YHA Windermere [High Cross Castle] 1935 to present
The original High Cross Castle (later to become YHA Windermere) was made up of three red-tiled turrets, a square tower and an all-glass roof with views of the mountains beyond. The building itself was constructed mainly of wood and fitted out with oak panelling and a marble floor. Over time, the owner Benjamin Pickering (a chartered accountant and auctioneer of Hull) developed 10 acres of attractive grounds, where he placed an artificial canal, linking a boating lake with fountains and goldfish ponds. These can all be traced today.
In 1915, most of the building was lost in an overwhelming fire, believed to be caused by the concentration of the sun’s rays on the glass roof. After the fire, the property remained derelict for around 10 years, but Mr Pickering was creating plans for another striking replacement. Vowing that such a disaster should never happen again, he turned his attention to creating a building made of concrete, in a much sturdier condition.
In 1934, the news that a new large hostel would probably be acquired in the Windermere district and was to be the most impressive of all was very welcome. A week later, on 11th December 1934, the Nottingham Evening Post stated: “the new hostel that the Youth Hostels Association is now negotiating is the High Cross Castle, at Troutbeck Bridge, on the main road between Windermere and Keswick. Strong efforts have been made to keep the name of the proposed new hostel a secret…”
The youth hostel opened on 18th April 1935. Mr and Mrs Merrett were the first wardens, and there were beds for 30 men and 20 women. Capacity increased to 80 in 1937, while Mr and Mrs Heap took over the following year, staying until 1945.
Initially called High Cross or Troutbeck hostel in handbooks, the name Windermere surfaced after 30 years – Windermere here meant view of Windermere. In 1947, the property was invested in by the YHA Trust.
The hostel remained successful for many years and, in 1962, the bed capacity increased to 66 and the hostel consistently saw yearly overnight figures in the 8000s in the 1960s, rising to around 11000 in the 1970s. To cope with these demands, an expansion was completed early in 1979 which added new warden’s accommodation a single-storey cottage close to the north-west corner of the hostel, allowing re-development of the hostel itself, leading to more success which continued for many years.
Fast forward to 2009. The hostel was refurbished from January to April to make the roof watertight. A YHA bulletin claimed that the hostel had never looked so good, just in time for the summer period. New eco windows had been put in to replace the cloudy ones spoiling the amazing views over Windermere in the dining room.
In recent years, the coach-house has been converted to accommodate staff, while the cottage has found new use as a kitchen and indoor washing and toilet facilities for the camping and cabins here. By 2017, over 826,000 overnights had been spent at the remarkable YHA Windermere since it opened in 1935. Today, the hostel is an ideal base for anyone wanting to escape the crowds, and perfect for activity breaks and family holidays in the Lake District.