In these times of austerity and the rising popularity of staycations, it is little wonder that people are turning to old favourites like the Youth Hostel Association to cut costs.
You know you are officially middle-aged when you have a YHA membership card. But when that means two nights accommodation for two and cooked breakfasts all for the princely sum of £52.36, who cares?
The six week summer holidays take some filling so every year I take my daughter Madeline for a short break in the Lakes, and we make our base at the Arnside YHA, a mere 20 minute drive from the heart of the most beautiful part of the region.
The hostel – a rambling former schoolhouse a short walk from the Kent Estuary – is at the more spartan end of the YHA offering. The association has been steadily closing some of its underperforming hostels and spending a lot of money in places like Ambleside, but the cash has not reached Arnside. However, if you are craving the comforts of a boutique hotel or trendy B&B then you are missing the point of this hostel experience
The first thing to note is that reception doesn’t open until 5pm so don’t bother turning up early. Check in was smooth as had we our registration number and we took advantage of the evening meal offer. Tip: if you buy a main course for £7.95 then you get a kids’ meal for free, another very useful money saving option.
We were on the first floor in a double room which is basically a bunk bed, with a sink in the corner, plus a wooden chair if you can’t stand lying on the rock-hard mattress. Bedding is provided as is a quilt but that’s it. Another tip: towels are not provided so bring your own.
We popped down for our evening meal. For me, this was battered haddock out of the freezer with some decent veg as a side. Across the table Madeline had fresh macaroni cheese which she wolfed down. We shared the ice cream that comes as standard on the kids’ option. Arnside also has a well-equipped self-catering kitchen where you can make you own meals or a brew but, as we are on holiday and I’m not a student, that wasn’t an option.
One of the best things about hostels is that there is usually a big lounge in which to chill out, but for some reason Arnside had decided to throw out the comfy sofas in favour of a boring dining room. Epic fail which diminished our stay.
A hostel is a base for exploring so, after a day in the Lakes, we came back expecting to take up the evening meal offer. However, due to the limited kids’ menu Madeline fancied the haddock, so when I asked if she could have it as a child’s portion we were firmly told no.
This was another epic fail – it meant we voted with our feet, heading down to the Albion in the village which provides quality pub grub. I had a delicious bit of battered fish fresh from the sea with homemade batter and Madeline demolished a slightly pricey kids’ lasagne full of quality meat. The bill came to under £20 which, given the quality of the food, was a bargain and one in the eye for the inflexible staff.
The beauty of Arnside is that it is very quiet so we had a good kip before tucking into breakfast which we had pre-booked at £4.99 for me and a bargain £2.99 for Madeline. It’s a great breakfast – you get a range of cereal, coffee/tea, fruit juice and even melon. The cooked full English breakfast is well done, although a veggie breakfast should include sausage which I was told wasn’t on the menu. Tip: don’t treat veggies as second class citizens and buy some blooming sausages.
Check out is 10am. You are expected to deposit your dirty bedding which is fair enough as the staff are mainly students who, on occasion, struggle with customer service. Tip: don’t think you are in a hotel and be prepared to do basic things for yourself.
Hostels are clearly on the rise as purse strings tighten. We shared our space with a chain-smoking Frenchman and his family, single hikers, a couple of bikers and a family of four from Guildford who bagged the family room. Hosteling is not for those who are aren’t prepared to rough it a little, but if you want a clean, value for money base to have some fun then it is pretty much perfect.
Review by Paul Clarke
What: Youth Hostel Association
More info: www.yha.org.uk; to book a hostel ring the YHA on 0800 0191700