Black Sail Youth Hostel
Black Sail Youth Hostel has gained legendary status among hikers within the UK. Much of the attraction of this place is the fact that it’s so remote, sitting deep within the Ennerdale Valley at the end of a dirt track meaning you have to park elsewhere and walk in. My last visit to this hostel was some years ago and following an expensive £250,000.00 refurbishment which included better insulation, double glazing and new power systems (generator and batteries) I booked a winter weekend for the group on the ‘Escape To’ sole use basis. The refurbishment promised to make the building more comfortable for winter stays without changing the general feel of the place, which is that of a basic mountain hut its main appeal!
We were told that we could park one car at YHA Ennerdale where one member of the group and belongings would be transported in by Land Rover. The passengers in this lead car would need to walk in. All other cars would have to park at Gatesgarth Farm and hike in at night over Scarth Gap Pass which was very much part of the adventure and appeal. When the warden from Ennerdale and I arrived at the building the apologies instantly started for the fact that doors were hard to open because they had started to bow, despite having only recently being fitted. It was explained that the drains at the back were not working properly either and rain water was making its way into the shower cubicle rather than soaking away. Whilst both of these points seemed strange considering the recent refurbishment they would not stop us from enjoying this much anticipated weekend. In the tour of the building I was shown the generator which started first time. It quickly became apparent however that there was no power into the building and that the bank of batteries were not charging. It was decided to leave the generator running for some time but something was clearly wrong and the warden eventually decided to return to Ennerdale to try and read the manual and get advice from a neighbour who used a similar backup system. By this time my passengers had arrived by foot. We built a fire with some wood to try and keep warm and used our head torches for light. Having not had anything to eat we decided to try and cook our pizzas in the gas oven. The LPG bottles clearly contained gas as the generator was powered by it and was running fine. However due to the way the power system has been designed, if there is any issue with the electrical side of the system the whole thing shuts down, gas cooker included.
Eventually the warden returned and it was clear that there would be no speedy solution. Luckily Ennerdale hostel was not booked that weekend so we would be able to stay there instead. This was not an ideal solution however as due to the time we were only able to contact 2 of the other vehicles to explain that they should alter destination. The other car had already parked at Gatesgarth Farm where there was no mobile signal. They would arrive at Black Sail only to find our note asking them to walk further to Ennerdale Hostel. The change in accommodation would also mean having to alter the planned walks. We also had a wasted evening on the Saturday recovering the car that had parked at Gatesgarth Farm. Luckily we did manage to complete some great mountain walks but it was clear that a number of the group were unhappy that they had not been able to stay at our chosen hostel.
Upon our return to London we complained to the YHA customer care team. All replies from the YHA were sent to the group who attended the weekend and the general feeling was that we were being ‘fobbed off’ and that there seemed to be a disconnect between the customer care team and those responsible for the hostel on the ground. Some questions raised had to be asked more than once before getting a response. It seems for example that in the event their other hostels had been full we would be expected to get back in our cars at midnight and drive another 5+ hours back to London, something that as a driver I would not feel safe doing. The final result was that the YHA offered us 25% discount off another escape to booking. Unfortunately trying to get a weekend that all those affected can make will be almost impossible and even with a small reduction in the accommodation rate, the cost of fuel from London means we are not likely to visit this hostel again soon. To be honest I’m not sure I would want to risk visiting Black Sail Youth Hostel until they had proved that they had ironed out all the problems.