Man of Coniston is a paltry 2,276ft.
But a mountain’s a mountain, I said, as I prepared the family for our hike to the summit. We did cheat a bit as well. Our accommodation and starting point was half way up.
We were staying at the Old Sawmill at the disused copper mines in Coniston. The sawmill lay derelict for many years, until it was sympathetically converted into four self-contained cottages, each linked through internal passageways and doors to accommodate up to 26 people.
Our quarter could sleep up to eight, but acted as an excellent base for me, my wife and son. Once we got there that is.
Access to the copper mines is via a steep, narrow and rather terrifying track. Sat nav said no.
The guest in the neighbouring cottage said extreme winter weather makes access by car almost impossible. It didn’t say that in the brochure.
Anyway, back to that walk. Map in hand, we headed onwards and upwards. As we slowly made our way to the Old Man’s summit, we discovered the leftovers from years of industrial exploitation, firstly from copper mining and later slate quarrying. Those activities have left their blemishes on the mountain but their remains add an unusual interest on the walk.
The Old Man proved to be a challenging climb, and what it lacked in height it made up for in views, offering a dramatic panorama of southern Lake District, Morecambe Bay and Coniston Water.
Sir Malcolm Campbell chose Coniston Water for his attempt at the water speed record in 1939, which he achieved at more than 141mph. On his death, his son Donald took up where his father left off. His aim was to better 300mph, which he did in 1967, but the craft Bluebird flipped in the air and disappeared into the lake. Campbell’s body was recovered 34 years later along with the stricken vessel.
Attitudes to high speed water pursuits have since changed on the lakes. In 2005, a 10mph speed limit was enforced on Lake Windermere, effectively banning the use of water skiing and power boats. Lake District National Park Authority wanted calm on the lakes waters, but the decision continues to whip up a storm of opinions.
Supporters say the limit creates a more tranquil atmosphere, while opponents argue the absence of high speed watersports has a detrimental impact on the local economy.
But watersports’ loss is mountain bikings gain – it is now the fastest growing outdoor sport in the region.
We picked up hire bikes at Grizedale Forest, which boasts the only purpose-built mountain biking trail in north England.
Son Finlay, at all of four-years-old, considered himself royalty and insisted on being towed in a trailer. This I thought, shouldn’t be a problem. In the Netherlands it wouldn’t be. But we weren’t cycling on the flat.
Towing his lordship up a solid, three mile uphill climb introduced my legs to a new kind of pain. My thighs burned like the log fire at our mountain cottage. It was worth it, though, for the downhill thrill on the return leg. Although, Finlay didn’t seem to think it was fun. Next time, he said, he’ll ride his own bike.
When returning the bikes to the cycle hire centre I pointed out the lack of “flatness” on our suggested route. Next summer will see the addition of a new family friendly trail, I was informed. For those looking for a more laid back experience, there’s still plenty to see and do, like exploring the region’s cultural connections. Artists and authors, such as Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, Turner and Constable, have all been seduced by its beauty and solitude.
Beatrix Potter’s clan of naughty rabbits, industrious hedgehogs and two bad mice have a well-documented association with Cumbria. Beatrix spent several childhood holidays in the Lake District, and fell in love with the peaceful village of Sawrey near Coniston. It was here she bought her first Cumbrian property, Hill Top Farm, the setting for several stories and her home for many years.
William Wordsworth also lived, wrote and found inspiration in the region. He penned his most famous poem after discovering wild daffodils growing along the lakeshore. His homes at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth House and Rydal Mount are owned by The National Trust and are open to visitors.
The best way to see the Lake District is by car – it’s no surprise it was voted the most picturesque destination in England for a Sunday drive. It’s the complete destination for weekend away.