BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SKIDDAW FELLS
ON 4th July, 1987, in the presence of at least 133 people, two horses and several hundred sheep, Skiddaw House was opened as a youth hostel. This year the same crowd, possibly excepting the horses and sheep, is being invited back for a celebratory tea party on Saturday, 5th July.
Skiddaw House was, for a hundred years or so, home for shepherds, gamekeepers and grouse shooting parties in the remote area on the north flank of Skiddaw in the Lake District.
The "house", a short row of cottages in reality, started to decline after the last shepherd left in 1969.
By the mid-1980s, after periods as bothy, outdoor pursuits centre and emergency refuge, the buildings were good only as a sheep shelter and appeared to be in terminal decline.
The rot was stopped by timely philanthropic action by John Bothamley, a businessman who had earlier restored an old building near Hesket-new-Market and presented it to the YHA as Carrock Fell youth hostel.
By mid-1987 Skiddaw House had been structurally restored and fitted out to open as a simple hostel.
Skiddaw House, at an elevation of 1550ft, is now acknowledged to be the highest, and arguably the most remote, youth hostel in the British Isles. The latter claim is based on the three-mile walk from the nearest car access and the fact that not one building, road, electricity pylon or telephone pole can be seen from the hostel in any direction despite the extensive views all around.
Martin Webster has been warden for the eight-month season for each of the past five years. His enthusiastic hospitality is matched only by the ever-flowing teapot and the glowing wood-stoves.
Skiddaw House is much quoted in early Lakeland guidebooks as "the loneliest house in England" and was the scene of a foul murder and the subsequent suicide of the black murderer — but only in one of Hugh Walpole's Heries Thwaite books.
The Youth Hostels Association are assisted with the running of Skiddaw House by "The Panel", a small but active committee devoted to solving the many problems of keeping this unique hostel going.
Through a group of concerned people, the Friends of Skiddaw House, funds and resources are available to help with maintenance work on the buildings and grounds, routine transport of supplies over the rough mile-mile track and voluntary temporary wardens to cover Martin's holiday periods.
Special emphasis recently has been on restoring the copse of shelter trees that has protected the house for nigh-on a hundred years but is now thinning with old age.
The panel have been researching the history of the house, especially of the shepherds and keepers, their wives and their children who lived there. They hope to have at least a few of these hardy people at the birthday party.
Also of interest are the many references to Skiddaw House in literature, in guidebooks over the last 70 years or so and, in 1902, in one of Canon Rawnsley's books on Cumbrian life.
The 10th anniversary weekend, on 5th and 6th July, is being organised by the panel with financial help from the Friends of Skiddaw House. As well as the party on the Saturday, the hostel will be staging and open house on both days and all are invited. Further information can be obtained from John Martin, on 01228 20773, or Bill Sells, chairman of the panel, on 01524 781432.HAP