Ennerdale, Black Sail and Haystacks, Cumbria

Ennerdale, in the north west of the Lake District receives relatively few visitors compared to other parts of the Lakes.  It requires more of an effort to get to, but rewards walkers and cyclists with some outstanding mountain adventures.

Early morning view over Ennerdale lake
Early morning view over Ennerdale lake

We were spending one night at Ennerdale Youth Hostel, then walking to Black Sail Youth Hostel for the following night. Black Sail is the most remote hostel in England and inaccessible by car.  It’s a converted shepherd’s bothy, sleeping sixteen people in three bedrooms. Due to its location on the Coast to Coast path it’s popular with walkers so our stay was booked many months previously.

The drive to Ennerdale took longer than expected due to a very busy M6. Away from the motorway we had a straightforward trip to Ennerdale hostel, although the last couple of miles is on a forest track, adding to the remoteness of the location. We arrived pretty late so were in bed before long.

The next day dawned warm and sunny, not something that can always be guaranteed in the Lakes! After a relaxed breakfast, we made our pack lunches and set off for Black Sail.

The route to Black Sail
The route to Black Sail

We were travelling with walking friends who had a big day in the mountains planned, ending at Black Sail, but this wasn’t feasible with the kids. Instead we took the straightforward route to Black Sail, walking a well defined track along the valley floor. It’s about 4 miles to the hostel via this route so we arrived mid-morning.

Black Sail hostel
Black Sail hostel

I’d seen plenty of pictures of Black Sail before as I’ve wanted to visit for sometime but the first glimpse of the building was still exciting. Lakeland peaks surround the hostel, which faces out onto an intense green panorama. Despite the number of photos I took it still remains hard to convey how stunning the location is.

View from Black Sail YHA
View from Black Sail YHA

The hostel kitchen, common room and a toilet remain open all day, providing passing walkers with the option to use its facilities in return for a small donation. The hostel reception opens at 5pm, so after a short break we headed up Haystacks, the hill directly behind the hostel.

Haystacks, at 1959ft above sea level, just misses out on the title of mountain. However it is a popular fell, and was Alfred Wainwright’s favourite hill, so much so that his ashes are scattered in the tarn on top. We took the path up to Scarth Gap, where we met large numbers of walkers coming from Buttermere.

View from Haystacks
View from Haystacks

From Scarth Gap we had an easy scramble to the summit. The kids loved this, although you do need a head for heights.

Scrambling on Haystacks
Scrambling on Haystacks

Innominate Tarn was a busy lunch spot. It also appeared to be the resting place of others apart from Wainwright if the bunch of carnations in the water was anything to go by. Whilst I can understand the sentiment they appeared completely out of place in the mountain landscape.

Continuing on, we passed Blackbeck Tarn, glad that the weather had been dry recently as the bog cotton signalled a rather marshy area. The next section went steeply downhill with stone steps much of the way down. I was happy we weren’t going in the opposite direction!

Walking past Blackbeck Tarn
Walking past Blackbeck Tarn

The final part to the hostel took us over grass covered moraines, and involved a couple of stream crossings.  With so little rain, the water was low and conveniently placed stepping stones helped us keep our feet dry.

Back at the hostel we waited for our friends to return from their walk. It was late afternoon when we spotted them coming off the peaks opposite. They’d all been excited walking down as they had mistaken the hostel generator for an ice cream freezer! Once the generator was turned on it was hard to mistake it for anything else, as it certainly shattered the peace. We couldn’t really complain though as it meant we got a cooked dinner.

Black Sail Youth Hostel (with generator/ice cream cart on far right)
Black Sail Youth Hostel (with generator/ice cream cart on far right)

We’d booked an evening meal at the hostel, which I was rather glad of as it saved us having to carry food in. Dinner was of the one pot variety – tomato and lentil soup, rice and beef curry or vegetable tagine, followed by apple crumble and custard. It wasn’t haute cuisine but after a day in the hills it was tasty and filling.  Like the hostels of old, we mucked in and after each course washed up our plates and cutlery.

Dinner was followed by an impromptu kids cricket match.  Not the easiest bowling or fielding conditions given the slopes, rough grass and boggy areas but the kids didn’t seem to mind.

We slept well that night. The bunk room was basic, and any trip to the toilet would have necessitated going outside to reach the facilities but fortunately they weren’t required. Next morning we again took advantage of the hostels catering facilities with fried breakfasts for all. We sang Happy Birthday to one of the other visitors at breakfast, who was celebrating his 50th with a trip to the hostel.

Our route out took us back along the valley floor, although for variety we walked on the opposite side of the river. Our night at Black Sail had been worth the wait, and I hope it’s one of the memories the kids remember in adulthood.

More info:

  • The walk up Haystacks takes you into mountain territory, for which you should be properly equipped and prepared for.
  • To book the Youth Hostels visit http://www.yha.org.uk/

Costs

  • A family bunk room at Ennerdale, sleeping 2 adults and 2 children, costs £50 per night.
  • A similar room at Black Sail costs from £45 per night, according to the website, although availability is very limited. An alternative option is a room in the shared dormitory (£20 per adult, reduced price for children).
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10 thoughts on “Ennerdale, Black Sail and Haystacks, Cumbria”

  1. What a fantastic place! I remember taking part in mini expeditions like this when I was a kid, with my parents – I am ever grateful to them for giving me opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and it is something that has definitely stayed with me as I’ve grown up. I miss our family hikes!

    1. Thanks Sandra. I think we were very lucky with the weather, I’m sure that on our more usual wet and windy days that I’d prefer to be in Spain!

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