If someone had told me I’d go youth hosteling in my advanced years, I would say he was off his rocker. But my husband Samad and I did precisely that in our mid-fifties.
We arrived in London very early one September morning and made our way to the Grosvenor House Hotel at Park Lane to leave our luggage which we would need for our stay in London. We took only our backpacks and went to Euston to catch a train to the Lake District. The smooth 5-hour train ride allowed us to enjoy the peaceful countryside with its neat settlements and fields and tidy clumps of trees. Even the cows appeared to graze in neat rows. We arrived at Windermere that afternoon.
A long, slow three-mile walk took us to our first youth hostel at Troutbeck. We didn’t know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to find hot showers, wholesome meals and warm beds in a very clean establishment. We paid 30 Sterling pounds for our beds, dinner, breakfast and pack lunch for the following day, a good deal, we thought.
Our next hostel at Patterdale was grand by any standards. The room I stayed in, (men and women were put in separate dormitories), had eight specially designed bunk beds, thick warm duvets and blankets and a fitted cupboard for each person. The sitting and dining rooms were spacious and a very efficient staff fed us a sumptuous array of food.
Each morning we would wake up early, scan the sky and hope for good weather. On a fine day we decided to climb three thousand feet to Helvellyn peak. By noon we reached the foot of Striding Edge, a sharp ridge which rose steeply to the peak. As we stepped on the ridge I wailed. There was no way I would attempt it. The sight of the yellow helicopter belonging to the mountain rescue team that suddenly appeared above only increased my fear. We abandoned the ridge and took a longer, less intimidating route but it was still a hard scramble to the top. We were enthralled by the impressive scenery that greeted us, a 360-degree view of fells, dales and gleaming lakes which stretched for miles around.
After an eight-hour trek we reached rustic Thirlmere Youth Hostel, tucked deep in Lakeland. No tired trekkers or backpackers there but swarms of teddy bears, large and small. A giant one named Bremen “served” us our welcoming tea. It is said that in 1902 the American President, Teddy Roosevelt went bear-hunting, saw a cute tethered bear cub and refused to kill it. A few months later, teddy (from his name) bears were on sale everywhere in the US. In 1992, to mark 90 years of teddy bears, the warden of Thirlmere held a Teddy Bear Conference the object of which was to have teddy bears of all ages to meet and mingle, play games with each other, and generally have a good time. More than 50 bears attended. The warden joyously told us he planned to have a Teddy Bear Conference every year!
The following day was cold and windy. We followed a forest trail and got hopelessly lost. It started to rain heavily as we looked for a way out of the forest. Soaking wet we stumbled upon A591, the district’s main artery, headed for Grasmere and reached it by late afternoon.
What a pretty little village was Grasmere, famous for its association with the early 19th Century poet William Wordsworth. We paid homage to him by visiting his home, Dove Cottage, and walked leisurely from one end of the village to the other in a couple of hours.
In contrast, Ambleside, our next stop, was a bustling town full of outdoor equipment shops, book shops, gift shops, cafes and restaurants. Our youth hostel, facing Lake Windermere, was probably the largest in the area, with over 200 rooms. The place was crowded with backpackers, young and old, and people waited in long lines for dinner.
Our great adventure was about to end. On our last day we took a ferry boat to Bowness, a town near Windemere, rented a two-seater self drive motor boat and had a spin on the waters of Bowness, a refreshing change after all the trekking and trudging we’d done.
As we made our way to London, we thought of the many people we’d met, among them Philip and Jackie, a young English couple who had chatted with us as if we were old friends, pretty Miko from Japan who travelled alone, the people we had hot soup with in a pub one cold day, and the couple who showed us where we could enjoy vegetable curry and rice.
After many years I still wonder whether the teddy bears ever met again at Thirlmere.