Gairloch is a small coastal village in Wester Ross, in the north west highlands of Scotland. We chose it as a holiday destination because of its fantastic scenery, wildlife watching and walking opportunities. The downside is usually the rain, but we were incredibly lucky as our trip coincided with the UK heat wave. We camped at Sands Caravan and Camping; there’s plenty of other accommodation if camping isn’t your thing.
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.
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 we booked many months in advance.
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.
We travelled 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 YHA
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.
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.
A walk up Haystacks
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.
From Scarth Gap we had an easy scramble to the summit. The kids loved this, although you do need a head for heights.
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!
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.
Overnight at Black Sail
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.
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 a trip outside to the facilities. 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.
Whilst visiting friends on the south coast we made a quick trip to the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford.
The park is easily accessible from the A259 and offers walking trails, canoeing on the Cuckmere River and a valley floor cycle route. Most visitors come here to see the Seven Sisters, the name given to the chalk cliffs. If you’re hoping to photograph the classic postcard view of these, ensure you take the footpath to Seaford Head on the opposite side of the Cuckmere River.
As it was a sweltering hot day we decided to walk the 2 km easy access path down to the shingle beach at Cuckmere Haven. This appears to be the most popular option, as there were many other families and groups of language students walking the same route.
After reaching the beach, the lure of walking to the top of the first cliff was too great to ignore. The kids had no intention of walking any further on such a hot day, and stayed on the beach (with a responsible adult of course).
The path up was straightforward, although rather steep in places. We took a short break half way up, supposedly to admire the view but really it was just a convenient excuse for a breather. Looking back down we could see the artificially straightened River Cuckmere and the salt lagoon just north of the beach.
The view from the top of the cliff is one of the best in southern England. At this point I was very glad not to have bought youngest son up with me as the cliff edges are completely open and accessible to all. Visitors are, quite rightly, left to judge the safety themselves rather than be faced with fences or keep out signs.
We sat on top for a while, reluctant to leave such a magnificent view. Eventually the prospect of a cold drink at the cafe appealed and we headed back towards the park entrance. Despite it being late afternoon a bus deposited another large group of visitors just as we were leaving – I hope they enjoyed their visit as much as I did.
We visited the Seven Sisters again in 2017, this time as part of our South Downs Way walk. The view was no less spectacular!
- There is a seasonal visitor centre and cafe next to the car park. You can pick up leaflets with walk routes and a map from the car park and bus stop.
- The bus stop is opposite the visitor centre, with frequent buses from Brighton, Seaford and Eastbourne.
- The trail to the beach is designated as easy access, and is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. Once you reach the beach you’ll have to contend with shingle.
Further info: http://www.sevensisters.org.uk
On a recent sunny weekend we decided to visit the Caen Hill locks on the Kennet and Avon canal. The set of locks are an incredible feat of engineering. First opened in 1810 they were built to carry the canal 237 feet up Caen Hill. There are 29 locks in total, over 2 miles, although the picture you see most often is of the 16 locks stretching up the hill. The canal became derelict after the Second World War but was restored and officially reopened in 1990. Many of the locks are dedicated to those who helped with the restoration.