To Honister And Back, A Harriers Tale

”It was a typical November evening when 31 Thirsk and Sowerby Harriers descended upon the tiny village of Buttermere in the Lake District. Some had been shopping in Keswick, some already out on the trails, but we all gathered at the Bridge Hotel for dinner and the start of an epic adventure!
Friday evening we had a fine 4 course meal with wine and beer followed by chatting long into the night in the comfy lounge. That was until we found Sam the collie wasn’t allowed in the lounge, so we went to throw beer mats for him in the bar instead!

The next morning, in the pre-breakfast gloom, the running contingent gathered for a social jog around Lake Buttermere in the rain. We set off at a comfortable pace, the ladies leading the way as we went over tree roots and rocks. Through an exciting, if rather wet, tunnel cut into the rocks on the lake shore and out through some trees before joining the road through Gates Garth, a small farmstead on the eastern end of the lake. We crossed the footpath and returned along the southern bank, through Burtness Wood on a good track. All the way we chatted with different people as little groups came and went.
This set us up nicely for breakfast! After a quick shower, everyone was back in the dinning room for a two or three course breakfast. I had yogurt and fruit, followed by a fry-up!

Next was one of Stuart’s walks.
Now, I’d been told about Stuart’s walks by several people last night. They generally were twice as far and took twice as long as predicted, often coming back in the dark!! I wasn’t too concerned, I was a seasoned hiker and had my own map and compass to hand! I got Stuart to describe the route, and was quite pleased to find we would be going over Fleetwith Pike which is a summit I haven’t visited before.

So, suitably fed and dressed in boots and woolly hats, we set off. One or two people had other plans for the day and they went on their own journeys.
Along the lakeside once more, back through the tunnel. This time however at Gates Garth, we continued up the road to the start of the path up Fleetwith Pike. It starts off gently enough, a stone path zig zaging up the grassy fell side.
We soon reached Low Raven Crag and stopped for a breather. We thought we must be half way up by now… Nope.
The terrain gradually got steeper and steeper and we were presented with a series of false summits as we clambered on up Fleetwith Edge.
It got colder and windier as we climbed, and at one point various brightly coloured gloves and buffs were donned.
At last though, we reached the blustery summit and were rewarded with fabulous views all around. As we sat and ate our snacks, we decided it had been well worth the effort.
It was too cold to hang around for long and a little hail fell as we crossed open ground to meet with the main bridle path which would lead us to Haystacks. En-route we passed Dubs Hut, a lonely building of slate construction which in a storm would provide a safe haven. You can also rent it from the Honister Slate Mining Company. I think I’ll stick with my fluffy quilt in the Bridge Hotel for tonight.
There were some interesting stream crossings and set of cruel stone steps to negotiate before reaching Blackbeck Tarn on the edge of Haystacks. Around this tarn and on to Innominate Tarn where Wainwright rests, before taking an interesting route down into Scarth Gap. Here we began our descent. Down through the Wax Knotts and below Warnscale. While this was tiring on the knees, it is one of the gentler routes down off the fells! We rejoined the lake side path for the last couple of miles back to the hotel, not only in the daylight but in plenty of time for tea and scones with cream and jam! It was just the right kind of tired, we all felt like we’d had a good walk but weren’t absolutely done in. Thanks Stuart.

This gave it just enough time to get properly dark… I was fretting a little now as I intended to join the ‘hardcore/nutter’ group and do the traditional headtorch run up the miners path to Honister Mine. Thankfully, a couple of other not so hardcore members were inspired to join us so I wouldn’t be alone at the back! 10 of us set out, unfortunately, one of the group went over on his ankle, ironically on the flat bit on the Lake! He hobbled back to the hotel while the rest of us carried on.
Through the tunnel for the third time today, this time however everyone was shouting and hollering and blowing their whistles, we made quite a din!
At the far end of the lake the climbing begins. At first we could run, but it was hard keeping up with the stronger fell runners at the front. Eventually, the terrain got the better of us and those of us at the back broke into a walk. We still walked on, and steadily climbed the rocky path by just our torch lights. The darkness meant we couldn’t see the drop to our right. all the way down into the valley, but the sound of distant rushing water meant we knew it was there. Rob came back and helped to guide us over the mini-streams and rocks and keep us on track. We jogged on and off as the gradient eased a little and at last we could see the headtorches of the front runners! We’d made it to the top! There was much handshaking all round, but it wasn’t over yet! Next was a very steep, very fast descent from the top down into the Slate Mine, we were on good track so we covered it quickly and met our pre-arranged lift in the carpark. We couldn’t quite fit everyone into Alan’s car, so the stronger runners said they’d jog back to the hotel along Honister Pass. We were quite happy in the car! On the way back the heavens opened and down came torrential hail! Alan dropped us off and went back to collect the others. Needless to say, Alan drank for free that night!
We had a record turn out, 9 runners making it ‘over the top’ and we were justifiably pleased with ourselves, especially me, Nicky and Hwyel for whom this was the first time on the Honister Headtorcher (but would it be the last?) also with us (much further in front!) were Chrissie,Richard, Rob, Gavin, Stuart and Brett.
Another fine meal came after a shower, but everyone was tired now, it took me over an hour to drink my pint after dinner! Even Sam the dog went to bed early, meaning his slaves…erm I mean owners could stay in the comfy lounge.
We attempted to measure the route of today’s walk using my bootlaces and a map on the wall, but it seems I need to recalibrate my shoelaces as we were a couple of miles out.

After a good sleep but before breakfast, we set out Sunday morning for another run. Not so many eager beavers this morning! I was quite knackered now, but off we went. This route started on the road heading North along Crummock Water as far as Rannerdale. Here we picked up a muddy, rocky bridlepath which gently climbed alongside Squat Beck. The climb may have been gentle. but my legs were dead weight’s and I had to walk some bits, but all my training is paying off as I managed to run the last pull up to the col where Whiteless Pike and Low Bank meet. It was a grand morning and the whole Lakeland vista opened up for us to see.
We were informed that the rest of the route was down hill from here… oh my… Straight down a near vertical grass bank and into Grassgarth Coppice! The running here, through the trees above Mill Beck was lovely, but we still had to watch our step so we didn’t slip on hidden tree roots. At the bottom we all jumped into the Beck to cool our feet and tired legs! Very refreshing!

Time now for breakfast (at last, I was starving!) and also time to check out.
A few of us decided we’d like another little walk and asked Stuart for a ‘not too demanding’ route to finish the holiday.
Soon we were setting out along the western edge of Crummock Water. It’s a straight forward path and pleasantly uneventful. A few boggy bits, few rocky bits, some nice little footbridges and hidden beaches where it would be great to swim… if it weren’t November!
We reached the far end and the Kirkstile Inn just in time for lunch!

Sadly, it was now time to get back into our cars for the long drive back home and to reality.

I think everyone had a great time, I know I did. Even though I was knackered by the end, I loved every single minute of the trip. Even the non-running chaps enjoyed it, and I think next year there will be more people than ever running to Honister Slate Mine!!

A few stats-
Sat. morning lake run – 4.3 miles.
Stuart’s walk over Fleetwith Pike and Haystacks – 8.3 miles.
Sat. night headtorch run to Honister Slate Mine – 4.9 miles.

Sun. morning Rannerdale run – 3.3 miles.
Walk round Crummock Water – 4.2 miles.”