England’s Highest Youth Hostel, Taking the first Plunge.

Post 47: 31 March 1992: Day 4 – Keswick Youth Hostel to Caldbeck (Whelpo) – 17 miles.

One of the good things about staying in youth hostels is that you meet walkers from overseas and, during the course of the evening, I met a German couple, an Irish lady, and a Finnish lady. Just as we were putting on our boots to leave, the three ladies all came over and wished me well and said goodbye; Gary was somewhat surprised as he hadn’t met any of them.

Having heard the weather forecast of rain, high winds and snow, I was inclined to take my boots off and stay another night, especially as the company was so friendly. However, dedicated long-distance walkers can’t let such distractions get in the way and we left the hostel as late as we could, at 9.45am.

As we climbed Latrigg Fell, the rain started and we donned our wet weather gear. By the time we started skirting Lonscale Fell, the rain had turned to sleet and snow and a howling wind was hitting us from the north.

The weather was so bad I was unable to take photographs but here are a few taken on a mountain biking expedition with my son in much better weather.

Clmbing towards Latrigg Fell .

Arriving at Skiddaw House Youth Hostel, the highest in England at 1550 feet, we were relieved and delighted to find it open.

Skiddaw Youth Hostel

Although we had only walked 6 miles, we felt as though we had walked 60. A group of youths on a Duke of Edinburgh Awards expedition were crowded around a portable gas fire and seeing our sorry state kindly moved over to let us dry out. Sitting two inches from the fire, Gary looked as though he was suffering from hypothermia, his socks and other clothes steaming, as he supped hot soup. The cost of an overnight stay at the hostel was £3 but I decided to donate this to the hostel, just for having let us get out of the horrible weather for half-an-hour. The contrast from the commercialism of town cafés could not have been more apparent. Skiddaw House Youth Hostel used to be a shooting lodge, then fell into disrepair before the Youth Hostels Association and friends of the hostel brought it back into use. Even so it still only has 24-volt lighting and the nearest pub is six miles away. Every time I go there improvements seem to have been carried out by a dedicated warden and if you want to get away from it all there was no better place than here, at ‘the back o’ Skiddaw’.

Much better going through the stream rather than over the nearby bridge
The long track leaving the hostel in the distance before a very steep and fast descent past Dash Beck

P1020590Due to the poor weather, we decided to follow the ‘low-level route’, then, as we descended to Dash Beck, seven girls on a Duke of Edinburgh Awards expedition passed us ascending towards the hostel. You can’t help but wonder if the Duke had masochistic tendencies as these poor youngsters always seem to be out camping in bad weather. A few days later we heard that two girls had to be stretchered off the fells near Keswick that night, suffering from exposure and hypothermia. This was not surprising as we met a local who said that the weather that day had been the worst all winter. I thought it was April fool’s day tomorrow. Chris Bonington lives somewhere in the Caldbeck area and, having survived this sort of weather, no wonder he has become one of the world’s top mountaineers.

It was with great relief that we arrived at our bed and breakfast accommodation at Whelpo, just outside Caldbeck. The sight of the huge sunken bath cheered our spirits no end. However, Gary took the first plunge, filled it to nearly overflowing, in the process using all the hot water. This seems to be a regular occurrence for me on long-distance walks, I must go on an assertive training course in order to learn how to get the first bath.

High Spy, Maiden Moor, Cat Bells, The Dog and Gun and Hungarian Ghoulash

Post 45: 30 March 1992: Day 3 – LongthwaiteYouth Hostel to Keswick Youth Hostel – 12 miles

Emerging from the hostel in the morning, we were surprised to find that snow covered the mountain tops. However, the sun was shining, the forecast was good, so we decided to do a high-level route along High Spy, Maiden Moor and Cat Bells

The names inspired my imagination so that my enthusiasm grew as we started the climb from Rosthwaite. Gary was less enthusiastic as he had sore feet from the long previous day’s walking; well what can you expect if you walk with boots with no soles? I persuaded him we should go for the high-level route, but it was the first time we had attempted one with a pack on.

Before climbing there was some delightful lower level walking in the Rosthwaite and Castle Crag area. Photographs taken later, some with my family, show that this became and still is one of my favourite parts of the country. It deserves its title as the Golden Mile.

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Looking back over from Castle Crag over the route along Borrowdale. Eagle Crag is in the middle top.
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Castle Crag
My daughter Sophie on a navigation course. She was later to complete the Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award.
A helping hand for Sophie from Dad. Castle Crag in the background.
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Near Rosthwaite


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Looking back to the mountains above Borrowdale
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Newlands Valley to the West of Cat Bells.

Ascending steeply we arrived at Rigghead quarries where we stopped for refreshments. This was just as well as Gary collapsed onto his back, gasping for breath. The ‘nightmare’ of hills had returned to him as he was little fitter than when walking the ‘Three-Peaks’. I was beginning to have doubts whether my decision to do the high-level route was the right one. The pack on my back felt like I was carrying a sack of coal; my thoughts went back to my childhood days when coal men, bent double, delivered sacks to my parents house. My job was to count that the correct number was delivered.

As we climbed higher and higher, the views got better and better, as the whole Helvellyn range appeared in the distance like a white-backed whale. The views back to Eagle Crag were magnificent as bright sun filtered though white clouds and reflected back off the gleaming snow. Yes, the decision to do the high-level route was the right one. Eventually we reached the top of High Spy at over 2,000 feet and stopped for yet another refreshment break; the sense of achievement was overwhelming. We were ‘New Men’, fit, refreshed, on top of the world; at least it felt like it!

Continuing along Maiden Moor, the expansive views of the Derwent Fells and Borrowdale changed gradually but delightfully and, on reaching the top of Cat Bells, we stopped in a grass hollow for our final refreshment stop of the day’s walk. There was not a finer dining place, with views of snow-capped Skiddaw, the Coledale Horseshoe, as well as the lakes of Bassenthwaite and Derwent Water. A marauding sheep kept trying to grab our sandwiches, but, when presented with a walking boot, it took the hint and left us alone.

Cat Bells is a favourite amongst the very young and elderly as it gives magnificent views without too much climbing.

Sophie with Cat Bells in  the background. The second ‘hill’ summit.
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Looking towards Keswick from Cat Bells
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Derwentwater from near Cat Bells.
Sophie and friend Kath having fun on/in Derwentwater in the Great Outdoors.

Arriving at Keswick at 3.30pm, the weather changed to rain, just the excuse we needed to spend the rest of the afternoon in my favourite Keswick pub, the Dog and Gun. The Hungarian Goulash is legendary and comes in two sizes. The big size is big but was needed on this occasion after all our exertions. Gary had his newspaper and I had my Guinness and, with an hour and a half to spare, this was long-distance walking at its best.

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The Moot Hall, Keswick.

Keswick is noted for making pencils, which had never occurred to me when I used to chew on their ‘Cumberland’ends at school. They teach you all sorts of things at school, but never basic knowledge such as this. For walkers, the highlight of an evening in Keswick are slide shows in the Moot Hall where a ranger delights in telling you about the tourists who go to Surprise View looking towards Derwent Water then, when it is icy, slip over the 1,000 foot drop to get the surprise of their life; be warned.

In the daytime there are loads of outdoor shops where you can wander for hours, dreaming about all the expensive equipment you wish you had but can’t afford. In particular George Fisher’s shop, especially as, a few years later, it had my book, On Foot from Coast to Coast: The North of England Way, displayed in the window.


I only found this out because my teenage children were staying at Keswick Youth Hostel at the time and happened to come across ‘Dads’ book. This meant I had achieved something as when I used to wander round Keswick in the evenings whilst on holiday with my family, I would never have dreamt that I could write a walking book which would be displayed there. How this book came about is featured later in the diaries.

A Platypus, Dungeon Ghyll, Twice Horizontal on Stake Pass, A Dieing Crocodile, A Puma, The Golden Mile.

Post 44: ‘I do suffer from headaches when I’m tense.’ said Alf.

He was looking tired and I concluded this long day was getting to him. He may have been getting uptight about the prospect of going over Stake Pass, at 1576 feet, in worsening weather conditions, with four miles still to walk and with packs. I was certainly starting to get anxious.

However, we had already made our youth hostel booking and therefore stuffed Alf with headache pills to the maximum permissable dosage. As usual I was the fifth emergency service and carried the first aid kit, with pills.

Up-date – I have since learned that de-hydration can cause headaches and indeed much worse. When, some years later, Dan was walking the West Highland Way he collapsed and bumped his head on a rock. The most likely cause was de-hydration caused by not drinking enough water. That is why a platypus water container with tube is useful so that you can take sips of water whilst walking. If you have to stop and get a bottle out of your rucksack when tired you probably won’t bother and then will de-hydrate. Dan survived and it is to be hoped the bang on the head has knocked some sense into him and he now has a platypus; but I wouldn’t bet on it.

We carried on along Great Langdale as the scenery became more and more dramatic and imposing mountains started to encircle us. We arrived at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel known as the ODG, where the hiker’s bar is best described as basic, but when full of walkers and climbers is atmospheric. I finished off my flask of soup, then we proceeded along Mickleden towards Stake Pass. The valley came to an abrupt halt as Bowfell, The Band, Rossett Crag, Black Craggs and the Langdale Pikes seemed to hem us in.

The Langdale Pikes, taken from Elterwater in 1997.
The Langdale Pikes
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The Langdale Pikes (Pike o’Stickle) and the jacket my wife hates as she seems to have an aversion to this green. Despite this I still have the jacket and my long suffering wife, the latter of over 42 years!!

However, a clear path led off right, ascending steeply towards Stake Pass. Alf had made a remarkable recovery and shot up the pass, I struggled up with tired muscles screaming out in protest. Meanwhile Gary who has an aversion to hills followed some way behind, stopping from time to time to look up whilst letting out cursing sounds in my direction. On reaching the top of the pass, his legs had turned to jelly so that he went headlong horizontal to within six inches of the edge of the path. Beyond it he would have rolled down non-stop 1500 feet to the bottom of Langstrath. He would have become one of the four hundred accidents to be reported in the Lake District each year.

‘You must get some new boots’, I said reminding him that his treads were well past their sell by date.’

‘Oh shut up,’ he retorted.

‘Don’t worry, it’s all down hill for the remainder of the day. At least it will be if I can find the path down to the valley.’

We wandered around in thick mist desperately trying to find the path off the crest.

‘Which way now?’ Gary said impatiently, putting more pressure on me. Tempers start to flair when tiredness creeps in. Decisions can be rushed and mistakes made.

‘If I knew I would be hell for leather down it,’ I said trying to keep calm. Eventually a clear path emerged out of the mist. As we descended I breathed a sigh of relief for the mist cleared to reveal the whole of Langstrath before us.

The walk would have been all downhill if the rain hadn’t been so bad that the streams running down the valley sides were now raging torrents. This meant that the only way to cross them was to ascend the hillside to find an easier crossing. On seeing a fallen tree across one such stream, Gary decided to take a short cut across it. Getting half-way across on all fours horizontal he suddenly realised that with a full-pack his centre of gravity was about two feet higher than normal, so that at anytime he would suddenly turn completely upside down to end up on his back in the water like a dieing crocodile. Instead, like a puma, he stealthily moved backwards until he got back on land to breath a sigh of relief. I was mightily disappointed as I had my camera poised to catch the almighty splash.

On reaching Longthwaite Youth Hostel at 5.30pm, the sun came out for the first time; it was sign that this was Alf’s last day. He had to leave us in the morning to return to work. (Update – he was starting to get a reputation for never finishing a long-distance walk and this has continued ever since).

There are fewer, if any, more beautiful places on earth than Borrowdale in sunshine. The days labours were well rewarded as we were now in the ‘Golden Mile’ of the Lake District. We were also at a point where Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk crossed our route and memories came flooding back.

The Golden Mile of Borrowdale taken from Castle Crag.
The Golden Mile of Borrowdale taken from Castle Crag.