I had seen maps of Skiddaw Mountain showing the lonely Skiddaw House 1500m up on the mountainside miles from any road. I have admired photos of this old keeper’s house in its isolation but I was still unprepared for my first sighting of it. We had been climbing up out of the valley of Keswick on a rocky mountain path for the last hour or so with mountain streams and sheep the only landmarks. Turning back occasionally to admire the views of the Northern Lakes spread out below us.
We were half way up Skiddaw Mountain when we turned a corner into a broad sheltered plateau and there was Skiddaw House with a scrap of mountain woodland around it. It was astonishing.
It’s 7pm on a summer night and here I am half way up a mountain on my way to a folk gig with only a tooth brush and towel to see me through till morning.
Remarkable in its isolation, Skiddaw House is not some basic shelter you need a heavy rucksack to visit. The first thing you see when you enter is the reception shop displaying local bottled beers and all you need to cook an evening meal. Through the boot and drying room, which provides a great “air lock”, where you can to leave behind whatever the mountain weather has thrown at you, is a comfortable and well equipped hostel.
Log burners in the lounge and kitchen are a cheery sight, glasses and crockery are displayed in the pantry and there are plenty of gas rings and pans to prepare dinner and wooden tables to eat it around. Upstairs the floors are carpeted, there are hot showers and the beds made up with crisp sheets and warm duvets.
The wardens (Suzy and Martin) are great hosts, relaxed efficient and enthusiasts of the outdoors. How do they do it I ask, how do they provide comfort such remote isolation? “ Skiddaw House is completely off grid so we treat supplies, energy and waste in a sustainable way. There is a rough track down to the valley and once a week we take the four wheel drive down to drop off rubbish, exchange used laundry for clean and collect supplies. The stoves use wood from the hostel’s own woodland and yearly tree-planting ensures a supply for future wardens. Sheep’s wool insulation throughout helps keeps the warmth in. A mountain spring provides drinking water and electricity is almost entirely solar, with a generator only occasionally needed in winter. Hot showers are available any time; using water initially heated by solar thermal panels then topped up to a toasty temperature using bottled gas. The hostel has a private septic tank and rubbish is recycled and composted as much as possible. All our guests have to arrive on foot, or by mountain bike, so we know how important it is to have a well-stocked shop and comfy beds to greet their arrival.”
The band I had come to see are Stooshie, a Cumbrian folk band with a great following around Keswick. Skiddaw House hosts just a few gigs a year so I felt privileged to be there. Everyone, including the band, had made their way on foot and there was a great atmosphere as tales were exchanged and everyone enjoyed a night of live music and real ale in the middle of nowhere.
Stooshie are a lively folk band, their funked up folk varied from harmonious and melodic to the wild and raucous. I loved the fact there were two fiddles which played off each other’s energy. The band had fiddles, guitars, percussion and a tin whistle. They played new and traditional tunes from Cumbria, Scotland, Ireland and the States, interwoven with the occasional atmospheric song. If you are interested in attending something similar in the future, I would highly recommend it, you can see Skiddaw House’s upcoming events here. Find out more about the accommodation at Skiddaw House and the network of independent Hostels in the Lakes.