Guest Blogger – Roddie Grant, Rugby, Warwickshire
Throughout my walking life I have used the facilities provided by the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) many times. In the early years I found they ranged from dire to acceptable, but these days their image has changed and some are more like hotels. There is even a YHA in a castle in Scotland.
When I heard that Roddie was staying at a YHA for the first time, as an older Gentleman, I thought this was an ideal opportunity to get an unbiased opinion of the modern day YHA for the older traveller. What Roddie has come up with is a ‘no holds barred’ narrative on his first experience at a YHA.
For all sorts of reasons I was not an outdoor child; the idea of going youth hostelling would have appalled me. Fast forward 50 years and not only have I changed but so have youth hostels.
In recent time I’ve discovered the pleasures of being outdoors, especially walking, and I am keen to explore more of this country. The snag is that for anything outside the Midlands that means an overnight stay, with associated expense. My wife and I have stayed in several Airbnbs but even they can be expensive, and while all were adequate for a night or two, they all had some shortcomings. Then recently it dawned on me that my daughter had been using youth hostels (including Lisbon in Portugal) finding them to be largely OK, and they might be economical places for me to stay.
I checked out the YHA website and discovered how much hostels had changed. While rooms are mostly shared occupancy, there are sometimes private rooms, some en suite, and meals can be bought in the hostels.
So I booked a night at Hathersage YHA. The main purpose of the expedition was to try out a youth hostel, and it was a resounding success, with the additional benefit of getting two excellent walks in the Peak District. I booked easily on the website, including joining the YHA as this was my first booking (£15/year). Booking through the website provided a 10% discount on accommodation and meals. I was able to book a room for one person, along with dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch, and a day or so later the manager of the hostel emailed me to acknowledge my request for vegetarian meals. The total cost for the room and meals was £46.92.
I arrived at the hostel (after a good walk round part of Ladybower Reservoir) shortly after it opened at 5pm and, being a Friday, it was quiet. However, it got much busier as people arrived later in the evening. Having dealt with my registration (don’t forget to take some photo ID like a driving licence!), Nick the duty manager spent some time talking with me about possible routes to Stanage Edge for the next day. Local knowledge was a great help and I had a much more pleasant walk on Saturday than if I’d followed my original planned route.
The room I had was small – just long enough for the bed and basin (the door wouldn’t open fully) and about 15 inches wider than the bed. This was not a problem; I had a daysack for when walking and a small sports bag for overnight stuff so these were manageable in the space and there was room under the bed for storage. A larger rucksack or a suitcase might have been trickier to handle, but for my purposes the room was fine and well cleaned. The only very minor snag with the tight space was lack of room to put out my Pilates mat to do some stretches after the walk, but if they had been really essential I could have used the (deserted) lounge downstairs. Bedding was provided, but my daughter had warned me you only get one pillow so, as I was travelling by car, I brought my own pillows from home. The one provided would not have been enough on its own – I would have had to find something to put under it.
I set out expecting basic facilities but the website had provided reassurance about what was available. The toilets and showers were adequate and clean, and, in addition to the self-catering kitchen and dining room, there was a lounge downstairs where I sat for a while listening to a podcast.
Youth Hostels provide evening meals in the setting of a Supper Club, where you have the opportunity to eat and chat with other residents. As it happened, I was the only person booked that day so I ate on my own. From a family at another table I learnt about the options for self catering (as they were) and in future that’s what I’d do. The three meals (dinner, breakfast and packed lunch) were fine but a little expensive for what was provided. However I knew the cost when I booked and it was my choice not to have the cooked breakfast.
Hathersage YHA has parking but in two rows so three cars are blocked in by another three. I was in the blocked-in row and would have appreciated some easy means of identifying the owner of the front car on Saturday morning so I could be reassured they hadn’t already left for a day-long walk. Of course I could have asked at reception, but the staff were busy serving breakfast. In the end, the car left a few minutes before I was ready to leave.
Overall, my stay was a very positive experience, and I will certainly be using Youth Hostels again the future. I was delighted to discover that you don’t have to be chronologically young to stay in them – at breakfast the majority of people were middle aged and older. However, the main lesson for any future visits is to go self-catering as it would be more economical and offer greater flexibility. Youth Hostels are definitely a way of exploring without breaking the bank.
For more information and to book a Youth Hostel visit their website
Roddie Grant – My initial career was as a journalist on a local paper but I’ve since spent many years sitting at a desk working on magazine production and school governance. Semi-retirement in 2018, with the prospect of full retirement at the end of 2019, has produced the desire and opportunity for new adventures. I’ve been married to Janet for 30 years, and our daughter and son are young adults.
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