Black Sail Hut at the head of Ennerdale - likely England’s most remote hostel.
As you might have guessed from the title of this blog (and the picture just above that kicked it off), I recently spent a night in YHA Black Sail. I’d had this plan in mind for the last few years, and had heard plenty of positive reports from friends and colleagues and other users on social media. I was full of anticipation to experience it myself. And this June I finally got the chance. I’d like to tell you about it.
But first, a little explanation. Black Sail is what might be termed a “wilderness hut”. It’s not a bothy, so you’ll pay to stay here and you will almost certainly have to book in advance. However, in return you’ll get a maintained shelter, a clean and comfy bed for the night, toilet and shower facilities and optional cooked meals. In other words, it sits in the same mould as the kind of Alpine huts that you’ll find in abundance across the mountains of central Europe. You’ll find most of the comforts of civilisation here, but in the kind of remote location that you’d more readily associate with an old crofter’s bothy or a wild camp.
Black Sail is run as a hostel by the YHA, but started life as a shepherding bothy.
Local materials abound in the hut’s construction.
… which is fitting, because the stone building that has now been converted into YHA Black Sail did in fact start life in the 19th century as a shepherd’s bothy. The land was since purchased by the Forestry Commission and is now leased to the Youth Hostelling Association, with the paying guests like you and me being the final link in the chain.
The first step towards spending a night here, of course, is getting to the hut. You can do this from more or less any point of the compass, and you can find it on
an OS map here… The most common ways are probably: 1) parking next to Buttermere to the north and walking over Scarth Gap Pass, 2) parking at Honister Hause and working your watch south-west through the old mine workings, 3) coming over Brandreth or the Gables from Seathwaite to the east, 4) crossing Black Sail Pass from Wasdale, or 5) walking the length of Ennerdale from Bowness Knott car park.
A lot to take in there. I chose option number five, and it took me around two hours to make the eight-or-so kilometre trek up the 4x4 track which runs the length of Ennerdale. In hindsight I’d have brought a mountain bike with me, which would have cut the journey time by two-thirds. But the wooded landscape of
remote area, with its tall and craggy fells rising on either side of the valley, is distracting enough for anyone and it was an enjoyable enough walk in.
Note: if you’re looking for this variety of curry from the hut’s warden you may have to order in advance...
The main entrance, with a whittled bench for enjoying the spectacular views
Once I’d made it to the hut it was a straightforward job signing in with the warden on duty (there seem to be only one or two people working there at a time), getting a bunk assigned to me and starting to relax in the area’s main common room. This cosy little space is where you’ll eat your meals and socialise if it’s too wet (or midgey) to do so on the little veranda outside. You can order a three course dinner, which in my case included a vegetable stew, chicken, mash and carrots main, and a sponge and custard pudding for an impressive £8.50. You can also have a breakfast - which includes both continental and cooked elements - for £5.50. You can also simply bring your own food and cook it in the guest’s kitchen which branches off in a small space to the side.
Black Sail’s main common room has a homely feel
It’s a tight fit when full...
Your friendly hut warden behind the “bar”
Oh yes, and I forgot perhaps the most exciting news of all: there’s beer.
According to brewer Jennings: “The name is derived from ‘Cock-a Hoop’, an old custom of removing the cock (or spigot) from a barrel and resting it on the hoop of the cask before commencing a drinking bout, but was changed to reflect the brewery’s location on the banks of the River Cocker”, in case you were wondering...
There are 16 beds in the hostel, divided into age-specific single sex dorm rooms, and if you’ve stayed at a YHA before you’ll know exactly what to expect. They’re very tightly packed, but clean and comfy and pleasant enough. I found an eye mask and earplugs were enough to get a solid night’s sleep here, even if my top bunk position was a little wobbly whenever another guest shifted their weight in the night (the beds all touch each other at various points).
The single-sex dorms aren’t especially spacious, but they’re comfy, clean and warm.
The outside toilets and shower were extremely well maintained (although I’m ashamed to say I didn’t find time for the latter) and the big joy came from the friendliness of the other guests and the warden. Spending the evening chatting away on the porch and in the warmth of the common room was a really thrill, as was - surprisingly - mucking in together to wash up after dinner.
Ultimately though it’s the location that’s the true selling point. And waking up this deep into one of the most impressive parts of Cumbria - surrounded by peaks like Pillar, Great Gable and Haystacks - meant that I could be up on the tops, well rested and well-fed while the remainder of the world was just finishing its breakfast. And all of that without carrying a tent, a stove or worrying about just how fierce the wind was going to blow in the night.
A night at Black Sail costs £25-30 and it’s closed from mid-December to April, but open throughout the rest of the year. Weekends fill up long in advance. If you’d like to learn more or make a booking then
Equally, if you’d like a similar experience but in a Scottish setting then I’d highly recommend a night at the
SYHA’s Glen Affric hostel.
Make sure to visit the
Lifesystems Facebook page and Twitter feed to share any pictures of your own wilderness hut adventures.
… and sleep tight.
Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at www.danaspel.com
Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find a host of kit and equipment for your next outdoor adventure.