Via Ferrata at Honister, Lake District
The Iron Way not the Iron Lady
Like many outdoor activities I have attempted in my 44 years on this planet, the best moment of the Via Ferrata is when it’s all over. It was the same when I was sailing, windsurfing or skiing. Not because the attraction is unpleasant, but because my stomach finally stops churning and I feel a sense of completion.
Not going to be sick? Thank goodness for that
Ah, but while my stomach may have calmed down, my pants are chafing. During the initial instruction I was so nervous that I pulled the buckles of the harness too tight. I think I might have cut off the circulation to my legs. Well you can’t be too careful where there’s a mountain involved can you?
A mountain? I thought you were allergic to those?
Maybe I was. But not any more! At this attraction I have crawled along ledges of fear. I have harnessed myself to crags of danger. I have crossed bridges of terror. And here I am at the summit of contentment.
Ledges of fear? Really?
Ok, I’m exaggerating. At this point I have to confess I’m not even even on the new Xtreme version of the Via Ferrata and even that doesn’t have a ledge of fear. And even if it did have one, I’d probably be in the coffee shop having a latte while my husband or kids edged along it. But with or without a ledge of fear the Lakeland Via Ferrata is good family fun.
The kids can do either version if they are ten years old and 1 metre 30 in height. And there is no upper age limit. The Via Ferrata makes you feel that you could climb a mountain the hard way if you set your mind to it. It makes you feel the weather. It makes you feel what’s under your feet. It makes you feel bonded with the group.
What is a Via Ferrata anyway?
Tucked away near Buttermere, you wouldn’t even know it was here. Even when you reach the working Honister Slate Mine, you can’t really spot it. That’s because it winds high into the mountains, following the tracks made by slate miners in decades gone by. Since you’re asking, the word Via Ferrata comes from the Italian for “iron way.” It was invented in Italy during the First World War to move troops around the mountains. It is basically a series of iron rungs hammered into the mountain side along with man made bridges and guide ropes. There are many of them across Europe, a few in the UK and only one in The Lake District.
Can anyone do it?
If you are an experienced climber, I imagine Via Ferrata would bore you to tears. But if you’re not sure you have a head for heights, are unskilled or just fancy giving climbing a go, then it’s worth the drive into the English Lakes (or a bus ride if you’re feeling more sustainable.) On this sunny day we are guided by the chatty and informative Johny Rastoaca who assures us conditions aren’t always so friendly this side of the pass, “It can be sunny in Keswick yet look like Mordor over there,” he smiles, pointing into the hills. As if on queue the mountain rescue helicopter zooms over, and it doesn’t look like its on a training mission.
What does Via Ferrata involve? Apart from rungs
Cow tails and karibiners (or krabs if you’re cool). Two of each. The cow-tails are attached to your harness while the karabiners (attached to the other end of the cow tails) clip onto the safety wire as you climb protecting you in the (unlikely?) event of a fall. Johny shows us how to clip our krabs on, checks we understand the importance of this and then bounces ahead like a mountain goat, leaving the three of us in the group tentatively clipping and unclipping as we head up the bouldery path, cross a scary bridge and send down gentle showers of scree.
As we move up the old miners’ footpath on Fleetwith Pike (to 2126 ft), I’m not sure whether to look down or not. I try to imagine I am one of the original miners, doing this in the winter, without a decent waterproof, with a pile of slate in my hand. It all feels a bit exposed and I conclude that I’d rather have been a Victorian dentist inflicting pain on others.
That’s a bit worrying! Moving on, are summit views worth it?
The views are spectacular at the summit. Our efforts are rewarded with a scene that includes the classic Cumbrian lakes way down beneath our feet and classic peaks all around our heads. It’s wild. There is no bird life (apart from the helicopter). There are hardly any trees. There are few other people. Just mountains. And me. And my sense of achievement. I take off my hard hat to let my head swell properly but I keep my harness on. I think I look good in a harness. Blood circulation is surely overrated.
Have you done something that put your heart in your mouth?
This post is part of our Family Adventure Capital Season. We’re exploring different ways families can adventure together in and around Cumbria, sharing ideas and inspiration to encourage families to get out, get active and adventure together.
Got some ideas for things we should try? Let us know.
You might also like these other posts about adventures in Cumbria:
- Finding tranquillity in busy places – Roving Tai Chi around Windermere
- “What is an Adventure Capital?” we asked Cumbria Tourism
- Climbing the Walls: Ever tried family climbing? Keswick Climbing Wall
- Bushcraft survival expert Woodsmoke shows us firelighting
- A special proposal for Leap Year: 29ers in Keswick
- Counting Sheep.. in Cumbrian: Yan, Tyan, Tethera..
- Lake District hills with no sweat and no tears… Electric Bike Network
- Our blue sky, go green, 10 point, Go Lakes travel plan!
- Helen Skelton at Keswick Mountain Festival
- In a tent with Chris Bonnington at Keswick Mountain Festival
- Adventure! on the timetable in Cumbrian Adventure Schools
- Night hiking on Catbells to light a Jubilee Beacon
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Jan and Johny at Honister Slate Mine for organising access to the Via Ferrata to enable us to bring you this story.