Wed 11 Sep - Keswick / Lake District, England

Going underground...

Weather forecast was again a bit dodgy, and since we have 3 full days in the Lake District, it made sense to do one day of touring and not hiking, which is what we did today.

We had tickets for a slate mine underground tour at the Honister Slate Mine. This was, according to Tripadvisor, a great way to spend a rainy day.

First off though, we drove south and past the mine and off to check out Buttermere. We just had to take a photo of this great sign along the way.

We found a cafe in Buttermere which looked like good karma... And the bikers were there as well which is a good sign as they seem to have a knack of finding good cafes providing value for money (and easy parking for motorbikes...). We drove in, but our parking spot was already occupied...

Di forgave her...
After a nice midmorning cuppa, we drove back towards the mine through the Honister Pass. Dramatic scenery...

We stopped to have a closer look... Yes, at Di too...

After parking our car at the Honister Mine car park (£5 for non-customers) an hour or so too early for our tour, we found a sign that explained where on earth we were... Our accommodation is at the southeast corner of Derwent Water.

Honister Slate Mine from a distance... From the east.

Honister Slate Mine from a distance... From the west. The road on both sides is very cool, great scenery and of course sheep to dodge.

So, with some time to spend, we wandered off to one of several old mining tracks/roads. Our chosen one used to be the "main motorway". Somewhat of a stretch in today's terms.

But wait... We can not walk here. The "motorway" is closed and "repairs taking place"... Hold on, this sign, stuck into the grass, is partly overgrown and has clearly been there for a while. We saw no repairing activity whatsoever and wandered on.

Hans on what is left of the "main motorway".

Who is a scaredy cat now?

Self portrait with Honister Pass in the background.

And there was slate...


I'm not scared...this bridge with its missing boards may suit Indiana Jones but definitely not Di.

One of several old mining trails leading into a hole...

We were very happy to see slate also being used for vortexing. Di got into the spirit.

Inside the Honister Mine visitor centre, we were a bit perplexed by this. Yesteryear's way of disabled women to do their business perhaps...?

At 12.30pm, a secret door opened and the tour started. Some 40 odd people got ready to go underground.

Dressed to... Ehh... Kill... Or just going underground.

Honister Mine is a Green Slate mine and the only slate mine still in operation in Britain. The slate here is very strong and lasts 3-4 times as long on roofs compared to other types of slate due to volcanic ash got mixed with it during its creation. The slate from this mine is on the roof of Buckingham Palace and St Paul's Cathedral.

The Honister Mine was closed after WWI until 17 years ago when a young guy (30 at the time) called Mark Weir bought it and reopened it. His story was inspiring as he knew nothing about mining, but unfortunately he died a few years ago in a helicopter crash. The mine is a local success story now both as a working mine and a tourist attraction. They extract slate from upper levels and we toured a lower level.

The entrance to the Honister Mine (we took a bus to get here) on a windy, narrow mountain track. Glad we were not driving it.

The view over the edge...the rain started just as we went underground.
We walked into the mine some distance through narrow, low tunnels and Hans hit his head several times and was very thankful for his helmet taking the pain rather than himself.

Some of our fellow tourers were elderly and using walking sticks. Di caught one wobbly old gentleman at one point on the trail as he lost his balance. We stomped along fine but you could definitely here helmet scrapes and bangs from time to time.

Here we are in a "man made cavern" inside the mine where we were given facts and stories about the mine from Roland or Rolie, our guide in yellow. This was solid stone and has been mined out over several hundred years. It's got a strong lava flow slab rood which is miles long so hence why no supports required.

Leftover slate not up to scratch...used for walls and scaffolding.

Self portrait deep deep undercover...

The 90 minutes underground was great, the tour was good value and we learned a lot. Very cool, and dry, until we stepped outside.

When we exited the mine, the clouds / mist was all around us and the rain continued. This pic is taken roughly from the same spot outside the entrance to the mine as the one a few pics above.

After the tour we headed back down the pass and arrived in a little hamlet called Grange around 2.30pm, and stopped for lunch along the way at Grange Bridge Tea Rooms.

A good meal with salad and jacket potato, and Di was particularly happy with her ham and chook pie (just like mum's). Local trout for Hans.

There were only a handful of tables in what looked like somebody's converted front room of a very old building with slate floors (surprise, surprise) Nice and cozy. A day of "ducking" for Hans.

After lunch, we drove into Keswick to fill up on gas before heading south towards Windermere. Heck, we needed to check it out, not that we wanted to do too much tourist stuff.

This was fun along the way. Right of a sudden, the traffic had stopped in what looked like in the middle of nowhere. The reason was soon revealed... Moving of cows...time for milking.

Welcome to Windermere.... We drove into the Windermere Visitor's Centre and was met with... This. Lots of signs about "pay and display" and how to pay now or pay later (how kind, you can pay online afterwards! As if...). Again, this was outside a Visitor's Centre...

In addition, the centre was some distance out of town and not next to the lake and despite the time being around 4pm, it was closed!!?? Gosh, don't you just feel welcomed to some places.

Lake Windermere, the classical misty view from the docks near Bowness.

Two swans and... Hans. Yep, the boat to the left is also called The Swan.

You may not see it in the photo, but the top marker on the blue board to the right shows the water level of Lake Windermere during a flood in November 2009. Di, in line with that spirit, is simulating swimming.

Well, we didn't expect to see the spirit of Abe Saffron in Windermere... This swan was marked "sin" around his left leg and we called him "Mr Sin" of course. (For non-Australian readers... Abe Saffron was an infamous Sydney gangster (allegedly) whose nickname was "Mr Sin").

There was a bit of a circus with all the fowl in Windermere. This Chinese family kept feeding them with the obvious result of the birds all getting fired up. In another location a man with a bag of bird food was swarmed by doves and pigeons - one even sat on his head. He had a hard time shaking them off.

Before we left, we needed to do business (lots of nice tea drunk with out late lunch). Now, conveniences are normally not free in the UK and the usual price seems to be 20 pence (Di muttered about it yesterday). Here in Windermere, we first found facilities that wanted to charge 40 pence, to date the most expensive toilets that we have found in the UK. No way Jose, we moved on and soon found one with the "normal" 20 pence charge.

For our dumb founded Australian readers, this is how it looks like. No p, no pee.

In summary, Windermere, the town, and Lake Windermere were huge disappointments. After all the buzz and hype, you expect something a lot better than blatant attempts to rip off visitors without providing really anything in return. We have seen countless number of far more interesting and beautiful lakes than this. To any reader who would contemplate going here, our advice would be, don't. Where we are in the Borrowdale Valley near Keswick is much nicer and is filled with lots of walkers out and about.

On our way back, we stopped at Lake Thirlmere which was one of those lakes that had a lot more going for it than Lake Windermere. Di couldn't hide her excitement and tried to jump the gate rather than opening it.

Another late afternoon distance shot of Lake Thirlmere.

On the way back to our accommodation at Greenbank Country House, we stopped for a quick drink at a pub in Keswick before continuing. OK pub but we didn't settle in as it had already been a fairly big day with plenty of touring.

We arrived home around 7.30pm. Lazy night with light supper (self sufficient) in our room. An early start for hiking tomorrow. Good night.

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