Swipe to the right

Beginner's Guide To Via Ferrata In The UK

20 May 2021
Beginner's Guide To Via Ferrata In The UK

Image source: Maja Kochanowska/Unsplash

Traditionally, via ferrata routes are mainly found in the Alps, but over the last 15 years, the sport has also made its way to the UK. Often described as the bridge between scrambling and rock climbing, via ferrata provides safe access to areas that may be otherwise difficult or impossible even for the most experienced mountaineers and climbers to explore.

However, as via ferrata is a relatively new concept on this side of the English channel, we think it needs a proper introduction. So, we decided to put together this handy guide that explains everything you need to know about via ferrata in the UK.

What is via ferrata?

What is via ferrata?

Image source: Maja Kochanowska/Unsplash

Originating in the 19th century Alps, via ferrata is Italian for “iron way”. It refers to a style of climbing that utilises permanently fixed steel cables, iron rungs, carved steps, rope ladders, and bridges, among other things, to help people up the mountain. This allows more people to explore difficult to reach areas without the high risks, specialised equipment, and expert knowledge. Nevertheless, via ferrata does still require a good level of fitness and a head for heights.

The way via ferrata works is that each participant wears a climbing harness and a via ferrata set with two carabiners, which attach to a steel cable running along the entire route. The cable features bolts at regular intervals, and participants have to unclip and reclip one carabiner at a time to move past each bolt, ensuring that they are always attached to the cable at least by one carabiner. If you happen to fall, the carabiners will slide down until stopped by a bolt.

Building works began on the UK’s first via ferrata route in 2006 in Honister Slate Mine in the Lake District, which is still one of the most popular via ferrata locations in the country. Since then, several more have been built, all of which are also privately owned.

Via Ferrata VS Rock Climbing

Via Ferrata Ladder

Image source: Gunther/Pexels

Although the verb climb is often used in reference to via ferrata, most would argue that it doesn’t fall under the same umbrella as traditional rock climbing. They do admittedly require some similar skills, but there are several factors that distinguish the two sports from each other.

Holds & Protection

The most obvious thing that sets via ferrata apart is the use of artificial holds and embedded cables, which make it more accessible to a wider population than outdoor climbing. Since climbers rely on the natural shape of the rock and use their own protection, it can be a challenging sport for beginners to pick up, especially without proper instruction. While on the contrary, via ferrata generally only requires each participant to learn how to clip and unclip two carabiners, and they’re good to go.

Both UK and Alpine via ferratas are a worthwhile experience for beginner and expert climbers alike because they are able to provide access to stunning locations that would be otherwise too dangerous or impossible to explore.

Preset paths

Climbing guide books show a rough route that you’re supposed to follow, but you still have some freedom to choose your holds, and you can decide to come back down at any point. When it comes to via ferratas, you always follow a preset path, and you can’t turn back easily due to all the other people behind you attached to the same cable. Rock climbing crags tend to have multiple routes available next to each other, allowing everyone to climb at their own pace, whereas on via ferratas, you can sometimes get stuck behind a slower group in front of you.


Most outdoor rock climbing venues are free for anyone to access, whereas via ferratas in the UK tend to be built and maintained by outdoor centres and companies, who understandably have to charge for each visit. So, although you need less kit and expert knowledge for via ferrata, it can still be a relatively expensive activity.

What equipment do you need for via ferrata?

What’s great about via ferrata, is that you don’t need a lot of specialised equipment, but as with any outdoor activity, you do need to be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions.

  • Walking boots or shoes - You don’t need climbing shoes to do via ferrata, but you should wear a pair of sturdy hiking shoes or boots. Trainers can work as well, but walking footwear has the advantage of stiffer soles and better support for your foot.
  • Gloves - The steel cables and other metal holds can be rough on your hands, so we recommend that you wear gloves. In the summer, you may want to go for a fingerless design, but for the rest of the year, regular hiking gloves will do the trick.
  • Comfortable trousers - Wear some stretchy trousers, leggings, or shorts that don’t restrict your movement.
  • Wicking layers - Clothing with moisture-wicking properties will keep you comfortable and help regulate your body temperature.
  • Waterproof jacket - Via ferrata routes can be quite exposed, so it’s always recommended that you pack a waterproof jacket in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.
  • Day pack - Bring a small backpack where you can keep an extra layer, water, food, suncream, and any other little bits that you may need while you’re up on the route.
  • Water & snacks - It may not be possible to properly stop for lunch mid-route, but you should always have some water and snacks handy.


Via ferrata also requires a few pieces of essential safety equipment, but in the UK, these items are often provided by the centre, and they may not allow you to use your own kit for safety reasons.

  • Via ferrata kit - The purpose of the via ferrata kit is to attach you to the steel cable and catch you if you fall. They feature a shock-absorber and two easy to handle carabiners. Never use static rope as a via ferrata set, as it can lead to serious injury due to the high fall factor.
  • Climbing harness - Most climbing harnesses will also be suitable for via ferrata, but the main thing you should focus on is finding one that fits well and is comfortable to wear as via ferrata routes can take multiple hours to complete.
  • Climbing helmet - Whenever you're out climbing, you could bang your head on the rock during a fall or get hit by little rocks or other people's equipment. That is why it is crucial that you also always wear a helmet on a via ferrata.

Via Ferrata routes in the UK


Honister Slate Mine, Lake District

The original UK via ferrata location at Honister Slate Mine in Keswick delivers an exhilarating experience with incredible views of the Lake District. They have two different routes, the classic and the Xtreme, to offer a fun, adrenaline-filled day for everyone regardless of ability.

Kinlochleven, Scottish Highlands

Located near Fort William and Glencoe, Kinlochleven is home to the UK’s second via ferrata. The epic route runs beside one of Scotland’s biggest waterfalls, The Grey Mare’s Tail.

How Stean Gorge, Yorkshire Dales

The How Stean via ferrata takes you through a beautiful limestone Gorge in the Yorkshire Dales. With plenty of adventures on offer at the location, you can easily combine the via ferrata with other activities to make it into a full day out. They also offer a day course designed to prepare you for Alpine via ferratas.

Goodygrane Activity Centre, Cornwall

The Cornwall via ferrata allows you to ascend cliff faces, cross wire bridges, and experience a scenic zipline to the finish. By doing this route, you’re also supporting a good cause because all of the profits go towards helping disadvantaged children and young people.

Kendal Climbing Wall, Lake District

Europe’s first indoor via ferrata is located inside the Kendal Climbing Wall, and it features two routes modelled after traditional Italian via ferratas.

About the Author:

Iida Ruokojärvi - Outdoor Expert

Iida grew up in Finland where she was introduced to the outdoors at a very young age. Snowboarding has become second nature to her despite now living in a less snowy part of the world. Since moving to the UK, she rediscovered her love for hiking and continues to explore the British mountains and beyond.

You May Also Be Interested In...