Wasdale Head: Residents unfazed by lack of mains power

Wasdale Head Inn
Image caption Wasdale Head consists of a few farms, bed and breakfast businesses, a campsite, and an inn

Most people regard mains electricity as something to be taken for granted, but one tiny Lake District community has been forced to cope without it for 10 months.

The isolated village of Wasdale Head lies at the foot of England's highest fell and is next to the country's deepest lake, so residents are used to extremes.

And when the cable which runs under Wastwater developed a fault on Christmas Eve, they turned to temporary generators, as they had during previous outages.

Ten months later, the generators' drone has become a feature of the once-quiet valley, but locals remain unfazed.

Georgina Wrathall, co-manager of the Wasdale Head Inn, said: "It really hasn't been such a terrible thing. We'll just be happy when it's sorted."

Gillian Race, from Burnthwaite Farm, said: "We tend not to panic round here".

The village has only had mains electricity since 1977, and was one of the last places in the UK to be connected to the National Grid.

In recent years there have been a number of power cuts, so it is not the first time Electricity North West has had to supply generators to the 11 properties.

The company has almost completed the "challenging operation" of replacing the underwater cable, with power due to be switched on next week.

'Sudden silence'

Image caption The new cable replaces the one laid under Wastwater in 1977

Wasdale Head is reached by an eight-mile, winding, pot-holed, single track road and on a rainy autumn afternoon seems the dictionary definition of remote.

The tranquillity is something the hotel and handful of bed and breakfast businesses trade upon, and the noise from the first generators did lead to some complaints from guests and campers.

The generator at Burnthwaite Farm, which also operates as a bed and breakfast, is concealed behind trees.

Georgina Race said: "You do get used to the hum and when its turned off it's like 'I didn't realise how noisy it was'.

"But we've learned from experience where to put them, so we've not had any complaints."

"I won't miss them, though," she added.

"There's the inconveniencing of servicing, when all power has to be turned off. And the first one caught fire - we had to get a new one.

"So it will be nice not to have to think about them."

Joanne Balmer, from the Barn Door Shop, said: "I think initially some campers did complain, but the electricity company came and put screens around it.

"As far as the business is concerned, it hasn't really affected us. You just get on with it."

Image caption Some generators are screened off to reduce noise

At one point the generators cut out in the small hours, and a group of campers reported that they had been woken up by the sudden silence.

Many of the village's 26 residents live or work at the Wasdale Head Inn, whose first landlord, Will Ritson, was renowned for his tall tales.

The World's Biggest Liar competition is held annually in his honour, and has become so popular it recently had to be moved to a larger inn at a nearby village.

The Wasdale Head Inn is currently the recognised starting point for the ascent of Scafell Pike as part of the National Three Peaks Challenge, and has long been a gathering place for climbers and mountaineers.

After-dinner activities in days gone by included the Billiard Table Traverse, a circuit of the residents' bar without touching the floor.

Poet and mountaineer Geoffrey Winthrop Young was a one-time table traversing champion despite his artificial leg - he lost a limb during the First World War. He continued to climb, using a different attachment depending on conditions on the fells.

When the power failed early on Christmas Eve the Wasdale Head Inn was fully booked.

'Relying on gravity'

Georgina Wrathall said: "We didn't get a generator until the afternoon, so we sat at reception with a lantern and the people checking in absolutely loved it.

"Basically everyone just piled into the bar and drank until the electricity came on."

Image caption Most of the tweets on the Wasdale Web account are about the weather

In common with the other properties the inn uses gas for cooking, but lighting, television, computers and even the pump for water rely on electricity.

When this fails, once again the locals turn to old-fashioned measures.

"We just use the water coming down from the fells," Ms Wrathall said.

"It's easy to switch the supply, although the pressure is horrendous, because you're relying on gravity."

The area's remoteness means that internet and mobile phone connections remain erratic, but this does not seem to bother locals too much.

The valley's Wasdale Web twitter account has posted just a handful of messages in the past year - all but one are about the weather.

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