THE drive from the lakeside village of Coniston to our mountainside cottage was worthy of a Top Gear episode.

As you leave the tarmac, there's a polite notice warning that you are about to take a road that was never meant for vehicles with oil sumps and you should be aware you are responsible for your own safety, or something to that affect.

The track is narrow, steep and bumpy, with a big drop to one side at points. Ahead you can see all 2,634ft of the Old Man of Coniston in the distance and it really feels as if you are attempting to reach the summit in your Vauxhall Corsa as you make your way gingerly upwards.

After about a mile the old miners' track thankfully flattens out as you draw near to the cottages. There has been mining in Coppermines Valley for hundreds of years, at least as long as Roman times and perhaps even earlier. The mines enjoyed their most prosperous period in the mid 19th century, but by the turn of the century cheap foreign imports had all but killed the industry off.

Today the spoil heaps and some of the old machinery remain, as does the building which was formerly the mine's Victorian sawmill. The sawmill is now the Coppermines Mountain Cottages - four properties sleeping from two to eight people. The cottages are interconnected, meaning they can accommodate groups of up to 22 people at once.

We spent our two-night break in Millrace Cottage. The two-bed property was well-equipped, with en-suite bathrooms, wooden floors, leather furniture and an open fire that was not essential with the central heating, but still very much appreciated. The cottage came supplied with plenty of fire wood and fire lighters which we were also grateful for, although there no matches, meaning that because neither of us were smokers we had to improvise and light the fire with a piece of newspaper held against the hob for a few seconds. It was not a method you would find in the Scouts' handbook, but it did the job.

As soon as the fire was lit we headed for the outdoor hot tub which is up a few steps beside the cottage. We initially felt a bit daft splashing about when it was only a few degrees above freezing but the feeling of daftness soon gave way to one of bliss. Hot tubs are a delight anytime but when you can look out of from the bubbles and steam at a glorious Lake District vista you really are being a little bit spoilt.

The next morning we crept back down the hill and headed for Coniston Water where we borrowed a small motor boat from Coniston Boating Centre. This being a rather cold day in February we virtually had the whole five-mile lake to ourselves which was magical, or would have been had the kids not started complaining they were cold after ten minutes. We probably travelled about a mile before turning for home. Without children, we could easily have spent the whole day cruising the full length, admiring the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and looking out for wildlife.

After our boating adventures, we drove into the village for some food and warmth, finding both at the Black Bull Inn. Among the treats on offer at the pub was real ale produced in its own microbrewery, including Bluebird Bitter - named after the boat of speed record holder Donald Campbell who died while attempting a new record on Coniston Water in 1967.

We left he pub to find it had started snowing. By the time we got back to the cottage there was a good inch on the ground and I couldn't help worrying what this would mean for the journey back down the track when we made for home the next day. I need not of worried - at about 6am we heard an almighty bang outside which at the time I foolishly assured my terrified wife beside me was an avalanche. Of course, I was talking utter rubbish in my half-asleep state. The noise was actually the sounds of a tractor fitted with a snow plough clearing the three or four inches of snow which had fallen overnight.

Following another early morning dip in the hot tub, we set out for a family walk. We had a three-year-old wearing gold, sparkly Peppa Pig wellies and a chubby pug in tow so we didn't get too far, but it was still an enjoyable stroll with the Old Man looking even splendid with a covering of snow.

There was still time for a spot of geocaching, a few snow angels, a quick snowball fight and one last hot top plunge before we packed our bags and set off for home. Goodbye Old Man. Hope to see you again soon.


The Coppermines Mountain Cottages sleep from two to 22 people. Prices start from £300 for a short break. For more information, telephone The Coppermines & Lakes Cottages on 015394-41765, email or visit

Motor boat hire at Coniston Boating Centre starts from £30 for two hours. For details, visit, call 015394-41366 or email