Wild places, walks and watersports
Awe-some adventurer Sarah Outen MBE has rowed, biked and kayaked her way across the world, covering 25,000 miles. She’s also the youngest person and the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean from Japan to Alaska. Passionate about the great outdoors and, particularly, getting young people outside, she makes a brilliant YHA Ambassador. So, this month we bring you Sarah’s favourite wild places, walks and watersports – and the YHA properties close by.
You can learn more about Sarah from our #LiveMoreYHA magazine Q & A.
You’ll also find details of Sarah’s bestselling book, expeditions and upcoming events on her website.
Like a duck to water
“Growing up for most of my life in Rutland I am very fond of that area – the River Nene has some beautiful gentle clear water sections for paddling and swimming; there’s plenty to do at Rutland Water (this is where I learned to kayak and sail) and lots of great walking in the surrounding rolling countryside.”
If you’re interested in following in Sarah’s paddle strokes, you can hire craft from the watersports centre on Rutland Water’s north shore. YHA Thurlby lies 16 miles to the east in a small, sleepy village. Traditional and homely, the hostel is a former village forge with large lawned garden and orchard. It’s self-catering only but the village pub does good grub.
This hostel is available for Exclusive Hire year round and welcomes dogs.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Alan:
1. Hop on the bike and cycle the 15 minutes to the historical market town of Bourne. The town has shops, restaurants and bars aplenty. Most notable is the Jubilee Garage – a theme pub with a VW camper van for a bar.
2. The ‘finest stone town in England’, Stamford, lies ten miles south west. The television programme Middlemarch and the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice were both filmed here, testament to just how pretty the place is. The town has 11 churches, 30 pubs and a high street full of independent shops.
3. Burghley House (near Stamford) is one of the grandest Elizabethan houses in the country. Take a tour. If you’re bringing the dog, the Capability Brown-designed parkland is a top spot for walkies. Belvoir Castle is also within a 45-minute drive and is a magnificent Regency house. And with a name meaning ‘beautiful view’ in French, you can imagine the scenery.
Close to home and heart
“I now live in Oxfordshire, just a few minutes’ walk from the Ridgeway. I love getting out there for biking and walking and to clear my head after a day at my computer. There are always lots of skylarks in the fields and plenty of action in the hedgerows. Great sloe and elderberry foraging in the right season too! We’re 10 minutes from the Thames where we love to swim and paddle. And of course there’s the city of Oxford itself – I was at university here so I have very fond memories. I’ve stayed at the hostel a couple of times on memorable trips with friends. You can hire bikes, go punting, tour the Colleges and – my favourite Oxford activity – visit the Museum of Natural History.”
Close to both railway station and city centre, and with plenty of useful facilities within, YHA Oxford is a very handy hostel to have in this remarkable city. And, as Sarah pointed out, there’s just so much to see. From the dreaming spires of the colleges to the Saxon tower of Oxford Castle, the exotics and ornamentals of the Botanic Garden to the flora and fauna of the riverside wilderness, the colourful hubbub of the Covered Market to the quiet corners of historic pubs, Oxford’s offering is as varied as it is inspiring.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Nick:
1. Take a walk by the river through Port Meadow and enjoy dinner at The Perch. Wooden bridges, ducks and birds taking a bath, narrow boats floating by… it’s enough to make you forget you’re right in the centre of a city. The ales at The Perch are carefully selected and dinner in their open garden is a must.
2. The Bear is the smallest and one of the oldest pubs in the city. It can be tough to get a table but well worth the effort – for the vegetarian burger alone. With walls and ceiling adorned with university ties in glass cases, it’s a quirky Oxford institution.
3. Escape from the crowded, mainstream shopping centres and high street brands to Gloucester Green Market. Wander the square and browse the various vintage wares peddled on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Cherished adventures with friends
YHA Snowdon Llanberis
“Snowdonia and the coast beyond have always had a special pull for me. We spent idyllic family holidays in the caravan beneath Cadair Idris and along the coast south of Harlech. A swim in Cwm Bychan just below the Cadair Peak is blissful on a summer’s day. In the north of the National Park, I loved accompanying kids on school trips up Tryfan, spent afternoons swimming in the icy waters near Llanberis and scrambled over Crib Goch with friends. I also trained for the kayaking legs of my expedition with Justine Curgenven up in Anglesey and can highly recommend a hop over the Menai Strait. All in all, I just love this region of Wales. It’s lush and wild and full of cherished memories for me.”
YHA has eight hostels in Snowdonia National Park, giving you easy access to all of Sarah’s favourite places and more. YHA Snowdon Llanberis lies roughly in the middle of her recommendations. And, with the installation of two Stargazer Pods this summer, this place makes a great base for big adventures. Sleeping four on a double and two single futon beds, these wooden glamping structures will benefit from underfloor heating, French doors opening onto a deck and Velux windows so you can stare at celestial bodies from the comfort of your bed. They’ll be available later in the summer.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Janet:
1. Escape the tourist hordes on Snowdon and do the Moel Eilio horseshoe instead. You can walk it right form the hostel door and the route affords great views of Snowdon, the Llyn peninsula and Anglesey.
2. Llanberis is North Wales’ adventure capital. Try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding or canoeing with hire and instruction available from the watersports centre on the southern shore of Llyn Padarn.
3. Go for a gentler wander from Dinorwig and through the slate quarries. Along the way, look out for the Lady of Snowdon – a rock formation resembling a woman’s face.
For the next generation and the last
“I have been to YHA Edale a few times for a mix of business and leisure. I went first in 2003 – whilst working with a school – with a group of ten year olds, for a few days away doing activities. It was memorable! I was chased up a tree by a group of boisterous bullocks while out on my morning run. Weaselling was great fun and so too were the after-hours chats with the rest of the staff once the kids had all gone to bed.
I next went to Edale in 2008 when my brother and I walked some of the Pennine Way, in memory of our father, who had always wanted to walk the route but never made it. It rained and poured for the first couple of days and then we had beautiful sunshine coming down into Howarth.”
YHA Edale combines hostel with dedicated activity centre and lies in prime Peak District walking country. Tackle all the hills and tors in one fell swoop with the epic 21-mile Edale skyline or opt for a shorter ramble up the hillside behind the centre to explore the quiet eastern end of Kinder Scout. If, like Sarah, you’re into biking, many ride routes run past us; take to the cross country trails around Win Hill, Mam Tor and the Ladybower, Derwent and Howden reservoirs.
Insider tips from Hostel Manager, Nick:
1. True Grit – go climbing on one of the many gritstone ‘Edges’ of the Peak District – famous sites such as Stanage Edge, Froggatt Edge or The Roaches are uniquely challenging but also ideal for relative novices. These small crags with a big impact are where we go with climbing course participants to give them the skills to climb independently.
2. Caving is locally popular not least for the selection of very accessible show caves. For a real flavour of the weird and wonderful subterranean world, there are a host of more challenging caves and mines to be explored. We offer caving courses or an underground experience as part of multi-activity weekends throughout the year and one-off activities during the school holidays. You will get wet, you will get muddy and you will remember it for a very long time afterwards.
3. Weaselling (an activity of our own invention) involves scrambling, jumping, squeezing and crawling through a naturally occurring adventure playground of gritstone boulders and mini crags. Try it on a multi-activity weekend or one off session during the school holidays. It’s accessible to all and thousands of children from visiting groups will attest to its enduring blend of fun and challenge.