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

Ennerdale YHA

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.

The route to Black Sail
The route to 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 hostel
Black Sail hostel

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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/

Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford, East Sussex

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.

Walking in the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford
Walking in the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Seaford

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).

Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters

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.

View back down over the beach
View back down over 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.

From the top of the Seven Sisters
From the top of the Seven Sisters

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!

More info:

  • 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

Five family walks on Guernsey

Guernsey is great for family walks and picnics. The terrain is relatively gentle and you can vary walks along the coastline with those inland along green lanes. Visit in early summer and you’ll be treated to fabulous wildflower displays.

The walks below were enjoyed by our family, with the aid of a Perry’s map of Guernsey and lots of cake.

Picnic before heading over to Lihou Island
Picnic before heading over to Lihou Island

1. Lihou Island

Getting to this island is half the adventure!  Lihou island, off the west coast of Guernsey, is accessed by a causeway at low tide.  You’ll need to time your visit carefully and check the causeway opening times beforehand.  As low tide approaches groups of people gather ready to make the crossing.  Rock pools are revealed either side of the walkway, and the first walkers tentatively make their way over.  Some parts of the track remain wet and covered with seaweed so sensible footwear is a must.

Walk over to Lihou Island
Walk over to Lihou Island

The island is pretty small, and takes no more than an hour to walk around.  Although there is a house on the island (which is available to rent) there are no toilet or other facilities for visitors.

Lihou is an important nature site and during nesting season you must respect the fenced off areas.  If you’re lucky you’ll see lots of gulls with fluffy chicks, but be aware they’re protective parents. We saw a couple of people being dive bombed by the birds!

2. Icart Point to Petit Bot

Near Icart Point, Guernsey
Near Icart Point, Guernsey

Probably my favourite walk of the week, this route has fantastic coastal views and colourful cliffside flowers.  It’s a straightforward trail but there are a few ups and downs along the way.

We parked at Icart point, where we started the day with a drink at the cafe, before following the cliff path right towards Petit Bot. It’s possible to climb down the beach ladder at Le Jaonnet Bay (low tide only) but we bypassed this and continued straight on to Petit Bot. There are toilet facilities and another cafe at Petit Bot.

After basking in the sun for a while on the pebbly beach, we walked back to Icart Point along the same path.  You can concoct an alternative route along inland paths if you wish, but we had no great desire to leave the coast.  Allow for 2 hours walking, plus cafe and beach stops.

3. St Saviour reservoir

Whilst the most spectacular walks are along the coast, this inland walk around St Saviour’s reservoir is a gentle alternative and a relaxing way to spend an hour or so.

The 2 mile route, known as the Millenium Walk,  follows the edge of the reservoir for most of the way, with a short quiet road section towards the end.  You can pick up a leaflet with a map and points of interest from the Tourist Office in St Peter Port.

4. Jerbourg point to Fermain Bay

St Martins Point, near Jerbourg
St Martins Point, near Jerbourg

This is another cliff walk with great views of the coast and neighbouring islands.  Park in the car park next to Hotel Jerbourg and take the track down from the eastern corner.  Follow this all the way to Fermain Bay, ignoring the paths leading off the main route. There are a couple of diversions off, but continue following the signs to Fermain.

It takes about 45 minutes to walk to Fermain Bay.  We coincided our walk with the arrival of a huge cruise ship to Guernsey, which the kids enjoyed watching.  There’s a great viewpoint not long before you reach the bay, with seats if you’re in need of a rest.

We ate lunch in the cafe overlooking the beach. It was a great spot but we didn’t linger as bad weather was heading our way. We returned via a much quicker inland path back (for which you’ll need a map) or you can retrace your route.

5. Portelet to the Fairy Ring

This is a short walk, with the advantage that it’s on tarmac so is also suitable for kids on scooters or bikes.  It takes you out to the Fairy Ring, a sunken ring in the ground with a raised central area.  The kids can sit in here and pretend they’re eating lunch with fairies.  There’s an information board next to the Fairy Ring with the actual history, but if your kids are similar to ours they’ll probably prefer their own made up stories.

If you enjoy walking on Guernsey you’ll probably love Herm Island. Read more about our day trip to Herm.

Top tips for walking with kids

Before children we used to spend much of our free time walking. We were members of a local club, and every month we’d head to the mountains, exploring Snowdonia or the Lake District. We knew things would change when the kids came along but naively assumed that after a few years they’d be accompanying us on our trips.

boots

How little we knew! As our children have grown, they’ve developed their own likes and dislikes. Walking has never featured strongly on the ‘like’ list, but as I’m keen for the children get out and enjoy the countryside, we’ve worked out ways to keep the whole family happy. Our top tips for walking with children are below, if you have any other suggestions please do leave a comment.

1. Food works wonders

Pack a picnic, take plenty of water and snacks and finish your walk at a tea room. This last suggestion is for my benefit, rather than the kids, but everyone deserves a slice of cake after a walk!

2. Choose child friendly routes

Woods and streams offer paddling, tree climbing, den building, log balancing and stick collecting fun. Long treks through featureless fields or along the edge of main roads should be avoided.

3. Incorporate a challenge

Try geocaching, practise map reading skills or have a race up a hill. Any distraction away from the act of walking works well for us.

4. Know your limits

You’ll know how far your kids can walk, and how fast (or slow) they’re likely to be. On average, adults walk around 3 miles per hour on flat ground but this will reduce substantially if you’re walking with a toddler! Similarly, if you’re heading out into mountainous or moorland areas ensure you are confident in your map reading and route finding abilities.

5. Take a camera

I always enjoy seeing the photographs my daughter takes. Whereas I’m the one taking classic landscape photos she’ll be snapping away at a bug, or more usually, herself whilst pulling a funny face.

6. Plan an expedition

As the children have got older, we’ve been on a couple of  ‘expeditions’ with them and both times they’ve gained a great sense of achievement. We walked up Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales) a couple of years ago.

snowdonia
Misty view from Snowdon

Last year we took them to Black Sail Youth Hostel in the Lake District for an overnight visit, made more exciting because it’s only accessible by foot.

7. Escape routes

When planning your walk, work out how you could shorten it if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or it ends up being too difficult or long for the children.

8. Let the kids plan the walk

I can still vividly remember route planning for my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Whilst our kids aren’t at the stage yet of planning full scale walks, they’re certainly old enough to learn how to use maps, and help with decisions on route choices.

9. Get friendly with nature

Take an I-spy or Usborne nature spotters book with you and see what wildlife you can find. If there are no obvious large animals or birds to identify, look at flowers, mosses or small bugs instead. The Woodland Trust Nature Detectives website is also a fabulous resource with lots of suggestions for activities in the great outdoors.

10.  Get the gear

Plan for the weather and conditions you’ll be walking in. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are great for young children out for a walk in the woods. If you’re taking older kids into more remote areas they’ll need decent waterproofs and walking boots. Remember hats and gloves too!

11. Walk with friends

Your kids will be too busy playing and talking to the other kids to notice that they’re walking as well. As a bonus you’ll also get to spend time with friends.

And lastly…..

12. Don’t mention you’re going for a walk

Just about any other terminology is preferable. If we tell our kids we’re going for a walk they’ll often groan. Tell them you’re going on an adventure instead.