“Scree Dow Crags”
Early climbers were attracted to Dow Crag’s gullies, horrid places by comparison with the projecting buttresses. The first climb attributed to 1886, though the first properly established route came in 1904. It was here that the Lakeland Fell and Rock Climbing Club was born, the Sun Hotel the setting of its first meet in 1907. In my mind the name most synonymous with Dow Crag is Harry Griffin. A journalist with a passion for climbing and the great outdoors, supplying The Guardian with a Country Dairy column for a staggering fifty-three years. Harry coined the terms Coniston Tigers and Cragrats for the fraternity of local climbers, many from his native Barrow-in-Furness, who pioneered routes here. Tigers derives from Nepalese sherpa’s attribution of the adventurous European mountaineers for whom they portered. While cragrats referred to climbers instinct of forcing their way up thin cracks and grooves. AW called it ‘second only to Scafell Crag in the magnificence of its rock architecture’. But at this time of year the 600 foot crag should be considered out-of-bounds, to be admired from a safe distance, en route to the summit by its fellside approaches.
John Ruskin, the great Victorian philanthropist and one of the first conservationists, gazed daily upon the Coniston Fells from his home of Brantwood on the eastern shores of Coniston Water. With assured wisdom he pronounced that ‘mountains were the beginning and end of all natural scenery’ and certainly the Coniston Fells always gladden my eyes.
I have brought this classic fell walk into focus now because at this time of year Lakeland can take on a Alpine appearance with all the wild portend that can imply. Thus walkers, with some experience of the fells, might be tempted to venture onto this or similarly exposed heights and they need to be aware of the potential high stakes. Coniston may be the home of the oldest mountain rescue team in Britain, founded in 1947, but your careless pioneering wanderings should not be a cause to wantonly bring them out!
The overwhelming majority of fell-
walkers will be setting their sights on Coniston Old Man. So to venture further west means you are less likely to encounter fellow walkers. The significance of this is not conviviality, it is safety, if you get into difficulties you may be more than just lonely in time of need. Winter can bring ice and snow (cornicing on the eastern lip of the ridges) but it also can offer mist, rain and the treachery of wind. The name Goat’s Water obviously refers to the wild goats that could pick perilous grazing from the cliff. Shepherds of yore were only too pleased as they may have not thought it worth putting their own lives at risk catching cragfast ewes – allowing them to starve and fall as bundles of wool onto the screes below.
But the name ‘goat’ like ‘cove’ might be thought to have its roots in pre-Anglian terminology for rather like Pen-y-ghent (Yorkshire Three Peaks) and Castell-y-gwynt (Snowdonia) it just might be adapted from these words for wind. For the unusual south-facing corrie has a terrible trait of generating fierce gusts, winds that can whip the surface of the tarn and carry walkers, and water, high up towards the cliff… be warned! Readers of the novels of Richard Adams’ will know of his books Watership Down and Plague Dogs, the latter includes a crazy chase across the fells that ends at this spot.