Many years ago I walked a part of the Pennine Way. We did not do the whole 226 miles of the trail just the stretch alongside Hadrian’s Wall. It was an interesting experience. Walking with a heavy pack can be navigate with a map and compass is challenging. When you get to your destination you feel that you have achieved something. While walking the wall we stayed in youth hostels along the way. I remember having to sleep in dorms and being kept awake one night by a lady who had snored so loudly it was like being in a room with a pneumatic drill. I haven’t stayed in a youth hostel since then as I thought they were just for young people. I hadn’t realised they cater for families and offer family rooms.
Recently I was offered the chance to take part in the youth hostel challenge. The challenge was to take the family overnight and stay at a youth hostel. We needed to find breakfast, lunch and dinner for one day and entertainment for one of the days. The cost had to be less than £100 including the cost of the room. We decided to stay overnight at the YHA Once Brewed. This is a youth hostel which is not far from Hadrian’s wall. It is inside Northumberland National Park which is the largest dark sky park in Europe giving you the perfect view of the night sky. We stayed in a four bed family room for the night which cost £39. This left us £61 to spend on meals and entertainment.
YHA Once Brewed can be found on The Military Road (B6318) which runs parallel with the A69. It follows Hadrian’s Wall for much of its length and the views over the countryside are gorgeous. The youth hostel is easily spotted, the car park is just off the main road and adjacent to the Northumberland National Park Centre.
Check in was easy, we just filled in a form at the reception and were given our room keys. The reception listed the services that were available in the hostel. The hostel was licensed so alcoholic drinks were available on the premises. The hostel also provided dinner, breakfast and packed lunches if required. Meals were eaten in the dining room.
If you want to self cater there is a kitchen, but it is quite small. It would be difficult for more than a couple of people to cook here at once. A lounge area with computer access and a television is available and there is free wi-fi access. It is hard to get wi-fi in the bedrooms but there are plenty of seats in the lounge and outside areas.
The bedrooms are basic but have all the facilities you need for a night. The beds are bunk beds with drawers underneath for storage. There are also hooks on the walls for hanging your clothes. A sink is available in the room. The bathrooms are shared and have shower facilities. The ladies wash room was along our corridor but we had to hunt to find the male wash room which was on a different corridor. The beds were comfortable but when my son was on the top bunk they did creak a bit.
While basic the accommodation was comfortable and more than adequate for one night. The youth hostel is right next to the Northumberland National Park Centre which has plenty of tourist information as well as a small shop.
There are several options for an evening meal. You can opt to cook a meal yourself using the self catering kitchen. The hostel provides evening meals, you can choose to have one, two or three courses. A three course meal is £11.95 per person.
There are two pubs that are within striking distance of the hostel. The Milecastle Inn can be found by driving along the military road and does food. We opted to eat at Twice Brewed Inn which is within walking distance of the youth hostel.
The pub is cosy and inviting inside and has a beer garden at the back. It is mostly filled with people who are hiking Hadrian’s wall. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. The lunch menu is served until 6pm and then changes to the dinner menu. We were there around 5.30 and ate from the lunch menu. The meal was lovely, made with local produce and nicely cooked. The bill came to £29.95 for three main courses.
We opted to eat breakfast at the hostel for £5.25 per person. There was cereal, toast and yoghurt provided on a table and a full English breakfast at the kitchen counter. Breakfast had to be ordered in advance. Again you could have brought your own provisions in and opted to self cater.
We decided to travel to Hadrian’s Wall at lunchtime and took a packed lunch with us. If you are travelling on the next day you can order a packed lunch to be made up at the hostel which costs £5.50 per person. It includes sandwiches, a drink, crisps, yoghurt, fruit and a cereal bar.
The youth hostel has been set up to cater mainly for people who have come to see Hadrian’s wall. If you wish to walk along some of it’s length there are maps inside the hostel that provide three different walks in the area. These differ in length from two hours to all day. Hadrian’s wall is visible from the hostel. Sycamore gap, the stretch of the wall with a large dip and a sycamore tree in the middle is within walking distance, if you are fit. This part of the wall has featured in many films.
Vindolanda Roman Fort is a very short distance from the youth hostel and is a Roman fort and settlement. The museum has a large number of Roman artifacts including the Vindolanda writing tablets which were unearthed here. You will get an in-depth view of life on Hadrians wall discovering military buildings, shops, stores and bath houses. From April to September you can also watch the archaeologists at work as they excavate further. It is a fascinating day out and well worth a visit.
Admission prices are £ 6.75 for and adult and £ 4.25. However you can also get a joint ticket which gives access to the Roman Army Museum as well for £10.50 for an adult and £6.00 for a child
The Roman Army Museum allows you to step into the life of a Roman soldier and experience what life along the wall was like. There are three galleries in the museum that allow you to see Roman artefacts, find out how the Romans invaded Britain and what life was like for a soldier. There is also a 3D film that takes you back in time along Hadrian’s wall. Tickets are £5.50 for an adult and £3.25 for a child or included if you bought a joint ticket at Vindolanda.
Housesteads Roman Fort is an axillary Roman fort which is set high on a hill. It is worth climbing up for the views across the countryside alone. The fort is the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain and as well as wandering round the ruins you can visit an interesting museum which tells you about Roman life. Admssion is £6.60 for an adult and £4.00 for a child.
Kielder Water and Forest Park is within driving distance of YHA Once Brewed. We decided to go here and see if we could find the dam. There is plenty to do in Kielder. If you feel brave you can try the forest drive. It is a dirt road that takes you high above the forest with stunning views across the hills.
You can stop and see if you can spot ospreys, they have a viewing area at Leaplish visitor centre. There are plenty of forest walks as well as water sports. If you go to Kielder castle you can take part in the current superworm trails which are ideal for younger children. Kielder observatory also gives you the ideal opportunity to view the dark skies in the area with their scheduled talks. These need to be booked in advance though.
The challenge was to stay overnight and get dinner, breakfast, lunch and a day out for less than £100. Did I succeed? Here is a breakdown of my expenses.
The extra we spent on drinks to go with our dinner and making a packed lunch before we went. We completed the challenge successfully and enjoyed our stay at YHA Once Brewed. I would certainly consider staying in a youth hostel again with the family. Although the accommodation is basic it is comfortable and it made a good base to see the local area. Have you stayed in a youth hostel recently? What did you think?
I was provided with a nights stay in order to take part in the challenge.