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More easy walks around Coniston

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Tarn Hows to Tom Heights Tarn
3 miles [5 km]

Tarn Hows is one of the finest beauty spots in the country - and one of the most photographed pieces of water in Britain! Its advantages are that it can be reached all the way by car (though this can be a disadvantage in a bank-holiday crush) and that the whole area is open to the public as it is owned by the National Trust. Few know about the exciting views from the heathery crags on its western hill - Tom Heights. At its northern crag one has the impression of standing on a dais in a colossal amphitheatre. The great walls and buttresses of the fells are all around.

It is a walk for a clear day. Time should be allowed for negotiating awkward ground around rock outcrops and boggy earth. Drive on past the view of the tarn to the main car park at the end. Walk out of the entrance and descend by the track opposite to the left-hand corner of the tarn.

Go through the gateway and along the short darn. After leaving the dam ascend to the left front by a footpath, through the trees. (Tom Heights is covered in paths, mainly sheep tracks, and this suggested route will be joined by these at times.) The route leads upwards through small rock outcrops to a small crag. From here the nearer fell in view is Holme Fell.

Coniston Old Man is the large fell left, Wetherlam being the great nearer arm. The summit cairn 'The Old Man' itself can be seen towards the left. Langdale Pikes are to the right. Go forward towards the right on a footpath. It passes a mountain ash tree then goes to the left of a holly tree. Shortly after this bear right between rock outcrops, gaining height. The next crag is higher, and from it can be seen a good stretch of Coniston lake. Towards the Langdales, and left of the Pikes, can be seen Bowfell; nearer is Pike o'Blisco then Crinkle Crags.

Make your way through the heather to the next crag, which is a little to the right and should bear a summit cairn. This crag is higher the last and the views open up further. To the right is a glimpse of Windermere. Move forward through the heather to the next summit, which should also bear a cairn. This shows up the northern fells. The summit of Helvellyn can be seen in clear weather; Dollywaggon is its nearest peak. The gap to right of this is Grisedale.

There are a number of Grisedales or Grizedales in the Lake District. This is the high pass over which King Dunmail is said to have fled after his defeat by King Edmund on Dunmail. Raise in 945. To the right is the Fairfield range, and High Street. The Pennines can be to the seen far to the right. Go forward again along the summit ridge to the next high point. This is the most northerly point also crowned by a cairn. Add your rock contribution to it, then admire what you see.

If this drama fails to stir your soul to some degree, little else may in this world. The tarn glimpsed ahead is not part of Tarn Hows, but is Arnside Tarn. If you walk to the left-hand edge of the ridge for a few yards, you can look down on another tarn alongside the Ambleside - Coniston road - Yewtree Tarn. Standing at the cairn facing north, that is the way you faced at the arrival, Tarn Hows is to the right and back. There are quite a few paths back. Some are steep and some are boggy. The recommended way is to go forward, curving right in a semi-circle on less testing ground.

Descend to a small hollow and pick up a faint path going left, through grass. Continue in this direction through the bracken and heather, until you are confronted by a small heather-covered crag. Turn right on path here, descending through the bracken. On reaching a damp hollow, follow path turning right again. The spruce and larch trees of the plantation of Tarn Hows should now be seen. The path meanders towards these woods losing height, towards their corner. A wet track is joined which comes from the right. Turn left along it. Follow the path, avoiding the wetness by taking to the higher edge, and this curves right to a wooden step-stile. This is a clearer path leading to another step-stile. Go through the trees to the T junction with another track. Turn left. This comes to the edge of the Tarn. Cross the beck by a wooden bridge.

This is the track which circles the tarn. You cross another bridge, another stile, then four more bridges, avoiding mud and bog as best you can. There are several ways from this end of the tarn. You could follow the tarn edge. But the recommended route is to take the distinct track which seems to leave the tarn after the bridges, following a fence on the left by handsome pine trees. This track bears right at a point in the fence where there is a gate, and goes under larches and pines. At the track fork, take the right hand one which goes closer to, and overlooks, the tarn. Some of the best views of the tarn are from this track.

There is a stile at the end of the track. Beyond this the track joins the macadam road back to the car park right. However, a short cut over a pine-clad promontory is more pleasant.


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