Not the YMCA, I never really understood what they were about what with the Christian ethic mixed in with songs by a bunch of blokes, in various uniforms, suggesting that to stay there was a walk on the wild side. No, this is the good old YHA and over the last summer I have spent a lot of time at one of them in Penzance. last week I decided to float up the road to the lands End YHA and the difference between the two describes the breadth in Youth Hostels that we have here in The UK.
I came across the Penzance YHA early in the year just after a major re-fit of the place. A buddy of mine and I were looking to dunk ourselves in the freezing spring sea off of Porthcurno, we tried a hotel, it was expensive so we migrated to the local YHA.
The building looked impressive, especially since they had completely re-fitted the place in a manor worthy of the age of the building. The house was a wedding present to a Lady Margaret many years ago and before the trees grew out front it would have had a commanding view of St Michaels Mount and bay. The servants quarters are now the communal kitchens, the bedrooms are comfortable and a modern canteen serves a great buffet breakfast, alcohol for those long nights and snacks to keep all ages chipper (it seems that they should drop the ‘Young’ bit from the title as anyone can stay, we met one woman in her eighties walking the entire coast of Britain, my buddy is quite ancient too I might add, I’m in denial and like the fact that I’m staying at a Young Person’s anything at my age).
The bit that is of interest to me at this YHA is that they have WiFi and a good internet connection when I use my mobile broadband due to the proximity of Penzance.
So, I can enjoy a slap up feed at the canteen, do a mornings work then nip into the sea to surf, snorkel or scuba dive in the afternoon.
The only issue is that the Internet has not been functioning very well the last few times we visited. The in house computer re-boots itself at regular intervals usually half way through and email and the WiFi doesn’t work at all. This doesn’t affect me as I have my dongle (aÂ 3mobile dongle that I managed to get at half price through a price comparison website, I pay Â£7.50 a month for 5 gigs data transfer and at Penzance YHA it really is almost up to broadband speed) but my surfing companion Adrian gets quite frustrated by it all.
So this is the holy grail of remote working. A place that is cheap to stay in – from Â£15.95 for a dorm bed for the night that has a well stocked bar, surfing beaches near by and an Internet connection to keep in touch.
I would have been happy staying here forever, but someone hiking between hostels mentioned that the YHA at land’s End has spectacular views, so I decided to see what else was possible in the YHA stables.
The Land’s End YHA is a little more off the beaten track than the Penzance Y. For one thing it’s not really at Land’s End, in fact it’s four miles north near to St Just and nestles in a wonderful little valley that leads down to the sea.
It’s a little tattier than the Penzance YHA but it hasn’t seen a re-fit in a good long while, but it suits it’s well weathered look and the welcome more than makes up for it.
My first thoughts when I went in were that it reminded me of being in my old junior school many years ago, old weathered benches, little cacti on the window sills, binoculars to twitch from the windows at the back of the building. It had a very English feel about it and the guests fitted in perfectly, walkers, families who actually played board games together and seemed to enjoy themselves, one girl I chatted to knew the author of the book I was reading, ‘Alice Albinia’; ‘Oh I know Alice’ she said in a lovely, chirpy well educated manner. Her father could have been a lancaster pilot, her mother would be able to knock up spotted dick then help re-load the guns. Three French girls chatted away to each other in English, they fitted the scene perfectly, bookish, polite, the silence punctuated by the falling bricks in one game or another. I sat in the corner reading my book loving this scene, a time capsule.
The food was perfect too. Chris, the head warden of the place, explained the the sausages we were eating were locally sourced as were the potatoes. For breakfast I had the vegetarian fry up and was as content as a fox after a night in a chicken coop. I felt better looked after than I ever had in any posh hotel, the service was friendly, the food great, we chose our time to eat and everything was laid on, all of this in a snug house in a snug valley by the sea.
And now we have my little niggles. From the perspective of work it wasn’t really possible here, there wasn’t even any mobile broadband within the hostel although in summer it would be possible to sit outside and get a signal. This is a minor point though as it is possible for me to use Penzance as my base then head out here for some quiet time away from the WWW.
My other slight niggles are that the room was damp, they had managed to cure most of this with a de-humidifier but it it smelt a little musty. The bathrooms were also in need of a re-fit, but these are minor points and didn’t take one bit of enjoyment out of my stay there.
Another point is that Land’s End YHA closes from October for the winter, so unless you book the whole place it’s au revoir until spring – Penzance is one of a collection of YHA’s than stay open through the chilly months.