Here's a useful little secret for you: UK hostels are open to business. They're cheap, located in beautiful areas, and have covid precautions. Best of all, they have vacancies.
My wife had the idea two weeks ago. With foreign holidays posted on the wall and every B & B in the UK sold out a few minutes later, we feared we would not be going anywhere this year.
On a whim, she googled the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and found a cluster of lovely hostels in the green heart of the Peak District, most of which were housed in historic buildings and all available.
YHA Hartington, a beautiful and historic building in the middle of the peaks, is accessible to everyone at very affordable prices
Called the "English Alps" by Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the Peak District offers some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. Pictured is the Dove River flowing through breathtaking gorges
YHA Hartington – a 17th century mansion that once housed Bonnie Prince Charlie – is a jewel in the hostel crown
Aside from security measures – common areas are closed and dorms have been converted to single-family rooms – they were operating almost as usual, according to the website.
And while a hostel isn't quite the same without a game of chess with random German hikers one evening, the list of Covid safety measures was actually pretty comforting.
Better still, they were extremely affordable. Five-person rooms are only £ 39 per room per night. Yes, you read that right. And at the time of writing, there are still vacancies.
The stunning interior of YHA Castleton, a renovated Gothic mansion set in 27 acres of parkland in the heart of the Peak District National Park
The entrance to YHA Castleton. Due to the pandemic, each room was assigned its own bathroom by default
Accommodation at YHA Castleton was "clean but basic, with metal bunk beds, thin pillows, and race-green sheets," according to Jake.
So it was on a bright morning with the sun shining promisingly and the kids – my 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins – in the back seat were trying to top up the oil in the car and fumbling with the key in the engine's throat.
That little episode that sparked a bike ride to the local garage, a temporary oil cap, and a £ 20 backhand blow for a mechanic added a couple of hours to our departure time.
Despite these hiccups, in the afternoon we rolled down the driveway of Losehill Hall or YHA Castleton, a renovated Gothic mansion set in 27 acres of parkland in the heart of the Peak District National Park.
As you'd expect from a hostel, the accommodation was clean but simple: metal bunk beds, thin pillows, and racing green sheets. Due to the pandemic, each room was assigned its own bathroom as standard.
Mam Tor (pictured), explains visitpeakdistrict.com, has a number of caves right below it, such as the Treak Cliff Cavern, Blue John Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, and Peak Cavern
Hike to Mam Tor in the heart of the Peak District for panoramic views
Mam Tor has great views of the Peak District and is understandably popular with walkers
This bridge is part of the Monsal Trail, a former railway line that has now been converted for cyclists and hikers
Winnats Pass near Castleton which runs through a highly photogenic limestone canyon
The Scotsman & # 39; s Pack Country Inn in Hathersage, a fine country eatery with first class food
The grounds of the hostel were stunning, with a welcome goat pen and pigsty tucked away in the woods for the kids to spot.
The Peak District has long had a special place in English literary culture. It is believed that Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in Bakewell and Charlotte Brontë likely put Jane Eyre in Hathersage, which she attended.
Even the Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who is not known as a bundle of fun, had a particular fondness for the region and called it "the English Alps".
He was spot on. Much of the landscape found in the Peak District has changed little since he coined the term in 1636, and it's nothing short of sublime.
We ate at Scotsman & # 39; s Pack Country Inn in Hathersage that first evening, a 10 minute drive away which has attentive staff, a secluded beer garden and a lovely ringing creek outside.
The pub had achieved a balance of safety and comfort and had taken effective precautions while maintaining the character of the place. And the food – hearty fare with a classy touch – was exactly what the doctor ordered, so to speak.
The next day we took the kids out the door and set off on a 10-mile hike to nearby Mam Tor, a 1,696-foot lookout on a ridge with panoramic views over the peaks.
Predictably, it took an effort to convince the kids to tackle the final steep section of the climb. But after a retiree proudly drove past us on a high-spec mountain bike, they broke in and we set off.
At the summit we enjoyed a sumptuous packed lunch that we had previously collected at the popular Three Roofs Café in Castleton, which has adapted to the coronavirus with the introduction of a picnic service.
My daughter is intolerant to dairy products and her diet was easily adopted by the café, as was her sister's vegetarianism.
The region forms an 890 mile national park that is Eden for walkers and cyclists
The Three Roofs Café in Castleton has adapted to the coronavirus by introducing a picnic service
After lunch, it was a short walk to the Treak Cliff Cavern. This network of catacombs, which is still a working mine, is located in Castleton, the only place in the world where a semi-precious stone called Blue John is found.
It was an extraordinary thing to see purple stalagmites and blue-veined rocks in cold caves beneath the Derbyshire countryside.
Like the cafe, the family-run mine has risen to the challenges of Covid and developed an app that guides visitors through the caves via their phones without the need for a human expert.
One of the advantages of a youth hostel in a national park is that there are often several to choose from, making a mini tour possible.
We would have loved to have had several lined up and bike ridden between them, but the last minute nature of the trip meant we had come sans vélos.
So we contented ourselves with a change of scene and a transfer by car. After two nights in Castleton, we packed up and moved to YHA Hartington Hall, about 20 miles south.
It was worth it. An unrecognized delight in the youth home is the discovery of the architectural jewels that modestly glitter in the YHA crown.
The Landpods on the YHA Hartington site have retractable roofs
The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, one of the places that claim to have invented the dish
Pictured on the left is a tunnel on the Monsal Trail. To the right are some of the extraordinary stalactites found in the catacombs of the Treak Cliff Cavern
The famous Bakewell pudding
Hartington – a 17th century mansion allegedly once home to Bonnie Prince Charlie – is one of them. We stayed in the house itself for the first night and were then transferred to a & # 39; land pod & # 39; for the second night, a kind of semi-permanent tent.
The roof was retractable, which theoretically meant that one could sleep under the starry sky. In practice this didn't seem like a good idea as we were in raincoats all day. Even so, the Landpod offered a welcome element of fun and adventure. Although I would recommend keeping your kids off baked beans for a few days beforehand (for God's sake, don't repeat our mistake).
The property had the advantage of being close to the stunning Chatsworth House, also known as Britain's most beloved country house, referred to by Daniel Defoe in 1726 as a "miracle of art" and one of the Peak District's few saving graces. which he inexplicably regretted.
We visited on a scorching hot day. It turned out that the house was more of a palace filled with works of art spanning 4,000 years, from the ancient Egyptians to Lucian Freud, and had 25 lavish rooms to explore.
The reasons were just as spectacular. We went for a walk, enjoyed the spray from the 300-foot-high Kaiserbrunnen, cooled off in the 18th century grotto, and paddled with ice in the imposing, jagged cascade.
The next day we were able to cycle on the Monsal Trail, a disused railway line that has been converted into a non-hilly walking and cycling route with four eerie tunnels.
We rented the bikes at the beautiful Hassop Station which is right on the way and also houses a very good café and bookshop for meals and drinks before or after the ride.
No way – no way! – At least no visit to the region would be complete without trying some real Bakewell pudding that we made ourselves in Bakewell.
Forget Mr. Kipling. He never existed anyway. There are two things in the Peak District: the Bakewell cake, with its familiar white frosting with brown feathery lines, and the Bakewell pudding that no one has heard of. Both are served with pudding.
We tried the dishes at the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, one of the few places that claim to have invented the pudding, after lunch under the wooden beams of the upstairs restaurant.
By the way, lunch was hearty and good. I was man enough, or maybe crazy enough, to try the signature house dish, Fill Blacksmith & # 39; s Skillett.
Bamford Edge, overlooking Ladybower Reservoir. This is one of the many amazing walking areas in the Peak District
This picture shows Chrome Hill, also known as the "Dragon's Back" due to its sturdy spine
This mixture of black pudding, bacon, onions and mushrooms in peppercorn sauce was not for the faint of heart. But then I'm not idiotic. It was filling, peppery, and tasty, and I wiped the last strips of sauce off with a chip.
When it came the pudding was brown and dipped, cooked on puff pastry rather than shortcrust pastry. Folklore has it that the dish was invented by accident when a local chef messed up the recipe for a jam tart.
It was comfortable enough. But without wanting to insult Bakewelites (Bakewelites? Bakewelians?), It didn't win my heart. Not so the cake we tried next: If the sky were sticky and almondy and wildly caloric, this would be it.
You must of course try both after you've burned enough calories on a long hike. But missing the cake would be unforgivable. Oh and book your hostel soon. They too sell like hot cakes.
A family room for up to five people at YHA Hartington Hall costs £ 49 per room per night. At Losehill Hall, YHA Castleton, prices start at £ 39 per room per night.
Land pods and bell tents in Hartington Hall cost £ 49 per room per night, subject to availability.
For more information, call 01629 592700 or call yha.org.uk.
To learn more about what the Peak District has to offer, visit www.visitpeakdistrict.com.
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