Today, I’m sharing another Q&A from my monthly newsletter, Letters from the Lake District. This one is from Sue Edwards, who currently runs Skiddaw House Hostel, the highest and one of the most remote hostels in England.
I visited Skiddaw House a couple of years ago for my birthday, and it’s a truly memorable place to stay – tucked away in the mountains, the place echoes with stories from those who have made the journey on foot to spend a night off-grid.
1. Tell us a little about you and your connection to the Lake District
I’m currently the Warden of Skiddaw House Youth Hostel. I took the lease on in November 2021 and plan to be here until at least May 2027, when it expires. Prior to taking on Skiddaw House, I was managing YHA Hawkshead for 5 years. I have also looked after YHA Ennerdale and YHA Black Sail from 2010 – 2013 and in between these hostels worked as Deputy Manager at YHA Langdale. It’s taken a while and a few other career options (teaching, journalism and social work) to realise that location means everything to me.
To live in the mountains meant a move into hospitality, and it’s been a revelation; not that cleaning a toilet is exactly glamorous work, but as it turns out, I derive a huge amount of satisfaction from making a place as clean and comfortable and welcoming as I possibly can.
2. Share your first memory of visiting the Lake District
When I was 17, I attended an Outward Bound course at Ullswater for 3 weeks in 1992. It was transformational as I returned to school and, as a result of my residential, chose to study Outdoor Education at University.
3. Skiddaw House is a remote and off-grid hostel – tell us how you’ve been settling into the hostel and how you are finding being self-sufficient
This is an interesting question to answer. In some ways life is busy as I’m working weekends with the groups who stay, and then during the week getting in coal, wood, collecting laundry, supplies, checking emails, bookings, replying to guests, arranging contractor visits. But, at the same time, life here is so much more simple.
There are only stoves to heat the building. Gas hobs to cook on and hot water boilers for, thankfully, hot water out of the taps and shower. I love that it is possible to not just live off-grid, but run a sustainable business too and 21 of us can experience this amazing place together in simplicity and commonality.
4. Describe a few of your happiest Lake District memories (hostel or outdoors!)
There was one particular day in March 2015 that I remember very well. I’d not been long back in the Lakes after my Mum very sadly passed away. The sun was shining, the snow was down, and I took myself off to Bow Fell. With the snow crunching under my crampons and the sun shining even brighter off the white-covered fells, it was the most memorable walk for views, weather, and reflecting on my Mum’s life. All finished off with a Neddy Boggle beer in The Britannia Inn in Elterwater – a perfect day!
Happy days in the Lakes are usually intertwined with a cracking day on the fells. Great sandwiches and some cake, my dog and the freedom of walking on top of ridges, looking for that perfect lunch stop are probably where I can pinpoint my happiest moments.
5. Your favourite hike or hill in the Lake District
Can I sort of cheat on answering this and say it changes as I move around the Lakes or discover new walks? Pillar will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a bit of a brute to climb, but dominates the lower part of Ennerdale and I was there for 3 years and saw a lot of Pillar.
More recently, I’ve reacquainted myself with Helvellyn. Enjoying the different approaches and fantastic views this felltop offers.
I’m looking forward to getting onto Great Calva, Knott and a ridge walk, taking in Loncscale, Skiddaw and Bakestall from Skiddaw House.
I think, though, of all the mountains, the one I always find emotive is Blencathra. Even more so that I can see if from my window, but because it’s got it all; ridge walk, scrambles, a tarn – it even marks your arrival back into the Lakes. I have friends on the East Coast at Redcar, and I always return on the A66. When I see that distinctive Saddleback, I know I’m home, and that’s a very powerful and reassuring feeling to have.
6. Your go-to place for a post-hike coffee and/or drink in the Lake District
Anywhere that serves Loweswater Gold will always get my vote. I do enjoy meeting friends at Chesters as we can take dogs there and enjoy a stroll with the pooch too. I’m not a vegetarian, but I always find the food to be imaginative and fresh, and often think of it as the best café in the Lakes.
7. The place you go to escape the Lake District summer crowds
I often find the Duddon Valley is a peaceful place and will head that way for a quieter walk. The Newfield Inn is great for a pint in the beer garden or by the fire too – an authentic pub!
8. What are your future plans for Skiddaw House?
It’s terrific to be able to welcome groups back after 2 years of Covid restrictions. So this first winter has been a gentle but wonderful insight into how the building creates memories and communality for people. No phone signal, no Wi-Fi, just people all coming together for shelter, a bed, a meal and maybe a beer. When people ask questions of each other and conversations between strangers strike up, that’s when the magic starts – memories are made and people leave the next morning as friends. I can’t wait to be a part of that and do my part of the deal by making the place welcoming, warm and a memorable place to stay.
I also had a wonderful birthday staying at the hostel back in 2019 and you can read about my adventure here Hiking to England’s Highest Hostel in the Lake District
Join my monthly Letters from the Lake District newsletter
On the first Friday of the month, I share…
✨A mini letter from me with monthly insights into living in the Lake District
✨ Books, podcasts, essays and articles from the Lake District and outdoor community to inspire you
✨A Q&A with someone connected to the Lake District – think artists, runners, wild swimmers and indie business owners