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.

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