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Achille Ratti Hostel

Castle c1960, Cockermouth
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In 1953 I was a boy scout with St Patrick's 17th Widnes troop when we had our annual camp in The Lake District. I remember getting off the steam train at Windermere station where there was an old single decker bus waiting for us to take us on to our destination, after loading all our kit the bus set off and chugged through Ambleside and Grasmere and on to Dunmail Raise where we alighted at the "Achille Ratti" hostel which is still standing to this day along with the AA box that was close by. After settling into our bunks in the domitory that night we were given a fright by a loud banging on the wire mesh which covered the windows, when we plucked up the courage to have a look outside we were confronted by figures covered with white sheets that had us scuttling back to our bunks and diving under the covers, we didn't get much sleep that night! It turned out to be some of the leaders having a bit of fun frightening the lives out of us.
During the following 2 weeks we were allowed time to take a trip into Keswick so three or four of us jumped on a bus and sat there in wonderment looking at the mountains for the first time and the water rushing down the hills. On arriving in Keswick we set about buying presents for mums and dads from the local gift shops and I can remember seeing a pennyfarthing bicycle outside of one establishment. Of course we missed our bus back and had to wait for the next one, making us late for our evening meal, meaning that we were in "court" before the leaders who sentenced us to fatigues the next day while the rest of the troop climbed Helm Crag, fondly known as the "Lion and the Lamb". Fatigues meant that we had to clean the old stoves down while looking longingly at the fells across the way and our mates making their way up, but after a while one of the leaders took pity on us and allowed us to go after them. Crossing a stream and making our way waist deep in ferns we eventually caught up with them and arrived at the summit (my first peak!). The hob nails we had been advised to hammer into our black boots had served us well! Helm Crag has held a special place in my heart ever since, not the highest of mountains but one that I have a great affection for, indeed I have told my sons that when I shuffle off, then I would like my ashes to be taken up there.

Written by Brian Balfe. To send Brian Balfe a private message, click here.

A memory of Cockermouth in Cumbria shared on Sunday, 9th November 2008.

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