When travelling throughout Europe we often stay in hostel accommodation and I am always telling people that most hostels have private rooms, some en suite, and that really these hostels are much closer to budget hotels than the old-fashioned dormitories where there are a million rules and a curfew. For some reason, we never consider staying in hostels in the UK but last weekend an opportunity arose to do just that.
We don't have a car but we are keen cyclists and the hostel is situated a few miles from the end of a National Cycle Network route that we regularly cycle. As there are no buses at weekends to the tiny village of Edmundbyers, just beside the Derwent Reservoir, we had no choice but to cycle. I did look at the property on the YHA website first and found that you can make bed reservations on line; however, I booked by telephone. When I made a quick check online for a room for one male and one female, it offered either a triple room or one bed in a female dormitory and one in a male dormitory. The price of the triple room came up as the sum of three beds, but when I reserved on the telephone I was told the price would be for two beds.
Edmundbyers hostel does not take its own bookings; these are made either online or through the Jesmond YHA in Newcastle upon Tyne, which also administers a couple of other Northumberland hostels. The staff member I spoke to was very friendly and helpful and gave me the choice of paying there and then by card, or paying at the hostel. I decided to pay at the hostel (just incase my cycling legs let me down and I didn't make it). I was also advised that as non-members of the Youth Hostel Association, we'd have to pay an additional £3.00 per head. If we were interested in joining we could do that at Edmundbyers too.
The staff member gave us a direct number for the hostel and explained that the hostel would be open for check in after 5.00pm. If we arrived early we could go to the pub across the road, the Punch Bowl. As it happened, I forgot to take the hostel phone number with me and had to call through to Newcastle when it became clear that we were going to arrive later than anticipated. I left a message on their answerphone, not expecting the message to be conveyed to Edmundbyers, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out it had been.
The hostel building dates from around 1600 and was at that time a coaching inn and continued to be for many years. In the 1930s it was owned by an MP who had a reading room on the first floor. Structurally the building has altered very little; it has narrow steep staircases and low ceilings and some of the bedrooms are in the eaves so they have partly sloping ceilings.
We arrived at the same time as another guest; himself waited outside with the bikes and I went inside to register. Initially the warden thought that this other guest and I were together and we had to explain several times that we were not. In order to speed up the check in process he asked us both to fill in registration cards at the same time. The other guest had made his booking via the internet and was quickly checked in. I explained that I'd made a telephone reservation and the warden had details of this. He checked the allocations sheet and found out he'd just given our room to the other guest but he said it was not a problem and allocated us another. I paid on the spot and although I was asked whether we were members of the YHA, he did not offer membership when I said we weren't. In the end we paid £15.95 each – the standard nightly rate per person – and weren't asked to pay the £3.00 charge. He showed me where the key was for the bike store and came outside to show me where it was. The bike store is at the front of the building, to the right of the front door. While there was plenty of room for our bikes, there were lots of things being stored in there and I would imagine that if a larger group of cyclists arrived, it might be a tight squeeze to fit in lots of bikes.
He then showed us where our room was. I think all the rooms are on the first floor; the website says the hostel is wheelchair accessible but I didn't spot any downstairs bedrooms. Our room contained two sets of bunks and one single bed. There was a washbasin with a mirror and a light above it. Each bed space had a wall lamp but there was a central light too. There was one storage area that was open shelving without a door. It wasn't until the warden had gone that we realised there was only one set of bedding so I had to go downstairs and get another set. The fitted sheet didn't really want to go onto the mattress and required some persuasion and harsh words. The pillows were very thin and although there were two each, I borrowed two more from another bunk and slept with four. The room had a lock but there was no key and none was offered. I heard another guest ask about a key and the warden said "If you really want one you can have one, but there's really no need". As the hostel was practically empty and we weren't going far I didn't ask but I would if I was staying more than one night.
The warden didn't bother to tell or show us where the toilets and showers were; we had to figure that out ourselves. There were two toilets on our floor, along the corridor and behind two fire doors. There were no signs to point out the way to the toilets or showers. It was only when other guests came from the direction of the kitchen looking to have been recently showered, that we learned the showers were next to the guests kitchen. There are two more toilets beside the showers. There are several separate shower room, essentially wet rooms, with a very small lip into the shower area. There was plenty of hot water but it did take quite a bit of adjustment to get the temperature right. There were three pegs – two small, one larger, on the back of the door of the shower I used: while three should have been enough the pegs were very small and it was only through luck that my clothes didn't fall off and get wet. As the hostel was not very full, we didn't have to queue at all to use the showers. The kitchen was quite big and well laid out so that even if several people were using it they shouldn't have managed to get in each other's way. There were two kettles and several gas cookers but only one fridge/freezer. A notice on the fridge door asked you to use the stickers provided to label and date any food you put into the fridge. Washing up liquid was supplied and there were plenty of clean tea towels. There were plentiful amounts of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery and glasses – little of it matched, not that it mattered much. There is also a laundry and drying room as well as a clothes line in the garden for outdoor drying.
There was a huge dining table just off the entrance to the hostel but two heavy doors separated this area from the kitchen and it was quite awkward to carry plates and drinks through. Someone had thought to put up a tiny corner shelf beside the second door but it was too small to put plates down. The hostel's communal sitting area is quite big with plenty of seating but it's still quite cosy with big deep armchairs, a low ceiling and a big fireplace (not in use when we visited though). There were plenty of board games, a wide selection of books (I was amazed to see a biography of Neil Young!), lots of cycling and walking magazines and lots of leaflets on local attractions and some maps. In the centre of the room is a big old wooden table which has a smaller table inside it. A notice in our room said that this was a rent table and the landlord's agent would sit in the space in the centre.
Having worked up a raging hunger by our cycling efforts, we were looking forward to a pub meal but it was not to be. The story is too long to recount in full but suffice to say that the pub has new owners and will not open fully until next month. Until then it operates only during the day and without selling alcohol. The owner did offer to make us meals to take away, however, and we ate some delicious fish and chips back at the hostel. There is only one pub in Edmundbyers and not one single shop so you need to bring food with you, eat at the pub or buy something from the hostel reception where the choice is very limited. There were a few packets of pasta in sauce, some baked beans and some soft drinks (not diet!) – it reminded me of shops I've been to in Moldova and Russia. Fortunately we had managed to squeeze a bottle of wine into one of our backpacks and the warden very kindly sold me one of his own personal supply of cans of Dr Pepper Zero! How kind! In spite of what I thought were quite hard mattresses we slept from just gone 10.00pm (we were too tired even to chat) until 8.30am. I slept pretty well but I did find the bed creaked a lot every time I turned over. There was not a sound in the hostel all night.
In the morning we stripped our bunks which is customary practice in hostels, folded the duvet and left the bedding on the floor by the door. It wasn't until we were at the front door that we saw the crate for used bedding and had to go back upstairs for it. There had been a diagram on the wall in the dorm showing you how to make up the bed, but none telling you where to place your laundry. In fact it struck me that overall the majority of the notices (and there were many) instructed you in what NOT to do rather than giving more useful information about what one SHOULD do. Not everyone will want to stay somewhere like this. I realise shared bathrooms and Spartan accommodation is not everyone's idea of fun. However, if you do go hostelling, this is a good one, not least because it's in a really pretty and interesting building. It's in good walking country and just off the C2C route. It's just a quarter of a mile from the Derwent Reservoir and a half days hike from Hadrian's Wall. Edmundbyers is surrounded by rugged moorland and is quite isolated so it's not a place to expect lots of evening entertainment.
Recommended for walkers and cyclists looking for decent budget accommodation. Note: as this is a YHA hostel the hostel closes between 10.00am and 5.00pm(during which time you are meant to leave the hostel). You can check in between 5.00pm and 10.00pm. There is an 11.00pm curfew which is fine as there's no where to go other than the pub which is footsteps away. Camping is available at the rear of the hostel.