Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Diary of a YHA Novice....

The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was whilst backpacking in Australia in 1999. I remember the enormous dorms, having to bring my own sheets, sharing a pokey little kitchen with a toaster that looked rather like a sandy beach with all the crumbs of residents-past lingering in it and queuing to use the communal showers that had dubious plastic sheeting separating them. I had a fantastic time in Australia but YHA’s were not somewhere I was planning on ever going back to. I do after all like my creature comforts.

So it was with trepidation that 14 years later I walked into the Ambleside YHA. I could not fault the setting – the hostel is on the shore of Windermere. Literally a few metres walk takes you from the front door to the water’s edge, where the gentle ripples lap the shore.
A beautiful setting

My first impressions were excellent. The hostel has recently been refurbished and it turns out things have changed rather a lot in the last 14 years! I received a warm welcome from the receptionist and as I was filling in the form and being given my keys I peered to my left and clocked the bar for future reference! Keys in hand, I headed up the stairs to the top floor in search of my room. Along the corridor were rows of bathrooms and individual showers – I was relieved to see there were plenty of them and they looked sparklingly clean.
The Room

So the room. The Ambleside YHA is a large hostel and even has a selection of en-suite rooms but I opted for a bed in a small dorm. There were two bunk beds, a basin, a portable heater and large wooden lockers for any bags and valuables. The beds all had matching green pillows and duvets, which were ironed and looked inviting. As I was on the top floor, I was amongst the eaves, which gave the room character and whilst the room was small it wasn’t pokey. The views from the window were superb across the lake.
The Bar!

It was early evening so after selecting a bottom bunk I headed down to the bar. And what a bar! It would not have been out of place in a nice hotel. There was a good selection of beers, spirits and wines, including prosecco (a personal favourite) a restaurant, conservatory area and outside decking. I settled into a sofa with a glass of wine, connected to the wifi network and watched a rather cloudy sunset over Windermere, with the imposing fells behind getting darker and darker as they disappeared into the night sky. I have stayed in expensive hotels that could not boast such a setting.
The staff were friendly and it was clear the restaurant itself was a destination of choice as several people were staying elsewhere but had come for the food and ambience. I am not surprised. It is excellent value and having tried the chilli con carne, I was impressed. I would definitely come back to the restaurant again and those visiting on warm sunny days can take advantage of the outdoor space. There is a self-catering area as well for those who want to be self-sufficient.
A room with a view

Little things matter and next to each bed was an individual light and a socket for a phone charger with a little platform to lay your mobile phone to charge over night. I had the dorm to myself for the two nights I stayed. I was worried the corridor would be noisy with people coming and going from the dorms and whilst there was the occasional door banging more loudly earlier on in the night, I was not disturbed and slept really well.
In the morning there were no queues for the shower (which was just across the corridor) and the superb view from the bedroom window even though cloudy was one that many hotels would covet. I headed out for the day with a spring in my step.
Ambleside YHA

So my youth hostel journey has begun and so far I am pleasantly surprised. Having not considered YHA’s for many years, my opinion of them has changed dramatically. Having started the journey with trepidation, I now find myself looking forward to my next stay with pleasure. Now which one to choose?
A restaurant with a view
I am working in partnership with the YHA to encourage people to get out and about and if (like me) you haven't thought about youth hostels for a while to perhaps think again....
Find out more about the YHA on their website 
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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Through the Clouds

Always something to look at
The Lake District is beautiful in all weathers. Sometimes even when the clouds are out in force, the wind is blowing and it looks as though it could rain any minute, I still want to get out on the fells. It isn’t always about the long-distance views (stunning though they are).

So it was one morning when I headed out to climb Lord’s Seat and Barf from the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre. On this route, much of the walk is amongst the forest and with the weather uncertain this seemed a good form of shelter (besides, starting from the top of the pass meant I was already a good way up the mountain!)
Sheltering in the trees

I made my way along the forest tracks up towards Ullister Hill. With the clouds swirling around, the tall trees seemed very eerie next to me and they came and went like shadows in the mist. Without views, I paid more attention to the beautiful purple heather, yellow gorse and tall grasses around me. The mist had left tiny water droplets like crystals on them and spider webs glistened as they swayed in the breeze.

"View" from the summit
After about a mile and a half I emerged from the trees and before long, I had reached the summit of Lord’s Seat. Apparently the name comes from a natural rock seat just below the summit but today was not a day to explore too long as the wind was becoming quite feisty. When amongst the trees it was barely noticeable so my decision to try a forest route was a good one. 

Misty view of the "mound"
After admiring the cloud for a few minutes, I headed off towards Barf into yet more cloud. I passed the imaginatively named “mound” (according to the Ordnance Survey map). Even in the cloud I couldn’t argue with that apt description as a “mound” it certainly was! 

The view from Barf was much the same as from Lord’s Seat when I arrived on the summit but then, briefly, the clouds blew north and a misty view down to Bassenthwaite suddenly appeared and almost as quickly disappeared. I wasn’t expecting any views at all so this made it even more beautiful. 
A glimpse of Bassenthwaite from Barf

Ever improving views
I came back through the forest and the lower I got the thinner the cloud became and the views to the valley, with a patchwork of fields got better and better. The tracks twisted and turned through the trees until I arrived back at the Visitor Centre. If the weather had been better I probably would not have chosen that walk and I would have missed out. The forest walk was lovely, much nicer than I thought it would be and I will definitely return regardless of cloud!

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