Ennerdale Water Lake District Black Sail

A hike above Ennerdale and on to Black Sail hostel

I picked up son Joe from his Manchester flat last Sunday and we then headed up to Ennerdale Water, for a day hike and an overnight stop. I’d booked us a night at the YHA Black Sail hostel (once a shepherd’s bothy) so the walk was to terminate there.

Ennerdale

Ennerdale is managed by the Forestry Commission and The National Trust as a wild area (see www.wildennerdale.co.uk for more info).  The valley holds Ennerdale Water: a glacial lake considered ‘small’ by the standards of its neighbours at a mere 2.5 miles long.

When I’d originally mapped out the walk on Viewranger, I was hoping to rope Great Gable into the lasso shaped hike. But nearer the time I realised we wouldn’t actually be setting off from the start (at Bowness Knott car park) until around 11.30.

Which gave us around 6 hours of decent light. And Great Gable would probably have had to be completed in the dark. So I settled instead for an initial hike up the Ennerdale Water road (accessible only by authorised vehicles) then a quick gain in elevation up hill to Steeple and on to Pillar (892 meters), before dropping down from Pillar to the top of the Ennerdale valley, where the YHA Black Sail Hostel nestles.

Ennerdale Water Lake District
Ennerdale Water looking very serene
Ennerdale Water Lake District
Joe heading up hill from Ennerdale Water, through the woods. I love woodland in Autumn (a common feeling, I know!).
Ennerdale Water Lake District
We walked for about an hour from Bowness Knott car park and started to gain elevation quite quickly once we followed the trail up through the woods towards Steeple. With the overcast skies and mild temperatures I was feeling pretty warm (hence the red face). Low Beck waterfalls below and behind us.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
A quick breather once we emerged into open countryside from the tree line. Low Crag in front of us with Steeple directly behind. And I think that’s Pillar in the distance over on the left.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
As we quickly gained height up Long Crag towards Steeple, we had great views back down to Ennerdale Water.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
The crags opposite us (between High Stile and High Crag, I think) were becoming shrouded in the low cloud that had rolled in.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
Watching a walker coming from Little Scoat Fell towards Steeple, where we had stopped to catch our (my) breath and have a snack. Some of the path on Steeple was pretty exposed to our left: great for views but it meant careful foot placing by me of course 😉
Ennerdale Water Lake District
By my reckoning this is Red Pike, across from the boulder field on Little Scoat Fell (with a ‘bit of a dip’ in between the two). We stepped and picked our way across the boulders whilst heading towards the resumption of a clear path above Wind Gap. The cloud had lifted at this point and the views were both dramatic and beautiful.

The rhythm of the walk changed at this point, mostly silent stepping across rocks that, whilst having great grip, also had ankle-twisting sized gaps between them. Before that, we had settled in to the kind of concentrating-but-chatting rhythm of conversation you get on walks on crags and tracks with vertiginous boundaries. More stuttered in delivery than flowing exchanges you have on straight trails.

Ennerdale Water Lake District
Looking down to Wind Gap with Pillar ahead of us and the path to Ennerdale falling steeply to the left and the path to Wasdale Head, ultimately, falling to the right.

As we crossed the intersection of the paths we could hear some voices away to the right on the craggy flanks of Pillar. Eventually we saw some folk picking their way up the crags. Slow progress I’m sure but they didn’t look to be in any difficulty. The higher we got up the path to Pillar (which becomes a slight scramble up rocks in places), the more the cloud enveloped us.

We had another short break at the shelter on Pillar but the cloud obscured any views from here (including a view of Pillar Rock). The only other occupants near the trig point were two disinterested crows, who provided the area with an even more gothic atmosphere.

From Pillar we picked up the path that runs above Wistow Crags and we soon emerged back into clearer views.

Ennerdale Water Lake District
Some Herdwicks just off the path, with Mosedale below. And the Yewbarrow ridge (?) to the right.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
Some steepish descent heading towards the Looking Stead area
Ennerdale Water Lake District
Wary or curious Herdwick, it wasn’t giving much away.
Ennerdale Water Lake District
From Looking Stead we could see down to Black Sail Hostel, with some really prominent glacial features – drumlins-  around it.
Ennerdale Water Lake District Black Sail
We made the hostel about 30 minutes before dusk descended.. around beer o’clock (but we started with a warming coffee first).
Ennerdale Water Lake District Black Sail
Inside the Black Sail hostel.

YHA Black Sail

Food is served promptly at 7pm at Black Sail and everyone else staying the night (11 in total I think) awaited the food with a beer or wine to hand. Which broke the ice nicely in the small but comfortable common room / dining area. Joe chose a stout to go with the Cumberland sausage and mash on the menu that night. The food was great (I’m hungry again just typing this). Cooked and served by the friendly warden, Alison. I think. I’m awful with names so just checked the confirmation email I got when I booked. If you’re Alison (or not) and read this, say hello in the comments below!

Black Sail is the YHA’s remotest hostel and it’s had a major refurbishment but it doesn’t feel at all modern (in a good way). The toilets are on the outside of the building, as is access to the bunk rooms but that;’ part of the feel of the place. I loved this once-bothy. And at night (this old man needed a loo trip after 3 bottles of Cumbria’s finest beer) it was really pitch black. Too cloudy a night to see the Milky Way though unfortunately. But still, remote-valley pitch black.

Ennerdale Water Lake District Black Sail Hostel
A misty start to the day as we left the hostel to walk the 6 or so miles back down Ennerdale to Bowness Knott car park.
Ennerdale Water Lake District Black Sail Hostel
Looking back up Ennerdale to the hostel with great Gable and Green Gable behind.

This was a great jaunt, the walk gave us (despite low cloud on occasion) dramatic views and lots of elevation. And Black Sail hostel is in a beautiful location and big enough to be comfortable with great amenities but still retain a sense of ‘wild’ and ‘remote’ about it (no signal. no wifi. top notch). And without embarrassing him, spending a day and an evening with Joe Kelly is always a pleasure.

5 thoughts on “A hike above Ennerdale and on to Black Sail hostel

  1. Really enjoyed this one. Stayed in Black Sail last year and your description is spot on. Great photos too. Felt I was on the walk with you. Excellent.

    • Thanks Steven, much appreciated. I hadn’t stayed there before but definitely on the list for a return at some point, using one of the other routes that lead into it.

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