Free adventures from YHA Borrowdale

I was lucky enough to live and work at YHA Borrowdale in the Lake District for most of 2019. Lucky because there was so much adventure on the doorstep – so much to see, do and explore. Of course, some of this (such as rock climbing) would have required specialist skills or equipment, or some kind of financial cost (entry fees, guides etc). However, most was free and accessible to the average adventurous type (like me), and in-between shifts I didn’t miss out. So, in alphabetical order, here are my top free adventures from the door of the hostel:

Bothies

Go up to Honister from the hostel, then along the old tramway for a mile and you come to Dub’s Hut, a large but basic shelter. I usually preferred however to press on a further half a mile to the more characterful Warnscale Bothy. Only a couple of people could comfortably stretch out in here overnight, but you could cram in many for temporary shelter. It boasts the most magnificent view over Buttermere:

img_20190405_115150Caves

Somewhere half-way between a bothy and a cave is the climber’s shelter under Cam Crag, which is fun to try and locate amongst the rocks. Rather larger, a mile’s ramble along the river from the hostel and tucked underneath Castle Crag, is Millican’s Cave. Big enough for several woolly mammoths to live in, it was actually the home of Millican Dalton in the 1930’s – the era’s equivalent of Ray Mears. Totally contrasting, but equally intriguing, is Dove’s Nest Cave, high up on Glaramara. Less a cave, more a geological fault, it’s well worth the rough 3-miles on foot up Comb Gill. Headtorches can be useful at all.

Night running

Indeed, the best £50 I spent all year was on a decent headtorch. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities, particularly in the dark winter months. Suddenly, going out on foot at night in your own bubble of light became a possibility, then a norm. On a clear night, don’t forget to turn it off from time to time and look up to the stars.

Race recce-ing

My previous blog focused on Borrowdale’s 5 fell races, and much fun can be had recce-ing race lines, over and over again. So much time can be won in races simply by finding the fastest lines downhill. We must have come down Glaramara and Dale Head 5 times each before their respective races, and a different way each time! Very satisfying to find yourself way ahead of much faster runners on race day, just because of your local knowledge.

Scrambling

ie progress on foot where use of the hands is required. The best scrambles I found were up ghylls during dry periods – endless possibilities here. I also enjoyed some simple scrambles on more exposed terrain, such as the summit of Glaramara and alongside Cam Spout in Eskdale, plus a bit of bouldering at Honister. The more serious stuff I left to the climbers.

Scree-running

You probably shouldn’t do too much of this, but the occasional scree-run can be great fun. The classic is the descent from the summit of Scafell Pike to the Corridor Route, taken during the Borrowdale Fell Race. Various spoil tips from old mines can provide a more ethical alternative.

Segments 

Fell races are fun but they don’t always take place when you want them to. However, runners now have Strava – their favourite app – and its segments allow you to “race” various routes whenever you want, and compare your times against others’. Of course, there are loads of segments around Borrowdale, including the hostel’s very own challenge – King of the Castle – from the bar to the top of Castle Crag. I rather liked the downhill-only segments too, such as from Honister to Borrowdale YHAs.

Stravaiging

ie ” to wander about aimlessly”. The routes of so many of my explorations on foot this year I made up as I went along. You can do that in Borrowdale – hardly any of the land is off-limits. If I saw something interesting – a crag, a waterfall, a viewpoint, a sunny patch(!), I’d follow my nose in its direction. I rarely stuck to the beaten track. With time, I built up an ever-increasing mental map of the valley, and got to see and experience it from every angle. My stravaigs were a combination of walking, running, scrambling etc – as the ground dictated. I travelled as lightly as possible – minimal gear, and light fell shoes – and felt that this was the best way of moving around Borrowdale’s rough terrain.

Swimming

Or strictly speaking, any dips in rivers and lakes. I tended to paddle, particularly on hot days. My favourite spots were the pool just next to the hostel (below), Stockley Bridge and much of Langstrath. My favourite spot for a decent swim though was the famous Black Moss Pot, 2 miles on foot from the hostel. Jump in the pool and let the current take you a further 50 yards down the gorge – fantastic. I never had the guts to jump off the notorious 10 foot-high ledge though….img_20190621_152602Ultras

I’d never run more than 25km in one go before 2019, but once in the Lakes I soon found myself caught up in chat about the longer stuff. I helped a friend with her attempt on the Bob Graham Round, and although I found the BGR would be way beyond me, I did start doing longer expeditions. This culminated with me coming up with an abbreviated version of the Bob Graham, which linked the 5 leg handover points by my own route. Although I christened it A Soft Graham Round, it was still 77km and 12 hours of my life I won’t forget in a hurry!

Viewpoints

In decent weather, Borrowdale is spoilt for great views. It was fun to find the well-known chocolate-box ones too and get the camera out. Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike, Ashness Bridge and below – Wasdale from Westmoreland Cairn below the summit of Great Gable.cropped-img_20190226_142450.jpgWaterfalls

Sour Milk Ghyll in Seathwaite and pretty much everything down Langstrath were my favourites, but after heavy rain there are waterfalls everywhere in Borrowdale. On a wet day (and there are many), don’t mope in the hostel – get the waterproofs on and get out and see the falls and rapids at their best!

Winter

On a Saturday afternoon in February I thrashed through the snow drifts from Honister to the summit of Dale Head and back. Probably took an hour in total, which was as much as my freezing cold feet could stand. But so worth it for the view below. In a year of countless memorable adventures, this is the one that stands out most of all.img_20190202_143110

Five fell races in Borrowdale

I’ve just returned to Leeds after 9 months in the Lake District – living and working at YHA Borrowdale, and indulging in my passion for fellrunning in-between. In which time – apart from serving countless meals and scrubbing countless bogs – I really did rather a lot of running. Looking back on my Strava feed, I recorded over 100 activities, covering over 1000km in distance and climbing around 50,000 metres. But I probably did as much again which I didn’t record – various rambles, jogs, scrambles, stravaigs and other explorations on foot.

The vast majority of my trips out were directly from the YHA. I rarely got into the car first. The hostel, in the hamlet of Longthwaite, is perfectly located to explore Borrowdale’s famous fells, crags, valleys, waterfalls and more. I got to know my patch pretty well, and never got bored of it. Quite the opposite in fact – the more I explored, the more I found to explore.

In amongst all this I quite liked to race. I did 22 fell races in these 9 months, and 4 of them began no more than a 10-minute jog from the hostel. In fact, 5 races in the FRA calendar start within half a mile of YHA Borrowdale. So, in tribute to these few but esteemed square miles of the country, I shamelessly plug these 5 races below. Why not give one, or more (or all 5!) a try in 2020?

1. King of the Castle

1pm, Sun 5 January

Start: YHA Borrowdale, Longthwaite

2.5km, 200m – AS

Organised by: YHA Borrowdale

Early January – crap weather, short days, Christmas & New Year done – we all need a boost. Hence YHA Borrowdale’s very own dash to the top of Castle Crag. Uphill-only time trial, so scope for a leisurely descent before returning to the waiting cake (and drying room). A great way to start the fellrunning year. I hope to be back in 2020 to defend the coveted MV40 trophy I won in 2019 (a plastic YHA water bottle, no less).

2. Glaramara

1pm, Sun 24 May

Start: Glaramara House, Seatoller

8km, 700m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The climb up is strenuous but straightforward, but this race is all about picking the right line on the descent. Can you locate the alleged grassy ramps, that send you hurtling down the fell while normally-faster runners trail in your wake? Local knowledge and repeated recce-ing is a massive advantage here. And bear in mind that the bit you can’t recce (the final part of the descent, which is out of bounds except on race-day) is a potential ankle-breaker of rocks hidden in the bracken. Oh, and from my experience this year, don’t run it the day after supporting a Bob Graham Round – it might kill you.

3. Langstrath

7.15pm, Wed 17 June

Start: Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite

7.5km, 430m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

Well, this is the one race of the 5 that I didn’t get to run in 2019 (due to pot washing responsibilities) but I ran the route often enough. Up the interminable stone staircase of Lingy End, then a rough trail by Dock Tarn to Watendlath (quicker but boggier lines across the moor are potentially available), then back down the main track to Stonethwaite. An evening race at midsummer – one of the best times to run in the Lakes.

4. Borrowdale

11am, Sat 1 August

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

27km, 2000m – AL

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The distance and ascent don’t even begin to tell the story of the Borrowdale Fell Race, one of the classic events on the FRA calendar. Indeed “fellrunning” is a potentially misleading term here, as so little of the race involves conventional running. From the walks up Bessyboot, Great Gable and Dale Head, the invisible trods around Glaramara & Brandreth, the boulders up Scafell Pike and the scree-run down it, the technical descents of Gable & Dale Head…. factor in the weather, food & water considerations (the only “feeding station” is a murky trough of juice at Honister) and the challenging cut-offs and you have more an exercise in self-reliance and mountaincraft than a running race. I was just glad to get round within those cut-offs and avoid the “bus of shame” this year.

5. Dale Head

2pm, Sun 20 September

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

8km, 675m – AS

Organised by: Keswick AC

Much like Glaramara – a steep climb up the track, but what is the best line down? The best I can say is – it depends on what kind of runner you are. Better descenders can take the steeper, rougher lines; more workmanlike downhillers like me have to take the longer ways round. Still, in 2019 I ran this race in 57 minutes – 9 minutes quicker than I did in 2018 – a testament to what being in Borrowdale for nearly a year can do for your running!

Well, at the end of October my summer contract at the hostel ended, although I’m glad to say I’m moving on to a job at another YHA, albeit outside the Lakes. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Borrowdale often enough in 2020 though, only this time as a visitor, and giving as many of these races as I can another go.Version 2