The Youth Hostelling Association for England and Wales, the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association for Scotland, Hostelling International NI for Northern Ireland and the many private hostels & bunkhouses springing up around Britain can be a hidden treasure for outdoor people. Hostelling enables 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 bland, corporate branding of some budget hotels, hostels embrace a cornucopia of styles and periods, from humble cottages to grand mansions.
In spite of the name, 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 and this unpredictability is why I love staying in them.
Hiking can easily become an expensive hobby by the time you have spent money assembling your kit, paid high season B&B prices & parted with more cash for somebody to courier your kit for you. I worked out at the end of one of my early walks, that I could have had a holiday somewhere exotic for the money I had spent on travel, b&b accommodation and food in my own country. I was told by many outdoors people 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 always be days even when you camp on holidays or long distance trails, 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 many facilities on offer at many hostels in Britain.
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.
Some hostel organisations have evolved into an umbrella body which includes affiliated hostels who are included on their websites, and who usually offer the same discounts to members. One advantage of joining one of the hosteling organisations is that you can get various discounts off the cost of a room and membership of the International organisation Hostelling International.
In addition to youth hostels, a huge range of independent hostels and bunkhouses around the country can be accessed by referring to the independenthostelguide website. There are also various hostel phone apps available for national and international hostels from which you can book ahead.
Unfortunately I was never taken on hostel holidays as a child otherwise I would have been aware of all the procedures and etiquette which go with hostel life. In case you are like me, here are some pointers about what to expect when you stay at a hostel:
What to expect.
- You will normally have the choice of a shared dormitory room with bunkbeds (usually but not always single sex) or sometimes 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 often close during the day from about 10am until 4pm for cleaning so it is unwise to arrive during these hours.
- You will often have the choice to self cater or eat meals provided by the hostel. It is worth giving some indication of your intention before you arrive
- There are usually lockers available on request for your gear.
- There is often 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.
- Dormitories are often empty during term time weekdays which makes them a real bargain.
- Staff are normally very knowledgable about the local area and are happy to suggest facilities, walks or climbs nearby.
- You can wash and dry clothes and boots at many hostels and they are usually willing to hold parcels for you until you arrive.
- Wifi is free to YHA members. There may not be wifi in hostels in remote locations.
- Don’t expect it to be like a hotel. Most hostels are very chilled and friendly but the ethos is more DIY.