Michael's North Lakes volunteering story
Welcome Volunteer, Bark House Mountain Base
I was instantly intrigued by the first line of a volunteer role summary - 'Light the fire & put the kettle on!' By the next paragraph I was assured that I’d be using my smile and communication skills to help people feel at home. Then, there it was (this was just getting better and better) - 'Know how to light a fire and keep it going.' I was hooked. Lighting fires? Count me in.
I have been a 'Welcome to The Lakes volunteer' ever since. My transition from member to volunteer probably followed a similar path to that of many people. My wife, Hazel and I have been members for over twenty years, enjoying supporting various initiatives and projects at our favourite properties around the country. Following our move to the Lake District I felt the time was right to become more practically involved and do my bit to contribute in some small way to the remarkable and special place in which we are now fortunate to live.
Suddenly I was blowing the cobwebs off my fire steel, honing my knife blade and lost in a reverie of skillfully shaving feather sticks. Fortunately, my volunteer manager Jessie was to sensitively and quietly disabuse me of any such notion. The upside is that I can now strike a match as cleanly as all of my fellow volunteers!
I volunteer at Bark House Mountain Base, a one-room stone bothy beside the well-known viewpoint at Ashness Bridge. A team of volunteers opens the bothy as a walkers’ shelter.
The absence of mains electricity, running water or drainage means that we are able to provide an authentic bothy experience. The fireplace and our fire-lighting skills ensure we add some practical warmth to our welcome!
One of the most inspiring and rewarding aspects of the role is discussing with visitors the walks around the valley and introducing some of the great attractions around The Lakes.
Bark House is primarily a volunteer-staffed initiative. So we regularly work shifts with different volunteer colleagues. What we all have in common is our passion for the Lake District and the work of the NT. Where we differ is in the fantastic mix of skill sets and the wide variety of experiences. I really love how all of these unique experiences are thrown into the mix allowing us to inform, educate and inspire our visitors.
This drives to the heart of the magic of Bark House Mountain Base. All of this happens in a natural way in a truly authentic environment. Visitors of every kind - hardened walkers, cyclists, day-trippers and tourists - all converge. The brief connections made as a volunteer on every shift certainly leave me informed, educated and inspired – what’s not to like?
Without doubt, what everybody loves is the open fireplace and the flickering log fire that always burns in the grate.
" I can never wait to light the fire and put the kettle on and see what happens next"
The open fire is a magnet that exerts its strong attraction on everyone that crosses the threshold. Armed with a tea or coffee lovingly crafted with powdered milk in an enamel mug (remember I did say it was an ‘authentic’ bothy experience!) visitors will sit, kickback, relax and start talking. Remarkably, talking is where the magic I spoke of starts.
Visitors who may have been on a ‘whistle-stop’ tour of the ‘must-sees’ of the district suddenly feel compelled to stray a little further off the well-beaten path to experience more of our inspiring landscape, culture and history. Maybe even leave the car in Keswick and walk out over Walla Crag or around the shoreline of the lake, climb to the quarry and site of the ancient hill fort on Castle Crag or discover dozens of other adventures. Some even return to report back – sat in a chair, cradling a warm drink in front of the fire, of course.
We swap our stories; their tales of past Lake District visits, my memories of cosy nights, freezing mornings and washing in the beck as a young Scout, their memories of cosy nights, freezing mornings and washing in the beck as young Scouts. Especially infectious are the shared enthusiasms for favourite and beautiful destinations back in their own regions and countries.
No two days, or any two encounters are ever the same. I can never wait to light the fire and put the kettle on and see what happens next. Who will the fragrant drifting wood smoke entice up past the bridge? Whether it be curiosity or the need for shelter that draws visitors in (yes, sometimes it does rain in Borrowdale – hard to believe I know), it is always great fun.