Bright Days at Black Sail: A Swimming Weekend at England’s Most Remote Hostel

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Wasdale Head Bridge

​Black Sail is England’s most remote YHA hostel. About two hours’ walk from Buttermere or Wasdale Head in the Lake District, it nestles on one side of Ennerdale surrounded by some of the most famous peaks in the area: Haystacks, Green Gable and Great Gable to name but three.

We’ve been lucky enough to stay a couple of times. First with a swimming group from Brockwell Lido. More recently one part of KinaMara joined a stag party for a long weekend in the Lake District. More on that shortly.

Back to the hostel. The three dorms sleep up to 16 people which makes it a good spot for the group bookings mentioned above. The drill is as you’d expect: cooked breakfasts and suppers are provided, expect to do your own washing up and always round up if you don’t have exact change for the cake and biscuit honesty jar.

Black Sail is licensed and there’s a good selection of local beers for sale. Those in the know proclaimed the Catbells pale ale a winner during an extended tasting session. Wines aren’t bad either with mid-tier Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbecs on the menu.

For all its remoteness, the hostel has electricity, plug sockets (be prepared to do a bit of caving under your bunk) and plenty of hot water. The only thing it appears to lack is a dedicated drying room, which means that boots and damp clothes hang from the beams and hangers suspended in the main room.

A lido among the lakes

The outdoor swimming opportunities are plentiful. Walk a quarter of a mile down to the bridge that crosses the River Liza and hop in to the chilly waters with stunning views back down the valley in the direction of Buttermere. It also serves as an alternative bathhouse, but make sure you leave your shower gel at home.

Blackbeck Tarn is another fresh water favourite, a 45-minute walk out of the valley, tucked away behind the Haystacks ridge. This little lake is about 70 meters long and more than deep enough to enjoy a proper swim of Lido proportions. At the ‘beach’ end you also enjoy views down to Buttermere and Crummock Water, although on our most recent trip low cloud and steady rain meant only a brief glimpse of one of the most stunning views in the UK.

On the other hand, low visibility was as blessing in disguise. Although KinaMara is a swimwear business, a few in the stag party took full advantage of their isolation to skinny-dip into the waters.  Spectators, we hope, were few and far between. There are some things that cannot be unseen after all.

It took a week for our boots and our livers to dry out

The second day of the stag party we woke up with rain pounding on the roof matching the pounding in our heads – chilli vodka be damned. The solution was obvious. Hair of the dog at the nearest pub. This just happened to be the Wasdale Head Inn, a two hour walk through Black Sail Pass and a furious gale. But it was worth it for the no nonsense beer, coal burning stove and a generous pub menu.

If we’d been more adventurous we’d have walked to the northern shore of Wast Water where plenty of beaches invite you to plunge into England’s deepest lake, almost 80m at its darkest point. But with the rain still beating down we skipped the swim and set off on the return leg.

The final stage of our walking-swimming-stag took place at Buttermere the following morning. Local police report a gang of naked men storming the south-west corner of the lake at around 10am on the morning of September 11, before making a swift getaway in two cars heading in the direction of Penrith.

Really? As Bart Simpson once said, “It wasn’t me”. Or was it Shaggy? Anyway, even it had been us, we wouldn’t have slept all the way back to London. Nor did it take a full week for our boots and livers to dry out. And even if we did have photos of the skinny-dip extravaganza, we wouldn’t be sharing them on this blog. Yours is a lucky escape!

Photos from our group visit to Black Sail in July 2016