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Ancient Feet: 43 - The Mighty Mississippi

...It continued to rain heavily throughout the night so that, by morning, all the paths were doing an imitation of the Mississippi in flood...

Alan Nolan and his mates spend another soggy night at the remote Black Sail Hut.

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There was no point in continuing our quest for peaks above 2,500 feet in those conditions and our only option was to walk to Ennerdale Bridge for a drink. Although this is a relatively flat walk, it is about ten miles and was pretty miserable on a day like that with so much water underfoot and with light rain or drizzle still coming down. After a couple of drinks, we made our way back a round trip of twenty miles just for a couple of drinks, but then again there was nothing else for us to do (and Tom had been lying about his secret hoard in the wall).

That evening it started pouring down again, but we had another great meal with another full house. During the evening, a middle-aged camper arrived and asked the warden where he could pitch his tent. Clearly, he was a much more experienced and hardy individual than either the man with the posh voice or the burly teenagers, as he did not even bother to ask whether there were any bunks available. Either that or he had stayed at Black Sail before and preferred his tent.

It continued to rain heavily throughout the night so that, by morning, all the paths were doing an imitation of the Mississippi in flood. My slumber had been disturbed briefly during the night by a rustling as someone moved about. At the time, I assumed it was nearly morning and that someone had decided to make a very early start, even though it was still dark. When it was lighter, I swung my legs out of the bunk and stood on the camper, asleep on the floor. Rather than someone leaving early, it was the camper I had heard, much earlier than I had assumed, as he moved all his belongings inside after his tent blew down!

With the footpaths little less than raging torrents and visibility poor, we decided to cut our visit short by one day and trudged over the soggy fells to Grasmere to collect the car and drive home. So, our eight day trek was reduced to seven and, during the final two days of the seven, we had failed to notch up any 2,500 foot peaks. No wonder I felt that the resolve of some of my colleagues would be tested over twelve days on the Coast to Coast route.

As an introduction to youth hostels, I don't think this trip could have been any worse, although I acknowledge that a major factor was the poor weather over the final two days. I have heard recently that there is a campaign to raise funds to revamp Black Sail Hut, with a target of 250,000. The mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington, is leading the campaign and has been quoted as saying it is his favourite hostel. I imagine it is comparatively luxurious to someone like Sir Chris who is used to far worse conditions on his frequent Himalayan adventures, and the warden's food must be a feast to anyone more used to eating llama penis butties and yeti testicle stew.

On a more serious note, Black Sail Hut is a welcome sight to the weary hosteller, being the most remote hostel in England, set in the heart of beautiful countryside. Although I joke about it, I can understand the popularity of the place and hope that it will remain in existence for many years to come (just as long as I don't have to stay there). Having said that, I'm sure that the traditionalists will not want the money to be spent on too many mod cons. A bigger septic tank and electricity in the dormitories perish the thought!


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