- The Cathedral Mine Tour -

Date & Time: Friday 10th August 2007. 5 pm start. ( NY 225 135 )

Location of Start : The Mine Shop, Honister Slate Mines, Cumbria, Uk.

Places visited : The Cathedral Mine Tour with the owner, Mark Weir.

Walk details : A journey up and into the mountain, 3 hrs 30 mins.

Walked with : 22 members of the Online Fellwalking Club.

Weather : A fine sunny evening above ground, cool and dark below.

We gathered at Honister prior to the start of the mine visit.


The Fellwalking Club likes to meet occasionally, away from the virtual reality of the internet, so that the friendships made on-line can be cemented in real life.

With the announcement of Britain's first mountain "Via Ferrata" at Honister, an idea for a weekend meet was launched.

The Via Ferrata, or iron roadway, would take us on an exposed scramble up the old tramway on the outside of the vertical Honister Crags, but we decided an underground mine tour before hand would allow the group to understand what the mines were all about, why the tramway existed, and introduce us to the history of the last working Slate Mine in England.

Friday 5pm saw us gathering at the mine complex ready for the tour.

A group photo was in order before we started.

Jill R, myself, Jo, Andrew M, Dave Parry, Ann, Matthew, John P, Pam, Jill B, Nigel, Pete, Terry, Mark, Mike, Freddy, Andrew, Nigel, Neil, Tracy and Phil. Barrie and Liz in front.

(Thanks to Rowland our other guide for taking the photo)

Jill, Ann and Jo get kited up with helmet and modern miner's lamp.

John and Peter, with Tracy wondering why John is poking his own eye out !

Time to go outside to catch the bus.

No . . . not this . . . though all twenty two of us would have fitted in the back quite easily.

Honister Crags in the background and the gentle looking mine track we would climb by Land Rover shortly.

Andrew looks quietly confident, blissfully unaware of the steepness of the upper part of that track.

Jill is not so sure though, as we hit the main part of the ascent.

I detect a look of apprehension - or is John just winding her up ?

The Land Rover returns to pick up the last of the crew.

The railway lines here look abandoned and un-cared for, but behind me they form an integral part of the mine's transportation system.

The Cathedral Tour starts at the upper entrance of the working mine, and we had chance to have a look around as the group re-forms prior to going underground.

- - - o o o - - -

The tour was be led by Mark Weir, the mine owner himself, and during the course of the visit we would learn a lot about the mine, but also a lot about Mark himself and the way he has resurrected the mine, changing it from an abandoned eyesore to the busy working enterprise and tourist venue that it is today.

- - - o o o - - -

We started in the compressor shed at the entrance to the mine, where he talked of the early beginnings eleven years ago, and how he had to start from scratch rebuilding the machinery and equipment that he would need to extract his first piece of slate.

- - - o o o - - -

He bought the Mine from Mc Alpine for £10,000 and then spoke out loud a thought that would re-occur many times over the next few years . . .

" What have I done !"

This small entrance leads on to nearly eleven miles of passages.
Torches on, Neil leads the way into the darkness.

Mark explains his early beginnings and how he used to work by single torch light to explore and start to understand the mine.

( We had all turned our torches off but the flash drowns out his single light beam.)


Into the Cathedral Cavern and we look down fifty feet

to the next level.

Two men working below are moving a small train load

of quarried stone.


Mark protecting us from the open edge, we make our way further into the old workings.

This is where he started his mining life, trying to extract good slate blocks to turn into roof slates.

This spot was selected with help of his Uncle, as he also had worked in the mine when it was previously open.

The workable slate face with the drill holes still evident
Mark explains the process of slate and how it is quarried.
Back past old ventilation tubing to explore the mine further.
Mind your head . . . helmets were essential underground.

The railway took us back under piles of waste slate, built to protect the miners from rock fall

but also to allow them to climb higher into the roof space to extract more slate.

The early years were very difficult and Mark would would wonder what he had let himself in for . . .

Could this be some late 20th century graffiti ?

" No 4 " (level)

" This way to hell "

The top of the internal incline where we descended one level
We were passed by one of those trucks making it's way up.

The incline was tunneled out in the 1920's to replace the external tramway system that is today's Via Ferrata.

Now the mine had an all year round transport system that could collect slate from any level and allow it to be extracted for processing in the mine workshops.

An old rail bogey still very much in use today for transporting large "clogs" of blocks of uncut slate.

We were now on a lower level and making our way to the current working working face.

Down at the lower level that we saw earlier and the electric mine train returns for another load of stone.

There are about forty members of Honister Staff of which six are regular underground staff. These men are working a twelve hour shift today, clearing secondary stone which will be processed and used for garden ornaments.

The mine also produced machined slate for kitchen work tops and monuments, chippings for gardens and landscape projects, slate and resin ornaments from fine ground slate dust, as well as the classic Honister Green Slate slabs for the best roofing tiles in the world.

It is this diversification of markets, plus a lot of hard work, that has led to a return to profitability for the Honister Green Slate Mine.

Modern machinery means efficient moving and loading of materials.

Back to the incline and back up to the top . . .
. . . past the cable railway bogey and turntable system

- - - o o o - - -

It was now a short walk back to the entrance where we had started several hours before.

- - - o o o - - -


The mine has certainly come a long way in the last eleven years

and this humble entrance to the hillside

hides a multitude of tunnels and caverns

and the labours of centuries of Honister men,

the full extent of which can only really appreciated

after a visit deep underground.

- - - o o o - - -

The sun was still shining as we left the mine and made our way back down the roadway, on foot this time.

Dale Head and Yew Crags on the opposite side of the valley.
The disused Yew Crag workings . . . but that's a whole different story.

The memorial plaque to the 'official' re-opening of the mines in 2001

- - - o o o - - -

There are three mine tours available.

The Kimberley introductory tour ( we did that in June - see below)

The Edge, for those that dare to go out to the very edge of the mountain, then up and deep inside the mountain.

The Cathedral, which was this personal tour with Mark Weir.


- - - o o o - - -

Technical note: Pictures taken with a Canon Ixus Digital camera.

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

This site best viewed with . . . hammer, chisel and a wad of gunpowder, but no cigarettes please.

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© RmH.2007 # Email me here

Previous walk - 2nd August 2007 Slater's Bridge and Cathedral Cave 2

A previous time up here - 20th June 2007 The Honister Slate Mine Kimberley Trail