'After working at Barrow House for nearly 7 years all year round, and watching the seasonal staff go off to far- flung places every winter, I decided it was my turn. I took a 3 month sabbatical to go off travelling. First of all I wanted a summer, so I headed down to the Southern Ocean and the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. I flew in and out of Melbourne, but I mainly spent my time on the coast with a side trip to the Grampian Mountains. I don't travel very fast, so although most people travel the length of the Great Ocean Road in a couple of days at most, I spent about 5 weeks there, camping and hostelling at different places. I completed the Great Ocean Walk as well, about 65 miles over 5 days, staying at remote campsites with just a compost loo and a rainwater tank. The scenery was stunning, though, and there were lots of wildlife: A tiger snake, echidnas, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, seals and many different kinds of birds, such as parrots and pelicans.
Next was a short trip back to England to visit my family for Christmas and New Year, and then it was off to Norway for a few weeks. I managed to cover a fair distance, visiting the main cities of Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim, all of which looked lovely in the snowy winter weather. My last couple of weeks were spent aboard the Hurtigruten ferry, which runs every day of the year up the west coast of the country into the Arctic and back. I managed to make it to the Arctic Circle and was treated to a showing of the Northern Lights. After all that travelling, it was definitely good to be back home in Keswick, and back at work.'
It's brilliant to have you back Nicola!
'Christmas was extremely memorable for all the right reasons. I had picked a small backpacker's hostel which promised a very relaxed and chilled out atmosphere in beautiful surroundings on Golden Bay, near Farewell Spit, which is at the North Western tip of the South Island. I was given a very warm welcome from the moment I arrived in the kitchen to find the manager, Dalia, cooking up a wonderful feast for Christmas day. The plan was that all the guests would provide one dish each to accompany Dalia's creations. The hostel was filled with guests from all over the world - from the Philippines to Venezuela and Mexico, Uzbekistan to Japan and a good representation of places in between - so the dishes were as diverse and multinational as the people. I got on particularly well with Andrea from Germany and James from the USA and I spent a lovely Christmas Day with Andrea exploring the beaches and seal watching. We returned for the Christmas feast, which was served outside on the verandah on a lovely warm, sultry evening and the celebrations began in earnest. It evolved into an impromptu party where I found myself Salsa-ing with Eduardo from Mexico, Jitterbugging with James and boogying with Andrea and girls from Poland, Japan and Israel! It was a very different Christmas from the ones at home, but it was a wonderful, fun time and I found a new friend in Andrea, who I plan to visit this Summer.
The other standout memory is the three day catamaran sailing trip around the Marlborough Sounds in early February. The weather was phenomenal, with perfect sailing conditions and sunshine all the way. The first day was spent getting our sea-legs and getting to know each other, with Martin the Kiwi captain cooking us dinner in the evening after swimming and kayaking. But the next day we were expected to catch and cook our own meals! We started off by fishing for blue cod, then dredged for scallops and finally, gathered green-lipped mussels. Fishing is a whole new experience for me and I was impressed at how the cod seemed to be queuing up to get on the line! We had the cod for lunch, cooked to perfection by Thomas, a trainee chef. I have never eaten such fresh fish before - from my rod to the plate in a couple of hours! The shellfish were made into a fisherman's pie for dinner later that day. The final day was spent gently drifting through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds with a break for a lovely bush walk followed by a swim in a jade-green bay. The rest of the day was spent lazily on deck or wrestling for our turn in the hammock... All good things come to an end, and this was not only the end of my sailing adventure but also the end of my trip to New Zealand. I was very sad to leave New Zealand but I left having made new friends and with so many wonderful, happy memories which will stay with me forever.'
Thanks for sharing these highlights with us Fiona.
Nicola tells us all about her incredible Wainwright walking challenge:
'When I started working at Barrow House in March 2006 I think I had only visited the Lake District five times, one of which was my interview for the job at the hostel. I had never heard of Alfred Wainwright, so I didn’t realise how much his guide books would come to dominate my life over the next 6 years or so.
I've always been into walking and had a fascination with hills, having grown up on the edge of the Peak District, so I set off exploring the Lakes. After a couple of years of randomly walking up local peaks, I realised that I had already ticked off quite a few on Alfred’s list of 214. Looking at the books, it became apparent that completing the full list would be a really good way of getting to know the National Park, and how all the lakes and mountain ranges fitted together, as well as getting fit.
At the beginning of this year I had 77 left to do, and it became tempting to try to get up as many as possible, so most of my days off and holidays in 2012 have been spent walking the fells. I think this has turned into an obsession, as I have only left Cumbria four times this year, one of which was a 3 hour visit to Preston for a curry...
As I don’t drive and rely on the intermittent public transport in Cumbria, getting to the start of the walks has always been an issue. I have used a combination of buses, trains, miniature railway, bicycle and lifts from good friends on occasion. I have stayed in hostels and camped so that I can extend the stays in the areas where I wanted to do the walks.
I have so many stories about my walks that it’s impossible to fit them in here. There have been at least a couple of near-death experiences, mostly involving scree slopes and missed paths, but I lived to tell the tales and carry on walking.
I have also met many like-minded people whilst walking and as many of you know, I like a chat, so talking to fellow walkers has helped to make the days special. The biggest topic of conversation in this area is the weather, and it has definitely been a big part of the whole adventure. I have been soaked (a lot), been blown about (but not off the fells, thankfully), been hailed on, walked through foot-deep-snow, got sun-burnt and ran out of water due to the heat, had to walk along country lanes after dark with just a head torch, and even been out in a thunder and lightning storm. Luckily, because I live here, I’ve been able to choose the better days mostly, so I usually get to see the scenery.
About half way through the list, I realised that I still hadn’t been up Haystacks, which was Wainwright’s favourite fell, and the one where his ashes are scattered, so I decided to make that my last one. On my 40th Birthday in late October, I was happily accompanied by a small group of friends and a couple of Border Collie dogs. It didn’t take too long to get to the top, and then the celebrations began, with sparkling wine and chocolate cake.'
What a fantastic way to celebrate a birthday - I am sure that Wainright would approve. Have any of you got tales to tell of your Wainwright-bagging? Do let us know!
Starting on 1st March, Victoria Skeldon (Vicky) will be joining the fun and food at Barrow House, cooking delicious meals and helping out with all the other hostel operations. Vicky will be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, hidden under chef whites and our very attractive (but all-concealing) catering caps, so we thought you might like to meet her in off-duty mode first…
Where were you born? Where did you spend your childhood?
I was born in Ashton-under-Lyne and I was raised in the neighbouring town of Mossley (in Greater Manchester).
What were you doing before you came to DIH?
Before starting at DIH, I have spent the last 8 years working at YHA Hawkshead in a couple of different roles. Before that I worked at Boots during my time at college and university.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
In my free time I like to go walking, swimming, go to the cinema, bake cakes and try cooking new things. I also like taking photographs and travelling to new and exciting places whether at home or abroad.
What is on your kitchen play list?
Mostly 80s/90s music
What is your favourite savoury thing to cook? What is your favourite/signature thing to bake?
My favourite thing to cook is any type of Mexican food as that is my favourite thing to eat. My favourite thing to bake is either Lemon Drizzle Cake or Chocolate Brownie.
(Note from the editor: Great! Look out for a Lemon Cake recipe in our next newsletter)
What is your favourite smell?
Name some of your favourite films
Jurassic Park, Amelie, Almost Famous
Our intrepid Senior Assistant, Nicola, has been challenging herself again on her trusty bicycle!
'We never did decide whose idea it was, but there was a lot of cursing of that person in particular on the route. My two friends, Gill and Helen,and I had entered the Mini Massif course of the Cycling Weekly Lakeland Monster Miles course in early October. Although it was fine as dawn broke, Cumbria soon had its way and the rain and wind laid into us. The route was 44 miles, basically a lap of Skiddaw and Bassenthwaite Lake, with a side trip to Cockermouth. Almost half of it was off-road, so we were all riding mountain bikes. The going was easy to start with, starting from Fitz Park and then along the railway line and gated road to Mungrisedale. Then the toughness began, with a bridleway along the side of Carrock Fell, past some abandoned mines. The terrain was loose shingle with sharp uphill gradients. The getting off and pushing started just as the rain began to lash down.
After some freewheeling down the other side (and wading through a ford) we were back on the tarmac, using the quiet roads to get us to the Lake District Wildlife Park, where we wolfed down bourbon biscuits and crisps at the feed station. Getting cold we set off again, this time onto another bridleway which could best be described as quagmire. The mud was at least a foot deep and there were some rather nasty large puddles (or small lakes…). We all rode our bikes as much as we could and tried not to fall off. At least the rain had stopped, but we were all completely covered in mud by this point.
Some more back roads and another bridleway up through a pretty beech forest and we had reached Gill’s husband Mike, who was marshalling, and their collie dog Peggy. We could hear them from quite a distance, with Peggy excitedly barking and Mike ringing his cow bell. It really helped to keep us motivated. Next was a trip through Cockermouth town centre, then onto the back roads to Wythop Mill and onto the last bridleway to Whinlatter Forest and Thornthwaite and Braithwaite. Not being mountain bikers, we sensibly walked our bikes down the steep drop-offs coming off the bridleway onto the forest roads.
We all finished in a time of 7 hours and 40 minutes. This seemed quite a long time, but the route was incredibly tough. We were really pleased to finish, especially after we were told that quite a lot of entrants dropped out, and there weren’t many women in the event anyway. Go the girls!'
We are really proud of Nicola for battling on through such tough conditions and are quite inspired. Maybe we’ll see some of you there next year!
Some of you may remember our interview with Eve, back in April when she started working for us as a seasonal assistant. She happened to mention that she liked climbing. Well, a few months and several adventures later, here is Eve to tell you about one of her recent excursions:
‘Nestled along the back of the hanging valley, Combe Ghyll, on the flanks of Glaramara in the south of the Borrowdale valley, is Raven Crag, and in the middle of it all is one of the best climbing routes of the D *** grade: Corvus.
We began in the afternoon with a 2km walk-in from Stonethwaite to the base of Raven Crag. There was a cool breeze as we made our way up, and ahead we could see a man solo-climbing our intended route up Corvus. The crag is in shade so there are quite a few wet patches with vegetation, but you can do this route in the rain, just not very pleasant I imagine.
The first few pitches required a bit of thought and an awkward shuffle up a rather damp chimney, before a slabby pitch took us to the infamous Hand Traverse. The pitch itself is only a few metres long with a great crack for the hand holds and a few little nubbins to balance your feet. I reluctantly stepped off a very good foot hold onto the vertical wall: my feet felt precariously balanced, but combined with excellent hand holds it was much easier than I expected it to be. The next few pitches felt like more of a scramble, and before long we were at the top.
By the time we reached the end of the climb the sun was beginning to set, and a beautiful golden light shone onto the fell-side. We chose to descend via Thorneythwaite Fell, and we left the ravens cawing and swooping behind us.
Overall, this route fully deserves its three stars, despite its broken up climbing style. However, it can be a busy climb and may take much longer if you have to wait behind other climbing parties, so I recommend allowing plenty of time to complete it. We were fortunate: doing the route mid-week, starting in the late afternoon, we had the crag to ourselves.’
Thank you Eve – we are always intrigued to hear about your exciting local climbs.
On a normal day at Derwentwater Independent Hostel, where I live and work, I usually see a few red squirrels from the dining room window, some Herdwick sheep, and a robin or two. So I really knew I was away from home when I saw some warthogs scamper past my dining table, and a hippo plod towards my hut. I was in the Red Chilli Hostel in Uganda!
In November and December I spent a month in Uganda, visiting some friends and volunteering with an educational charity that I used to work for. During this time I took a little holiday to Murchison National Park, staying at the Red Chilli Hostel just a few hundred metres from the Victoria Nile.
I was a bit nervous of the animal noises that surrounded (and entered) the camp, but I was keen to do some running and so I went with one of the hostel staff, up and down the red earth track to the Nile and back. On the north bank there were a couple of elephants, and I could see lots of hippos in the shallow parts of the channel. Later that day we went on a little boat on the Nile, towards the Murchison Falls, and I saw a crocodile and some beautiful birds. I was really entranced by the multi-coloured Bee-eaters.
The Murchison Falls are quite impressive, but to be honest I think Barrow Cascade and Lodore Falls, particularly when seen in full spate from Derwent Water, are more beautiful. I love the variety of the Lake District landscape, and the freedom to roam and swim almost wherever I wish, but I felt quite out of place in the Ugandan savannah, restricted by the climate and its dangerous animals.
I had a really interesting month but I am very glad to be off the malaria tablets and back where I belong!
P.S I have just found out that 6 years ago Dave (one of our managers) saw several Bee-eaters in Seathwaite, at the head of the Borrowdale Valley. Good old Borrowdale!
In the middle of August I spent a night at Skiddaw House, high up amongst the northern fells and the heather. Skiddaw House is only 9 miles from us, but every time I go it feels like an adventure, heading higher and higher up the Glenderaterra Valley, rounding the crags of Lonscale, and finally arriving in the peaceful enclosure of the hostel.
You can only get to Skiddaw House by foot or bike, and I chose to run there along the Glenderaterra Valley, moving closer and closer towards the enticing purple slopes of Great Calva.
The wardens, Suzy and Martin, are keen fell runners, with experience of running remote hostels (for instance, they were wardens at Black Sail, running over the fells or cycling down the valley to get anywhere) and they’ve devised some great challenges. Here are the details from their website www.skiddawhouse.co.uk:
Skyline Challenge (run or walk): Starting and finishing at Skiddaw House (470m), visit the summits of Great Calva (690m), Blencathra (868m), Blease Fell (804m), Lonscale Fell (714m), Little Man (865m), Skiddaw (931m), and Bakestall (673m), in any order and using any route. Guests staying at the hostel who complete the challenge in 7 hours or less will be rewarded with a free drink from our bar. Keen runners can aim for the top of the leader board!
The Cloven Stone Challenge: 2.25 miles, 500ft ascent. A dash to the cloven stone and back from the hostel gate. Let us know when you are about to set off and we'll time you. There will be a prize at the end of the season (31st October) for the fastest man and woman.
I was keen to try the Skyline Challenge, and I had a wonderful morning on the fells (despite the low cloud and rain), arriving back at the hostel to find lots of biscuits waiting for me: thank you Suzy and Martin!
Then I started ambling back down to Keswick, looking at everything that had been obscured by cloud during my run. Having spent several hours in thick white nothingness, unable to see more than a few metres, the clarity was dazzling, and I walked along really slowly, focusing one by one on the sharp, stark fells, the white ribbons of water, and the steely grey glimpses of Tewet Tarn and Derwent Water.
Some stretches of my walk home were also very sociable. First I bumped into Mark Padgett, who is publishing a book about the history of Skiddaw House, then I was greeted near the Skiddaw path by one of our lovely regular families (they are working their way through the Wainwright fells). Finally, a fellow Keswick AC member caught up with me near the bottom of Latrigg, asking if I was ok (normally people see me running, not walking!): 'Yes, very ok, just bimbling along happily and admiring the views'.
Just let us know if you are interested in walking/running/cycling between Derwentwater and Skiddaw House, and we will happily help with route advice. You are also welcome to leave your car here while you go to Skiddaw House. Oh, and if you beat my time for the Skyline Challenge then you can have a drink from our bar too!
Katy (staff member at Derwentwater Independent Hostel).
The past few months, by Nat (Hostel assistant, new for 2018)
After my time as a volunteer in August of 2017, 2018 sees me back to Derwentwater Hostel as a seasonal employee. It is always great to come back to an amazing working environment, and even more so when it allows me to continue my quest of bagging all the Wainwrights!
So what have I been up to since August? Well, I have certainly not been idle!
After the Lake District, I went to discover a widely different area of England by volunteering in a small hostel in Scarborough. I thought I would be charmed by the North York Moors, but I ended up falling in love with the coast instead: peppered with picturesque villages (Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay among my favourites), its cliffs battered by the sea on stormy days, inhabited by colonies of screaming gannets, it was pure joy to explore it. England's landscapes have a way of making even rain acceptable and endearing.
But still, after two months of rainy English weather, I decided to fly for bluer - if not always warmer - skies. Destination: Nepal. My main goal, and also the highlight of my trip, was the three weeks spent trekking the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. Of course, it was all a child's play for me: who would be impressed by the Annapurna after having been up Helvellyn? Joking aside, I obviously didn't climb the Annapurna. With a fatality rate of over 30% among the climbers attempting its ascent, it is the deadliest of the height-thousanders! The highest point I reached was the Thorung La Pass, at 5416 meters (17,769 ft) of altitude (see photo above).
The previous night was spent in Thorung High Camp, the last possible stop before the pass. It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that, at 4880 meters (16,010 ft), I was sleeping at an elevation greater than Mont-Blanc! At this altitude, with the lack of oxygen, every step was a struggle, but the beauty of the trek was well worth all this effort. It is important to take your time and enjoy both the ever-changing scenery and the deserted villages with their Tibetan influence. Some say that the Annapurna Circuit is too busy and has lost its charm, but they would be the same ones that grumble when they see a solitary walker in the distance on the quieter fells of the Lake District. I for one enjoyed myself thoroughly and was awed during most of my trek.
I spent an extra month and a half in Nepal, to visit other parts of the country: I volunteered on a tea farm in the Ilam region and in a dog shelter in Kathmandu; I learned how to make momos in Phokara; I got lost for hours in the beautiful city of Bhaktapur; I went looking for tigers in the jungle of Chitwan National Park (where I ‘only’ crossed path with a rhino, a lot of monkeys, and a couple of leeches); I got increasingly frustrated by the nightmare that are Nepalese bus rides; I ate more dal baht than I thought humanly possible; and I spinned an average of 500 prayer wheels per day.
Last but not least, I spent a couple of months at home, in the South of France. Walking my dog in the surrounding hills every day was a good way to keep myself fit before my return to the Lake District.
We really enjoy hearing about Nat's walks each week and, just like Wainwright, she's been using public transport to access her walks, making the stories even more entertaining. We thought you might like to read about them here:
The Wainwrights on Public Transport or The Art of Running Downhill To Catch The Last Bus
One thing is noticeable when you start planning ways to bag the Wainwrights: having a car to reach the beginning of a walk simplifies things greatly. When you have to rely on public transport, you realise how late the buses start running, how early they stop and how few are running on some routes – though I should consider myself lucky that they are even running to those remote places. I have become quite the expert on timetables, bus stops’ locations and even bus tickets’ prices. But with a lot of planning, early starts, and the willingness to spend a lot of time looking at beautiful landscapes from a bus window (not that much of a hardship, ultimately), a good number of the summits are accessible.
There is one thing I learned about myself: I seem to be chronically terrible at estimating the time needed for most of my walks. Maybe I think too highly of my physical capacities, or I simply forget how often I manage to get lost; maybe I am just too ambitious in planning my routes, wanting to cram as many summits in one day as possible so that I don’t have to come back to that area for one lonely Wainwright; maybe the maps are lying to me and the distances are greater than they appear (or maybe I am just bad at reading maps); one way or another, I have had one too many mad dashes to get to the bus stop on time. I still remember managing to run down from Barf to the road in 15 minutes, one minute before the bus appeared. Hats off to the fell runners out there, because I thought I was about to die ten times in that short lapse of time!
Despite a few other close calls, I only missed the bus once after making the mistake of trying to reach Graystones from Whinlatter. Maybe that is why Graystones is my least favourite summit so far (what a boring hike up it is on top of that!). I had to hitchhike to come back to Keswick and though I barely had to wait before someone picked me up, I would rather avoid it on principle.
But even with a masterful knowledge of the bus network, some Wainwrights are still completely off the grid. The only option left, in the absence of a car and with the awareness that I am not adventurous enough to go camping by myself, is to spend the night in a hostel or camping barn in one of those no-bus-lands – a task made easy by the incredibly dry weather we’ve had in the past three months.
My first weekend away brought me to a charming camping barn in the Kentmere valley: Maggs Howe. The whole day had been glorious with a beautiful hike from Hartsop covering several summits around High Street and bringing me all the way to Shipman Knotts. Kentmere itself is well worth a visit: the valley is so isolated, all you hear are the birds. It is incredibly relaxing after busy Keswick. I then walked over the Garburn Pass on an atmospheric misty morning, delighted with my first night out in the Lakes.
The following week brought me to YHA Eskdale in order to bag Harter Fell and Green Crag. These two fells are easy to reach by car, but as no bus goes over Hardknott Pass I reached the hostel by hiking from Pike of Blisco to Hard Knott. I particularly enjoyed the walk to Green Crag: after a dry spell, this normally extremely boggy area made for an agreeable ramble in a deserted landscape. As this little hill is mostly visited by fells baggers, there is no well-defined path (at least none I could find), which is always good fun when you have ample time to get lost. The only encounter I made was on the top of Green Crag itself where a fellow Frenchman was reading a book. This second long weekend ended with the exquisite ride on the steam railway from Eskdale to Ravenglass, a must do on a nice day.
My last long weekend allowed me to cover the ten Western fells enclosed between the Ennerdale valley and Wasdale, as well as Whin Rigg and Illgill Head on the east of Wast Water. The first day was an easy hike from YHA Ennerdale to YHA Wasdale (though I still managed to follow the wrong beck on the way up to Caw Fell and ended up on the wrong ridge). However, my second day was over-ambitious, so I barely had time to take breaks or enjoy the views. On the plus side, I also didn’t have time to get scared while climbing up and down Yewbarrow, which was a blessing in disguise. The last fell of the day – reached at 5pm – was Pillar, which left me with one hour and fifteen minutes to go down the Ennerdale valley and then over Scarth Gap Pass in order to catch the last bus going back to Keswick. Astonishingly enough, I managed – with two minutes to spare!
Ultimately, some Wainwrights are just too far away from bus stops, hostels, and camping barns. In that case, I can always count on the kindness of friends who agree to drive me to the northernmost of the Northern fells, the easternmost of the Far Eastern fells, or the westernmost of the Western fells. Thank you Nicola!
The End of an Adventure, by Nat (hostel assistant)
After the great progress I made in spring and early summer, my Wainwright bagging slowed down considerably in August and September, mainly due to poor weather on my days off. However, I tried not to let that stop me and, in consequence, spent several weekends plodding on drenched ground, testing the waterproofness of my equipment, taking pictures of summit cairns engulfed in clouds, and enjoying very little of the invisible scenery.
This hard work paid off though, as I got to finish my bagging earlier than I expected, on Monday 1st October. The last hike took me from Honister Pass up to Fleetwith Pike, Haystacks, High Crag and High Stile, my final Wainwright summit. The morning started crisp and cold, with the high clouds slowly floating away to make room for bright sunshine. The path from Fleetwith Pike to Haystacks was particularly enjoyable, with beautiful views over the Buttermere valley along the way. On reaching Haystacks, I had a quick thought for Wainwright as his ashes were scattered here, this fell being his favourite.
After a fun scramble down to Scarth Gap, I started the strenuous but straight-forward hike up High Crag. The clouds had come back with a vengeance, and as I turned to enjoy the extensive view over the Southern Fells, I could see that Scafell had already disappeared. I slowly made my way to High Stile, an easy stroll along the ridge with dramatic views of the lake down below, framed by the rocky cliffs.
As I reached the ultimate summit, the clouds finally closed in around me and the sky decided to congratulate me by turning the light drizzle into proper rain, making it impossible to even take a celebratory picture. However, more satisfyingly, I came across three hikers trying to find their way to High Crag and I was able to help them (High Crag and High Stile can be confusing in poor visibility). Thanks to Wainwright, I know those hills now! I am an expert fell-walker (even though I can't seem to remember the names of half the fells I've climbed).
I cannot say I have a feeling of accomplishment. Mostly, I am wondering how I should keep myself busy on my days off, now that the bagging is done. Maybe I should finally read Wainwright’s books...