It’s time for a good old-fashioned leg stretch and some fresh air. The hostels featured this month all have this in common: they’re surrounded by the kind of natural beauty that makes your soul leap. Situated in landscapes with abundant wildlife and fascinating topographical features, these four make superb destinations for delightful down time. So, come with us as we go off the beaten track and travel far from the bustle of tourist traps.
As ever, you can revisit old editions of The Wanderer in our natty online archive.
“Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
Dartmoor is a one off: a gnarly, fascinating landscape of wild wetland, enchanted woodland, winding rivers, Neolithic monuments, medieval settlements, igneous tors and stunning moors. During his visit to Dartmoor in 1901, Arthur Conan Doyle walked 16-18 miles a day, traversing this unique landscape for a place to set his dark masterpiece, The Hound of the Baskervilles. He chose Fox Tor Mire, eight miles south of the hostel.
Dartmoor National Park covers 368 square miles, contains more than 10,000 ancient sites, and is internationally important for its wildlife and habitats. A stay at YHA Dartmoor puts you almost dead centre of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Whatever level of rambler, there is a route for you here. Well-weathered walkers with navigational nous have the challenge of miles of open moorland, while the more leisurely and less experienced amongst us have the option of beautiful Bellever Forest, with its waymarked paths, right on the doorstep. And for the intermediates, pick up a guide (in human, audio or paper form) from Postbridge visitor centre.
YHA Dartmoor lies at the start of the Bellever Trail, a two-and-a half-mile moderate trail through the woods. While you wander, wave hello to the ponies and keep a look out for Bronze Age hut circles and burial cists. Link up with the Postbridge trail to make it a five-and-a-half-miler and take the opportunity to climb Bellever Tor for an astonishing view of the colourful landscape below.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Maria:
1. Visit the Miniature Pony Centre near Newton Abbot for a chance to pet ponies and other farmyard favourites. The attraction is open seven days a week and there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained with indoor and outdoor play areas, gardens, activities and talks.
2. Mighty hills afford incredible views. And if you’re a keen cyclist with a penchant for panoramas, the House of God & Hills of the Devil route is a hell of a ride around 30 miles of magnificent scenery.
3. Wistmans Wood is a scene from a fantasy novel. As if spray painted green, its small ancient oak trees and granite boulders are festooned in moss and lichen.
Wildlife, wilderness and a waterfall
Fifteen acres of grounds, surrounded by stunning scenery, with a nature trail and access to the wonderful western fells, YHA Eskdale is a member-favourite for good reason. Plus it’s run on renewable energy, so is environmentally-friendly too.
It’s a peak-baggers paradise around here with Hard Knott Fell, Green Crag and Harter Fell all in the immediate vicinity. If it’s splendid isolation you’re after, try the latter; Harter Fell sits on its own overlooking the Eskdale Valley and – as it doesn’t readily link with other mountains – it’s often overlooked by hikers. Take a trip to the top for uninterrupted views.
Follow the River Esk north for an hour or two to experience the true wilderness of Upper Eskdale. Here the vast crags of Scafell and Scafell Pike plunge about 2,000 feet into the bogs of The Great Moss. If you have energy to spare, carry on from here to climb the various summits dotting the surrounding skyline.
Alternatively, follow the river west to St. Catherine’s Church and, where it forks, travel south through a narrowing ravine to find Stanley Ghyll Force: a 60-foot waterfall lying in a dramatically deep gorge adorned with rhododendrons. Retrace your steps to find a rocky stairway to a viewing platform above. Return to the hostel via the route to Dalegarth station but be sure to detour into Boot village. Trot over the 17th-century packhorse bridge to find a medieval water mill and then wash down your day’s adventures with a pint at the village pub (there are two more excellent hostelries on the way home!).
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Mick:
1. Take a walk around the Lake District’s most remote lake: Devoke Water. Situated high in the hills, its peaceful waters lap against the surrounding moors which are dotted with pre-historic burial cairns. You’re likely to have the whole landscape to yourself.
2. Hardknott Roman Fort is a must visit not only for the superbly preserved ruins but for the awe-inspiring views across Eskdale to Scafell and England’s highest summits. The spectacularly positioned fort perched high above the valley floor has held vigil over the valley for almost 2000 years.
3. Put an hour or so to one side to explore YHA Eskdale’s wildlife gardens. From the bird hide you’ll see a whole range of colourful fluttering characters and on a sunny day there’s every chance you’ll encounter an adder or two basking in the sunshine. From the top of the Nature Trail the views are superb looking down the valley to the sea and looking up the valley to rocky Harter Fell.
A divine destination
Thank goodness, we caught you just in time! The North York Moors are at their very best at the end of August and September. Not only is the weather lovely, but our glorious heather-clad hills are in bloom. So if you’ve been waiting for the kids to go back to school to enjoy God’s Own County in peace, now’s the time for a trip to one of Britain’s best market towns.
So, what’s here? Well, walking routes aplenty and bags of historical interest. The moors with their stark beauty and sweeping panoramas belie a wealth of man’s influence on the land. With early Bronze Age burial mounds, ancient moorland crosses, hill forts, Roman camps, alum works and paved trods, there’s so much to discover.
Helmsley lies at the start of the Cleveland Way, a 109-mile trail that follows the outline of the National Park boundary north and then the coastline south. Use the beginning of the trail to commence a route out to the beautiful village of Rievaulx and its venerated monastic ruins, following in the footsteps of St. Aelred: one of Yorkshire’s most famous abbots.
There is so much history here. You don’t even have to leave the town; Helmsley Castle is a mere 10-minute walk from the hostel. Built in the 12th-century, the medieval fortress, later Tudor manor house, later besieged Royalist refuge has quite the story to tell.
With a bike store and repair station, YHA Helmsley makes a handy base for mountain bikers. The 20-mile Helmsley Loop is almost all off-road and a stunning ride. Alternatively, Sutton Bank Centre is only seven miles away and offers three trails of varying grades.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Neil:
1. For those starting the Cleveland Way, toast your future success with the National Trail’s official beer: “Striding the Riding”. It’s brewed at the increasingly popular Helmsley micro-brewery, with money from sales going towards the trail’s upkeep. Or with autumn approaching why not take a tour of England’s northernmost commercial orchards at Ampleforth Abbey, which are home to over 40 varieties of apples and take the chance to sample their award-winning ciders and brandies.
2. For food lovers there can be few better locations. With an award-winning delicatessen, two Michelin starred pubs, farmer’s markets and more cafes than days in the week you won’t go hungry in Helmsley. If you can’t make it to nearby Malton’s annual food festival in May, monthly food markets are held the second Saturday of every month in what is fast becoming Yorkshire’s food capital.
3. Criss-crossed by paths, disused railways, green lanes and trods, the moors and valleys are a trail-running paradise. Over the course of the year the Hardmoors Race Series offers a challenge to all abilities; ranging from 15 miles on New Year’s Day to “The Ring of Steele” ultramarathon covering 160 miles and 7,000m of ascent in May.
What a coastline!
It’s lovely here. And while it’s not strictly off the beaten path, situated close to town and 10 minutes from the Blue Flag beach, our spacious North Norfolk hostel makes a bright and breezy base for superb walks in this peaceful corner of England.
Spend a most excellent day walking the four-and-a-half miles to Cromer. Follow the seafront and then over the top of isolated Beeston Bump. Walk past the remains of the WWII listening station, keeping your eyes peeled all the while for rare plants and migrant birds as well as porpoises out to sea. The route continues to West Runton before coming inland again to reach Cromer.
In 1990, a local couple discovered a big old bone at the base of West Runton cliffs. Excavated in 1995, it turned out to be the pelvis of a 10-ton mammoth. The 6-700,000-year-old ‘West Runton Elephant’ is the most complete and largest mammoth skeleton ever found in the UK; check out the bones on display in Cromer Museum. While you’re in town, dip into the RNLI Henry Blogg museum. It’s free, informative and staffed by as nice a bunch of museum volunteers as you’re ever likely to meet. Jump on the ever so convenient Coast Hopper bus to get home.
Award-wining Pretty Corner Woods lie on the outskirts of Sheringham. Wander the sculpture trails to find red campion, wood sorrel, forest flowers and ferns. You’ll share the space with deer, butterflies, kingfishers, owls and woodpeckers. An idyllic place for a family day out, and the cream teas are lip-smacking gorgeous.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Adrian:
1. Get lost in the exotic splendour of Priory Maze and Gardens. Here the gardeners have exploited north Norfolk’s unique microclimate to grow a wonderful collection of unusual plants.
2. Check out Humphry Repton’s masterpiece, Sheringham Park. In the 1950s the owner held rhododendron champagne parties. Today it’s managed by the National Trust and its 1,000 acres of woodland, parkland, floral displays and cliff top are just gorgeous.
3. The North Norfolk Railway runs steam and diesel engines along the coast and inland to Holt. It’s a treat any day of the week, but the 1940s weekend is always very special. This year it falls on 16th and 17th September.