by Julie Musk
Arriving in Eastbourne by train one January afternoon, I stroll down towards the seafront to visit the Towner Art Gallery (free entry), which has a collection of work by local artist Eric Ravilious (1903–42). The hostel is a half-hour walk (1.6 miles) from the train station in the other direction, uphill. On the way you pass the town’s oldest house (Pilgrims, also thought to be the oldest in England, with a blue plaque to Charles Dickens), and further up is Eastbourne’s oldest church (St Mary the Virgin), beautifully lit at night, outside and in. After the houses and streetlights peter out, I follow a slight footpath, barely lit by passing cars’ beams. The hostel is a welcome beacon of light in the darkness, just before the golf course. A small path leads to the front door and a lofty well-lit space – reception, lounge and dining room all in one. The manager checks me in and kindly gives me my own 4-bedded room, as there are only two others staying that night. The en suite bathroom is a treat too. In the small but well-equipped kitchen, I make a pot of tea (china teapots thoughtfully provided, as are tea and coffee in the dining room). Later, I prepare a meal for myself and friend who’s visiting that evening (she simply needs to sign in). In her 60s, it’s her first time in a hostel and she’s full of questions and admiration for the place! As she leaves, we both admire the twinkling lights of the town below.
Next morning, I study the large wall-map. I have to guess where the hostel is and the map doesn’t go as far as the next hostel (YHA South Downs), but at least it shows half my route. I also chat with Susan, the manager. She’s been here since 2011 and there’s a history booklet about the hostel. It turns out this is the second hostel on this site, the first a former golf clubhouse that was converted in 1974. Unfortunately it was fire-damaged in 2004. Replaced by a single-storey new hostel, cut into the site to reduce its profile and timber-clad in keeping with its wooded surroundings, it opened in 2009 with 30 bedrooms, all en suite. The living moss roof gives great insulation, and when the sun shines through the skylights and entrance, the solar heat is trapped. I had already noticed how warm and cosy the hostel felt.
Visitors stay year round – some to visit friends in Eastbourne, to work in the area Monday to Thursday, or as university students using the hostel temporarily while looking for accommodation or checking out the area, and of course there are always walkers (like me) and cyclists. There are deliberately no street lights after the houses, as the empty road leads up onto the Downs, so you can enjoy the stars without light pollution.
Waving goodbye, I pick up the footpath onto the Downs immediately outside the hostel. The Weald Way and South Downs Way are signposted. In the other direction, you can walk to Beachy Head in about an hour. There’s a bus stop right outside, with buses to the door of YHA Brighton. Susan walks her dog Megan everywhere: ‘There’s such a variety of landscapes here – river, downs, forest, sea, the beach. It’s partly why I love it so and have stayed so long!’
Images: © Julie Musk 2019