Lakes & life changing events.

People always say that opposites attract. Sometimes similarities attract.

Out for a drink one evening with Sue and Brian.

Brian mentions a place he likes called Skiddaw house. Its the highest hostel in the UK, at around 1500 feet.

That’s how adventure seeds are planted.

In other pub groups of friends, it would be agreed that “one day” we would go there. Except the people who I’m proud to call my friends, are like me, and six weeks later, were on our way there to visit !.

The hut has no electricity and can (realistically) only be reached on foot after a 2 hour walk.

I was unsure what the situation was with catering, so I took all the food I would need for 2 and a half days (ready made sandwiches for lunch, pasta for evening meals, breakfast bars, well, for breakfast). Tea and coffee are provided at the hostel.

I included my usual treats of chocolate limes, aero and hot chocolate sachets (Cheryl asked me to point out that they were fair trade). I also took a “Gerry Cochrane” inspired Sig bottle filled with whisky and 2 cans of coke for evening “entertainment”.

For clothing I just took a change of underwear and socks, a spare jumper for the evenings and a pair of trainers for trotting around the hostel.

Minimal wash kit, no first aid kit, penknife, torch, notebook and pen, sets everything up.

I’m picked up by Pete, and along with Cheryl and Dave, we hit the motorway.

We pass Keswick and arrive at Threlkeld. Brian had spent the day or two previous with some friends visiting from France.

He had caught the bus from Penrith, and through careful planning (and quite a lot of luck) we all arrived at the Horse and Farrier at about the same time.

We had a couple of pints, and got to know our French friends.

By about 2pm, we decided to head off. There was a discussion about doing a peak on the way. It was the usual story for me, in order to have Friday off, I’d had a hectic busy week so I was quite tired.

I decided to go straight to the Hostel with a mixed bag of French and English companions.

The weather turned rough about half way, but overall things were fine.

The path wound along, and we were presented with this sight.

At first look, Skiddaw house, doesn’t look like a cottage or anything, and someone compared it to a row of council houses.

The key thing about the place for me, is its altitude and isolation. As estate agents always say, the 3 most important things about property, are location, location, location.

This has all the remoteness and simplicity (and can I say spirituality without sounding like a pretentious bastard ?) of a bothy, but a few home comforts, like environmentally friendly heating, running water and showers.

Its also halfway up loads of amazing hills and mountains. I’ve been around the world 3 times, but put simply, there isn’t anywhere quite like here.

We are welcomed in by Martin (middle left) and Marie-Pierre (right). The kettle is put on, and we are shown around. It really is an oasis and to my delight, there isn’t even a phone signal (although obviously the hostel has a working phone for emergency’s).

I put all my stuff (what little there is) under my bunk. I’m a bit annoyed, as years ago I bought a silk sleeping bag liner, this is one of the few occasions that I’d get to use it, and I’ve left it at home. I change into my trainers and evening clothes and head downstairs.

Marie-Pierre briefs us on the history of the hostel, kitchen/bathroom protocol and the safety brief re fire escapes and and stuff like that (and since she’s French herself, is able to brief the French girls in their native language).

I’m delighted to find that there’s even a games room, with an extensive collection of interesting books, back issues of Trail magazine and a dartboard.

Both rooms are heated by an aga so its toasty warm (and even able to dry out boots in just an evening).

Dave cooks something, and we tuck into our evening meal. Later, I offer the Whisky around, everyone settles down to relax and interesting conversations are heard throughout the building (in both English and French).

Finally awake, and see this view out of the window. The beds are normal bunks. A bit small for my size, but I sleep soundly all the same.

Head downstairs to the wash-room. I wasn’t expecting too much from the shower, but it was as warm, and the jets as powerful, as any I’ve used in a hotel.

I find cooking in hostels is normally a lot of messing about and I was expecting organised chaos in the kitchen (for this reason I’d brought breakfast bars). As it was, everything seemed to go fine. The hostel provides the option of packed lunches and a breakfast tray (not very expensive) for people who prefer not to carry their own food.

In the scullery, recycling is quite rightly taken very seriously at Skiddaw house, and there are bins for every sort of wast.

Washed down with a cup of tea (my friends had found a mug in the hostel with John on it) I’m setup for the day.

And the day beings. Brian briefs everyone on various options for the days walk. He knows what he’s doing, and I’m enjoying myself, so just leave him to it and follow the pack.

Boots, waterproof jacket and new walking trousers (controversially not Rohan this time), and we head out.

The hills and deep valleys of the lakes are recognisable all over the world and the views and scenery doesn’t disappoint.

We wander around the side, and then up onto Skiddaw (3054 feet high, the 4th highest in the Lake district). I spend some time getting to know the French crew.

Their really fun interesting people, but I have to talk slowly as the language I speak when I’m excited is far from English.

Cloud cover is really low. Although Skiddaw has some of the best views in the “district” these aren’t visible from the peak.

Still, we get to the top (and once again, I forget to tuck in my t-shirt before being photographed).

There is a sort of stone wall just nearby, and a number of people are eating lunch using it as a windbreak. I’m convinced I recognised one of them. I ask some of the lads to go over and confirm his identity. Nobody wants to.

I’m realistic and honest about the situation. If I walk over and its not him, I’m going to look stupid (but only to some strangers, who I’ll never see again). If I don’t walk over, ill go through the rest of my life, wondering if I nearly met one of my heroes.

A person who has faced death 100 times and one of the greatest Britons who’s ever lived. The first person to climb the Ogre and who’s photographs hang in every room in my house.

The bluelist, 3 trips around the world, the bushcraft, the deserts, the jungle and quite literally the mountain I’m now standing on all happened because of a passion and love for adventure inspired in me from my early teens from his exploits.

So with all the courage I can muster, I walk over, introduce myself, apologise for interrupting their lunch and ask “Are you Sir Chris Bonington ?”.

To my delight, its actually him. A living legend right in front of me.

I decide not to say anything too grandiose (although what I’m experiencing is one of the five most important moments of my life). I say simply your an inspiration and its a pleasure to meet you.

He replies simply thank you (that’s the other thing about truly great people. They are usually modest and unassuming, and if you didn’t know, you could sit next to one of them on the bus and not know it).

I ask if it would be OK to take a photograph of him, to remember the moment. He replies I should sit on the rock next to him, and Poppy will take a picture of us. The photograph takes a few seconds then I thanked him, shook hands and went on my way.

Back with my walking friends, they start to teas me about it. I’m speechless, this had been a great day up-to that point, and now its amazing, and one Ill remember for the rest of my life.

Still, a man cant live on inspiration alone, I sit down and eat my sandwiches, in quiet contemplation.

We continue walking, and I’ve got a spring in my step. It would have been amazing to attend one of his lectures, but to meet him in person, by accident on top of a mountain is something I could only have imagined.

We walk a few more miles then come to a cliff. Well it would have been a cliff with spectacular views, but the fog has put paid to that. I’m feeling pretty mellow at this point.

Back at the hostel, I tell Martin and Marie-Pierre about meeting Chris Bonington. Turns out they have met him too, at the official opening of the hostel (they have a book with photo’s showing the renovation of the hostel, and on the final page is Sir Chris).

Our French cousins maintain their international reputation for Cuisine, as they cook their evening meal. A very elaborate process, involving various preparation techniques, herbs and spices and even vegetables they’d foraged during the day.

I’m offered a tasting bowl. Its quite delicious and as good as anything I’ve eaten in the Grosvenor Arkle.

I’m expecting a helicopter to arrive with the re-formed Smiths providing an impromptu concert, and another carrying Halle Berry, who wants to have sex with me (its about the only way I think this day can get any better 🙂

Some singing takes place in the games room. I hang out in the common room, read Trail magazine, write down ideas for adventures and learn more about environmental stuff from Cheryl and Pete.

I, like a lot of people, tend to think of environmentalism as a bit OTT. The truth is, shouldn’t water be clean, without any kind of metal in it.  I think everyone, no matter what their politics, must agree with this.

Still filled with excitement, I’m up until after midnight. A drink of hot chocolate, then bed.

I have a lie in bed (8.30am). Eat my breakfast bars, drink my tea and than pack (sadly) for the journey home.

Outside I run into Sophie who is preparing for a days walking (Brian and the French contingent are staying on for a few days).

We say our goodbyes to Martin and Marian. I kiss the French girls goodbye, but decide just to shake hands with the men.

I’ve grown to really like Sophie, so we exchange email addresses and agree to send each other our photo’s.

Walking back down the path, the weather is much better. We chat about various stuff. The weekend is almost over, and I’m enjoying the kind of contentedness I can only really feel in the outdoors.

Back to the pub for a pint and bite to eat, then we set off home.

I’ve got a picture of me and Chris Bonington on my desk now, but it doesn’t end there.

I used to love a restaurant in Chester, called the Brasserie 10/16. I loved the food there so much, that I didn’t want to spoil myself with regular visits and wanted to keep it special.

By only visiting on valentines day, and on my birthday I was able to maintain this.

The head chef was a good friend who drank in the Frog & Nightingale.

He came into the pub one evening looking a bit down. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that the restaurant had closed.

In a friendly and polite way, he said he had been flattered that I loved the place so much that I didn’t over indulge, but lots of other people felt the same, and despite good intentions, this had cost them their restaurant.

Thing is, I had an amazing time at Skiddaw house, but cosy warm feelings and visits every 5 years wont keep this unique opportunity available forever.

To do that, you can either visit it (which I’d definitely recommend) or become a friend/conserver/patron of Skiddaw house.


2 thoughts on “Lakes & life changing events.

  1. Hi John,

    nice story this. I’m well impressed you had the courage to go & speak to the great man. So did the Smiths arrive later that day with HB in the entourage ? 🙂

    Don’t think we’ll be able to top this at Ambleside but you never know ?


  2. Halle sends her apologies – she was otherwise engaged but will try to come along next time for a mountain top liaison. Morrissey was seen moping round Wrexham looking for a gig so I should have mentioned Skiddaw – it’s a long way to carry all that gear.

    Thanks for the amusing tale John,

    A bientot,


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