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Coniston to Tarn Hows

Explore the delightful wooded intricacies of Yewdale before reaching the tourist favourite of Tarn Hows.

Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 885ft (270m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Road, grassy paths and tracks, 4 stiles

Landscape Woods, field, fell, tarn and lake

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 7 The English Lakes (SE)

Start/finish SD 303975

Dog friendliness Fields grazed by sheep, reasonably suitable for dogs

Parking Coniston car park

Public toilets At car park


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1 Exit the car park on to the road (Tilberthwaite Avenue) and turn right. Continue until, in a few hundred paces, a road leads off left. Follow this beyond the football field to Shepherd Bridge, which leads right over Yewdale Beck. Cross and go immediately left over the low stone stile. The path leads above the river to a kissing gate and enters a field. Bear diagonally right towards the rocky outcrop and oaks and then continue along to the right of a stone wall. In a little way the path leads directly to a recently renovated stone building.

2 Pass the building on the left. Ascend to pass through a gate. Bear right following the wall and then rise to a little gate through the stone wall which forms the perimeter of High Guards Wood. Climb steeply to the top of the hill through the Scots pine. Cross a ruined stone wall and follow the waymarked path to descend through Guards Wood. Exit the wood and continue down a stony track, muddy in places, to a gate and stile leading on to a stony lane.

3 Go left up the lane. In a few hundred paces go right through a gate. Rise with the grassy track until it swings right to pass through a gate/stile. The vague grassy track intercepts a fence with the larch plantation of Tarn Hows Wood below. Keep right along the track and continue to a steep, surfaced track. Tarn Hows Cottage is below to the left. Go right along the track to the Tarn Hows road. Go left, ascending the road and passing the car park, to find a track bearing off left above Tarn Hows.

4 Follow the track to make an anticlockwise circumnavigation of the tarn. At the end is a little dam.

5 Turn right at the dam and descend the path to the right of the beck. At the bottom go left over the footbridge then right through Tom Gill car park and out on to the Coniston road. Cross and go left. Turn right at Yewtree Farm and then go off right to pass through a gate. Rise to pass through another gate, then go left above the fence. Keep along this grassy track, following a route around High Yewdale Farm, until a final gate leads out on to the Hodge Close road. Turn left over Shepherd's Bridge and join the Coniston road.

6 Cross and go left until, opposite High Yewdale Farm, a path leads right along the line of yew trees. Pass the trees, and then go right across the fields. Enter the farmyard of Low Yewdale. Go left along a lane, over a bridge, and continue to round a sharp bend. Go right, signed 'Cumbria Way', through the field. Beyond a stone wall the track ascends then bears right. Continue to enter Back Guards Plantation. Follow the track through the wood. Pass through yew trees and descend to join the outward route back into Coniston village.

This long route of great variety, much interest and heart-stopping beauty contrasts the quiet mixed woods in and around the fringes of forgotten Yewdale, with the inevitably popular Tarn Hows. Rising quickly from Coniston, quiet woods are interspersed with openness and tremendous views particularly when looking back over Coniston Water or west to the mountains of Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam.

The waters of Tarn Hows represent the physical high point and, no matter how popular, cannot fail to seduce, before descent by Tom Gill leads to one of the most classic of all Lakeland farms, Yewdale Farm with its famous spinning gallery. A round of Yewdale follows with the row of yew trees in front of High Yewdale Farm commencing the return via Black Guards to Coniston. Whilst there is quite a bit of ascent and descent the going could never be described as laborious.

Copper mining started in the bowels of the mountain, Coniston Old Man, in the Bronze Age. So extensive were these early workings that when a group of German miners, brought over in Elizabethan times to kickstart 'modern mineral mining' in Britain, started work, they were shocked to find that the mountain was already riddled with workings. They referred to these earlier workings as 'the old men workings' which is possibly one derivation of the modern name Coniston Old Man.

Coniston Water is some 5 miles (8km) long and reaches a maximum depth of 184ft (56m). It is the third largest of the Lakeland lakes. It once provided an important fish source for the monks of Furness Abbey who owned the lake and much of the surrounding land in the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of their iron bloomery and charcoal burning sites remain intact around the shores of the lake. The copper mines were revitalised around 1859. At their height some 800 men worked in Coppermines Valley above the village. The railway was axed in the early 1960s and although a slate quarry still operates on the flanks of Coniston Old Man, the village now relies principally on tourism.

Speed ace Donald Campbell was killed on Coniston Water in 1967, attempting to beat his own water speed record of nearly 300mph (480kph). His boat, Bluebird, became airborne and crashed, but in 2001 it was raised from the bed of the lake. His body was also subsequently recovered and was buried in St Andrew's Church.

While you're there

The restored Steam Yacht Gondola, built in 1859, was relaunched on 25 March 1980 and plies Coniston Water every summer. The trip starts at Coniston Pier, passing Coniston Hall and stopping at Brantwood, before returning.

What to look for

The Victorian philosopher and art critic John Ruskin lived at Brantwood, across the lake, from 1871 until 1901. He was buried at St Andrew's Church in Coniston. His grave is marked with a large cross carved from local green slate. Designed by his secretary, Lakeland authority W G Collingwood, it depicts aspects of Ruskin's work and life.

Where to eat and drink

There is plenty of choice in Coniston. The Crown Inn does bar meals and is the nearest to the car park. The Black Bull brews its own Bluebird Bitter. There is also a good café at Bridge End.


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