The Book of Coniston

The Book of Coniston

W. G. Collingwood
W. G. Collingwood

Author: Collingwood, W. G. (William Gershom), 1854-1932
Torver (Cumbria
Coniston (Cumbria
The Book of Coniston


Editor to the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and
Archæological Society;
Author of “The Life of John Ruskin,” etc.

Titus Wilson, Publisher.

“A capital little guide book.”—Daily News.
“It is an interesting little volume.”—Manchester Guardian.
“The ideal of a guide book.”—Carlisle Patriot.
“An excellent guide.”—Carlisle Journal.
“Confidently recommended.”—Ulverston Advertiser.


I.—The Old Man 1
II.—The Lake 8
III.—The Moorlands and their Ancient Settlements 14
     1.—The Blawith and Kirkby Moors 15
     2.—Bethecar and Monk Coniston Moors 17
     3.—Banniside and Torver Moors 18
IV.—Early History
     Roman period 22
     British period 23
     Anglian period 23
     Norse period 26
     Norman period 28
V.—Monk Coniston 31
VI.—The Flemings of Coniston Hall 37
VII.—The Church and Public Buildings 46
VIII.—Coniston Industries
     Copper 58
     Iron 62
     Slate 65
     Wood 68
IX.—Old Coniston 71
Index 87


Our first walk is naturally to climb the Coniston Old Man. By the easiest route, which fortunately is the most interesting, there is a path to the top; good as paths go on mountains—that is, plain to find—and by its very steepness and stoniness all the more of a change from the town pavement and the hard high road. It is quite worth while making the ascent on a cloudy day. The loss of the panorama is amply compensated by the increased grandeur of the effects of gloom and mystery on the higher crags, and with care and attention to directions there need be no fear of losing the way.

About an hour and a half, not counting rests, is enough for the climb; and rather more than an hour for the descent. From the village, for the first ten minutes, we can take two alternative routes. Leaving the Black Bull on the left, one road goes up past a wooden bridge which leads to the Old Forge, and by Holywath Cottage and the gate of Holywath (J. W. H. Barratt, Esq., J.P.) and the cottages of Silverbank, through a gate opening upon the fell. Turn to the left, past sandpits in a fragment of moraine left by the ancient glacier which, at the end of the Ice Age, must once have filled the copper-mines valley and broken off here, with toppling pinnacles and blue cavern, just like a glacier in Switzerland. Note an ice-smoothed rock on the right, showing basalt in section. Among the crannies of Lang Crags, which tower above, broken hexagonal pillars of basalt may be found in the screes, not too large to carry off as specimens. In ten minutes the miniature Alpine road, high above a deep ravine, leads to the Gillhead Waterfall and Bridge.
An alternative start may be made to the right of the Post Office, and up the lane to left of the Sun Hotel; through the gate at Dixon Ground, and over a wooden bridge beneath the mineral siding which forms the actual terminus of the railway. Another wooden bridge leads only to the grounds of Holywath, but affords a fine sight of the rocky torrent bed with Coniston limestone exposed on the Holywath side. The Coniston limestone is a narrow band of dark blue rock, with black holes in it, made by the weathering-out of nodules. It lies between the softer blue clay-slates we have left, which form the lower undulating hills and moorlands, and the hard volcanic rocks which form the higher crags and mountains.
The cartroad to the right, over the Gillhead Bridge, leads to the copper mines and up to Leverswater, from which the Old Man can be climbed, but by a much longer route. We take the gate and rough path to the left, after a look at the fine glaciated rocks across the bridge, apparently fresh from the chisel of the sculpturing ice; the long grooves betray the direction in which the glacier slid over them in its fall down the ravine. From a stile over the wall the copper mines become visible above the flat valley-bottom, filled with sand from the crushing of the ore. The path leads up to the back of the Scrow among parsley fern and club moss, and fifteen minutes from the bridge bring us through a sheepfold to another stile from which Weatherlam is finely seen on the right, and on the left the tall cascade from Lowwater. A short ten minutes more, and we reach the hause (háls or neck) joining the crag of the Bell (to the left) with the ridge of the Old Man up which our way winds.
Here we strike the quarry road leading from the Railway Station over Banniside Moor, a smoother route, practicable (as ours is not) for ponies, but longer. Here are slate-sheds, and the step where the sledges that come down the steep upper road are slid upon wheels. The sledge-road winds round the trap rocks of Crowberry haws (the grass-grown old road rejoins it a little higher) and affords views, looking backwards, of Coniston Hall and the lake behind. Five minutes above the slate-sheds the road finally crosses Crowberry haws, and Lowwater Fall comes into view—a broken gush of foam down a cleft 500 feet from brow to base.
A shepherd’s track leads to the foot of the fall and to the Pudding Stone, a huge boulder—not unlike the famous Bowder Stone of Borrowdale—a fragment from the “hard breccia” cliffs rising behind it, namely, Raven Tor high above; Grey Crag beneath, with the disused millrace along its flank; and Kernel Crag, the lion-like rock over the copper mines. Dr. Gibson, the author of The Old Man, or Ravings and Ramblings round Conistone, writing half-a-century ago, says:—”On this crag, probably for ages, a pair of ravens have annually had their nest, and though their young have again and again been destroyed by the shepherds they always return to the favourite spot.” He goes on to tell that once, when the parent birds were shot, a couple of strange ravens attended to the wants of the orphan brood, until they were fit to forage for themselves. On this suggestion, Dr. John Pagen White has written his poem in Lays and Legends of the English Lake Country, fancifully describing the raven on Kernel Crag watching from prehistoric antiquity the changes of the world around it, through past, present and future, to the crack of doom!
From the Pudding Stone experienced climbers can find their way up the ledges of Raven Tor to the top of Lowwater Fall. We follow the sledge road, and in five minutes reach Saddlestones Quarry, with its tram-lines and tunnelled level, and continually increasing platform of “rid” or débris.
Ten minutes’ walk from the quarries brings us to Lowwater, with glimpses of Windermere in the distance, and Leverswater nearer at hand under the summit of Weatherlam. It is worth while turning off to the right hand to see the great blocks of stone that lie in the margin of the tarn, and at the head of the fall.
As we climb the zigzags to the highest quarries, over the slate which stands out in slabs from the sward, the crags of Brimfell and Buckbarrow opposite seem to rise with us. It is here, on a cloudy day when the tops are covered, that the finest impressions of mountain gloom may be found; under the cloud and the precipices a dark green tarn, savage rocks, and tumbling streams; and out, beyond, the tossing sea of mountain forms.
From the platform of the highest quarry, reached in ten minutes from the tarn, a rough and steep path to the left leads in five minutes more to the ridge, and the view of the lowland bursts upon us with the Westmorland and Yorkshire hills in the distance. Below, as Ruskin wrote when he first climbed here in 1867, “the two lakes of Coniston and Windermere, lying in the vastest space of sweet cultivated country I have ever looked over,—a great part of the view from the Rigi being merely over black pine-forest, even on the plains.”
Fifteen minutes more take us up this steep arête to the top, 2626 feet above the sea.
There used to be three ancient cairns—the “Old Man” himself, his “Wife” and his “Son”:—man, the Celtic maen, being the local name for a pile of stones, and the Old Man simply the name of the cairn, not of the whole mountain. These were destroyed to build the present landmark. The circle of stones we have passed marks the place of the Jubilee bonfire of 1887; the flare-lights of King Edward’s coronation were shown from the top of the cairn, where in the days of fire signals was a regular beacon station.
The view on a clear day commands Ingleborough to the east, Snowdon to the south, the Isle of Man to the west, and to the north, Scafell and Bowfell, Glaramara and Skiddaw, Blencathra and Helvellyn: and beneath these all the country spread out like a raised model, with toy hills and lakes and villages. It is so easy to identify the different points with the help of the map, that it is hardly necessary to name them in detail. Under the distant Pennines of Yorkshire lie Windermere, Esthwaite Water, and Coniston with Monk Coniston Tarns at its head. Southward,—over Walney Scar, Blind Tarn and Dow Crags close at hand,—are the shores of Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary, with Black Combe rising dark against the sea. Westward, across the Duddon Valley, the steep rocky summits of Harter Fell and Hard Knott. The group close under our feet to the north includes Brimfell, Woolcrags, and the Carrs, with Grey Friar on the left and Weatherlam on the right, and in their hollows Lowwater and Leverswater. To the east of Helvellyn are Fairfield, Red Screes and Ill Bell, above the russet sides of Loughrigg and the distant detail of Ambleside.
At any time it is a fine panorama; but for grandeur of mountain line Weatherlam is the better standpoint. To walk along the ridge over springy turf is easy and exhilarating after the toil of the stony climb; and the excursion is often made. A mile to the depression of Levers Hause, another mile past Wool Crags and the Carrs, down Prison Band (the arête running eastward from the nearer side of the Carrs) to the dip at Swirl Hause; and a third mile over Blacksail, would bring you to Weatherlam Cairn. And a red sunset there, with a full moon to light you down the ridge to Hole Rake and the copper mines and home, is an experience to remember.
But for most of us enough is as good as a feast; and Weatherlam deserves a day to itself, and respectful approach by Tilberthwaite Gill. This walk leads from the village past Far End up Yewdale, turning to left at the sign post, and up between Raven Crag, opposite, and Yewdale Crag. At the next sign post turn up the path to the left, passing Pennyrigg Quarries, and then keep the path down into the Gill. The bridges, put up by Mr. Marshall, and kept in repair by the Lake District Association, lead through the ravine to the force at its head. Thence Weatherlam can be ascended either by Steel Edge, the ridge to the left, or breasting the steep slope from the hollow of the cove.
From the top of the Old Man we have choice of many descents. By Levers Hause we can scramble down—it looks perilous but is easy to a wary walker,—to Leverswater; and thence by a stony road to the copper mines and civilization.
By Gaits Hause, a little to the west of the Old Man, we can reach Gaits Water, and so across Banniside Moor to the village: or we can take the grassy ridge and conquer Dow Crags with a cheap victory, which the ardent climber will scorn. He will attack the crags from below, finding his own way up the great screes that border the tarn, and attack the couloirs,—those great chasms that furrow the precipice. Only, he should not go alone. Here and there the chimney is barred by boulders wedged into its narrow gorge: which to surmount needs either a “leg up,” or risky scrambling and some nasty jumps to evade them. These chimneys are described with due detail in the books on rock-climbing, but should not be rashly attempted by inexperienced tourists.
The simplest way down is along Little Arrow Edge. The route can be found, even if clouds blot out bearings and landmarks, thus. In the cairn on the top of the Old Man there is a kind of doorway. You leave that doorway square behind you, and walk as straight as you can forward into the fog—not rapidly enough to go over the edge by mistake, but confidently. Your natural instincts will make you trend a trifle to the left, which is right and proper. It you have a compass, steer south south-east. In five minutes by the watch you will be well on the grass-grown arête, thinly set with slate-slabs, but affording easy walking. Keep the grass on a slightly increasing downward slope; do not go down steep places either to right or to left, and in ten minutes more you will strike a ledge or shelf which runs all across the breast of the Old Man mountain, with a boggy stream running through it—not straight down the mountain, but across it. If you strike this shelf at its highest point, where there is no definite stream but only a narrow bit of bog from which the stream flows, you are right. If you find the stream flowing to your right hand, bear more to the left after crossing it. Five minutes more of jolting down over grass, among rough rocks which can easily be avoided, and you see Bursting Stone Quarry—into which there is no fear of falling if you keep your eyes open and note the time. By the watch you should be twenty minutes—a little more if you have hesitated or rested—from the top. Long before this the ordinary cloud-cap has been left aloft, and you see your way, even by moonlight, without the least difficulty towards the village; but though mist may settle down, from this quarry a distinct though disused road leads you safe home.
In ten minutes from the quarry the road brings you to Booth Tarn, through some extremely picturesque broken ground, from which under an ordinary sunset the views of the nearer hills are fine, with grand foreground. Booth Crag itself stands over the tarn, probably named from a little bield or shelter in ruins in a nook beneath it; and where the quarry road comes out upon Banniside Moss, the Coniston limestone appears, easily recognisable with its pitted and curved bands, contrasting with the bulkier volcanic breccia just above.
Beyond the tarn to the right are the volunteers’ rifle-butts with their flagstaff. Take the path to the left, and in five minutes reach the gate of the intake, with lovely sunset and moonlight views of the Bell and the Scrow to the left, and Yewdale beyond; Red Screes and Ill Bell in the distance. Hence the road is plain, and twenty minutes more bring you past the Railway Station to Coniston village.
To give a good idea of the lie of the land there is nothing like a raised map. A careful and detailed coloured model of the neighbourhood (six inches to the mile, with the same vertical scale, so that the slopes and heights are not exaggerated, but true to nature) was made in 1882 under the direction of Professor Ruskin, who presented it to the Coniston Institute, where it has been placed in the Museum.


Coniston Water it is called by the public now-a-days, but its proper name is Thurston Water. So it is written in all old documents, maps, and books up to the modern tourist period. In the deed of 1196 setting forth the boundaries of Furness Fells it is called Thorstanes Watter, and in lawyer’s Latin Turstini Watra, which proves that the lake got its title from some early owner whose Norse name was Thorstein; in Latin, Turstinus; in English, Thurston. In the same way Ullswater was Ulf’s water, and Thirlmere was Thorolf’s mere, renamed in later times from a new owner Leathes water—though in the end the older title finally prevailed.
As a first rough survey it will be convenient to take the steam gondola, and check off the landmarks seen on her trip, an all too short half-hour, down to the waterfoot.
The start is from the pier near the head of the lake, at the quaint boathouse built seventy years ago, in what was then called the Gothic style, for the late Mr. John Beever of the Thwaite—the house on the slope of the Guards Wood above the Waterhead Hotel. The boathouse stands on a promontory made by Yewdale Beck, which falls into the lake close at hand, and brings down with every flood fresh material to build its embankment farther and farther into the lake. So rapidly is its work done that a boulder is pointed out, twenty yards inland, which was always surrounded by water twenty or thirty years ago.
Another cause helps to hasten their work, for it is in this part that the waves under the prevailing south-west winds attain their greatest size and strength. The steamer captain who lives here says that he has measured waves 65 feet long from crest to crest, five feet high from trough to crest. These great waves dash back the stones and gravel brought down by the becks and spread it northwards, embanking it in a ridge under the water from this point to Fir Point opposite. Dr. H. R. Mill, by his soundings in 1893, found the deepest part of the little northern reach to be hardly more than 25 feet; this was close to the actual head of the water, showing that it is the débris brought down by the Yewdale and Church Becks which is silting up the bed.
Looking round this northern reach, which the gondola does not traverse in her voyage, opposite is Fir Point, with the boathouse of Low Bank; a little higher up in a bay, the twin boathouses of Lanehead and Bank Ground; then the landings for Tent Lodge and Tent Cottage, and the bathing house and boathouse belonging to Victor Marshall, Esq., of Monk Coniston Hall, in the woods at the head of the lake. At the true waterhead, where the road from Hawkshead joins the road round the lake, used to stand the Old Waterhead Inn. Nearer us are the boathouses at Kirkby Quay, and the pier of the (new) Waterhead Hotel.
Leaving the steamer pier we are at once in deep water. The soundings increase rapidly off the mouth of Church Beck, just below Mason and Thwaites’ boathouse; the bottom, gently shelving for a few yards out, suddenly goes over a bank, and down at a steep angle to a depth of 125 feet. On the evening of August 5th, 1896, a boy named George Gill sank there out of reach of his companion, and was drowned before help could be got. At the very moment the P

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