This is our Lakeland Four Passes (Part One) account. The journal of a very special journey made for a very special boy. We really hope you enjoy it……
“Be it skinny wheels, skinny wheels with nobbles on, fat wheels or just your bog standard 26 inch wheel, Charlie was a master of them all. His infectious smile touched the world and his love of riding spread to so many. Charlie was what makes our sport and community so great – more enthusiasm, talent and energy than most could wish for in a lifetime and a smile that could light up a room in a second.” Trippin Fellaz talking about Charlie Craig
I recently shared some ideas on Raising Outdoor Children (please have a read here) and it was great to get such a positive response from a variety of people. There are so many positives to getting children active and in enjoying family activities together. The Lake District Four Passes proved to be one of our favourite family adventures. It was a great challenge, a magical journey and, above all else, a very emotional experience.
This trip certainly wasn’t on our radar until, back in late March, we saw the beautiful Trippin video. This charts a journey Nick Craig and his 15 year son Charlie had made with Joe and Sam Flanagan. Please do take a few minutes to watch the video below. The team had followed, via a night in Black Sail Youth Hostel, the famous Lakeland Four Passes route. We’d have loved the video at any time, but on this occasion we were even more inspired. Inspired and brought to tears.
The reason for our heartfelt response was because this video had actually become a tribute to a very special boy. In January 2017, only a few months after the group had biked the route, Charlie went to sleep one Friday night and never woke up. Charlie had been great friends with our son Ben and we knew what a special young man he was.
Charlie was immensely talented on a bike. He won the National Trophy Cyclocross Series in impressive style in 2016 and finished seventh in the British MTB Cross-Country Series youth men’s category. But, by all accounts, he lived his life to the full in everything he did. He was also part of an extremely loving family and had a broad circle of friends. Everyone spoke so highly of Charlie and his passing has left a deep hole in so many lives.
Losing Charlie hit all the Peak Mountaineering team hard. Ben knew him better than any of us, but Cal and I were devastated too. Considering that we didn’t know him or his family too well, it knocked us all for six. We hear the same from many others too.
We can never go back of course. Although a world without Charlie seems significantly emptier, we have sought to do is take inspiration from him in as many ways as possible. We’ve always been keen mountain bikers but somehow, since 2017, getting on the bikes as much as possible has become more important than ever.
It also meant that, as soon as we watched the Trippin film, we knew we had to follow in Charlie’s pedal strokes on his Four Passes journey. It was the birth of our Lakeland Four Passes (Part One) journey. Nick kindly talked us through the logistics and we got busy. The Four Passes can be completed in a long day but, as you pass Black Sail Youth Hostel mid way, it is also a great trip to combine with a stay at this iconic wilderness shelter.
Nick warned us that booking for a night here can be tricky and so we felt lucky to find a half term date when we could all be housed. We started planning it for the October half term holiday but hadn’t actually realised that Charlie’s team had done their trip at the same time. This added even more significance to the trip.
Once the hostel was booked we sorted all the other stuff easily and headed to the Lake District. It was a mixed weather forecast, but we were all up for an adventure. The first part of the Four Passes is a steep climb to Honister Pass. from there it is down, via a lovely bridleway, to the end of Buttermere. The climb to Honister certainly gives a sense of what’s to come and we battled this section in driving rain. A few kilometres in and already we could see this was going to be one of those very unique adventures.
The Ennerdale Valley
We had packed extremely lightly and this proved a good strategy because the route has plenty of hike a bike action. From Buttermere it is a long but steady carry up to Scarth Gap. Then a long sweeping and exhilarating descent drops you into the Ennerdale Valley. The hostel is out of sight for a while but, as you sweep round the hillside, the small stone property comes into view. It’s an amazing location and, as we headed down, the sun streamed through the breaking clouds to greet us.
The Youth Hostel Association ploughed a lot of money into renovating Black Sail a few years ago and they should be applauded for it. They have kept an iconic hostel alive. They have also managed to keep the unique character of the place. We cruised up to the door and soaked up the majesty of the valley and the surrounding tops. There is always something so special about a night amongst the mountains. This place immediately felt like a wonderful stopping point.
Black Sail Youth Hostel
Black Sail has a cosy lounge, a well equipped kitchen and a few small dormitories. There are 16 beds in total and on our night there we were joined by a couple of other families and one or two single walkers. We had got quite a soaking during the day, but soon had fresh clothes on. Our biking threads were drying over the radiators and a hot drink was in hand.
The outside terrace benches of the hostel are a perfect place to watch the sun set and enjoy the stunning tranquility and we sat outside for some time. Having said that, we had also booked evening meals and were certainly ready to duck out of the chill evening air by the time warden James gave us the nod for dinner.
James served up a hearty bangers and mash meal followed by crumble and custard. A perfect post ride feast. There is no phone signal, wifi or TV at Black Sail and so after dinner entertainment is the best sort. There are cards, Jenga, Monopoly and Uno. It was a fun and contented communal evening.
Duvets and bunks
We had spied the route ahead during our time sat outside the hostel. The morning climb up to Black Sail Pass was going to be a shock to the muscles. Luckily, fresh duvets and cosy bunks awaited. After several games we were ready to be tucked up far earlier than I’d ever head to bed at home.
To get from the lounge to any of the dorms means heading outside and we wandered out into a chill night blessed with a clear sky. We stood for a few minutes staring at the millions of stars. I couldn’t help wondering which bright twinkler was Charlie watching over us. I slept really well that night and yet can never say that thoughts of Charlie were far from my mind. This felt like a very special trip and I couldn’t wait to continue the adventure in the morning. We hope you’ve enjoyed our Lakeland Four Passes (Part One) account. Please do join us for part two here.