Swirl How

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Swirl How
Swirl how.jpg
Swirl How from Great Carrs
Highest point
Elevation802 m (2,631 ft) (disputed)
Prominencec. 112 m (disputed)
ListingWainwright, Hewitt, Nuttall
Coordinates54°23′44″N 3°07′16″W / 54.39566°N 3.12123°W / 54.39566; -3.12123Coordinates: 54°23′44″N 3°07′16″W / 54.39566°N 3.12123°W / 54.39566; -3.12123
Swirl How is located in Lake District
Swirl How
Swirl How
Location in Lake District, UK
LocationCumbria, England
Parent rangeLake District, Southern Fells
OS gridNY273006
Topo mapOS Landranger 97, Explorer OL6

Swirl How is a fell in the English Lake District. It stands between Coniston and the Duddon Valley in the southern part of the District.

The Coniston (or Furness) Fells form the watershed between Coniston Water and the Duddon valley to the west. The range begins at Wrynose Pass and runs south for around 10 miles before petering out at Broughton in Furness on the Duddon Estuary. Alfred Wainwright in his influential Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells took only the northern half of the range as Lakeland proper, consigning the lower fells to the south to a supplementary work The Outlying Fells of Lakeland. Swirl How being a significant high point of the Coniston Fells therefore qualifies as one of the 214 Wainwrights. Later guidebook writers have chosen to include the whole range in their main volumes.[1][2]

Doubt over height[edit]

There is some doubt in the literature over the altitude of Swirl How. This takes on a greater significance since if it is the high point of the Coniston Fells, it is only so by a small margin. Its near neighbour, The Old Man of Coniston is within a few feet of parity. The Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 series has no spot height for Swirl How, although it is included on the 1:50,000 and the height is stated as 802m.[3] Birkett [2] and Wainwright [4] also quote 2,630 ft (802 m) whilst Richards [1] and the British Mountaineering Council 1:40,000 map [5] quote 2,637 ft. (804 m)


Swirl How sends out ridges to the four points of the compass, each leading to further fells. Consequently, it also feeds the headwaters of four valleys.

The ridge northward to Great Carrs is named Top of Broad Slack, Broad Slack being a ferociously steep grass slope climbing out of the Greenburn valley between neighbouring crags. The ridge is a grassy plateau with a pronounced downward tilt to the west. The eastern edge is precipitous, curving around the head of Greenburn. On the journey to Great Carrs the path passes a memorial. This is the site of a wartime aircrash and bears the sad remains of a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax bomber. The undercarriage, together with a wooden cross and memorial cairn lies on the top of the ridge with the rest of the wreckage spread down Broad Slack. In his guidebook The Southern Fells Alfred Wainwright suggests that the plane approached from the west, failed to clear the ridge and tumbled down the other side. In fact, the wrecked aircraft came to rest on the western slope; the majority of the wreckage was subsequently pushed over the edge of broad slack by the RAF salvage crew, in order to make it less prominent and reduce the likelihood of overflying pilots spotting the wreckage and repeatedly reporting the crash. An engine and propeller from the aircraft are preserved at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston.[1][2][4] The tilted plateau of the north ridge is triangular in plan, narrowing to a point at Fairfield in the west. This is the col between Swirl How and the ridge's western outlier, Grey Friar. To the north of this ridge are long slopes leading down to the Duddon at Wrynose Bottom.

The main ridge continues southward, stepping down Great and Little How Crags to the depression of Levers Hawse. From here it rises again to Brim Fell with Dow Crag and The Old Man Of Coniston beyond. To the west of the Hawse is the valley of Tarn Head Beck, the main feeder of Seathwaite Tarn, a reservoir in a side valley of the Duddon system. This was originally a much smaller waterbody, but was dammed early in the 20th century to provide drinking water for the Barrow-in-Furness area. The dam is almost 400 yards long and is concrete cored with slate buttresses, the resulting depth of the tarn being around 80 ft. Water is not abstracted directly from the tarn, but flows some distance downriver to an off-take weir.[6] To the east of Levers Hawse is Levers Water. This smaller tarn has also been raised by damming, but in this case the original user was the Coniston Copper Mines. Following the decline of mining in the late 19th century a water treatment plant was eventually built and the tarn now supplies drinking water for Coniston village.

The eastern arm of Swirl How leads down the stony slope of Prison Band to the depression at Swirl Hawse. From here it rises over the subsidiary top of Black Sails to the main summit of Wetherlam. Swirl Hawse Beck runs south from this ridge to feed Levers Water, whilst to the north of Wetherlam is Greenburn.


The summit ridge exposes welded rhyolitic tuff and lapilli-tuff of the Long Top Member, interspersed with bands of andesitic lapilli tuff of the Wetside Edge Member.[7]


The summit of Swirl How is marked by a fine cairn on a stony top, built close to the Greenburn edge of the ridge. The view to the north takes in massed ranks of fells while in other directions the Isle of Man, Morecambe Bay and Pennines can be seen.[4]


Direct ascents can be made via Levers Hawse to the south or Swirl Hawse to the east. Both can be gained from Coniston and Swirl Hawse is also a practicable objective from Little Langdale. The right of way shown up the western (Duddon) side of Levers Hawse does not exist as a path on the ground. Many walkers will arrive on Swirl How via one of the surrounding fells, all four ridges carrying fair paths.[1]


The origin of the name Swirl How is obscure. A Norwegian dialect word svirle meaning to swirl or whirl around, suggests that there may have been an Old Norse origin. How is believed to derive from the Old Norse word haugr meaning hill or mound.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Richards, Mark: Southern Fells: Collins (2003): ISBN 0-00-711367-6
  2. ^ a b c Birkett, Bill: Complete Lakeland Fells: Collins Willow (1994): ISBN 0-00-218406-0
  3. ^ http://www.bing.com/maps/?v=2&cp=54.378542~-3.095968&lvl=13&dir=0&sty=s&eo=0&q=millom&form=LMLTCC
  4. ^ a b c Alfred Wainwright: A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, Book 4: ISBN 0-7112-2457-9
  5. ^ British Mountain Maps: Lake District: Harvey (2006): ISBN 1-85137-467-1
  6. ^ Blair, Don: Exploring Lakeland Tarns: Lakeland Manor Press (2003): ISBN 0-9543904-1-5
  7. ^ British Geological Survey: 1:50,000 series maps, England & Wales Sheet 38: BGS (1998)
  8. ^ Names of Fells. Lake District Archived 2006-07-18 at the Wayback Machine