Wanderer December 2014
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The Wanderer, Issue 24, December 2014
 
 
Travel Writers' Edition
 
We hope you’ve enjoyed The Wanderer this year. To end 2014 on a high, we thought we’d hand over the final edition to our guests and take a look at the network from a different perspective. This month, four travel bloggers review their YHA stays and share their experiences of the people, places and pastimes that helped create an awesome adventure. Read on to discover a first-timer’s first impressions, a seasoned traveller’s surprising stay, a fun-filled guide to London’s family-friendly attractions, and a family get together in an Exclusive Hire property.
 
Missed any of this year’s editions? You’ll find them all in The Wanderer archive.
 
Map  
 
 
YHA Buttermere
 
 
YHA Buttermere
 
  Single mums on tour  
 
 
by Fiona’s Diary
 
 
 
My friend and I, along with our two eight-year-old daughters, recently stayed at Buttermere in the Lake District. It was our first experience of staying in a hostel and, I must admit, a great time was had by all.
 
 
 
YHA Buttermere
 
YHA Buttermere
 
The hostel itself is in an idyllic setting just a few minutes’ walk outside Buttermere village itself. The hostel is set into the hillside above the lake; the views are absolutely breath taking. I recently read an article that stated that if you dropped your camera in Buttermere and the shutter clicked, you couldn’t take a bad picture. I have to say I totally agree. It’s beautiful!
 
During our stay, the girls were captivated by a middle-aged couple from Santa Monica, California, who had just returned from climbing the mountain Skiddaw. They were also mesmerised by an elderly gentleman’s tales of the many visits he’d made to the Lake District over the course of his life. This was not just an overnight stay in a remote valley, it was an education and social experience for us all.
 
It’s a place where you can pack a picnic, hire a rowing boat and sail over to one of the many little islands on one of the lakes and let your imagination run free. We became Jack Sparrow for the day with his pirates – it isn’t hard to see why it has inspired so many before. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay with YHA – so much so that I signed myself up to a family membership this morning.
 
Fiona McAndrew is an author and blogger. You can read about the rest of her YHA Buttermere experience here
 
 
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Fiona’s insider tips:
 
  1  
Eat in. We were astounded to discover that kids under ten eat free in the hostel restaurant. Very few places offer such a generous service in this day and age in the UK.
 
 
  2  
There’s no Wi-Fi in this majestic place and, quite frankly, you don’t need it. It’s the kind of place a weary traveller lays their head; it’s for quiet contemplation; it’s the place you would come to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
 
 
  3  
The hostel has plenty to keep the kids occupied; our girls were given an array of board games and introduced to the hostel’s bookcase. Any place that has an Ian Banks novel and a Roald Dahl sitting on its shelf gets a thumbs up from me.
 
 
 
 
YHA St Briavels Castle
 
 
YHA St Briavels Castle
 
  Our stay in an 800-year-old castle  
 
 
by Globalmouse Travels
 
 
 
Nestled in the middle of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, St Briavels is an English castle that oozes history and intrigue. That you can stay here, in rooms that could whisper hundreds of stories, is incredible; that it is part of YHA is almost unbelievable!
 
 
 
YHA St Briavels Castle
 
YHA St Briavels Castle
 
The castle stands high up overlooking the beautiful Wye Valley and is perfect for springtime walks and summer picnics. We visited in winter and I absolutely loved hearing the rain driving down and hearing the wind howl – perfect castle weather.
 
On the morning after our stay we took a tour of the castle (they run these regularly and this was one of the real highlights). The tour took us to some of the other bedrooms in the castle. You can actually stay in the prison that held prisoners from hundreds of years ago. There is also a very nice room with a big rug on the floor. The rug was pulled back to reveal a trap door which opened down to the scariest oubliette.
 
St Briavels put on a range of activities through the year. When we stayed there was colouring in the old courthouse, making Christingles, and even candle dipping. On top of this they run archery lessons that our 7 year old absolutely loved. In fact, he enjoyed it so much we’re going to look at finding some more classes for him.
 
All in all this is a really special place to stay… and the fact it’s part of YHA is still amazing to me!
 
Globalmouse are a UK-based family of 5 adventurers who don’t like being tourists and prefer to search out the unusual. Read the full blog post here.
 
 
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Nichola’s insider tips:
 
  1  
Look at the graffiti on the walls of the prison. You can see several windmills carved by 17th-century Dutch prisoners, as well as the more sinister “Robin Belcher. The Day will come that thou shalt answer for it for thou hast sworn against me, 1671.”
 
 
  2  
If there’s a medieval-style banquet happening when you visit, book it - quick! This was brilliant. If you fancy dressing up, they have huge boxes of costumes for both adults and children. And the food - oh my goodness what a feast!
 
 
  3  
Simply delight in your surroundings. It’s the sort of history I love, that you can feel those old stones and only imagine the sights and sounds they looked upon.
 
 
 
 
 
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Cotswold  
 
 
 
YHA London Central
 
 
YHA London Central
 
  Snapshots of London with kids  
 
 
by Chino House
 
 
 
We left Aberdeen at the beginning of July and stopped first in London. YHA London Central was our home for three nights. The gals at the front desk got us all checked in and were super friendly even though it was practically the middle of the night by the time we arrived.
 
 
 
YHA London Central
 
YHA London Central
 
The next morning it was raining but we set off to find some coffee and, what we heard was, the world’s best croissant. After coffee we hopped onto our first of many double decker buses. Our boys loved those buses. It turned out to be such a great way to see a lot of London.
 
Our first morning we went to St Paul’s Cathedral, walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and then had Mexican food at Tortilla (yes, please!). After lunch we walked along the Thames all the way to Tower Bridge. From there we took a cruise on the Thames. At Ben’s request, we made the trip to 221b Baker Street and everyone had to have their turn posing as Sherlock and Dr. Watson.
 
Next was a wander in Little Venice. We found a pub and all piled around small tables for local beers, ciders and pub food. The sun was setting as we walked back over the little bridges to catch the bus to our hostel. Such a great first day in London!
 
Alison is a wandering pilgrim who loves telling stories. Her family is on a journey to hike as many trails as possible. You can read about days 2 and 3 in her full blog post here.
 
 
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Alison’s insider tips:
 
  1  
Hamleys is really close to the hostel. The giant toy store was on everyone’s must-see-with-kids list and, honestly, it was amazing. Have a go on ‘The Underground’ to shoot arrows from a real bow, and look out for the Royal Family made entirely out of Lego.
 
 
  2  
We went to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. The kids played and played and never wanted to leave. We stayed until closing time and the kids begged to return the next day.
 
 
  3  
On the last day we went to Regent’s Park to play for the afternoon, but not before we ran by Buckingham Palace to say hello to the Queen.
 
 
 
 
YHA Rowen
 
 
YHA Rowen
 
  A panoramic hilltop eyrie  
 
 
by Ben Lerwill
 
 
 
There aren’t too many places, hostels or otherwise, quite like YHA Rowen. Occupying a lofty perch at the top of a remote and improbably steep road in North Wales, it’s removed from the rest of civilisation and grants yawning views over the Conwy Valley. When you gaze out across the hills from the chunky front door, you realise it’s the highest building as far as the eye can see.
 
 
 
YHA Rowen
 
YHA Rowen
 
Then there’s the building itself. It’s a converted old stone farmhouse that’s been standing here for well over 80 winters. It has just four bedrooms – all of them now dorms – but there are two coal fires and two communal living areas. The kitchen is the multi-unit kind, big enough to rustle up a banquet.
 
Ideal, you might say, for a family and friends getaway. No disturbances, plenty of outdoor space, cracking views. That was broadly the thinking that led to eleven of us (three couples, collectively bringing five kids under six) taking out an exclusive weekend hire last January.
 
It didn’t take long to settle in. Within what felt like minutes of arrival, the kitchen was full of bags and bottles, the floors were covered in Lego bricks and the matching green duvets on the bunk beds had been transformed into a soft, mountainous “castle”.
 
What got the kids really excited, of course, was the setting. They sprang and toddled around the gardens, shouting up at the sky and pointing out at the valleys. By the time us adults collapsed in front of a fire later that evening, we surmised it was probably going to be a lively three days.
 
Ben Lerwill (www.benlerwill.com) is a long-term freelance travel writer with a passion for independent travel and the outdoors. You can read about the rest of his experience at YHA Rowen here.
 
 
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Ben’s insider tips:
 
  1  
Pay a visit to Conwy Castle in the valley below. It’s a proper storybook castle dating back to the 1200s, with eight mighty towers.
 
 
  2  
Think about calling in at the pub at the bottom of the hill, the Ty Gwyn Hotel. It’s a fair walk from the hostel itself, but has plenty of character and does decent food.
 
 
  3  
While the main appeal of the location is the surrounding countryside, it’s not a bad idea to bring a laptop or similar to play a pre-bedtime DVD. There’s no TV on site.
 
 
 
 
  Just a breif note before we go...  
 
 
This year we’ve walked up hill and down dale; cycled gentle paths and freewheeled on forest trails; travelled to cities to sightsee on a shoestring; sought out the traditional, the eccentric and the charming. We’ve explored eco-friendly options for guilt-free stays, and even crossed continents for international getaways. What a year it has been. Thanks for wandering with us.
 
Before we wrap things up, we wondered which themes you’d like us to explore in 2015. Have we neglected an outdoor pursuit you’re passionate about? Perhaps you’ve yet to see your favourite hostel featured. We’d love some feedback so please do let us know.
 
 
 
The Guardian Best UK Hotel, Travel Awards 2014 Winner
 
  Find out how were changing the lives one stay at a time
Find out how were changing the lives one stay at a time
 
Because YHA is a charity, when you stay with us you’re helping keep prices affordable, hostels beautiful and you’re even enriching the lives of young people. Find out more.
 
 
 
 
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