Finn and I don’t always brave it in the bivvy bags. Sometimes we fancy a bit of luxury, which is when a Youth Hostel fits the bill! Far from the hostels of old, modern hostels mostly boast en-suite rooms, bed linen, towels and private rooms. Unfortunately, with the increase in facilities comes an increase in prices and a family room doesn’t always come as cheap as you might expect. Child protection policy at hostels run by the Youth Hostels Association and Scottish Youth Hostels Association makes it obligatory to book a private room if bringing a child under 16 (although you can stay in a dorm room with a child over 12 of the same sex). For us, this rules out the most affordable beds in a dormitory room and requires you to book further in advance as private rooms generally book up quickly, months in advance in the more popular hostels.
Last April we shelled out £70 for a night’s stay for the three of us in a family room at a Youth Hostel on the Isle of Arran. This wasn’t an en-suite and didn’t include towels or breakfast. I’ll be honest, it would have cost us the same to stay in a more comfortable bed and breakfast. However, a bed and breakfast or hotel just doesn’t replicate the ethos and atmosphere found in a hostel where a dedicated lounge encourages social interaction and conversation with other travellers.
In that same hostel in Arran, we met a lovely family of five from outside of London who we ended up camping right next door to for a week in rural Wales that summer (we’d recommended the camp site when we met them in the hostel and they coincidentally happened to book in for the same week as us!) Most hostels have a communal space to lounge out in and meet other families and you’ll often find games and books on loan for free as well as full kitchen facilities that are invaluable for travelling with selective (i.e. fussy) eaters. Yup, we’ve one of those.
This February, Finn and I spent a few nights in a characterful hostel in the North Pennines for a more reasonable £35 per night for the two of us for an en-suite room including bedding and towels. Affiliate and independent hostels often have a more flexible pricing policy whereby they’ll put you in a room sleeping four but only charge for the number of people sleeping in the room (rather than the number of beds in the room as had happened on Arran). This was our second visit to Ninebanks Youth Hostel, a renovated 18th century cottage in former mining country, complete with rural views, flagstone flooring, log burner and an extremely well-stocked bookshelf. We had returned because my son has a long standing obsession with Roman History and Ninebanks is easily commutable to that most important monument built by the Romans in Britain: Hadrian’s Wall, and it’s associated forts, milecastles, turrets and earthworks.
Last year Finn forged some wonderful friendships with children he met and played with at the hostel in the evenings, while parents sat and chatted around the log burner, supping a locally produced beer. This year I was alarmed on arrival at the hostel to hear that there was a woman in residence who had chosen to stay in the hostel with it’s quiet, peaceful environment to facilitate some writing she was doing. I immediately sought her out to apologetically explain that Finn doesn’t ‘do’ peace and quiet particularly well. There was no need to worry. The lady in question enthusiastically led the evening’s entertainment featuring Twister, giant Jenga and imaginative game playing.
Sadly, our daytime adventures were far less cosy and comfortable. Hadrian’s Wall traces the contours of the wild and exposed Northumbrian landscape and we’d timed our visit with the arrival of Storm Doris. We didn’t let the unfavourable wet and windy conditions scupper our hiking and explorations along the Wall or our al fresco picnics but it certainly made our excursions more challenging, reducing both mother and son to tears (for quite different reasons). And so to reveal the pièce de résistance of a hostel… The Drying Room. It’s worth paying any price to have dry boots in the morning.