Monday, August 20, 2012

A day at "Via Ferrata"

A Day at Honister Mine and "Via Ferrata"
Don't pass over the pass without a look in!

My grandson (age 11) and I (very old!) enjoyed the “Go-Ape” experience at Whinlatter Forest last year and said we would progress to “Via-Ferrata” this year, so became a little disappointed when there appeared to be planning issues at Honister and thought our plans had been scuppered. However all seems to be in order now so we pre-booked our experience and enjoyed a fantastic day there last week.

Just about a 40 minute drive from Wetheral Cottages and plenty of room to park, as we were in the first party; the day a rather balmy but very windy one. A great senic journey through the "Jaws of the Borrowdale Valley". On the way there I had been explaining to my grandson that normally the temperature falls as we gain height and with the car showing the current temperature it was a great opportunity to demonstrate my geographical knowledge!. It all went wrong as we travelled further down the Borrowdale Valley the temperature rose and rose even more as we traversed up the Honister Pass. (I’m sure that was what I learnt in Geography but it probably has something to do with the change from Fahrenheit to Centigrade!!)

After registering, we and about 8 others in our group were all kitted out with a safety harness and hard hat, following our safety brief we were off along the track to the side of Fleetwith Pike. Honister was a big industrial, site mining mainly slate, and evidence of that is still very much to be seen. The first part of the climb was mainly climbing down and did help us become accustomed to our safety equipment and obviously gave our guide a good indication as to the party’s capabilities. Each member of the party was always secure being attached to a safety rope that ran alongside the route taken and our guide was constantly watching you abided by the safety rules. (common sense really)

The Via Ferrata is a climb made up of “U” shaped metal bars secured into to rock face which support you and these give you a safe foot and hand hold whilst giving you the experience of rock climbing. The second section was more challenging than the first and really did give you the concept of standing on a rock face and overhangs with 100s of feet below you. (Sorry my grandson has reminded me it’s meters now!). This part culminated in the traversing of a rope bridge. I found this quite hard work but my grandson, whilst not too happy about the wobble, crossed without too much difficulty. It was good then to sit on an outcrop and enjoy the view across the valley to the fells opposite Robinson and Dale Head for a few moments.

“Onward and up ward”, the final short climb led to a “Cargo Net” stretched out between two outcrops - it made an interesting final climb but perhaps a real rock scramble would have been better. A final walk up through some mine workings to the top of Fleetwith Pike we were able to enjoy the views over Buttermere, Crummock, Loweswater and a little beyond but sadly the day was deteriorating so the Solway Firth and Scotland were not visible.
Fleetwith from Honister

We had booked for the Mine Tour also and with Lunch included in this package we just had time to enjoy a hearty bowl of soup and a sandwich before the Mine Tour began. Our mine guide introduced us to the mines history and a short video then, suitably equipped with hard hats and lamps, I felt we should be singing the Seven Dwarfs song “Off to work we go…..”. The mine entrance being a short bus ride from the visitor centre, the bus ride in it’s self being quite a thrill if sitting on the righthand side of the bus, the ground falling away quite fast to the right of the roadway..

The tunnel into the mine was quite low at points but once inside the huge cavern that had been hewn out, our guide explained the workings and history of the mine in a very enjoyable way, his light-hearted talk was aimed at all ages and explained how some of the children there would in the past have been expected to work in the mine (with no electronic gadgets) just brawn. We moved on through a labyrinth of tunnels each leading to yet another large cavern with more explanations of how the workings progressed in the early part of the last century.
Robinson from Honister

My grandson and I had an enjoyable day though he did not enjoy, what he thought was rather like a History lesson, as much as the Via Ferrata. Sadly Mark Weir a local Borrowdale boy, who had the vision to see Honister as a visitor attraction, offering local employment in a differing way, was killed in a Helicopter accident. I hope his family are able to continue with his vision and we look forward to returning to perhaps enjoy a “Zip-wire” from Fleetwith back to the visitor centre. After all there was an aerial rope way at the mine in the early 1900’s. Concerns about the flora around Honister have also been raised but again all this has already withstood hundreds of years of industrial discharge and workings but I saw no evidence of any recent disruption.

Visit for more information but better still go and enjoy all that is on offer at Honister.

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