Remembering the fun I had had when staying in youth hostels in my younger days, I decided to introduce hostelling to my family.
We started with a couple of weekend trips, to Snowdonia and London respectively. And then for this year’s summer holiday – having found all usual self-catering facilities either fully-booked or astronomically expensive – I booked a six-bed room in a youth hotel at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales. This cost around £600 for the week (that was with a 10% member discount, and a further 5% discount for including someone under the age of 26 in the party). Now, where can you get views like this for that price? A hotel up the road was charging as much per night!
“There’s a view from every window” the manger told us. He was right, too.
“It’s only a youth hostel; you probably won’t want to come” I told the teenager.
“Oh yes I do. Youth hostels are fun. I’m already planning what I’m going to take”.
“But it’s very basic”
“Hostels are supposed to be basic. That’s what makes them so enjoyable”
“We won’t have a private bathroom”
“That’s cool – it will be like camping without having to be outside”
Booking nowadays is through the internet, and you get immediate confirmation. In the old days, booking forms were printed in the handbook: “if the day and date do not agree, the warden will assume that the day is intended”. You posted them with a stamped address envelope, and you’d wait a couple of weeks for confirmation – always a bit of a worry when your route depended on accommodation at a certain hostel on a certain night. Also, unaccompanied children of 12 or 13 are no longer permitted – you must have a responsible adult in the party.
The large dormitories have been replaced with smaller rooms, typically sleeping between four and eight people. It is still bunk beds – though the middle-aged and less agile me now chooses the bottom bunk rather than the top bunk of my exuberant youth! There is also no strict segregation of sexes – you can book an entire room and fill it with whoever you like. Note that single sex rooms are still available for solo travellers who only want a bed, not a room (though Covid-restrictions mean that these aren’t currently being offered).
The sheet-sleeping bags have been replaced with proper bedding. For a six-plus footer like me, this is one of the most welcome changes. The sheet sleeping bags were as constraining as a straitjacket. You couldn’t pull the covers up over your cold shoulders because your feet were pushed against the bottom. And you couldn’t bend your knees to reduce your length because the bags were too narrow.
Chores are no longer required. I think that often these were more trouble than they were worth. On a busy night, there weren’t enough chores to go round; on a quiet night, there weren’t enough hostellers to do the work. And the introduction of dishwashing machines meant there was no longer any washing up to do!
The common room was clean and comfortable – much as I remember.
A particularly nice touch at Hawes was the fresh flowers – replaced daily.
Many hostels now serve alcohol. In my youth, youth hostels were alcohol-free zones – at least they were in England; I was greatly surprised to find that a bar was standard in Dutch youth hostels. The bar in Hawes was particularly well stocked with a wide variety of bottled beers, ciders, wines, and soft drinks.
There was a cupboard full of board games, with something for everyone. There was also the customary map on the wall – though without the smudge over the site of the hostel where countless hostellers had touched the “you are here” spot. Maybe this is a sign of the growing use of GPS devices – people don’t look at maps anymore.
Carpets might have replaced the lino floor coverings, but, as the teenager pointed out, you can still sit unshowered and in scruffy clothes, and no one minds.
This youth hostel wasn’t offering evening meals but was happy for us to bring fish and chips back to eat – and even provided salt, vinegar, and ketchup. It did offer a magnificent breakfast – either full English or continental. Both came with choice of cereal, and various types of tea and coffee.
Incidentally, on another recent trip I advised of a dietary requirement for one of the party. Within 30 minutes I had an email from the hostel confirming that they would be able to accommodate this – including cooking in separate utensils to prevent cross-contamination.
Meanwhile, the self-catering kitchen had real cookers (and microwave ovens and toasters). No more of those small gas grills that would cremate your dinner at the edges while leaving the middle raw.
There was also a supply of tea and coffee (and milk). And that’s one of the things about hostelling etiquette. Everyone implicitly knew that the teabags were just for hostel use, not to be taken away, and that the milk was for adding to tea and coffee, not for pouring on cereal. Similarly, there were no notices reminding hostellers to clear up after themselves; everyone just knew that was expected. The kitchen was always clean, no matter how many people were using it.
But above all, the welcoming and friendly attitude of both staff and hostellers was still there. You can chat with anyone and everyone. We provided much amusement with our attempts at some of the trivia-type games, as others mimed the answers behind our backs. On one evening, when the meal was almost ready, we asked someone who was going upstairs to knock on our bedroom door and tell the teenager that dinner was almost ready. When she returned, she said, “I shouted ‘dinner’s ready’ and got a response of ‘OK I’m coming’ from about six different rooms!”
If you think you’re not a typical youth hosteller, you’re probably wrong. There is no typical youth hosteller. You will find people of all ages and all backgrounds. In the week we were there, hostellers included: solo travellers; small groups; young families; two fathers with five young children between them (they appeared to be brothers who, like me, had done hostelling in their youth and wanted to introduce it to their families. We suspect that the respective wives said “you want to go youth hostelling for the weekend? Fine, take the kids. We’re going to a spa”). Some hostellers stayed for just one night, others for two or three (a throwback to the days when the maximum stay was three days), and a few for the full week. There were walkers, cyclists, even a marathon runner (en-route from John O’Groats to Lands End). Some had got there “under their own steam” (as the YHA originally required), but many had driven, and were using the hostel as a base for various outdoor activities.
All in all, an excellent choice for our holiday. The hostel had everything we needed, and a spirit of camaraderie amongst the like-minded hostellers. Above all it’s somewhere where you can be yourself. And that’s what I call relaxing.
Where shall we go next?
(unless otherwise stated, all photos were taken by the author)