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Lake District 1958

Willows School Holiday in Lake District in 1958

On Saturday 31st May 1958 forty-nine pupils and three adults departed from Marple to the Lake District by train for the very first Willows School YHA holiday. For this 7 day trip a very comprehensive written daily diary was kept but no corresponding photos have been discovered.

The record of the visit to the Lake District in 1959 was purely photographic, so a few images from 1959 have been included here to break-up the text. For all 1959 photos see the record for that year.

Lake District 1958 - Introduction

Area:   Lake District

Dates:   Saturday 31st May - Saturday 7th June


Ambleside, Grasmere, Coniston Far End, Longthwaite, Ambleside, Grasmere, Coniston Far End.


Margaret Andrews   Richard Garner   Helen Lee   Wendy Sharples 
Barbara Atkins   Mary Goddard   Janet Marshall   Gwynth Smart 
Janet Bostock   Jan Goodale   Robert Martin   Vivien Smith 
Gerald Boardman   John Gregory   Ann Mason   John Tague 
Brian Bower   Nicholas Griffiths   Gilbert Mason   Ian Taylor 
Brenda Birtwistle   Norman Harrison   Tony Mason   Roderick Thackray 
Miriam Brewer   John Harrison   Vivian Mitchell   Eileen Thelwall 
David Britnor   Victor Hawkins   Valerie Moore   Monica Wild 
Vivian Brooks   Alwyn Kay   Pauline Niblock   Pauline Wilkinson 
Christopher Cooke   Frank Kirk   Tony North   Michael Taylor 
Christine Crabtree   Julia Keene  Derek Rains   
Malcolm Dewhurst   Billy Lang   Neil Sanders   
Ann Eden   Elizabeth Leathers Philip Shaw   


Miss R Wood 
Mr D Lee 
Mr & Mrs F R Mason 


Per pupil, including all fares and food: £3 -10s -0d
Total cost of holiday for 54 persons: £205 -16s -10d

Lake District 1958 - Saturday 31st May

After all the preparation and planning, collecting money and writing and receiving letters and arranging transport, the great day had come.

In accordance with the plan all the children and leaders, together with a number of parents, gathered at Marple Station between 9.20 and 9.50am; roll was called and record cards issued in ample time to board the 10.03 diesel train to Manchester. A minor hitch occurred in the walk from London Road Station to Victoria Station when one sub-group missed the way, but arrived at Victoria in plenty of time to catch the train for Preston. No trouble occurred in the change of trains at Preston for the last stage of the rail journey to Windermere.

As the drab industrialised landscape of south Lancashire was left behind and green hills and woods, and later the sea, and then mountains were seen through the carriage windows, so the excitement of anticipated ‘adventures' rose higher and higher amongst the children (and staff).

The group ‘detrained' at Windermere and walked through that town to the landing stage at Bowness to board the BR lake ship Swift for the seven or eight miles to Ambleside - this was meant to be a surprise for the children but somehow the secret had leaked out and many of them were aware of the plot before the landing stage was reached.

WH1959-017 A boat trip from 1959
WH1959-017 A boat trip from 1959

At Ambleside, after a little refreshment, the four sub-groups set off separately for High Close, all intent on following the same route. In fact, owing to minor errors and deviations, each followed a different route, and arrived at the hostel at different times. The last groups to arrive were those of Mr Mason and Mr Lee who, after making a minor navigational error, attempted to retrieve this by a scramble over Loughrigg Fell, and so did not reach High Close until about 7 o'clock.

The warden at High Close was a little aggrieved by our arrival in ‘bits and pieces', but by the use of a little tact, friendly relations were soon established.

Both children and leaders were delighted with the situation and surroundings at High Close, and regretted the necessity for returning to Ambleside next morning. The warden provided the information that High Close has special facilities for school parties, who can be accommodated for a complete week and provided with three meals a day.

On that first night some effort was needed to establish quietness after lights-out - but we were informed that our children were certainly no worse than others on the first night.

Lake District 1958 - Sunday 1st June

Everyone rose early this morning, had a good breakfast and completed chores. The apparent inability of any children, and some adults, to carry out such simple tasks as folding blankets neatly, or sweeping out a room thoroughly, was very marked, but again assurance was given that the Willows group were, if anything, not so bad as most in this respect. After completion of chores, lunch packets were issued, four groups were assembled, and the journey back to Ambleside was made.

On this journey, as in later walks, the groups were assembled in accordance with their abilities; in general those requiring, or desiring, a fairly leisurely time joined Mr Lee, who was himself restricted in activity by reason of a recent injury to his ankle.

Mrs Mason and Miss Wood usually (not always) lead the parties on routes of moderate stiffness, while Mr Mason endeavoured to exhaust the tougher spirits - he was never completely successful in this, but it is noteworthy that after the first night there was never any trouble with noise after lights-out.

On arrival at Ambleside, rucksacks were left at the hostel, and two groups combined to visit Stockgill Force. As it was apparent that the youngsters were intent on visiting the shops to spend their money, and the lake (Windermere) for swimming and boating, the leaders of these two groups decided to permit this. It was later found that the other leaders (Miss Wood and Mr Lee) had made the same decision.

WH1959-006 Hay Stacks from above Honister Pass (from 1959)
WH1959-006 Hay Stacks from above Honister Pass (from 1959)

Most of the children seemed to enjoy themselves on the lake and swimming, but the end of the day arrived without anything worth remembering having been accomplished - the day had been largely frittered away. It was then decided that freelance activities should be confined to the evenings, and the major part of the day occupied by expeditions organised and led by the adults. This proved to be a very satisfactory arrangement, providing the children with a good mixture of memorable adventures on exciting expeditions, and happy general memory of their freelance activities in the evenings.

The situation of the hostel at Ambleside did not compare in any way with that of High Close, but the atmosphere within was very happy and friendly.

At this stage it was becoming apparent that a certain small sector was endeavouring to form itself into a clique that remained a mild, but rather likeable, nuisance throughout the holiday. This group consistently forged ahead of the party to which it belonged, failed to wait for the ‘slower ships' to catch up and frequently lost touch with the remainder.

On the morning of this, our first whole day, Miss Wood escorted her party to church in Grasmere before walking to Ambleside. It was planned for another group to go to church in Ambleside, with Mr Lee, during the evening, but as the children forgot to gather, this plan was abandoned.

In the evening it was necessary for the leaders to go out and round up a number of boys and girls who, quite oblivious to the passage of time, were happily boating on Windermere or bathing in the icy water.

This evening there was no bother with noise after lights-out, and the early risers were not as quick off the mark in the morning.

Lake District 1958 - Monday 2nd June

For this day a fairly ambitious programme was planned:-

Mr Lee took a group of the less energetic members to Troutbeck for some leisurely rambling (is ten miles leisurely rambling?), while two rather tougher groups, one with Miss Wood and the other with Mrs Mason, tackled Fairfield and Helvellyn respectively.

Miss Wood's party walked the entire distance from Ambleside to the summit of Fairfield and back. On the way the party met, and endeavoured to make friends with, a wild pony foal, but the parents were suspicious of their advances and they were chased off by the stallion. All enjoyed the walk and the fine views from the summit.

Mrs Mason's Helvellyn party ‘bussed' from Ambleside to Wythburn and scrambled up Birkside to the summit of the mountain. At the start of the scramble one girl staged a sit-down strike and refused to climb. It transpired that this girl suffers from travel sickness and could not face the prospect of the return journey to Ambleside by bus. Monica Wild came to the rescue and volunteered to forego the scramble and walk back to Ambleside with Eileen, accompanied also by Pauline Wilkinson who did not seem keen on the tough climb.

This group had - apart from the incident mentioned - a very successful day. The descent from Helvellyn was made by way of Helvellyn Ghyll to the road alongside Thirlmere, where a bus was boarded for the journey back to Ambleside.

During this time a fourth party with Mr Mason set out from Ambleside and walked rapidly up the Old Kirkstone Pass, reaching the summit (3 miles) in slightly less than ¾ of an hour. This was not considered a very wise way of starting what promised to be a long and arduous trek, but it was decided to give the boys their head and see what they made of it. The party left the road shortly after crossing the summit of the pass and followed a rough and ill-defined path to Patterdale, stopping on the way for a pleasant spot of lunch.

WH1959-008 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes
WH1959-008 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes

From Patterdale the party set off for the summit of Helvellyn by the path that leads via Striding Edge. It was on this long four mile drag that the effects of the reckless squandering of energy on the early stages of the walk became apparent - even the toughest members of the group were flagging and had to make frequent stops for rest. All the boys were much impressed by Striding Edge and by the apparently near vertical climb to the summit that faced them at the far end.

This false impression of precipitousness was enhanced by the appearance of another party that started the descent from the summit to Striding Edge, then thought better of it and returned to the top to find an easier way down via Swirral Edge. Viewed from Striding Edge the little human figures looked like flies on a vertical wall and gave the impression that the climb was near impossible. Of course, on reaching the end of Striding Edge the boys found this final ascent to be nothing more than a stiff scramble.

Most of the party reached the top of the mountain without incident, but it was then found that three of the party (Kirk, Lang and Bower) were missing. After some searching a pair of ramblers provided the information that they had seen the missing three heading strongly across the steep slope above Red Tarn, towards Swirral Edge.

As there was no sign of them on Swirral Edge or the wide stretch beyond the tarn, a further search was made, without result. It was finally decided that the three must have mistakenly followed the other group seen moving along Swirral Edge. There was no real faith in this decision, and the depleted group moved off with thoughts of ‘phone calls to the police and search parties on those rocky fells.

Having pressed on with rather subdued spirits for about half a mile one of the party, chancing to look round, espied three figures on the skyline - of course, the three missing members. They had in fact followed the wrong party and, not discovering their error for some time, had made a desperate scramble and climb to overtake the rest of the party.

After this, with spirits revived, the whole party pushed on down the steep path to Wythburn, where a bus was boarded for Ambleside by about 6.30pm. This group had covered approximately 18 strenuous miles during the day.

After supper most of the children went out in small groups for boating and swimming, and were rounded up and shepherded back by the leaders at around 10 o'clock.

Lake District 1958 - Tuesday 3rd June

On this morning it was arranged that a party with Miss Wood should stay at Ambleside for a few hours, pony riding, before walking the few miles to High Close by about 5pm. Mr Lee took his party a pleasant and leisurely way over Loughrigg Fell, arriving at the hostel by about 2pm.

Mr and Mrs Mason combined forces for the walk to High Close and took the quickest route, arriving at about midday. As the weather was bad, a stay was made in the hostel drying room until about 2.30 when, with improving weather, most of those present sallied forth for a little exploration of Langdale - Billy Lang claims this as his own.

WH1959-009 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes
WH1959-009 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes

The party walked along the road as far as Dungeon Ghyll - from this point a proportion turned back for a leisurely return journey to High Close. The remainder walked up to Dungeon Ghyll Force for an exploration of the fall, and then scrambled across the slope of the fell to examine the pretty cascading falls of Mill Gill, with the intention of continuing the climb to Stickle Tarn and return to the hostel over ‘the tops'.

This plan had to be forsaken due to lack of time, and most of the party made the return journey by a quite exciting and interesting scramble along the slope of the fells. This involved the passage of several deep and rocky ravines, and proved well worthwhile.

Most of the youngsters spent the evening either singing in the common room or exploring the pleasant gardens of the hostel. During the evening two unpleasant youths, who had been a minor nuisance to some of the girls of the party at Ambleside, put in an appearance but were cornered by Mrs Mason, Miss Wood and Mr Mason and sent on their way.

Lake District 1958 - Wednesday 4th June

On this day four parties set off for Coniston Far End. Mrs Mason's party made a leisurely journey, mainly by minor roads, as did the group with Mr Lee.

Mrs Mason's group did do part of the journey through woods, and discovered an ‘empty lake' and walked across the floor of the lake. They were also interested to see a large eel, and numerous fish in one of the larger streams. They also saw sheep shearing by hand shears. David Lee's party had fun crossing rivers on that part of their route away from the metalled lanes. Miss Wood took her party largely by road, but diverted to explore Tarn Hows.

The group with Mr Mason travelled mainly by road as far as Skelwith, where the river of Brathey was crossed. About ¾ mile beyond Skelwith the road was left and a way made over the fells to Tarn Hows. A long stay for lunch and swimming was made by the tarn before continuing the walk over the hills, through woods, and across several streams to Coniston.

All parties arrived at Coniston Far End between 4.30 and 5pm. When the first party arrived Mr and Mrs Birtwistle were waiting at the hostel, having met David Lee's party on the road and ferried some of their heavier packs for them. By this time some of the party were becoming a little footsore, had acquired painful blisters, or became just slightly lame from one cause or another. All there were watched over and tended by Mrs Mason.

During the evening various small groups explored the village or went boating on, and swimming in, Coniston Water.

Lake District 1958 - Thursday 5th June

At evening conference it was decided that, for a change, Miss Wood should take the tough group, Mr Lee a moderate party, and Mr and Mrs Mason a leisurely group each. Both Miss Wood and Mr Lee chose to attack Coniston Old Man, but by different routes.

Mr Lee's party arrived at the summit shortly after midday, having taken a fairly direct route and indulged in some quite exciting scrambling. The other party, with Miss Wood, followed a more devious route in order to explore as much of the mountain as possible during the all too short stay at Coniston. Miss Lee's party reached the summit at about 3pm where they were seen by the ‘easy party' from about 1,500 feet below as an irregular row of tiny dots on the skyline. Both parties enjoyed a thoroughly successful and exciting day.

Mr and Mrs Mason combined their two ‘easy groups' and kept company throughout the day. This combined group included a number of youngsters with slightly sore feet or aching muscles, and no effort was made to achieve anything spectacular in climbing or distance; nevertheless, although the group got no further than Levers Water, the day proved most interesting.

WH1959-014 Stickle Tarn, from the 1959 holiday
WH1959-014 Stickle Tarn, from the 1959 holiday

During the period of working of the Copper Mines, the lake was dammed to provide water power. When the party arrived at the lake it was immediately noticed that there appeared to be no water running out of the lake over the dam, but that the level was actually some fifteen feet below the runway provided. Much exploration followed this discovery, and it was found that water was issuing from an old mine working some distance from the dam. Further search resulted in the location of an eerie hole, below water, through which the water was draining away.

After some thought it was decided that, when the dam was no longer needed, the mass of water held back by the neglected dam must have been considered a menace to the village of Coniston and that, to remove this danger, a hole had been blasted from one of the disused workings into the floor of the lake, thus allowing much of the water to run out.

This supposition may be wrong, and the thing may have happened naturally - be that as it may, a great deal of fun was had in searching for this mysterious and slightly sinister outlet.

On the return journey several frightening, and apparently bottomless, holes in the ground were discovered. These fearful caverns seemed to be natural in themselves, but to have been opened to the surface as a result of mine workings. Mr and Mrs Mason were somewhat relieved to get the children away from the vicinity of these menaces, the openings of which were surrounded by funnels of loose gravel at an angle of about 40º.

From this place the walk back to the hostel was interesting and in parts mildly exciting, but without danger. The mileage covered by this group was no more than five or six.

In addition to the activities mentioned, a further sub-group made up of three children suffering from painful blisters or otherwise temporarily lamed, was watched over by Monica Wild. These youngsters spent the day by Coniston Waters, boating, bathing or just lounging in the sun. Monica Wild and Ann Eden were most helpful in making things run smoothly throughout the week.

During the evening the two unpleasant youths who had been a nuisance at Ambleside and High Close again put in an appearance, this time reinforced by about a dozen young toughs, all mounted on bicycles. On this occasion some of them actually invaded the hostel grounds and approached the house. Fortunately Mr Mason was in the hostel and, attracted by the commotion in the grounds, sallied forth and sent the band of hooligans on their way.

Later in the evening John Tague was taken to the doctors for examination of a suspected ruptured cartilage. The doctor examined the knee, found only minor damage, and provided an elastic bandage as a precautionary measure.

The quietness in the boys' dormitory that night was so complete that a humorous casual visitor, entering a little late (the children had already made friends with this man - a jolly type) felt the silence to be too good to be true; made some wisecrack or other, and started the boys giggling. This was promptly quelled - rather to the surprise of Mr Mason himself. Mutual apologies were exchanged in the morning - by the visitor for inadvertently undermining control, and by Mr Mason for having to subdue the laughter so sharply.

Lake District 1958 - Friday 6th June

This was to be the day of testing - from Coniston Far End the entire party was to move across the Lake District to Longthwaite in Borrowdale, a distance of 11½ miles in a straight line, carrying full pack.

The direct distance in itself was not excessive, but the route includes much hand climbing and rough country, and a number of young folks were becoming footsore. For David Lee, with his damaged ankle, this major effort was out of the question. It was therefore decided that David should escort the lame and tired children by bus to a point of his choosing within reasonable striking distance of Longthwaite, and walk only the last few miles.

WH1959-020 Greenup Edge, from the 1959 holiday
WH1959-020 Greenup Edge, from the 1959 holiday

Those still sound of wind and limb, but not of the highest stamina, were grouped under Mrs Mason and Miss Wood and routed over the Stake Pass, while a band of about a dozen tough souls were to accompany Mr Mason over the 3,000 ft summit of Bow Fell.

David Lee took his party all the way to Keswick by bus - with a change at Ambleside - and then walked the remaining seven miles for so to Longthwaite in leisurely manner along the shore of Derwent water. This party arrived in good time at about 1.15pm.

Mrs Mason and Miss Wood followed the road towards Langdale for about 1½ miles before striking off along a very minor road towards Little Langdale Farm and keeping to relatively low ground. A track was then followed over the hills, passing Blea Tarn into Gt Langdale. Then followed a long climb from the Old Hotel over the summit of Stake Pass at about 1,700 ft, and so down to Borrowdale and the Longthwaite Hostel by about 5.30 to 5.50pm. The group was strung out somewhat towards the end of the walk due to the inclusion in the group of several determined, but rather footsore, members. A correction to the early part of this route is called for - from Coniston a path was followed through woods near the road. The metalled road was not used.

The ‘high level' group did not leave Coniston until about 10.30am and headed along the road towards Langdale for 1½ miles before forking to the left along a minor road to Tilberthwaite. At Tilberthwaite a short stop was made preparatory for the climb from the minor road up Birk Fell - a further stop was made near the summit for lunch. From this point a way was made by a very ill-defined path to the Old Copper Mines - the path shown on the map was not identified.

Some time was spent exploring around the old mine workings before the usual ‘hurry bunch' set off for Three Shire Stone at the summit of Wrynose Pass - this was a completely pathless stretch. A little later the remainder of the party followed for a short distance then, instead of dropping from Rough Crag down to the River Brathay and up again to Wrynose as did the sub-group ahead, they climbed a little higher on to Rough Crags and then worked around the contour along Wet Side Edge to arrive at Three Shires Stone at the same time as the early starters.

A course was then taken towards Crinkle Crags and Long Top, but after about a mile Red Tarn was to the left and a change of direction was made to regain track near Great Knott. This stretch of Crinkle Crags proved most interesting, providing fine views of the Langdale Pikes, and providing opportunity to pick out points and landmarks visited earlier in the week.

WH1959-019 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes
WH1959-019 an image from the 1959 holiday in the Lakes

Steady progress was made towards Crinkle Crags - but the weaker members were tailing out somewhat while the ‘hurry boys' forged ahead with rather selfish disregard for the slower vessels.

Having reached Crinkle Crags at 1,733 ft and 2,816 ft it had been imagined that the next few miles to Esk House would be comparatively easy going. This proved to be far from the truth as this stretch proved to be a length of continuous scrambling and climbing over great masses of jumbled rock and scree - great fun but most exhausting. One or two boys, who had fallen back from the speeding few in front, were very very weary and needed a deal of persuasion to make them tackle the stiff climb over Bow Fell.

Finally Esk House was reached and, as the hostel was still some miles distant and time running short, it was decided to deviate from the planned route and make the descent by Sprinkling Tarn, Grain Gill and Seathwaite. The descent itself was quite an exciting scramble, most tiring to the ankles, but fortunately not producing the exhausted panting of the long climbs. Once Seathwaite was reached it was possible to stride out freely along the metalled road to arrive at Longthwaite a little before 9pm.

Some of the early arrivals, having washed and changed, sallied out to meet the late comers and guide them the last mile or so to the hostel. Fortunately for these late arrivals the good natured warden at Longthwaite had, contrary to rules, saved a good hot meal for them. Mr Mason had promised the boys a meal out if supper was missing - in fact there was no place in the neighbourhood where a meal could have been obtained if supper had not been kept.

Longthwaite hostel is in delightful surroundings and all the children would have loved to stay there for several days, but this was not to be, on the next morning we were to set course for home.

Lake District 1958 - Saturday 7th June

The spell of fine sunny weather had broken and we awoke to find low dark clouds and heavy rain falling. Perhaps it was for the best; none of us wanted to leave Lakeland, and maybe the dull weather did ease the pangs of parting a little.

After completing our chores, the party was divided into a bus group and a walking group. The walking group was conducted by Miss Wood, Mrs Mason and Mr Mason, and a fairly cracking pace was kept up for the seven miles or so to Keswick station, so the distance was covered in something under two hours. Despite being a road walk in pouring rain, the good time set up made it enjoyable for all except the tail-end folk, who did not altogether enjoy being hustled along by Mr Mason.

The bus party, with David Lee, was made up of those who were lamed. Plus a number who'd had enough walking and just did not relish the thought of a final seven or eight miles of road walking in the rain.

The whole party was assembled at Keswick Station by about 12 o'clock; roll was called, and the train boarded at 12.13 for a pleasant ride to Penrith - the journey was enlivened by much merry singing led by Frank Kirk, and unofficially encouraged by Miss Wood. At Penrith all rucksacks were dumped on a trolley for transfer to the mainline platform.

WH1959-015 Pavey Arc, from the 1959 holiday
WH1959-015 Pavey Arc, from the 1959 holiday

Barbara Atkin, whose feet had given considerable trouble due to a combination of weak ankles and unsuitable shoes, and who had been supported, and even carried, by David Lee (despite his own injured ankle) on several occasions, was carried from one platform to the other - an incident that caused some amusement.

Unfortunately the south-bound express was very crowded, and the party made the journey partly crammed in the corridor of the 1st class car and then, a little more comfortably, in the guards-van. At Preston a reserved car was provided and the stage to Manchester was made in comfort.

The passage across Manchester was made without bother, aided by the ‘hurry boys' who were detailed as ‘whippers on', which duty they performed most efficiently. A pity that greater use was not made of their abilities in this way earlier on.

The final stage to Marple was covered without incident - Miss Wood left the train at Romiley, accompanied by a roar of thanks from the children. On arrival at Marple the whole vanished into rain in, it seemed, a few seconds, all dashing away to tell the tale of their week of adventure.

Much has been learnt from this first venture in organising a group holiday, despite the fact that the event was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

  1. In future greater insistence must be given to the use of the right footwear.
  2. All children must have ample walking practice - a number of youngsters were included who had not attended the monthly rambles at all.
  3. More attention must be paid to keeping the weight of rucksacks to a minimum.
  4. Most important it is felt that more fun and pleasure will be obtained if the number of hostels is limited to two - staying at each for three or four days and making daily expeditions without being encumbered by heavy packs.
  5. Planning and arranging should start much earlier - this year things became a little hectic as ‘D' day approached. Most of the children seem anxious to visit Lakeland again next year - this has to be decided soon.
  6. All the youngsters, including many who were not in the holiday group, are keen for the monthly rambles to continue.
Marple Places