Skiddaw House is the highest hostel in Britain, nestled among the northern fells of the Lake District, 470m high. It’s also one of the most remote hostels in the network and can only be reached by foot or cycle along a rough track, 3.5 miles from the nearest road. All the pre-requisites for an mini-adventure!
The hostel is off-grid, with lighting powered by solar panels and heating powered by two woodburning stoves (there is no heating in the bedrooms but extra blankets and hot water bottles are provided!) There is no mains electricity (so no plug sockets) and no phone signal , TV or wifi. As a sign in the hostel declares: “We don’t have wifi. Talk to each other!”
Starting out last November the wee one and I have been on a mission to walk the Wainwrights together (the 214 hills and mountains described in A. Wainwright’s seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells) and have been sampling the network of YHA hostels in the area along the way. Over the winter and early spring months we’ve tackled a number of the low and mid-range fells but with the coming of warmer days and longer daylight hours we decided to get our teeth stuck into something a bit higher. Skiddaw is England’s 4th highest mountain and where better to summit it from than the Skiddaw House Hostel! Not only have you already climbed half of the height of the mountain by the time you reach the hostel but it gives you the opportunity to climb Skiddaw and the surrounding fells by the lesser known, quieter and more intersting routes. We ascended from via Sale How and didn’t meet any other walkers until joining the main and most popular path from Keswick, at which point we met not only walkers but fell runners and even a couple of guys carrying their bikes up the mountain.
A short detour off the main path up Skiddaw takes you up to the summit of Skiddaw Little Man. After getting as far as the col between the two summits Finn took a lot of persuading to climb the additional Wainwright and he didn’t share my logical thought that having come so far, we might as well put in a tiny extra bit of effort, which would save us having to ascend all the way from the bottom in order to summit the Wainwright at a future date. Neither did he thank me when he reached the top and was almost blown off the other side (although I somehow managed a smile out of him for a photo before the wind blew him over!)
Although Skiddaw is a fairly ‘easy’ mountain to ascend as there is no difficult terrain to negotiate, the summit is very exposed and the weather can be fierce. Luckily it was dry when we reached the top and there are a series of roughly built shelters on the ridge which did such an effective job at blocking the wind that we were able to hunker down for 45 minutes having a good chat with a fellow walker we met.
We descended via Bakestall, another Wainwright, making a short detour from the track back to the hostel to see the Dash Falls.
Back at the hostel, Suzy and Martin, the hostel managers, are friendly, helpful, informative and very welcoming of kids, and if the visitor book is anything to go by, lots of families make the trip to the hostel. The facilities are more basic than you might find in a number of hostels but Suzy and Martin have done a fantastic job at creating a homely atmosphere and I appreciated their little touches and attention to detail, which really make the hostel what it is. There may not be wifi but the views are fabulous and the small and cosy common room is well stocked with books, musical instruments and the finest collection of board games, word games and other games that I’ve ever seen in a hostel. Suzy was even talking to me about getting hold of a box of Lego to add to the collection. Perhaps it’s lucky they didn’t already have any when we stayed or I never would have managed to persuade Finn to leave the hostel!
- We parked at the free car park next to the Blencathra Centre near Threlkeld. From there it’s about a 3.5 mile walk to the hostel, first on a wide track then on a slightly boggy path. Navigation is easy, but remember, you are walking into some remote mountains and the route is exposed in wind and bad weather so plan accordingly.
- There is a small shop at the hostel where you can buy the basics as well as alcoholic drinks and you can also purchase a do-it-yourself breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Alternatively, like us, you can carry your own food in and use the hostel kitchen. If you want a pub meal for dinner it’s a long walk!
- You can find lots more information about the hostel itself and things to do in the area on the Skiddaw House website https://www.skiddawhouse.co.uk/ and the YHA website https://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-skiddaw-bunkhouse