You might think in order to have an amazing bucket list adventure you need to travel the world and go places that are far flung or remote or inaccessible. You really don’t. Honestly. There is a huge array of adventure to be had right here in the UK. Our little island might be small and really quite urban in the most part, but there are some amazing activities on offer that will take your breath away, and provide some amazing opportunities for adventure close to home.
I am pleased to team up with Currys PC World to share with you one such adventurous activity right here in the UK. They invited me to take on the Via Ferrata Xtreme course up at Honister Slate Mine in the Lake District. The Via Ferrata at Honister already had a place on my bucket list, I didn’t need much persuasion to agree; it might be one of those activities that instils a level of fear into many people, but for me I absolutely relished the opportunity to try my hand at almost-proper climbing, and make my way up the side of a mountain on a very much more tricky route than I’m used to when hiking.
Honister Pass at Honister Slate Mine.
Armed with my brand spanking new GoPro Hero 6, making me feel like a proper adventurer, that I admit I really didn’t know how to use but with the promise that would be super simple, I drove up to the Lake District ready for my latest bucket list tick.
Weather Stops Play
Unfortunately for me, nature decided that this would be a particularly good Wednesday to demonstrate the power of the weather by battering, and I mean battering, the Lake District and surrounding areas with torrential rain and gale force winds. The drive alongside Derwent Water was not the most pleasant, and my trousers soaked through in the short walk (well, run) from the car to the Honister visitor’s centre. On signing in, the guys running the Via Ferrata that morning seemed to think it would all be fine… “nah, no problem, it’s just a bit of rain”.
On went my waterproof trousers and coat, followed by my harness and helmet, to which I had attached my GoPro using the head strap so I still had both hands free for making my way up the side of the mountain. We – my instructor, a couple who were on their last day of a holiday in the area, and me – took a short bus ride up to the start of the course, and walked over to an overlook offering great views down the valley. It turned out, however, that the weather was rather more vicious than the guys at Honister had first thought based on the readings from the weather station at the top of the hill, and with the sight of waterfalls flowing upwards and winds swirling through the valley and right across one of the bridges that would form part of our course, our Via Ferrata experience was off.
Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine. With water splodges on the lens! Taken on GoPro.
Tom, our instructor for the morning, mentioned he’d only known the Via Ferrata to be cancelled twice, once for an electrical storm, and once for hurricane force winds. Not bad in what is said to be the wettest part of the UK. But here we were, back in the bus, heading back to base. All was not lost, however, as Tom had a backup. Instead of Via Ferrata Xtreme with views of the hills and valleys of the Lake District, we would grab some head torches and take on the climbing course inside the mine instead.
Inside? In the dark? In the dark and wet?
The fear factor for me ramped up to levels I did not expect. If you’ve read about my caving experience over at Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean, you will know that while I’m more than happy to dangle on the side of a mountain by a couple of short cables, and won’t think too hard about stepping out onto a wobbly bridge over a deep precipice, put me in a dark cave and I become quite apprehensive. I could go into all kinds of reasons why that might be, but the fact is that my sense of adventure is super when I can see what’s going on. When it’s dark, I’d rather just stay still if that’s all the same with you.
After establishing that it was okay, it wasn’t “that cavey” in there, and that most of the time I would be stood up in a huge and quite beautiful cavern, only having to duck a bit every now and again, I decided it would probably be alright. I mean, I’d been put up to an adventure by Currys PC World, I wasn’t about to back out now!
Inside Honister Slate Mine
As we left daylight, walking through and then behind a waterfall in the process – it’s a good job the GoPro Hero 6 is waterproof – I soon relaxed again. The cavern was indeed beautiful. It is big and spacious, and a bit cold. I could hear water rushing and falling somewhere in the vicinity, but the sound of the wind and rain outside had all but disappeared.
On the first bridge. Photo from Honister Slate Mine.
After a short but useful safety briefing with our feet firmly on the ground, we started to climb up the side of the cavern wall. This first part was apparently the most strenuous of the course, so I got stuck right in, thinking to myself that if I could manage to get to the top here without falling off then I was all set and everything was going to be fine. It was indeed a test of my strength to some extent, but at no point did I feel like it was too hard or I was going to have to let go and test out the harness, but I certainly warmed from the exertion as I made my way up using the various ladders and rungs screwed into the rock. Being the short person that I am, although a good 25-30cm taller than the minimum height for the activity, I did have to stretch a few times to reach the next rung, but again, at no point did I feel it was impossible or find myself dangling in the air.
I don’t have a problem with heights or rope bridges or rickety wooden bridges, and so when I reached the top of the section up the side of the cavern and found the first bridge I was quite happy. There were actually three bridges one after the other, the first was a single cable for your feet with two cables either side for your hands, the second was made from bits of wood with a cables either side to hold on to, and the third was a slightly more tricky single cable for your feet and single cable on one side to hold on to. I shouted “GoPro start recording” (the voice activated control is SO cool!) as I stepped out and hoped I hadn’t mounted the camera too wonky using the elasticated head strap and that I would capture some decent footage to show what I was up to. Thankfully the GoPro is genuinely as easy as I had been told to use and I’ve been able to create something short but fun for you to watch – find it at the bottom of the post if you prefer moving pictures to words.
Doesn’t look that high up in this photo! Photo from Honister Slate Mine.
After the bridges there was more traversing the cavern wall using steel rungs and holds, and now I had got used to the two lanyard safety system attached to my harness, I skipped along enjoying my adventure in the dark. The series of cables, ladders and bridges took us on a journey through the mine which, while it wasn’t as full of views as it would have been if we’d done the outside version of this adventure, was still a lot of fun. At times during our couple of hours in the mine we could hear the howling wind as it blew through the tunnels, along with the rushing of water as the waterfalls and rivers moved through the cave system, and while I do love being outside, it was quite pleasant and calm to be in the safety of the mine. It was definitely the better place to be on this occasion.
Gently does it! Photo from Honister Slate Mine.
The hardest part for me came towards the end when we were traversing a smallish tunnel wall using the now familiar steel rungs screwed into the wall, but descending at the same time. I struggled a little to work out how far down each rung was from the last, feeling a little unsure about releasing my grip above before knowing my foot had reached the next foothold below me. It was fine though, I took my time, and worked out a little technique of my own by reaching down with my foot to feel my way before coming back up to change where I was clipped in so I could actually take the step down. It meant I was a bit slow, but it made me feel better.
As we left we all noted that the water level had risen considerably; whereas we waded through a stream between the mine tracks on the way in, it was now more like a fast flowing river that came up and over my boots (yay, wet feet!), and even splashed just below my knees at times. And it was COLD water! It was a clear demonstration of the weather that was showing its face in the Lake District that day.
Gnarly weather close to Honister Slate Mine. Not a day for hiking. Or Via Ferrata!
Back outside, having walked back through the waterfall we did on the way in, we stopped to admire the view. It might not look like much but it was stunning and spectacular to me; the wind brought the water from the waterfalls around the headland and up the valley, swirling around like a tornado as it passed beneath. We could see it coming, and knew when it did we needed to steady ourselves and ensure our feet were firmly on the ground, or drop to the floor completely, it was strong and powerful. Walking back down towards the Centre we were blown around enough to warrant clipping onto the wire hand rail, and the water rushing down the slate steps had turned it into a waterfall of it’s own. Being up there certainly made me feel alive!!
Using the GoPro
Part of the idea of me heading off on a bucket list adventure in the Lake District was to be able to show you what I got up to using the new GoPro Hero 6, to hopefully encourage you to head off and take part in activities like this here in the UK. My new toy arrived just a couple of days prior so I didn’t have any time to get used to all the features, but it was no problem as it is genuinely easy and intuitive to use. The image is super wide meaning you can see a lot and if you mount it slightly to one side on your climbing helmet so you can still use your headlamp, you know, like me, you still get a decent picture.
The voice activation worked a treat most of the time, apart from when it was very noisy with the wind outside, when to be honest I couldn’t even hear myself shout so it wasn’t going to hear me, and it was very useful having a means to start and stop recording when I needed both hands firmly holding onto a rung or wire or whatever else on the cave wall. Unfortunately I couldn’t really make use of some of the other cool GoPro features such as slow motion or timelapse because we were inside and the light was very low, but I’ve promised myself I’ll have a proper play with those things when I’m on my next adventure, whatever that may be.
Walking back down from the caves. Photo taken on my GoPro. Couldn’t really help the water splodges!
The battery lasted for around two hours, only dying on me as I headed back to the car after the whole experience was finished, having filmed just under an hour of footage and taking a handful of photographs. I was able to top it up using the USB socked in my car on the way home, which meant I could grab a handful more snaps of the gnarly scenery around Honister.
While I am used to using Adobe Premier Elements to edit my vlogs, not that I’ve done that for nearly a year now, I used the GoPro Quik Stories app on my iPad to make this short two-and-a-bit minute film of my experience at Honister. Once I’d got the hang of using the highlight tool to choose which bits of the hour-or-so of footage I definitely wanted in my mini movie, producing the finished edit was so super simple and, well, quick. I will definitely be using the app again next time, it was way more fun and less stressful than trying to pick the footage apart manually, and while with practice I am sure I could make something much better, I’m really pleased with my memento of the day.
I guess you’d better watch the video…
Bucket List Success?
I finished my experience with wet and cold feet, thankful for decent waterproofs but still soaked, and quite muddy. I grabbed a change of shoes and socks from the car along with a couple of warm layers and set up camp in the cafe on site for home made soup and some tea. I was absolutely buzzing! Was it a bucket list success? Well no, it wasn’t, not technically anyway, because I didn’t actually get to do the activity that was written on my list. Via Ferrata Xtreme at Honister Slate Mine remains firmly there, and I will be making sure I get it done next Spring or Summer.
But as for the experience I did have, climbing Via Ferrata inside the caves, now that was awesome none-the-less. It might not have been on my bucket list, but it was a superb adventure and one I will not forget in a hurry. Tom was a great instructor, the decision to take us into the cave was definitely the right one, and I had a fabulous morning on the course inside the mine. I highly recommend Honister as a place for adventure, and reckon anyone with even the smallest sense of adventure and fun would have an awesome time on the climbing course.
Honister Pass from Honister Slate Mine.
There really are some truly awesome adventures to be had in the UK, with something for everyone from week-long expeditions to experiences that might last just a couple of hours. If you need more inspiration, check out my Experiences, Not Things Gift Guide. And remember, adventure is a state of mind; it doesn’t have to be difficult or fill you with dread, it just has to push your boundaries a little and make you excited. Go, do!
Now, when can I do the Via Ferrata Xtreme proper?!
If you could recommend just one adventurous activity or bucket list experience here in the UK to someone like me, what would it be? Comment below.
Thank you to Currys PC World for sending me up to Honister Slate Mine for my Wednesday morning adventure, and for giving me a GoPro Hero 6 and the Head Strap to help me capture the fun. I had an amazing and very memorable day, and can’t wait to take my GoPro on another adventure very soon.