Black Sail Weekend – October 2017

Judging by the fact that Adrian had to book over a year in advance and that this was the earliest in the year he could get a booking for, the appeal of Black Sail, the remotest hostel in England, hasn’t faded amongst the general population. Therefore, it was surprising that a mere 8 of us headed for the Lakes on a beautiful October Friday. Some said it was too late in the year but the Friday and Sunday were 2 of the sunniest, clearest days I’ve had in the Lakes so that didn’t prove to be a problem.

The journey over was slightly marred by a road closure only a mile from Buttermere; of which there was little advanced warning. This was made worse when, on the alternative route, we got stuck behind what is surely the country’s slowest driver (although to be fair both Kath and Jane also claimed the same thing). The parking situation wasn’t easy in Buttermere either as the village was as busy as I’ve ever seen it but we eventually found a place on the closed road and headed down to the Fish Hotel where we all met up (apart from Adrian who came over later).

After some brief refreshments and Jane distributing items as diverse as a pair of slippers and a tin of Sardines in other peoples packs, we set off. Jane was claiming to have a blocked pelvis; something nobody else had heard of before. A plumbing problem, maybe? However, as we found that she’d not only sailed across the Atlantic this year but had also been skiving off since May, she got little sympathy.

We decided to walk along the sunny side of the lake, round the far end (where we resisted the temptation of ice cream) and headed up and over Scarth Gap Pass and down to the lovely remote Black Sail Hostel. It was quite a few years since my last visit and I’d heard that it had been renovated. However, it still looked the same and retained it’s rustic appeal. I think much of the work had been under the skin like a new shower, solar panels , new wiring and windows. We arrived about 4.00 and a welcome notice told us to help ourselves to tea which we did. At 5.00, James, one of the friendly wardens, met us and gave us an introductory welcome talk (which I missed). As the other female warden, Kirsty, has the only staff room in the hostel, James has been camping in his tent outside since 1st April!

The new shower was good although you still have to go outside to get to the shower and toilet. To be fair, the layout of the hostel makes it difficult to change this. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold during those mid-night loo visits whilst we were there.

Before you knew it, it was Wine O’ Clock and Adrian arrived just as it was getting dark.
James cooked us a very nice Chilli for dinner ; followed by his home-made Chocolate Brownies. Dinner weas followed by the usual chatting, laughs and generally catching-up but nobody was too late to bed.

Dave and I were up first the next morning and soon had a brew going. However, Dave had to call most of the group at 7.55 to tell them that the cooked breakfast would be served in 5 minutes. Paul couldn’t understand why we were having breakfast in the middle of the night! To be fair, the shutters in our dorm made it very dark. It sounds like there had been a bit more activity in the girls dorm during the night with tales of rustling and a suspicion of a mouse in the house. The cooked breakfast was up to standard. James did tell us that there was always something at Black sail that doesn’t work but this weekend we were lucky in that it was only the grill which meant we had to have bread instead of toast. No real hardship.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast for Saturday was fairly accurate and it was a foggy, murky day. However, we decided to stick to the original walk Adrian had planned and all of us, except Sue (or so we thought) headed up over Black Sail Pass. Sue claimed she was going for a walk down the valley but surprisingly followed us although then headed back and down the valley. The rest of us headed over the top and down to Wasdale Head where the pub proved to be too tempting to miss for refreshments. Jane declared that her waterproofs were not waterproof and also bought some new socks in the shop.

After half an hour, the boys set out again; leaving Jane and Kath to spend a few hours more in the pub. To be fair, we only walked about 200 metres before stopping for lunch inside the quaint little church at Wasdale. Then it was onwards and upwards to Sty Head. It was by no means busy but suddenly I heard the slightly ethereal sound of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish you were here’ coming from a group of people heading out of the mist. We decided that doing Great Gable was pretty pointless in the mist so headed up Aaron Slack and over Windy Gap, which wasn’t as windy as I’ve known it. It should have been a fairly straightforward route back down to Black Sail but in the mist we accidentally took the wrong path although soon realised our mistake and headed down to the right path. A good walk; despite the murk. Adrian said that when he reccied the walk earlier in the year with his girlfriend, she had lost 2 toenails, which is presumably why she didn’t join us this weekend. From now on, Adrian’s walks are given a Toenail rating!

Back to the hut about 4.00 for afternoon tea. Jane and Kath had finally dragged themselves away from the coal fire in the pub and got back just before us. In the interval before dinner, an impromptu yoga session took place with various members of the group adopting a variety of interesting positions; most of which had the word ‘dog’ in their names.

The evening meal of Bangers and Mash ; followed by Apple Crumble (nearly as good as Peter’s!), was very good again and we were introduced to Kirsty, the other warden – the one with the room. We were also joined by another group of 3 ladies from Middlesborough. Four were expected. Hopefully the other one isn’t still out there somewhere. Scrabble seemed to be the order of the day and Sue and I took on Dave and Rob. For only about the third time in my life, I actually managed to use up all my letters on the first turn so that got us off to a flying start although Dave and Rob were breathing down our necks at the end and had closed the gap to 10 points with our remaining ‘Z’ cancelling out their remaining ‘Q’. Not sure who beat who on the other table.

Despite the fact that the clocks went back, nobody was too late to bed. Not quite the late rush for breakfast as a result though. In complete contrast to yesterday, the weather dawned sunny with a totally blue sky; albeit a bit colder. I suggested that, as it was clear, we should do the ridge to the south west of Buttermere; one of my favourite Lakeland walks and one I hadn’t done for quite a few years. I was unable to give it a toenail rating but was confident that everybody would enjoy it. We headed out of the remote Ennerdale valley and back to the top of Scarth Gap pass. This time, instead of heading down to the Lake, we headed up Seat and onto the first peak of the ridge, High Crag. Elevenses was taken on the top with glorious views in all directions. Continuing over High Stile to Red Pike, the third and final peak on the ridge. Here, lunch was taken and Adrian left us to take a shorter route down.

I led the remainder of us down the longer but more gradual route down into Scale Beck gully. The path was quite eroded and a bit tricky in places but we were eventually rewarded by the bonus of Scale Force; possibly the highest waterfall in the Lakes. Somebody said “That’s what I call a waterfall”. Eat your heart out, Good Tony. It even had water in it. Not always the case with my waterfalls!

The final part of the walk followed a slightly rocky and boggy path down to the shore of Crummock water and then across to Buttermere village. Fairly busy but not quite as bad as Friday. We made a bee line for Sykes Farm Cafe for afternoon tea before dispersing and heading back to York. Dave and Paul had meat pie and Jane was able to reclaim her various posessions from other peoples (mostly Paul’s) bags.

Another great YOG weekend enjoyed by all; including the debutatnt, Rob, who hopefully we shall see again. He certainly brought the average age down as well as proving good company.

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