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" Honister Mine Tour "

Date & start time: Monday  4th July 2016,  11.30 am start.

Location of Start : The Honister Mines, Cumbria, Uk ( NY 225 135 )

Places visited :      Various tunnels and caverns to the Kimberley Incline and back.

Walk details :         A guided tour within the mountain, 1 hour 45  mins.

Highest point :      Well ... it was all pretty good.

Walked with :        Barbara and about 30 other visitors (it was a busy tour).

Weather :                Outside overcast threatening rain, inside a steady cool temperature.

© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. Licence number PU 100034184.


Ann's sister is up in the Lakes for the first time and so we have chance to show her around and enjoy some local walks.

Barbara mentioned that she'd like a visit to the Honister Mines, she had been in caves before but never a working mine,

so this was a great chance to get below ground.  Places were available so we drove to Honister and signed in at the shop.

- - - o o o - - -

Ann, having done the mine tour several times, opted for a walk with the dogs on the lower slopes of Dale Head to the twin tarns..

She didn't take a camera so the photos are purely of Barbara and my trip underground.

Honister Hause . . . where Ann went right and we went left.

Old mine equipment adorns the slate garden

at the back of the mine office and cafe.



We walk through to the shop

and get shown the door . . . figuratively that is.

There's the door on the left (with the mine picture on it).



Hold your cursor over the picture

to open the door and join in the visit today.



Meet Donald who gave us an introduction

to the Lake District, to the local area

and to the history of Honister Mine.

We have a large group today . . . the 11.30 trip was a popular one it seems.

Donald let us know what to expect when we get inside and to make sure we had the right equipment for our underground walk.

He told us about the high quality of the Honister Slate . . .
. . . and then it was onto the bus for the ride to the mine entrance.

Big bus, small steep roads, those of a nervous disposition please sit on the left hand side.

Disembarkation . . . at the end of the mine road.

Ahead was the mine entrance that will take us underground.
That slope  was used to access outside workings in the past.

The metal steps and handrail are a new addition in recent years and form part of the Honister Via-Ferrata system.

It also seems to be in use by the local dare devil herdwick sheep . . . hold your cursor over the picture for a closer look.

We take the plunge as Donald leads us into the mine.

Follow the old railway lines and preferably stay in the middle for best headroom.

- - - o o o - - -


Some of the tunnels were cut

directly out of the rock

like the one in the photo above.



Others like this one pass through the larger old workings

where the oversize cavern has been back-filled

with waste material in order to avoid

having to spend time and effort taking it out of the mine.



It made the best use of space underground.



- - - o o o - - -

We were introduced to the slate, the methods of mining and the geology that made it all possible.

The slate is contained within bands of hard volcanic rock which are inclined at about 45 degrees to the vertical.

This rock is so strong that they can remove large quantities of slate from beneath it without need to leave too many pillars

so the mine has many of these huge caverns within it . . . just like the one we are in now.

Ahead another purpose-made cross tunnel . . .
. . . and behind us that example of back-filled workings.

The caverns were huge.

Every cavern and tunnel has been cut by hand and explosive.

All the loose rock you see has been handled by the mine workers at some  point over the 400 plus years that the mine has been in existance.

Donald showed us the various methods of drilling holes prior to blasting.

First was with a hammer and steel drill (often with children to hold the drill), then later on using this mechanical rock drill

often called the "widow-maker" because of the dust it created which led to premature lung disease.

Once drilled, the holes were fired with gunpowder rather than high explosive as it gave a much more gentle explosion and didn't shatter the rock.

He explained the equipment and clothing they would have worn,

here showing us a pair of wooden clogs that would not only last a long time but insulate their feet from the cold rock.

Ohh . . . and he found this gruesome human-like arm . . .

a left-over stage prop from a visit by film makers to the mine a few years back.

In the ceiling there were hooks and pulleys

which were used to lift the larger clogs (as a large piece of slate is called) onto the rail trucks.


Using this method they could take stones of up to a ton weight

to the surface in order to cut and shape them into roofing slate.

To the left, a hand winch to make the hauling

and lifting of these blocks easier.


Nowadays the top of the mine has modern entrances and tunnels

that are large enough to accommodate road vehicles and diggers.

They are capable of moving clogs of up to seven tons

which can be taken to the mine buildings for easier processing.

There are eleven miles of tunnels in the mountain and many of them are connected by this inclined railway.

The cutting of this "Kimberley Incline"

meant that they were no longer at the mercy

of the outside weather when moving slate from within the mine.


[ Picture courtesy of the mine web site ]


The small mine trucks could be loaded on the sloping railway wagon

and be moved down to the main level

which connected easily with the entrance we used today.

The tunnel continues on but we go back out to the large cavern.

We take a rock stairway down to a lower level . . . just underneath the volcanic strata of the ceiling.

Looking down the stairway . . . sorry no tripod to steady the hand.

Several rope pulleys remain in the ceiling . . . evidence of times when the working was taking place at a lower level.

- - - o o o - - -


The early miners used candles to light their way.

Donald lit one and held it in his hand

to see how bright it would be to work by.

Everyone else was asked to turn their lights off.


There is no light underground except that which you provide yourself.

When the that candle go out it is ultimate darkness.


Has anyone here got a birthday ?

Anita . . . you can blow the candle out.

Hold your cursor over the picture as she does.

one, two, three . . . blow !


Dark isn't it     ?

- - - o o o - - -


Into the final cavern of our trip.


The mine has hosted several unusual events

including an underground cricket match,

a banquet and a music concert inside the mine

(as the acoustics were so good).


- - - o o o - - -


We are now down at a lower level of course

so Donald was leading us

along tunnels we had not been in before.

Mind your head . . . there's that inclined roof strata again.

Back out into the daylight . . . and the warmer atmosphere of the outside world.

Final questions and a quick count up to make sure we hadn't left anyone inside.

. . . then it was a walk back up the slope to find the bus.

It has achieved the impossible . . . a three point turn on the side of the precipice,

and was waiting to take us back to Ann, the dogs and the world that we live in every day.

- - - o o o - - -


Technical note: Pictures taken with my Canon 1100D Digital SLR.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

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Previous walk - 3rd July 2016 - Eskdale with Barbara

A previous time up here - 10th August 2007 The Honister Mine, Cathedral Tour  with the late Mark Weir

Next walk - 11th July 2016 - Grange to Watendlath