We are open! The new tarmac has been laid out along the driveway, every door frame is gleaming with fresh paint, and the view is shining ever more brightly from the glistening windows. We are looking good!
The theme of this newsletter is A Grand Day Out, with stories from Ted and Scottie, our two volunteers. As you will see, there are still lots of ways to have a really good time in Cumbria, and I am sure you will bring your own ideas and enthusiasm along too. Come and see our good-looking hostel and volunteers for yourself!
Here is Kathy Morris, our manager, with an update on hostel improvements and flood recovery:
After being closed to guests for nearly 8 weeks, due to storm damage and ensuing repair works, we were delighted to re-open the hostel on Friday 29th January. We had almost run out of places to paint, so it was great to return to normal hostel operations: no need to redeploy staff to the Forth Road Bridge!
When Dave and I first worked here as assistants over 25 years ago, the hostel used to close for maintenance during November and then re-open in time for New Year. We then shifted to our current pattern of opening every weekend in winter, with time during the week for deep cleaning and maintenance: much better for guests and staff. However, this winter has obviously been a bit different, and we have never achieved so much painting and maintenance in one season: thanks to fantastic work by staff, volunteers, and professional painters we have gloss painted or varnished 44 doors in the hostel (both sides), not to mention miles of skirting boards and walls.
Staff time has also been well spent in making some new wall displays, re-hanging most of the curtains, re-upholstering chairs, and making new cushions and curtains: did I see steam coming out of the sewing machine?! The refurbishment of Room 11 has also been successfully completed.
Behind the scenes there has been a lot of work involved in meeting with the insurers and contractors, all of whom have done a fantastic job. We are also very appreciative of support from Allerdale Borough Council and Cumbria County Council, and we have just found out that we have been successful in obtaining a grant from the County Council’s Flood Recovery Scheme.
So we are really looking forward to the rest of the year, and to welcoming you back to the hostel and Cumbria.
Ted Ferguson has been volunteering with us since October 2015, and he has certainly made the most of his time here so far. We will let him tell you about some of his recent highlights:
Of late, the meteorological conditions have tended to bring little more than frustration and discomfort. Over the past couple of months, it has become commonplace for me to return from a run with every stitch of clothing at saturation point, I have plucked myself out of a seemingly innocuous boggy puddle that turned out to comfortably accommodate half of an (admittedly short) person, and I have found myself running effortlessly up the final slopes of Skiddaw only to realise that I was being virtually carried on an almighty up draught. As you know, at one point the weather got so out of hand that it was not necessarily safe to shelter from it inside, the elements doing a devilishly good job of coming in uninvited in some cases.
However, if it were possible to recall every day and night of rotten weather (which it is not), one would still find some days unaccounted for. That is because every so often –just when the last remnants of faith in the joy of outdoor pursuits were about to be washed and blown untraceably away- we have been treated to some glorious days. Memories of these days have a clarity and longevity due perhaps to their contrast to the norm, and they are treasured all the more in light of their rarity (although mercifully they are making a strong comeback from the brink of extinction).
Amongst my happiest recollections of these gifts are; climbing out of a claggy Borrowdale and arriving atop a sunlit isle on High Spy, a perfect cloud inversion transforming the familiar fell tops into a gorgeous deserted archipelago; a sudden halt in work at the hostel as everyone rushed out to take in the crimson alpenglow on Skiddaw, that leant the mountain a sense of scale and splendour worthy of any Himalayan monolith (and inspired the intrepid Katy to take to the glacial lake for the finest view); a run up Grisedale Pike and beyond, that went rewarded by the longest, clearest views I have ever had, the central fells shimmering and dazzling as they paraded their finest winter coats to the full sun, and taking on a fetching pastel blue sheen in the crisp, still air; a night in a bothy under a sky so full of starlight and moonlight that the wintery fells could be made out better than if spotlighted. There are more –many more- that I will keep to myself because I have not the column inches to share them here, but one more I will attempt to put down in words.
The arrival of the snow was a sudden affair, although it had begun to cautiously colonise the fell tops, it raced down the slopes and lay about in the valley after one day and one night of concentrated effort. I awoke with a determination to put to use my new crampons that had arrived as a birthday present months ago and lain unused ever since, and arrived at the hostel to happily find Alex H in a similar state of mind. We set our sights on Blencathra, that wonderful dramatic and stately mountain for which many reserve a special place in their affections. A small epic to find a parking spot over with (some tracks were more suited to curling competitions than motor vehicles), we set off into the fresh snow. Rounding the end of the Scales Fell ridge we hit the worst of the powder, drifting to waist deep in the gullies traversed by the ‘path’. As if the continuous floundering and sliding weren’t taxing enough, we were treated to a healthy dose of spindrift administered generously to the face, it was all marvellously seasonal. However we eventually battled on to Scales Tarn and endured a desolate, wind-scoured lunch stop.
We then embarked on the mountain’s finest offering, Sharp Edge. Although Alex eventually opted to return and ascend via the less exposed but infinitely more gruelling path left of the tarn, I completed the airy expedition and we reconvened on the summit. What a treat it was up there! The famous summit edge looked more magnificent than ever before with a stream of spindrift cascading off a crest of cornices, and we were up there for an age taking in the delights of a fellscape under snow.
When the light began to ebb from the sky we grudgingly commenced the decent, and we were gifted a lovely array of crepuscular colours; violet bands of cloud over the Pennines, a streak of coral sky adorning Clough Head, and the clouds over the Derwent Fells daubed scarlet by the recently disappeared sun. The whole exquisite composition was proudly supervised by an elegant sliver of moon. We frolicked and tumbled down towards the waiting car, the effort of movement through the thick snow sapping the remnants of our strength, then glissading and rolling down the final slopes of Scales Fell, then scampering off for a well-earnt Sneck-Lifter…
Vicky, our senior catering assistant, has taken some fantastic photos this month. She managed to capture the very special scene on Tuesday 19th January, at dusk, when we were all struck by the beautiful light on Skiddaw. Vicky was walking along the lakeshore into Keswick, and this photo is taken from Barrow Bay, near the bottom of our driveway.
There is no denying that the storms of December 2015 caused a significant amount of damage, but some excellent adaptations, and a really good ‘can-do’ attitude, have kept things operating with great positivity. There have also been some new initiatives, such as the fantastic programme of events on 16th January (well-named A Grand Day Out) that raised thousands of pounds for the Cumbria Community Foundation and the Lake District Mountain Rescue Teams (all of whom have been very busy).
A great adaptation has come from Keswick Parkrun, which lost its course along the old railway line (severe damage to the bridges and river-side path). The weekly free 5km run is now back on its feet with an alternative course, starting by the Keswick Launch jetties, just down from the Theatre by the Lake.
Thank you to our first guests of the year for proving that Cumbria is still open, with plenty of scope for having fun!
Some of you might have met the very wet version of our Australian volunteer, Alex Scott, in our December newsletter, cycling cheerfully along the flooded Borrowdale Road. Well, we are delighted that he is still with us, working hard on all sorts of jobs, and taking part in local sports. Thank you to Alex for writing about one of his grand days out:
I shake my legs, roll my shoulders, and tie my shoes to the point where I get that tingling feeling in my ankles. I’ve been convinced to run my first fell race in the Lake District, 'Blake's Heaven': 8 gruelling kilometres of big hills. Would it be heaven or torture?
It was a beautiful day by recent Lake District standards; a whisper of light trying its very hardest to break through the low level fog as we made our way to beautiful Lamplugh, a small village from where the race would begin. As we arrived, cars lined the narrow lane; a great turn out, with runners from as far away as Yorkshire. I must say it was more of a family affair than I had anticipated, with children running about and dogs getting caught up in all the excitement. I was accompanied by my colleagues Katy and Pez - two well-versed fell runners with a number of races up their sleeves - and as we warmed up in the crisp, cool air, adrenaline was pumping. All kitted up I felt the part and I was ready to go.
From the starting line Blake’s Fell was covered in a blanket of cloud that sat upon the summit, almost balancing in the icy strong winds that battered the fells. From the get-go the running was tough: I soon found myself on all fours crawling like a newborn up a steep section of the route, but it led to a superb view back down over the lowland plains towards Whitehaven.
Through the thick bog I squelched, strangely loving every stride. I hurtled down the steep declines, taking in a view that encompassed the finish line where stalwart supporters awaited the arrival of their friends and family.
As I passed the finish line I was cheered on by a number of fellow competitors, all of whom seemed to embrace the spirit of runners as they finished. I was then greeted by a wonderful array of scrumptious cakes and hot drinks, laid on by the race organisers, Cumberland Fell Runners, and that put feeling back into my hands, and allowed us all to chat and reflect on the run.
My father always said to me 'Alexander, make everyday an adventure'. Well, my first (and certainly not last) fell race was certainly an adventure that I'll remember, and this photo shows that I really did enjoy it!