Hostels

Diary of a YHA Novice

The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was whilst backpacking in Australia in 1999. I remember the enormous dorms, having to bring my own sheets, sharing a pokey little kitchen with a toaster that looked rather like a sandy beach with all the crumbs of residents-past lingering in it and queuing to use the communal showers that had dubious plastic sheeting separating them. I had a fantastic time in Australia but youth hostels were not somewhere I was planning on ever going back to. I do after all like my creature comforts.

So it was with trepidation that 14 years later I walked into the Ambleside YHA. I could not fault the setting – the hostel is on the shore of Windermere. Literally a few metres walk takes you from the front door to the water’s edge, where the gentle ripples lap the shore.

My first impressions were excellent. The hostel has recently been refurbished and it turns out things have changed rather a lot in the last 14 years! I received a warm welcome from the receptionist and as I was filling in the form and being given my keys I peered to my left and clocked the bar for future reference! Keys in hand, I headed up the stairs to the top floor in search of my room. Along the corridor were rows of bathrooms and individual showers – I was relieved to see there were plenty of them and they looked sparklingly clean.

So the room. The Ambleside YHA is a large hostel and even has a selection of en-suite rooms but I opted for a bed in a small dorm. There were two bunk beds, a basin, a portable heater and large wooden lockers for any bags and valuables. The beds all had matching green pillows and duvets, which were ironed and looked inviting. As I was on the top floor, I was amongst the eaves, which gave the room character and whilst the room was small, it wasn’t pokey. The views from the window were superb across the lake.

It was early evening so, after selecting a bottom bunk, I headed down to the bar. And what a bar! It would not have been out of place in a nice hotel. There was a good selection of beers, spirits and wines including prosecco (a personal favourite), a restaurant, conservatory area and outside decking. I settled into a sofa with a glass of wine, connected to the WiFi network and watched a rather cloudy sunset over Windermere, with the imposing fells behind getting darker and darker as they disappeared into the night sky. I have stayed in expensive hotels that could not boast such a setting.

The staff were friendly and it was clear the restaurant itself was a destination of choice as several people were staying elsewhere but had come for the food and ambience. I am not surprised. It is excellent value and having tried the chilli con carne, I was impressed. I would definitely come back to the restaurant again and those visiting on warm sunny days can take advantage of the outdoor space. There is a self-catering area as well for those who want to be self-sufficient.

Little things matter and next to each bed was an individual light and a socket for a phone charger with a little platform to lay your mobile phone to charge over night. I had the dorm to myself for the two nights I stayed. I was worried the corridor would be noisy with people coming and going from the dorms and whilst there was the occasional door banging more loudly earlier on in the night, I was not disturbed and slept really well.

In the morning there were no queues for the shower (which was just across the corridor) and the superb view from the bedroom window even though cloudy was one that many hotels would covet. I headed out for the day with a spring in my step.

So my youth hostel journey has begun and so far I am pleasantly surprised. Having not considered YHAs for many years, my opinion of them has changed dramatically. Having started the journey with trepidation, I now find myself looking forward to my next stay with pleasure. Now which one to choose?

By Tanya Oliver

Tanya Oliver is a freelance writer and author. She is also Programme Manager for the conservation programme Fix the Fells and has her own blogTwitter and Facebook.

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