The Journey: Winter 19

Winter is coming

A winter trip to the UK countryside can showcase the landscape at its most beautiful. We speak to five hostel managers to find out what they love about the colder months.

LAKE DISTRICT, YHA Keswick

Rachael Kirkby, hostel manager

“Winter is one of the best times to visit us here at Keswick,” says Rachael. “With the crowds and congestion of the high season forgotten, the town slips into a more relaxed pace. Almost all local businesses and attractions remain open year-round so you’re not likely to miss out – just remember to check opening times.”

The Lake District can get a lot of snow, and the type of visitor to the hostel changes. “Winter tends to attract the more seasoned visitor to the area – hiking in winter conditions requires a bit more experience and preparation, and that’s reflected in our guests at this time of year. There are always great stories to be shared at the end of a long day!”

It’s a season that Rachael particularly enjoys. “I love walking in winter. If you’re here on a clear day, the Newlands fells are beautiful. There are so many great walks you can do from the door. The Newlands and Coledale Horseshoe walks are two of my favourites.”

“One of the best things about living here is watching the fells change colour throughout the year. In winter, my favourite days are the really frosty or snowy ones where the landscape looks completely monochrome. And there’s nothing quite like getting back from a long day on snowy fells into one of Keswick’s many great pubs and their log fires.”

NORTH YORK MOORS, YHA Whitby

Alice Lowe, deputy manager

“Compared to the fast pace of summer, winter has a much calmer, sleepier feel,” says Alice. “There’s nothing better than wrapping up warm and wandering the quaint little shops in the older part of town. I enjoy the quietness of winter: the streets are deserted and still, and they can feel quite eerie at night, which is quite fitting for Whitby and our ties to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

And wintertime only enhances the views. “During winter the sea mist spreads over Whitby most mornings, making the cobbled streets feel almost mystical. If snow settles, the view from the hostel is amazing, looking down over the town, the rooftops a blanket of white.”

There’s fine walking to be had, too. Alice says: “One of my favourites would be from Whitby to Sandsend, either along the beach if the tide’s out, or along the clifftop. Another walk would be from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay, or even to YHA Boggle Hole where you can enjoy a lovely cuppa and some cake in front of the fire, before walking back to Robin Hood’s Bay and catching the bus back to Whitby.”

SNOWDONIA, YHA Snowdon Pen-y-Pass

Jonathan Al-Qazzaz, hostel manager

“After autumn, the temperature inevitably drops and snow descends on the hills,” explains Jonathan. “Thick puffer jackets and moon boots start to appear and excited-looking locals come out ready for a bit of good old-fashioned British winter adventure in the mountains. At the hostel, we batten down the hatches for the odd storm, stock up the salt reserves and prepare the fireplace.”

And it’s not just the weather that changes; the clientele transforms too. “While we retain a certain level of traditional visitors, the majority leans towards the more experienced and prepared individuals looking to take on some of Wales’ world-class winter climbing and mountaineering routes. Y Lliwedd on Snowdon is a 989m summit whose north face was used as a training ground by the likes of Longland, Jones, Eckenstein, Young, Thomson, and Mallory, preparing them for their future endeavours on Everest!”

“Even the easiest of trails have to be given some serious respect in winter. That being said, for an avid walker with a bit of education on winter skills and equipment, much of the landscape is open to exploration.”

And it doesn’t all have to be gnarly walking with ice axe and crampons. “When the mountains are in winter conditions, there are plenty of lower-level winter walks around Betws-y-Coed and Beddgelert.”

NORTHUMBERLAND, YHA The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall

Richard Dykes, hostel manager

Richard has been at YHA The Sill at Hadrian’s Wall since the day it opened in 2017. “The building is something unique,” he says. “It’s designed to blend into the landscape. When you drive up to it and park outside, it’s quite a big building, but if you climb up onto Hadrian’s Wall, the whole thing disappears into the landscape.”

As a hostel high in the hills, it can be exposed to the weather. “Last year we didn’t get much snow, but the year before we were snowed in for a week. The landscape changes, and it becomes a very quiet place, a place of solitude. The key attraction here is Hadrian’s Wall, which is beautifully quiet, and it can be spectacular in winter.”

Richard himself is also a keen mountain biker, enjoying the trails of Kielder Forest, the North Pennines and 7stanes just over the Scottish border.

“Most people who visit The Sill are here to find out about the Romans and do a bit of a history tour, but there are some good places to walk. You can walk straight onto the wall from the hostel, but the most popular walk is to Sycamore Gap and around Crag Lough.

“You can also get onto the Pennine Way from here,” he continues. “A nice place that most people miss is Allen Banks and Staward Gorge – a National Trust estate in a riverside valley. It’s steep-sided, with pristine clear water that you can find freshwater shrimps in.”

PEAK DISTRICT, YHA Eyam

Cat Barker, hostel manager

YHA Eyam is among the quirkier hostels in the network, set in a turreted Victorian folly above the village of Eyam, in the Peak District National Park. The village itself is well-known for isolating itself in the mid-1600s, to prevent the bubonic plague from spreading.

In winter, Derbyshire’s hills and valleys take on a completely new vibe. It’s a time of year that Cat Barker particularly enjoys.

“I was at YHA Castleton Losehill Hall last winter, and the snow certainly didn’t put people off coming up and doing some of the Peak District walks. Typically, the Mam Tor ridgeline is popular even through the winter. People still flock to Stanage Edge in the winter.”

Closer to the hostel, Cat points to Eyam Moor as being a great place to walk all year. “The terrain isn’t too bad there, and even with snow down it shouldn’t get any more difficult than it already is. The village itself has a history trail that goes from Eyam, down towards Stoney Middleton and then back. It’s got all the important historical sites associated with
the plague.”

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