A family Christmas at Elterwater

Christmas is a magical time of year. People tend to be a bit nicer to each other, families reunite and it’s generally acceptable to eat amounts of chocolate that at any other time of year would be considered grossly ridiculous.

And what better place to spend it than in the Lake District, surrounded by mountains (some of them snow-capped) and greenery, good pubs, and the great outdoors. For the last few years, my family have spent Christmas at Elterwater Hostel. This converted barn sleeps 38 and so is the perfect place for a big family to reconnect, especially if you have relatives all over the country.

Ready for Christmas dinner

For us, with family in Kent, Liverpool, London, Birmingham, and abroad, the hostel acts as a kind of middle meeting place. It means no one person has to “host”, and you don’t have to worry about who’s going on the sofa. Having 11 bedrooms also helps, meaning there’s lots of space to escape to and lock the door if family arguments get a bit much or there’s too many cooks in the kitchen.

I’ve been lucky enough also to stay at the hostel during the summer months alongside other guests. This is lovely and creates a really nice community atmosphere, but nothing beats having the whole place to yourself. Hide and seek anyone? Over the years we’ve had Mum’s family, Dad’s family, cousins, grandparents, the lot. This year was a relatively quiet one in comparison; just me, the parents, my uncle and some of his family, and our 91-year-old Grandma.

The main event of Christmas, if we’re honest, apart from the birth of the baby Jesus of course, is dinner. Christmas dinner is a big task and usually requires a whole family effort. In this family, my job is chief peeler. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, – you name it, I’ll peel it. The one thing I won’t do is cut onions. That’s Dad’s job.

In the kitchen
The American side of the family took charge in the kitchen…

Luckily this year, the American side of the family was on cooking duty, so I took on the role of ‘Front of House’. The hostel’s kitchen is well stocked too with two ovens. The only thing missing was an electric whisk, but this led to an enjoyable communal effort to hand-whisk the cake icing – more effort than your average gym workout and we had already burnt off the calories before we ate it.

The hostel lounge feels super homely at Christmas, despite none of us actually living there. There’s an electric fire and a lovely Christmas tree, which we added our traditional edible (chocolate) decorations to. Santa even managed to make it despite a lack of chimney and filled my stocking which I’d left out (shh, at 22 I’m just about young enough still).

There’s no TV so it was good to escape from all the technology of normal everyday life. We brought a laptop with us for the Queen’s Speech (to keep Grandma happy) but other than that it was a lovely few days of board games, chess and even bridge for the oldies.

Stickle Tarn
Alan Thomas and the press-up challenge on the wall at Stickle Tarn

Having Christmas in the Lakes also means you’re spoilt for choice for the traditional Boxing Day walk. For ours, we went to Cathedral Caves, a nearby disused slate quarry with a cavernous cathedral-like interior. If you’re adventurous like me and Uncle Michael, you can climb through the back and come out the other side – with a torch though. Christmas Eve had us up Stickle Tarn, with Dad’s traditional press-up challenge at the top, while the day after Boxing Day we tackled Loughrigg Fell, with lunch in Grasmere. All in all, a lovely break from the city. Elterwater, we’ll be back soon.

Alison Thomas