Nick Owen at work in the hostel kitchen

Nick Owen at work in the hostel kitchen

A mountain rescue stalwart is celebrating 25 years in charge of a Lake District hostel.

Nick Owen’s volunteer duties as a member of Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team are combined with looking after Elterwater Hostel, where he started working in 1992.

The former engineer’s new life in the outdoors began when he looked out on the uninspiring vista in his home town of Skelmersdale when he rubbed clean a factory window.

He said: “I knew then that there had to be a better way to make a living.

“I’d used hostels when I was on holiday, and saw a job advertised at one in Oxford. I didn’t know where Oxford was, except that it was somewhere down south.”

While working there he met his future wife, Deborah, an Australian who was travelling around the world. He followed her back to Australia and they did a working tour together, eventually marrying in 1990.

Mr Owen has been leader of the Langdale Ambleside team for the past 10 years, and has spent his life walking, climbing and cycling. The tables were turned when he became a mountain rescue casualty airlifted by air ambulance after a cycling accident a few years ago. It was a low-speed fall on a quiet road not far from the hostel. “I did my own first aid assessment and realised it was serious,” he said.

Nick Owen, second from right, in action with the mountain rescue team

Nick Owen, second from right, in action with the mountain rescue team

He was out of action for more than five months with a serious hip fracture. The subsequent hip replacement, and a shoulder tendon injury, brought an end to open-water swimming – “No more triathlons,” he said.

But he said he’s content to walk and climb in some of Britain’s loveliest landscapes. “Why would I drive all that way to climb some remoter hills when I have all this on the doorstep?” he added.

His attempt at summiting all the Wainwrights stalled at number 103.

At the time of his marriage Mr Owen was working at the Kendal YHA hostel, eventually as manager, and the couple moved to Elterwater in 1992. Their daughter Sophie was born the following year.

He said it was a lifestyle choice first and foremost. “It’s a beautiful place to live, and a good place to bring up a child. And the shifts mean that I have the afternoons free to be involved in mountain rescue.”

As manager of the hostel, he has to be an expert jack of all trades, enjoys cooking, and spends the winters painting, decorating and repairing.

Elterwater is now an independent hostel, and he was previously manager when the building belonged to the Youth Hostels Association. He stayed in post four years ago when the hostel was sold to new owners.

Elterwater lies at the heart of the Langdale Valley alongside the small lake of the same name. First opened as a hostel in 1939, the building was originally a barn, thought to date from 1692. An adjoining cottage was once used by writer and social reformer John Ruskin as a small lace-making factory.

During the Second World War the hostel was used as accommodation for workers of Shorts of Sunderland, who were involved in building flying boats on Windermere.

Nick Owen shows the young people of St Mary's School, Davyhulme how mountain rescue works. They donated more than £100 in return

Nick Owen shows the young people of St Mary's School, Davyhulme how mountain rescue works. They donated more than £100 in return

Since the hostel became independent, he says, the new owners are investing money in the business and in the premises, without compromising the essential character of the building. “It’s a very co-operative arrangement. They value the knowledge I bring to the business.”

The hostel has 38 beds in small dormitories.

Langdale Ambleside MRT, based in Ambleside, covers the fells surrounding the town, along with sections of the Central Fells, including Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and the Langdale Pikes.

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