Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

A Selection of Hostels

YHA Sign

It seems that depending on the long standing services of hostelling associations is no longer as foolproof as might have been the case once upon a time. After all, the SYHA has closed some of its hostels not so long ago and the YHA have been on a similar course in a much more obvious way. Therefore, it seems sensible to collect any good ways of finding and booking hostels as and when I find them when it seems that the independent hostels sector has an ever growing role in the provision of simple accommodation beloved (and often formerly beloved by the sounds of the opinions of some) by those seeking to enjoy the countryside. It is for the latter reason that I’ll continue to add to what’s here as and when I make discoveries. What I don’t intend to do here is to build a rival to the likes of HostelWorld or HostelBookers so I am going to stick with collecting an eclectic bundle whose whereabouts on the web, I’d like to keep logged somewhere for others and me. It never ceases to surprise me where hostel and bunkhouses are there to be found and used.

Hostelling Associations

YHA (England & Wales)
SYHA
An Óige
Hostelling International Northern Ireland

These still exist and that seems to be the case for the foreseeable future. However,they seem to be unsure of their role in society these days and the YHA is the more example of the lot with its mix of offerings for school groups and families. They still cater for individuals and small informal groups but many of us are left wondering if that has become less of a priority for them these days. Seeing their hostels listed on the LateRooms.com website really sets me wondering when they have their own website and it had got a big refresh too. Speaking of that, it doesn’t hide the membership pages like it did before so could the YHA be rediscovering its roots? That would be no bad idea if it did.

For a time, it seemed that the SYHA was following a steadier course but closures of a number of its hostels in recent times took the shine off that impression. However, it does seem easier to secure last minute bookings in their hostels than in the YHA where that can be next to impossible. Is that because of the geography of Scotland? Maybe being in its own corner of the UK helps for a greater degree of convenience and it helps that the scenery is superb too.

Though I hail from the southwest of Ireland, I never have sampled the services of either An Óige or Hostelling International Northern Ireland. The latter is a part of the world that I scarcely have visited so that can explain why none of its six hostels have seen my patronage. Explorations of the country where I was born have been more limited than should be the case so that’s why An Óige hasn’t seen me either though they have a new website at the time of writing.

All of these are part of Hostelling International so being a member of one organisation saves you temporary membership fees with the others too. Also, their website acts a central booking service for all of them and other parts of the world too.

Independent Hostels

Scottish Independent Hostels

In addition to those operated by the YHA, there are hostels operated by independent providers too with Visit Scotland being known to accredit them so that gives assurance on the quality side. On my first visit to Skye, I sampled two of these in Portree and they did what I asked of them though I preferred the second to the first.

Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust

It was while planning an escape to the Western Isles in 2008 that I first found this collection of three hostels. There is no advance booking (even the SYHA has been know to include in its listings) so it’s a case of turning up and paying your dues. Given that the Harris, Bernerary and South Uist are unlikely to get overrun, getting a bed for the night shouldn’t be an issue but it might be best to bring camping gear just in case. The website may surprise some at the time of writing with logos for its content management system (Joomla!) instead of those for the organisation but the information is all on there and the branding may change by the time that you read this. For those who are interested, they also have a page on Facebook that looks in need of more friends.

Elenydd Wilderness Hostels

These were formerly in the hands of YHA and still can be booked though that organisation’s centralised booking system. Dolgoch and Ty’n Cornel are converted farmhouses found between Llanwrtyd Wells and Tregaron in the heart of Wales. There used to be a third in their YHA days but these two remain to serve walkers in a quieter part of rural Wales that is bound to allow anyone to get away from the cares and frustrations of modern life.

The Friends of Nature

This entity could be seen as being like the hostelling associations that I listed in their own section. After all, it too is a membership organisation. However, it’s main focus is the provision of accommodation for use by those exploring our quieter corners, many of which not surprisingly are hilly. They  now operate the former SYHA hostel at Kirk Yetholm as one of their “houses” and that is how they came to my notice. That there still is a hostel there, and it’s SYHA affiliated too, was received by me as good news. Skiddaw House in the Lake District is a former YHA hostel that they operate along with the seven others that they operate.

The organisation is a European one though and correspondingly has French and German names. It’s head office in Vienna so German is the default language of their main website; English and French luckily are options in the drop down menu too. The UK organisation is an affiliate and its website may not be as swish but it does the job when it comes to telling you what need to know; online booking even is a possibility. The focus on enjoying and cherishing special wilder places means that there isn’t the conflict of interest involved in serving youth groups that the likes of the YHA face. Their offerings may be just what many walkers and backpackers of a certain may be needing in place of the usual hostelling associations.

Corris Hostel

Another Welsh hostel that formerly was in the hands of the YHA, this one is to be found in the hills that separate Machynlleth from Dolgellau. The village of Corris sounds a pleasant place to stay so I might just try this option sometime, even if it is a converted former schoolhouse.

Kirkby Stephen Hostel

There cannot be many hostels that are converted Methodist chapels so that’s one unique selling point for this option. That it is located among the quieter parts of the North Pennines is an added attraction and this is an area that needs its low cost accommodation options. There was a time it was part of the YHA network so it’s good to see it still going in private hands; YHA hostel closures need not be the end of such buildings being used for that purpose.

Alnwick Hostel

Though this hostel is independently owned and operated, it is associated with the YHA via its Enterprise Hostel scheme. That may mean that you need to make your online bookings via the YHA website but the hostel can be contacted directly as well.

Dun Flodigarry Hostel

While I knew about Flodigarry Hotel, I had not realised that there was a hostel operating not far from it. With its proximity to the otherworldly landscape of the Quirang and the route of the as yet unofficial Skye Trail, this hostel is very well located. The offer is a mixture of private rooms, dormitories and even camping facilities. Between all of these, it should offer a good base for exploring a part of Skye that so many overlook: Trotternish.

Portree Independent Hostel

My first ever visit to Skye had an element of madness to it. This was my first ever independent getaway from anywhere where I lived and I not only did not pre-book the accommodation but I also took a long cycle between Portree and Dunvegan too. It must have been the naivety of youth because some of those chances are not ones that I would take on a trip to Scotland during its high season now.

Luckily, my risk taking did not leave me down and I spent my first night on Skye at the Portree Independent Hostel, Portree’s former post office. Dinner and breakfast may have been found elsewhere but my overnighting needs were fulfilled here. For some reason, I got the sense that dorms were mixed sex and I spent the next night elsewhere in Portree and that was another chance that I took. In between the two, I fitted in a glorious cycle between Portree and Dunvegan. Even now, I’ll never forget the early evening light I caught on the island’s west coast while on the way back. A stop off at Eilean Donan Castle on the way back to Edinburgh on the next day took place in good sunshine and was all the more memorable for it. If only I got repeating the stopover since that day in 1999.

Plas Curig

Until a more recent stay in Buttermere, this former YHA hostel had been the only one of its premises where I had spent a night. Any concern at its being lost as a hostel has proved unfounded since it is being kept on as a more upmarket example of what can be done independently. The website certainly is laden with newspaper review quotes and there is a five star rating from Visit Wales. Unlike in the YHA days when breakfast might be served, Plas Curig is a fully self catering affair and dorms are unisex now too, a concept that leaves me uneasy even if bunks come with curtains for the sake of extra privacy. There are some private rooms too for those needing a space to themselves. It would appear that effort and care is being lavished so I hope they are doing well.

Thorney How

This is another former YHA hostel that has come into private hands and retains its previous purpose. Usefully too, it is near Grasmere in the Cumbria Lake District. Unlike some other places, it also has retained its single sex dorms and expanded its food offer to include non-residents too. Also, as if to prove that the owners will turn their hand to anything, it is a registered wedding venue. The prices remain in line with those of YHA and it is easy to make a booking through the website.

Llangollen

Met Office location forecasts have this coming up as an option when Llangollen is the intended place of interest. That makes me wonder if this once was a YHA establishment. Whatever the past, the present is being sold by a pleasant website. That includes the delights of the surrounding as well as the accommodation offer itself. That all looks rather pleasant and there is online booking too.


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