There are cries of ‘It’s not the British way’ resonating around the crags of Borrowdale and Buttermere in response to the news that the country’s first via ferrata will be established.
Left: Buttermere with Fleetwith Pike at its head, site of the country's first via ferrata
News that the Honister Slate Mine company is to set up the first via ferrata in Britain has brought howls of horror as well as squeals of anticipation among different sections of the outdoor community.
The company is aiming to have the route set up to coincide with the Keswick Mountain Festival in May. Via ferrata is a system of ironwork set into crags and climbing routes that enables those who would struggle to complete a normal rockclimbing route to use the artificial aids to climb faces.
The Honister via ferrata will be on the industrially scarred Honister Crag, overlooking the col between Buttermere and Borrowdale. The system, which originated in the Dolomites in Italy – hence its name which means ‘iron route’ – has its own set of fixed cables, steps and sometimes ladders, enabling movement on crags that would otherwise involve exposed scrambling or climbing.
It was originally introduced to enable the rapid movement of mountain infantry and spread from Italy to Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. Honister will be the first in Britain.
By all accounts the route is aimed at tourists rather than serious climbers, though we imagine walkers who would quiver at the thought of an exposed scramble may give the via ferrata a go.
One posting on an outdoors forum says of the Honister scheme: “We can’t have via ferrata in the uk. It completely goes against the ethics we have”
Another post on the same site is more accepting of the idea because Honister is an industrial landscape. However, already the rumour mill is turning, with whispers of a via ferrata being installed on Broad Stand between Scafell Pike and Scafell and even whispers of a route up the Inaccessible Pinnacle to make life easier for Munro baggers, though the latter is surely a joke.
There is scant detail on the Honister website, other than a hope that the via ferrata will be in place for the Keswick festival. grough understands the route will go right to the top of Fleetwith Pike, to afford a grand view of Buttermere and Crummock, unless it’s like the last time we were up there, when we got a grand view of the ground 20m in front of us a precious little else.