Saturday, 23 January 2016

Dale Head & Fleetwith Pike

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Route: Honister Hause, Yew Crag Quarries, Dale Head, Honister Hause, Bell Crags, Hopper Quarry, Honister Quarries, Honister Crag, Fleetwith Pike, Honister Quarries, Hopper Quarry, Honister Hause

Date: 23/01/2016
From: Honister Hause

Parking: Parking at Honister Slate Mine
Start Point: Honister Hause
Region: North Western Fells / Western Fells

Route length: 5.7 miles (9.2 km)
Time taken: 03:00
Average speed: 1.9 mph
Ascent: 669m
Descent: 669m

Wainwrights on this walk:
Dale Head (753), Fleetwith Pike (648m)

Additional summits: Honister Crag (Black Star) (633m)

Other points of interest: Honister Slate Mine

Eager to get some decent fells under our boots, we made our way to Honister with the intention of a one way walk across the Dale Head - Robinson ridge; another car would be stationed at the Newlands Pass to eliminate a fairly tedious return journey. The forecast for the day had been promising but our hopes were dashed as soon as we arrived at the famous slate mine at the top of the Honister pass. A low clouds lingered across the summits and a strong wind was driving the drizzle in sheets across the fellside. Interestingly, we had just done a winter skills course the previous day, making the most of the snow that lay high up on fells around Helvellyn. After 24 hours of unseasonably warm temperatures, the snow had all but gone - no need for any additional equipment today.
Looking across to Fleetwith Pike from The Hause
Starting from Honister is cheating really, giving you a 300m headstart. On a day like today though any vehicular advantage was welcomed. The route from Honister to Dale Head is almost a direct straight line North up the grassy fellside, following a fence for the majority of the way. Instead of another day lounging around Keswick we decided to give it a go in the hope that the weather cleared up as we climbed.
Looking down towards Honister as the weather closes in
The first third of the climb is the steepest, following the fence around the occasional rocky protrusion to the long-abandoned Yew Crag Quarries. The remnants of the quarries are best seen from the Honister pass, where the counter-balanced tramway can be clearly seen arrowing up the mountainside. It was designed to carry slates down from the quarries to the end of the access road and was the first of several tramways constructed at Honister in the 1900s and operated until the 1960s. There is still a considerable amount of slate left within Yew Crag though the area is extremely dangerous to work in, apparently.
Clouds around Yew Crag Quarry
After the quarries, the gradient of the path decreases and the scenery changes very little. The cloud and rain had rolled in and things were getting a bit miserable. It took us around 45 minutes to reach the summit of Dale Head but mere moments to decide that traversing the ridge would bring us no rewards. The weather was foul and we'd be walking directly into the strong wind.
Dale Head's lonely summit
We retraced our steps all the way back to the car at the pass, using the cafĂ© in the slate mine for a rejuvenating cup of coffee and the opportunity to dry off a bit. Typically, as we juggled with ideas on how to spend the rest of the afternoon, the weather cleared up considerably with the majority of the rain disappearing. We headed off to collect the abandoned car from Newlands, returning to Honister half an hour or so later. The break in the weather seemed to be holding so we decided to make the most of the afternoon by climbing Fleetwith Pike.
Honister Pass
The dominant crags of Fleetwith Pike
Once again, The Hause gives you a springboard onto the mountain with the wide mine road winding up the fellside to Hopper Quarry. A route is marked straight across the quarry though none really appears on the ground so we followed the track instead around the southern edge of the quarry and through some of the numerous spoil heaps that litter Fleetwith Pike. Once around the quarry, we made the last short climb up to Black Star, the summit of the imposing Honister Crag.
Looking down the mine road to Honister
Grey Knotts above the quarry road
A stark warning
Grey Knotts and Brandreth
Spoil heaps litter the fell
Hindscarth high above the Honister Pass
Black Star looking towards Fleetwith Pike
It has a fine view down into the valley below and is the finishing point of the popular via feratta route that is run from the slate mine. I did it a few years ago at it's tremendous fun! Here's a photo of me within Bull Gill - you can also make out the wire bridge running across the top of the photo, not for the feint hearted
The depths of Bull Gill
The first confirmed records of slate mining in Honister appeared during the the early 1700s with Wordsworth making reference to slate quarrying in his diaries. Significant quarrying was undertaken until the early 1900s with a number of technological improvements making the Honister mines more profitable. After 1892, The Hause (where the current shop / museum is) became the centre of operations and was linked to the quarries by road, tramway, aerial ropeway and huge inclines inside the mountain.
Remains of the old quarry on Fleetwith Pike
From Black Star it's a straight forward stroll up to Fleetwith Pike's summit, a superb vantage point at the end of Buttermere. The weather was on the moody side though the streams of low cloud were not bound the Fleetwith Pike which gave us a some of the views we'd been seeking all day.
Great Gable pokes out above Brandreth
The summit of Fleetwith Pike

Panorama from Fleetwith Pike; Brandreth, Great Gable and Hay Stacks
Cloudy skies over Buttermere
Once we'd had a wander around on the top we returned back to The Hause using more or less the same route we used to get up. We had managed to salvage a decent afternoon from what had begun as a terrible day, despite the optimistic forecast. I really like Fleetwith Pike, it's an interesting fell to investigate and one that I've been right up close to thanks to the Honister via ferratta. I'd recommend a visit next time you're around Buttermere; both the fell and the mines.