I’ve never been too great at dealing with extreme heights but after finally finding the courage to try a skydive and a bungee jump or two over the past few years I’m much better than I used to be! Which, when a friend of mine Joe suggested hanging from the side of a mountain and walking a rope bridge hundreds of feet from the ground, I didn’t have to hesitate long before replying “Yes, count me in!”
We headed over to The Lake District National Park from Newcastle on a Saturday morning, a 2-3 hour drive ahead of us to get to the Honister Slate Mine. The weather was truly fantastic, a barmy 28’c which for northern England is VERY rare, even during the British summer! The roads nearer the Lakes themselves were narrow, and a little awkward for the wide car that we were in but we arrived without incident passing some stunning scenery along the way!
We arrived at 11.45am, in plenty of time to register at reception. We’d booked and paid for a tour of the Slate Mine and their Via Ferrata Extreme activity. We asked about their Infinity Bridge walk but unfortunately, despite the weather being perfect for it, needed to be booked in advance earlier that morning. A real shame, but an excuse perhaps to return some day to try it!
Once we’d checked in we used the 30 minutes we had spare to take a look around and check out the views which were fantastic and they’d get even better later that day once we’d completed their Via Ferrata Extreme experience.
Soon it was time to join our allocated tour of the Honister Slate Mine. We were briefed by a lovely guy who’d worked there for years, giving us a little history of the mine, how the new centre came about and what we were about to do. After a short DVD we were ready, helmet on and, despite the 28’c outside, a jacket on to shield us from the cold and wind inside the mine itself.
The tour lasted about 45 minutes, the guide leading us into each section one by one as we tried to avoid banging our heads on the low blasted out tunnel ceilings. It was quite incredible to think how much had been mined to create all these tunnels and large cavernous areas linking them. There’s talk of them trying to host music shows in some of the caves as the acoustics are so good!
It’s not every day you get to go wandering around the inside of a hill and it was quite a privilege for us, obviously less so for the people who used to work in them many years ago when conditions, tools and health and safety were far poorer and/or non-existent and working in them would have been hugely challenging and very dangerous.
Back in the safety of the centre once our tour was over, we had time for lunch before meeting at reception for the Via Ferrata experience. For anyone who has never heard of via ferrtata, until last week, that would make two of us! The Italian translation is “iron road” but from what we experienced that day it would be, in my view, more appropriately named “steel steps on the side of a hill with occasional rope bridges to span the gaps!”
Around 30 of us were issued safety harnesses and helmets and guided to a bus which would take us up the mountain back to the entrance of the slate mine tour but this time, we’d go in much further until we were outside the other side again and onto a rather narrow path section with a steep drop to the valley below us.
We were shown how to use the harness and caribiners to ensure we were always connected to the steel wire by at least one of them at all times. This steel wire would travel the entire length of the via ferrata route, sectioned off every couple of metres where we had to disconnect and reconnect to the next section, one caribiner at a time, but never both at the same time.
The route along the “path” is best shown by the photographs below but one section deserves a particular mention…. a rope bridge spanning two sections of the hill, approx. 25 metres in length. This bridge was a smaller(!) version of their Infinity Bridge experience which, hence its name, appears to go on forever! The one we’d be walking across was much shorter but, as a first ever experience of walking on one, was long enough!
Once we’d completed the rope bridge, we had a short walk/scramble up to the top of the hill. The view from the top was truly magnificent, made all the better by the clear blue skies all around us. It was a great way to round off the crazy hour earlier!
We stayed a short while for some group photos and to enjoy the view, then headed back to the centre to hand over our harnesses and helmets before going back to the car to head back home… we’d both enjoyed a great day out and, weather pending, would love to go back and try their Infinity Bridge challenge some day.
Honister can be contacted via their webpage where bookings can be made online in advance for one or all of their activities, some more weather dependent than others. They’re also on most social media platforms with lots of photos and videos to see what it’s all about: