Welcome to Britain's top YHAs
YHAs – From Grade 1 listed 800 year old castles to former life boat or railway stations – try something a bit different with a YHA.
It is worth knowing that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a youth or a “member” to stay in a Youth Hostel. Similarly you don’t have to do chores anymore to earn your keep, or sleep in a dorm with other travellers.
There are family rooms, even some with en suite facilities and cafe bars in Royal Hunting Lodges, castles, Elizabethan Manor Houses by lakes, mountains or even on Oxford Street.
You do normally still have to sleep in a bunk, but at prices from £25 a room for 4, it beats a Travelodge hands down. And you can join if you like for about £20 a year to get money off.
1. Top of YHAs UK list - St Briavels
You enter like King John himself, through a portcullis gate house and have to pop down some spiral stairways to get to the loo in the night (he may not have done this).
The YHA staff put on treasure hunts and fascinating guided tours of the castle. One of the dorms is an old prison, with the original foot thick door and convict graffiti from the 1600’s. In the lounge, there is a huge wooden fireside wheel where the castle dog (bit like a big hamster) would run, providing the medieval power supply for the spit roast.
In one bedroom, under the rug, is a trap door hiding an “oubliette”- a secret dungeon but worse, as after being thrown down it (probably breaking a few bones on the way) the unfortunates were forgotten about and left to die. Can I recommend doing the tour and reading the “most haunted” websites after your night’s stay, as neither thought of the lost souls, nor the waiting for the ghost who has been known to rip off your blankets in the dark, makes for a restful night’s sleep. And just so you are aware, there may also be a baby crying in the chimney.
The absolute best thing about this YHA is the Tudor Feast night, where period fancy dress is encouraged (you can borrow costumes from the hostel itself or hire and bring with you), where a feast master leads you through a tressle tabled evening of Tudor traditions, music, sweet mead, table banging (clapping’s precursor) and feasting without cutlery (which was invented later).
In the morning, you can be like King John again and try your hand at a spot of archery in the grounds.
Totally unique experience – though the faint hearted (such as myself) may not get much in the way of sleep. Maybe drink more mead?
2. Top 10 YHAs - Treyarnon
Location, location, location and a lovely glass walled cafe mean a silver medal is awarded to Treyarnon Bay YHA. Perched on a Cornish clifftop overlooking a surfing bay and a cold-as-ice huge tidal rock pool, with al fresco benching for the better days – a top drawer YHA.
3. Top 10 YHAs -Wasdale Hall
You could not be more isolated from the modern world than when staying in Wasdale Hall YHA, a 200 year old country manor. It stands alone on the banks of Wastwater in the heart of the Lake District where you have the deepest and clearest lake in the land all to yourself.
Satnavs will quite happily direct you over the single track Wrynose and Hardknott passes, without any thought of warning you that it is the steepest road in Britain, seemingly vertically up then down, over narrow and twisty path, like a real life unfun roller coaster. Not for everyone or every car. We did it in a Volvo, in July, but only just, and possibly taking a bit off the underside of the car on the way.
Views are incredible though.
The same could not be said for the top of Scafell Pike, which lurks at the other end of the lake (completing the hat trick of superlatives by being the tallest mountain in the land) but that’s another story.
4. Top 10 YHAs Ilam Hall
YHAs do not get more magical that this. Feel like you are at Hogwarts in Ilam Hall YHA, a 17th Century gothic manor, set in 84 acres of National Trust parkland. The onsite cream tea cafe, with its hobnailed door, overlooking the formal gardens and valley beyond is as much of a hit as the Dovedale stepping stones a mile down the country road.
Family rooms from £38 a night in the run up to Christmas have made this an annual treat.
5. Top 10 YHAs - Hartington Hall
Pretty as a jigsaw puzzle, Hartington Hall YHA is a 17th Century manor house in Derbyshire, festooned with flowers, boasting its own oak panelled drawing room, parasoled garden benches and giant outdoor chess.
6. Top 10 YHAs - Brighton
Originally a manor house dating from the 1700’s, and then the Royal York Hotel, Brighton YHA is now an art deco themed hostel, with a cool cafe bar, sea views and within spitting distance of the famous pier.
You are in good company, having made the same accommodation choices (albeit in a different time zone) as Benjamin Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens (who apparently did a reading of David Copperfield here in 1860).
Walk along the beach, gamble mildly at the penny falls (avoid getting carried away and going large in the 10p zone), ride the rodeo on the pier and wander the narrow Lanes market area to make this feel like a proper holiday. Which it is.
7. Top 10 YHAs - Wilderhope Manor
Topping the list of YHAs this time, it’s an Elizabethan Grade 1 Manor House in Shropshire that is cutting the mustard. Wilderhope Manor YHA may be down a lethally potholed single track road, but is so lovely it hosts weddings, and drinks on the terrace are pretty much mandatory, wedding or not.
8. Cheers to Beer!
9. Top 10 YHAs - Port Eynon
Beware the perils of arriving at night at Port Eynon YHA, a former lifeboat station on the most southerly tip of the Gower, and one of the nation’s most remote YHAs.
Single track muddy lanes just kind of stop in the dark, abandoning you to the night. You know the map shows the hostel is somewhere nearby but there is literally nothing to see.
Leaving the safety of the car, you head off into the black mud, through a field, eventually spotting a light which appears to belong to a building. On entry they offer you a torch – which you would be well advised to bring with you in the first place if you decide to visit.
Parking, it turns out, is not very close the hostel, being at the end of the mired lane labelled very clearly “no entry”. Much baggage lugging is required.
When day dawns you find that you are on the beach, can breakfast at a bench on the old lifeboat slipway, and take your body board straight out for a spin – or borrow one from the hostel.
Wear wellies, arrive in the light, bring a torch. And a surf board and you are pretty much set.
10. Top 10 YHAs Stratford
You can stay in Stratford YHA, a Grade II listed Georgian mansion from about £25 for a family room. Unbelievable. Set in grounds with outdoor benches and climbing trees, a couple of miles down the road from Shakespeare’s house.
These are my top 10 (so far) but also check out Oakhampton, which offers a whole array of activity packages (see my travel tales in Dartmoor for details), or Snowdon if you are up for a bit of a hike after breakfast.
Very much looking forward to checking out Tintagel and King Arthur later in the year. And one day I must find the time to drive up to the adventure playground that is Boggle Hole, near Whitby.
Try something a bit different with the family. YHA’s – surprisingly amazing. Do you have a favourite?
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