If there are rooms available when you need them, hostelling can enable you to stay in or near places where accommodation prices are at a premium, as well as places which are only accessible on foot. In comparison to the blandness of some budget hotels, hostels embrace a cornucopia of styles and periods, from humble cottages to grand mansions.
Unfortunately there has been a recent tendency towards whole hostel letting by the YHA which has had the effect of sidelining individual and family customers like myself. In spite of the name, I am told that you do not have to be young to stay at a youth hostel. Apparently the remit of the YHA is aimed at people of all ages.
There is no such thing as a “typical” hostel which is why they can be such a pleasure to stay in.
Hiking can become an expensive hobby by the time you have spent money buying your kit, paid high season B&B prices & possibly employed a courier. I was told by many hikers that camping was the answer, and to some extent it is. Keeping open the option to camp will mean that you are never stuck for somewhere to stay.
However there will sometimes be days, even when you camp, when you need some rest and recuperation, as well as some first world facilities such as warmth, power supplies, hot showers, laundry facilities, cooking facilities, meals, a bar, wifi and even an en-suite private room. These are some of the facilities sometimes on offer when rooms are available.
Some routes and areas are more generously appointed with hostels and bunkhouses than others. The Pennine Way and the Lake District for example, because of their popularity, are very well provided with excellent places, but Northumberland has very few.
One advantage of joining one of the hosteling organisations is that you can get a discount on the cost of a room and membership of the International organisation Hostelling International.
In addition to YHA hostels, a huge range of independent hostels and bunkhouses can be found on the independenthostelguide website. They are sometimes easier to get in to than the YHA hostels.
I was quite a late starter to hostelling, so in case you are like me, here are some pointers about what to expect when you stay at a hostel:
What to expect.
Rooms are sometimes only available at weekends or in high season for individuals and families because of block booking.
You will usually have the choice of a shared dormitory room with bunkbeds (usually but not always single sex) or a private or family room.
You may be expected to make your own bed up when you arrive and put your used bedding in the laundry baskets when you leave.
Youth hostels sometimes close during the day from about 10am until 4pm for cleaning so it is unwise to arrive during these hours.
You may have the choice to self cater or eat meals provided by the hostel. It is worth indicating your intention before you arrive
There are usually lockers available on request for your gear.
There is sometimes a curfew time when the doors are locked but you should be given a key or code which will enable you to get in after hours
Three things which are often useful in shared dormitories are a little torch for creeping in after other people have gone to bed, an extension lead as there are sometimes not enough sockets for recharging if the room is full, and ear plugs if you are easily disturbed during the night.
Staff are normally knowledgable about the local area and are happy to suggest facilities, walks or climbs nearby.
You can wash and dry clothes and boots at most hostels and they are usually willing to hold parcels for you until you arrive.
Wifi is available in most hostels except those in remote locations.
Most hostels are relaxed and friendly but the ethos is fairly DIY.
This is an updated re-issue of a page originally published in 2013 following a couple of years of using hostels on long distance walks and some shorter trips.
This post is intended to be an occasional feature showcasing some of the websites which I have enjoyed recently. I would welcome your suggestions about good sites.
Chris Townsend Outdoors Blog by a very experienced backpacker with an impressive outdoor CV. Unparalleled knowledge of gear and environmental issues.
Grough Magazine An independently owned site featuring news and features about the outdoors and outdoor activities.
Hiking in Finland A European backpacking blog in English written by the multi skilled Hendrick Morkel
Homemade Wanderlust Blog and Vlog following trailhiker Dixie’s interesting and involving attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail and become a hiking triple crowner.
John Muir Trust Founded in 1983 with the aim of conserving and protecting wild places for the benefit of present and future generations
Northumberland National Park This site is growing into a well researched and interesting website about the area. They are quite responsive to comments and criticisms from users.
The Outdoors Station Podcast A professionally produced podcast covering many aspects of the outdoors from the Cartwrights at Backpacking Light UK
Tramplite Ultralight long distance hiker who designs and makes his own line of hiking equipment when he isn’t hiking trails around the world
Walk Highlands All aspects of walking in Scotland are covered in this engaging blog which has a good mix of trail data, downloads and long form posts. It is supported by accommodation providers who want to appeal to the outdoor market.
Having created a long distance route from a map for a challenge event, I was reminded that following pre-existing routes with signs, guides, waymarks, apps and other hikers for company is reassuring and even soporific at times. However as you may know, once you can absorb the information contained in a map, it becomes easier to create a route of your own. If you have ever looked at Foul Weather Alternatives or taken a short cut, then you have created your own walk.
My background has involved following a lot of other people’s routes, and a helpful spell of route checking for the Ramblers. Their training covered areas such as safety, legality, accessibility, topography, themes and focal points on routes. There are then two stages involved in the process of creating a route. One involves looking at the route on your map and in satellite view (which can reveal inaccuracies in the map), and the other is to reccy the route on foot with all these issues in mind.
What should a good route involve?
The legality of a route is essential if you are offering it for other people to follow. It is therefore good to familiarise yourself with the symbols which denote what type of track it is; right of way, bridle way etc and any rules and exemptions which apply.
Safety is a crucial issue so it is important to be aware of any potential hazards such as river’s in spate, slippery rocks, eroded tracks or obstructions such as fallen trees. You should then try to incorporate these into your route data.
In case of access issues and the use of wheeled vehicles, it is helpful to mention any steps or stiles on the route and a note on the condition of the tracks i.e whether they are full of potholes or overgrown.
The received wisdom when I trained was that a good walk should involve a focal point/s. This could be a view, or historic, natural, sacred, architectural or topographic features in the case of a day hike. In the case of a distance hike there is the opportunity to introduce a theme or feature such as the Pennines (Pennine Way), historic landmarks (Hadrian’s Wall), Abbeys (Borders Abbeys Way) or geographical features such as a river (Speyside Way). A walk could also follow a person’s life (John Muir Trail) or encompass a pilgrimage route (Camino di Santiago).
When working from the map, the following questions could be considered when creating a day hike:
Are the start and finish accessible?
Is the walk is do-able?
What are the gradients like?
Has it got a gradual start?
Does it have variety?
Does it include suitable rest places and shelter?
Are there any avoidable eyesores?
For a distance hike you could add these questions to your list:
How far apart are the resupply points?
Where are the water supplies?
Is there a variety of accommodation?
Is it possible to backpack the route?
Are refreshments available?
This is just a sketch of some of the issues and questions to bear in mind when walking somebody else’s route or creating your own. It can be interesting to evaluate the decisions which have been made for you on pre-existing routes, and to try and improve on them on your own walk. This can become the first step towards creating your own.
With thanks to the Ramblers for the experience, opportunities and training.
I thought I would write a post regarding my love of walking Trails (listed under the Trails tab) to try and inspire you to walk a trail. After some cogitation I came up with the following factors which have inspired me:
You gain a sense of progress which is rare in real life
The world is a beautiful place
The kindness of strangers who want you to succeed
The unique perspective it provides on the places you walk through
The community of other hikers
The perspective it gives you on life’s problems
Nature, nature and nature
The sense of freedom and independence it can give you
But somehow this still didn’t convey my love of walking long distance paths. So, here are some pictures:
…..which is when I realised that I could fill a book.
As you may know, Northumberland was my previous stomping ground, and I have managed to accumulate a large number of posts, trips and routes in this area (listed under the Northumberland tab).
For those just joining me, there are routes arranged geographically by towns and places including Amble, Bamburgh, Rothbury, Wooler, Breamish Valley and the Farne Islands. There are also routes arranged thematically by their common features such as Roman remains, caves and rock art, waterfalls, castles, coastal and short walks.
I hope you enjoy my blog and all the featured routes. ICYMI GPX files are now available for most of my routes, including all my Northumberland routes, from my ViewRanger profile.
The dark evenings are great for watching films, whether it’s from the comfort of your sofa or tucked up inside your tent on a hill. These are ten great new and classic outdoor films for some wild watching.
Wild Watching: 10 Recommended Outdoor Films (In alphabetical order).
127 Hours. Directed by Danny Boyle (2010).
Everest. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur (2015).
Force Majeure. Directed by Ruben Östlund (2014).
Into the Wild. Directed by Sean Penn (2007).
Koyaanisqatsi. Directed by Godfrey Reggio. Music by Philip Glass (1982).
The River Wild. Directed by Curtis Hanson (1994).
The Way. Directed by Emilio Estevez (2010).
Touching the Void. Directed by Kevin MacDonald (2003).
Walking Out. Directed by Andrew and Alex Smith (2018).
I have been catching up with my writing up of two recent short backpacking trips in Scotland, which were designed to enable me to get some experience of wild camping with my newish Duomid shelter. Up to now my focus has mainly been on the hiking rather than the camping, which is why I was drawn to use existing long distance trails on both these trips.
My first four long distance trails utilised a variety of B&Bs, hostels and bunkhouses where all my needs were catered for, but the costs of these trips mounted up. Because of this I finally bought a tent for the Pennine Way in 2013 and began to use some small campsites and gardens. This experience kickstarted my journey towards wild camping.
The first trip in June was to Perthshire on part of the Cateran Trail, hiking from Blairgowrie to Kirkmichael and camping at Pitcarmick in Strathardle.
The second trip in August was to Stirlingshire and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park on part of the Rob Roy Way, hiking from Drymen to Strathyre and camping at Bealach Cumhang near the Menteith Hills. For those who don’t speak Gaelic, bealach apparently means col.
On the whole, I think my ability to chose reasonable places to pitch is improving a little bit, and I have begun to establish a camp routine which works for me, although heavy rain on both hikes affected my decisions, and I could still do with shaving some weight off my pack.
I chose the Cateran Trail, which is divided between Perthshire & Angus, for my next backpacking trip, partly because it looks to be a fine route, but also because this area was my introduction to central Scotland some years ago.
The Cateran Trail is a 65 mile / 104km circular route which includes Strathardle as well as parts of Glen Shee and Glen Isla. The route is named after the bands of cattle thieves known as Caterans who previously brought terror to these glens.
The Strathardle section I backpacked between Blairgowrie and Kirkmichael contains all the different types of terrain which this area is known for; various types of woodland, untamed heather moorland, rolling farmland pastures, and many burns feeding into the Ericht and Ardle rivers. You can read the trip report at Pitcarmick under the camping section.
Unfortunately for me, a recent event on the trail had left it a bit muddy. If I had worn my boots and taken my gaiters, it would have improved things, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Anyway here are a few photos of the varied section between Blairgowrie and Kirkmichael, which included a camp at Pitcarmick, to give you an idea of the route.
These pictures give some indication of how lovely the trail is, but avoid the mud underfoot. At this point it began to rain heavily, so I pitched the tent quite early to dry out. Apologies if I should not have camped in this site but it was an unplanned decision brought about by the weather.
I continued my hike the following morning down the lovely, verdant country lanes into Kirkmichael for a much needed hot breakfast. There I decided to return to this trail when it has had the chance to recover, and I can focus more on the lovely countryside and less on where I am putting my feet.
In May I walked the Speyside Way as a way to remember a relative who sadly passed away this year. During the walk I made a call to rescue services for navigational advice as there was a route discrepancy between my map and the signage. It was getting late and I was stuck in a seemingly endless rocky barbed wire corridor which wasn’t indicated on my map, and wasn’t wide enough to pitch my tent in. My tired reasoning was simply that a call for advice now might prevent a call for help later. Unfortunately the people I spoke to were unable to answer my query. When I mentioned this dilemma on Twitter after my return, a few people were critical of my decision to make a call, so this is just a quick response to them.
In the 20 years since I began hiking, I have once requested a call out from Mountain Rescue following an attack of vertigo, and have sought advice (usually regarding route diversions) two or possibly three times on solo long distance walks. On each of these occasions I made a donation to the relevant team.
I would just like to quote a DM I received from a professional rescue person (who shall remain anonymous) regarding my call for advice:
“I think if your call prevented you from getting into danger then it was worthwhile. The Mountain Rescue teams would rather you didn’t get hurt and so would I…I’ve met lots of people who should have done what you did”
I would also like to point out that, as I have a relative who was involved in mountain rescue, I realise how valuable their service is to the outdoor community. My relative sustained a permanent injury whilst carrying out a rescue with his team, so I am fully aware of the risks teams face while providing this service. I am also aware of my personal responsibilities to use their resources sparingly, to donate as and when I am able, and to provide the best outdoor advice I can.