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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.