No two school groups are the same and just recently DERWENTWATER INDEPENDENT HOSTEL staff were fascinated and intrigued to see how students from two very different parts of the globe enjoyed their visit to the hostel. Situated in a fabulous listed Georgian mansion on the shores of Derwent Water, just 2 miles from Keswick, our independent hostel has a long history as a popular destination for a school group, but this was the first time we have hosted groups from such divergent locations.
The first of the school groups, Ashfield Primary School, had a mere 23-mile coach journey from Workington, just over the Western fells from the hostel. In contrast, Cedar House School travelled their 40 students a staggering 6,835 miles (as the aeroplane flies!) from Cape Town in South Africa in order to visit us here in the Lake District.
Rather unusually, Cedar House decided to book direct for their amazing, two week literature-based tour of the UK, taking in London, Bronte country, the Lakes and Edinburgh, rather than through a tour operator. Our hostel was thrilled to be chosen by them as their Lake District base for three nights and we were able to put them in contact with useful operators in the area for transport and tours. Ashfield Primary School also booked direct with us for the first residential visit for their group of 40 seven and eight year olds. Although Derwentwater Youth Hostel is not far from Workington, it was a big adventure for children of this age to come away for two nights.
Unsurprisingly, the two school groups itineraries were very different from each other. Ashfield Primary School based themselves very much in and around the hostel, using our extensive and diverse grounds to do a variety of activities. These ranged from going on a mini beast hunt and building a den in the woodland, to drawing the hostel’s very own waterfall. The beauty of arranging a residential at a location near to the school meant that the few children who were a little daunted by the prospect of an overnight stay were able to come and join in these activities for the day. The school worked hard to make the trip a lot of fun and the children were confident and happy and soon at home at the hostel. The students from Cedar House School group were much older – aged between 13 and 18 – and were concentrating on the literary connections of the area. They arrived during one of our colder spells, which must have been a shock after leaving the rather warmer temperatures of 25 degrees back in Cape Town! They seemed to cope very well with the first snow they had ever seen and had a great time visiting some of the haunts of some Lakelands’ most famous sons and daughters. Their overwhelming favourite Lake District excursion was to Beatrix Potter’s House in Far Sawrey and they also spent a happy morning at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere. They concluded their Lake District literary experience with an evening at the Theatre by the Lake, and their three night stay was voted a resounding success by all the students.
Both schools had some scenic trips around the area, with Cedar House experiencing the delights of Derwent Water from Keswick Launch and enjoying a typical Lakeland lunch at Buttermere. Ashfield Primary also went on the launch and seemed thrilled to bits to be splashed by the rather choppy water – “My favourite memory is when we went on the launch because I like to watch the waves splashing on the boat” (Leah, aged 8). They also had great time at Whinlatter Forest, getting stuck into activities and admiring the views – “I loved doing that blindfold trail when you hold onto the rope and walk with a blindfold on” (Elizabeth, aged 8). Derwentwater Youth Hostel works closely with local partners, such as Whinlatter Forest Park, PlattyPlus and Glaramara Activity Centre, so they can offer a wide range of activities, from high adventure like Go Ape and ghyll scrambling to educational experiences like farm visits and mine tours.
It was such a contrast for us to welcome visitors from so near and so far, yet both schools seemed to get a lot out of their visit. There is clearly much for the international visitor to enjoy in the Keswick area and the Lake District as a whole and it is very encouraging that visitors are prepared to travel halfway around the world to come here. The students from Cape Town were exceptionally charming and always in good spirits – they absolutely fell in love with the Lake District, and they were very sad to leave. One of them said, quite movingly, when they left, “We leave our hearts here in the Lake District”.
The children from Ashfield School were also very taken with their visit and wrote letters to us when they got back with Ellie, aged 8, saying, “Thank you for making us so welcome. Everyone in the Youth Hostel was very friendly and kind. I enjoyed sketching the waterfall and watching the wildlife in the gardens.” Even though the school is not far outside the National Park, the children were able to enjoy a lot of different experiences that they wouldn’t have been able to have in their immediate neighbourhood. It just goes to show that, whether you live on the doorstep or come from the other side of the world, Derwentwater and the Lake District has something for everyone and there is nowhere else quite like it.