Little did we think some 20-plus years ago when we piled into cars surrounded by tents, walking gear and food, ready for a camping weekend in Derbyshire with our NWR group, that we’d still be heading off together all these years later. However, after that first weekend under canvas we decided to give Youth Hostels a try and we’ve been hostelling at least once every year since!
Over the years we’ve stayed in most of the hostels within a reasonable distance of the Midlands, visiting many of them more than once. YHA hostels have undergone radical upgrades in recent years, and many now feature en-suite rooms, licensed bars, lovely food and 24-hour reception. Gone are the days when we all got locked in our room when the door handle came off, or one of us got locked in the shower and had to wait till we heard her plaintive cries for assistance. We also dimly remember the days of mixed shower facilities when we had to resort to peeping under cubicles to check if men were present…
Our most recent hostelling experience was in Cambridge, a lovely hostel, newly refurbished and very convenient for the city attractions. We met some groups of international students and young people in the hostel – one group breaking into 4-part harmony singing at the breakfast table. For some reason that escapes me, we had decided that if anyone asked us what our group was, we would say that we were a belly dancing troupe (NWR can be so hard to explain sometimes…). On the Sunday morning we found ourselves accompanied round King’s College chapel and the Fitzwilliam Museum by a friendly fellow tourist lady of similar vintage. When we got chatting and asked her what she did back home, she turned out to be a real belly dancer! Or maybe that was just her cover story as well?
The joys of sharing a room are not for everyone, but most of us have known each other so long that we are comfortable clambering up to reach the top bunk or creeping out in the night for calls of nature (more frequent with advancing years). In the late night dorm we have put the world to rights, shared secrets about one-night stands (no names!), admired a new tattoo, found out that one of us has ‘wrestlers’ legs’, shared life’s ups and downs, played games and quizzes and consumed prodigious amounts of chocolate. There are usually around 12 of us split into 2 or 3 rooms, and this seems about right. We know from experience that too large a group doesn’t work so well. Over the years we’ve met other hostelling NWR groups and certainly there are a lot of older people and family groups who hostel.
We plan in advance what we’d like to do and we book pub meals etc. ahead to avoid wasting time when we get there. Although we try to delegate and share the organising, we couldn’t have done this all these years without our hostelling guru, Di, who prods us into action each year to choose where to go, does the booking, pays our group membership, collects the money and oversees the whole weekend. Thanks, Di, from all of us!!
Spending a weekend together away from home, work, family and other distractions has made our group very close-knit. We get chance to walk and talk with everyone in the group and to catch up on what we might have missed at meetings. On the train home this weekend while some of us were discussing the relative merits or bikinis, swimsuits and tankinis, others were attempting to explain an ethical dilemma that had been discussed at a recent philosophy class. All helped along by a glass of wine and a great deal of laughter. I hope we continue to hostel for many years yet, even if we have to book twice as many places so we can all get a bottom bunk!
Group photo courtesy Arnold group
Trinity Street Cambridge: Stanley Howe