Hawkshead YHA Lake District

Lockdown life in an empty Lake District hostel

I’ve debated about whether to share my lockdown story over the last week.

I’m aware that I’m writing this from a very fortune point of privilege, one in which sometimes feels so far removed from the physical, mental and financial hardship so many people are having to deal with and face during this global pandemic. 

The lived reality is that this global crisis is playing out in so many different ways for so many different people. But I know I’ve found value in those sharing a positive picture of lockdown, so here I am, sharing my story with you.

The brief back story is there are 6 of us living in various sites of staff accommodation surrounding our hostel near Hawkshead in the south of the Lake District plus our manager (and her loveable dog).

We all have slightly different consequences for lockdown (more in detail below) where we’ve all been for the last 3 weeks.

But before we dive into lockdown life, here’s a little back story. 

Life Pre Lockdown 

I moved to Hawkshead on the last day of February, packing my stuff into my new manager’s car and making the 20-mile journey south from Keswick, past the snowy Dodds and Helvellyn range. 

I remember waking up on the 1st March and feeling so excited to be starting a new job as an activity leader/hostel assistant, to be in a new place to explore and run new trails.

All the possibilities that lay before me at the start of a brand new month. It’s funny, looking back on that feeling of anticipation.

The first week of March was spent training in Edale in the Peak District in various activities from archery to bushcraft, a wonderful week spent with activity leaders from all over the network in England, an opportunity to really connect and take time to talk and listen in the evenings due to the lack of phone signal and wifi.

I stayed on for the weekend in the Peaks, hiking up Kinder, gloriously unaware that this would be my last adventure for a while. 

On the run up to Lockdown 

Back in Hawkshead, the hostel was still due to be used for private hire for two more weekends. We had our first school group booked in for activities mid March and we were due to open to the public on 24th March. 

The next week or so continued as normal, cleaning, sorting out the activity store ready for the new season.

But every day, the news of the coronavirus in Europe began to grow, and it steadily became clear things were about to change. I helped out with a school group at a neighbouring hostel the following week, but by the next day, our school groups for the next two weeks had a cancelled.

Uncertainty was growing.

We continued on with deep cleaning, despite the private hire group for the next weekend also cancelling, and it felt good to have the physical nature of cleaning to distract from the uncertainty.

On Friday the 20th, we filed into our hostel lounge, overlooking Esthwhaite lake and were told the news that the YHA had decided to keep our hostel closed until at least 22nd May, with just 3 of the Lake District hostels remaining open.

The YHA had encountered adversity through world wars and foot and mouth disease, they were confident we would pull through this new crisis.

The heartbreaking part was that any person due to start with the YHA were told that day they would not be starting.

This included 4 members of our team, due to start on Monday, who worked for the hostel the previous year were now not coming back. With many of the current team already onsite also returners, this news hit the team really hard.

It was a tough staff meeting filled with emotions. 

YHA Hawkshead Lake District
Inside the hostel lounge for out staff meetings

Our managers spaniel sensed the sadness and did the rounds for much needed cuddles.

Over the weekend, with the government now advising against nonessential travel, the pressure was growing for the YHA to close all hostels, for safety.

I went out and did a big hike over to Windermere and a long run to Tarn Hows, in anticipation that we would be following many other countries in Europe by going into lockdown.

By Monday lunchtime, the YHA had taken the decision to close the network indefinitely and we set about closing the hostel down – doing stock takes, turning heating down. Grimly, my job that afternoon was to make up a bedroom in the event of one of us getting cornavirus, a solemn and sad final job. Who knows when my next shift would be?

Esthwaite Water Lake District
Esthwaite Water, just outside the hostel

In the evening, we gathered around Gabriel’s phone, bowls of comforting lentil soup he’d just made in hand as we watched Boris Johnson address the nation and put the country on immediate lockdown. I grabbed by backpack and head touch, and jogged down to Hawkshead village 15 minutes away to stock up on supplies at the tiny Co-op before it closed at 10pm

We’d be in it for the long haul.

Uncertainty continues

As we were deemed non essential workers, the next morning we are relieved of our duties from work and told we would be updated with what happened next in due course.

Whilst not certain, given we were in a government lockdown, we were under the impression we’d be able to remain in our staff accommodation at the hostel.

I found this week really up and down – my body and mind felt weird not having a purpose to get up for, and relaxing felt difficult given that we were still unsure of our work situation – there was a growing sense we may all just be laid off.

Not quite switched off, not quite relaxed.

Thankfully we were blessed with a week of warm weather, and the days blurred into reading, chatting and playing music in the garden.

Most of the team had only started mid-March, so effectively, we were still getting to know each other. 

Finally, on the Friday during the first week of lockdown, we were individually called into the manager’s office to be told our fate.

I remember pausing nervously and gazing at the lake before I went into the office, wondering if this would be the end of my Lake District dream.

But luckily, it was good news. 

I had qualified for furlough until the end of May. I was in a weird position of being paid but not working.

Heartbreakingly, bar our managers, the rest of our team didn’t qualify.

The government had stated that a person must have started employment by the 28th of February. The majority of the team had started early and mid-March but because I had only done a hostel transfer having worked at Keswick for the last year, I’d qualified. 

The rest of the team were told they could remain in staff accommodation (as could I) and apply for universal credit.

I’d been given my news first and told not to discuss it with the rest of team whilst they were told, so I took myself off for a walk up the hill behind the hostel, with views spanning out towards Ambleside and the Fairfield Horseshoe.

I rang family and friends, the best way I know how to process my thoughts and feelings; a classic external thinker. 

Lake District views

I returned to find mixed feelings amongst the team – some of them simply happy we’d be able to continue living here – some deeply angered and frustrated with the government loophole.

I attempted to offer positivity and support but felt a sense of guilt to be in a weirdly solo privileged position amongst the team.

I also realised that, despite years of constantly thinking I was more of a ‘free spirit’ then a routine person, I needed a sense of structure, and fast. 

YHA Hawkshead
YHA Hawkshead

Getting into a rhythm and routine 

And so that’s what I did.

I made a list of all the things I thought I’d quite like to do during lockdown time – books that remained unread, online courses bought and half-finished and set about creating a daily routine (sorry to my friends with kids, this might make you sick!).

Waking up naturally (usually around 7, forever a morning bird), a half-hour Yoga with Adriene session, mediation using the Headspace app, shower then the structure – a mix of reading, writing (blog and personal) and getting stuck into online courses with an afternoon walk or run.

These vary from Grizedale Forest, a short way up to the steep hill behind the hostel to Latterbarrow with glorious views over to Winderemere.

I feel extremely lucky to have a range of stunning places all my doorstep. 

Hawkshead, Lake District
Grizedale Forest Lake District
Grizedale Forest Lake District

One Sunday morning I got up at 5.45am to watch the sunrise over Latterbarrow, grounding and beautiful. 

Sunrise on Latterbarrow, Lake District
Sunrise on Latterbarrow

Of course, the high fells are still within reach but the Mountain Rescue teams across the Lakes have pleaded people to stay away.

The teams are volunteer-led with many working for the NHS – the teams do not require extra, unnecessary stress and injury from hikers or runners. 

I’ve been doing a main shop for food once a week at our tiny Co-op and independent deli in Hawkshead (luckily I did a massive Aldi shop when I arrived so have had lots of staples already)

This is a stressful game somewhere between Supermarket Sweep and dodgeball as you try to negotiate the tiny shop and keep your 2-metre distance. Some of the team drive to Kendal (around 40 minutes away) to stock up at Aldi and I request random exotic things missing from the Co-op like sweet potatoes and ginger. 

The road to the village
Hawkshead Village
Hawkshead Village
Hawkshead Co-op

Every Sunday our manager organises a pub quiz, this week an Easter themed one, a nice change to sit down and chat, have a laugh and play music.

Given that we were living and working with each other for 2 weeks before lockdown, we are deemed a closed community, a family and can, therefore, mix without distancing. 

Lockdown Pub Quiz

Some days, I manage to stick quite well to the the routine, other days outdoor lunches might turn into long life chats in the sun.

But I’m ok with that, I’m treating it as an experiment to see what works, what feels good. And amazingly, I’ve loved having a routine. I wonder if that is perhaps because I have so little control outside my life, that being able to control these small things is consequently making things feel better.

I feel extremely grateful to have this time, space and mental energy to be able to use the time purposefully and creatively.

Reflections of good to come of this time 

The random acts of goodness and kindness

Clapping the NHS at 8pm each evening, music on the balconies in Italy, creative rainbows popping up in windows around the UK, the offer of help to older, vulnerable people.

My best friend’s dad’s, who live 5 minutes apart in the Midlands looking out for each other and her mum (a primary school teacher) teaching her daughter English and Maths over Facetime every day. The YHA opening up city hostels to homeless organisations and NHS workers.

Seeing friends on Instagram embrace creativity, from baking bread to gardening and running. 

Making more time for focussed reading and writing 

More mental energy. I finally got around to finishing How to Fail by Elizabeth Day (which I started last May!), a memoir of how numerous life failures have shaped her life and restarted Modern Love (a collection of essays from the New York Times column of the same name) heartwarming stories on various types of human love, a real comfort in such a weird time. 

I’ve been diving back into two wonderful courses I took with the writer and journalist Huma from Our Story Time last year. I rushed and breezed through the essays last year as I juggled working full time, with days off outdoors, and didn’t really, truly connect with the words in the way that I have done this time when there isn’t the ‘oh I’ve got to be at work in half an hour, let’s get this done quick” kind of attitude. 

I’ve really started to understand the full value of committing, of slowing down.

Removal of guilt that I ‘should’ be doing something else and wholeheartedly embracing a task or creativity instead. 

Talking on the phone 

Taking the time to talk to friends and family. I’m usually so wrapped up in my own world that my communication is often just stolen texts or WhatsApp’s, which is lovely, but I confess I can be a horror at replying.

Certainly, during the first week of lockdown, I found myself calling a lot of friends and family, in need of a sense of connection and wondering how on earth my loved ones were dealing with the upside-down world and I really noticed the value of conversation, of taking the time to share stories and to listen. 

Getting comfortable with uncertainty 

I found as I’ve grown older, I’ve increasingly been quite comforted having certainty, but I’ve learnt in these last 3 weeks when all of that has gone out the window, that sometimes you just have to let go and see what happens, trust that you fill find the right direction again after the storm passes. 

The next chapter

So what next? Well, the YHA have taken all hostel bookings off until 1st August. I’ve been furloughed until the end of May, but between that time we are not yet sure what will happen.

We believe we will probably to be able to remain in staff accommodation, but realistically everything is down to government restrictions, especially ones involving non-essential travel and social distancing.

Instead of searching for answers which are not yet there and worrying about a future no one knows will look like, I’ve increasingly learnt to just try and enjoy the present day, to lean into moments of joy you can find in the day to day and be thankful, grateful and appreciate being healthy and safe amongst the ever-changing world. 

YHA Hawkshead Lake District

I do hope this post has found you well and you’ve managed to find some tiny moments of joy in the stormy seas. And if your struggling, try to remember that this to shall pass, that we will get through this, together. 

In the waves of change we find out direction