Special report: The future of Black Sail Youth Hostel
LFTO News Team
15 April 2008 16:25
The Youth Hostel Association has announced plans to withdraw meal services and a resident warden at the Lake District's most isolated youth hostel. But that's not necessarily a bad thing...
Black Sail is arguably England's last true wilderness. Sitting four miles from the nearest road, at the head of Ennerdale, the hut's only neighbours are the giddy heights of Great Gable, Pillar and the High Stile range.
For many years, the Youth Hostel Association has provided a resident warden and a meals service at Black Sail, and now both these services are to be withdrawn as the hostel gets a revamp. That might sound like a Very Bad Thing - but the thinking behind it is hard to dispute.
First off, the YHA doesn't have a choice. The land is owned by the Forestry Commission, which is "re-wilding" Ennerdale after a century of afforestation. Up until recently, the dale was buried beneath a dark-green blanket of pines and conifers, earning the rancour of Alfred Wainwright, among other critics.
Reclaimed by nature
As part of the Wild Ennerdale project, the Commission will cease maintaining the vehicle track to Black Sail, allowing it to be reclaimed by Mother Nature. This will make it impossible for the YHA to employ a warden, for the simple reason that the poor soul would have to carry his own supplies four miles up the valley every time he wanted to stock up on cooking oil and pesto.
But the YHA denies that this will render Ennerdale inaccessible to those in need of creature comforts. Last year, the YHA completed a revamp of the Ennerdale Youth Hostel, down at the civilised end of the valley, and it now provides the all-singing, all-dancing meals service.
It's time, they say, for Black Sail to become something different.
Spokesman Paul Fearn told LFTO: "We fully understand people's concerns but we think the uniqueness of Black Sail lies in where it is, not what it provides.
"It's not about having a meal provided and someone to chat to. It's about being in that unique location, surrounded by wilderness and quietness.
"While the decision wasn't in our hands, we fully support what the Forestry Commission is doing in Ennerdale, and we want Black Sail to reflect that ecological interest. Hopefully people will see that this is actually a chance for Black Sail to become something really amazing, rather than it actually losing something."
The project hasn't pleased everyone, of course, and you can click here to read the views of Harry Ellis, a walker who feels the changes will deny many people the chance to enjoy Black Sail.
His main concern is that more frail walkers, or families, who can't carry huge amounts of food and drink with them, will be denied the potentially life-changing experience of staying at Black Sail.
It's a fair point. But is it better that Black Sail will truly take its place as one of Britain's finest wildernesses, free of any sound even remotely generated by a petrol engine? It's a great talking point here at LFTO.
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