YHA Not? 2013 365 Challenge #317

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

One of the unexpected side effects of writing Two-Hundred Steps Home has been learning all about the YHA and the many beautiful places you can visit in the UK. Even though I’ve lived here all my life, aside from a year in New Zealand, I’ve only visited a handful of places: the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dorset. I’ve lived in Manchester and Leeds and I’ve been to some lovely towns for weddings. That’s about it.

Using the YHA hostels as a framework for Claire’s travels was unintentionally inspired. The UK may not be a huge country but there is plenty to see (and write about). The difficulty is that there is no clear ‘route’.

When I travelled in Australia and New Zealand there was a general sense that you followed the coast round, or you hopped on an Experience bus that followed a preset route. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the UK – having never been a tourist here – but I did meet plenty of people on my travels who thought Britain was just London, with maybe York, Edinburgh and Stonehenge thrown in for good measure.

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

If I were to travel around the UK, as I did around New Zealand, then I think the YHA hostels map would be a great place to start. They go to all the major destinations (although there do seem to be restrictions such as some are only available in the school holidays). In many cases the hostel is actually a spectacular building loaded with history, (if sometimes in need of some TLC, if the reviews are anything to go by).

When I have travelled in the UK it has never occurred to me to stay in a hostel – I’ve always opted for B&Bs or discounted hotel rooms – but I really wish I had. It’s almost too late now: the unfortunate thing about hostels is that they’re only really cheap when you’re travelling alone. With two adults and two children – once you add in breakfast – it can be cheaper to stay in a Travelodge, although infinitely lacking in soul.

Even so, I can see Family Martin fulfilling a long-held ambition of mine to visit Cornwall next summer. I think the hostels that Claire has recently visited will be high on our must-stay list, although I might think twice about the Eden Project, unless someone’s implemented Claire’s Gift Aid idea!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked around the bunkhouse with a smile. It wasn’t at all what she had expected. Her room was cosy, and she had been able to grab the proper bed in the corner, instead of one of the bunks. It would be nice to spend the night knowing no one was sleeping above or beneath her.

In the kitchen a cluster of small pine tables waited patiently for the next meal time. The farmhouse cottage feel enveloped her like a warm hug. In the courtyard a family sat eating a late breakfast, their bikes lined up ready for their day of activity.

Leaving her things in her room, Claire followed the advice of the bunkhouse manager and headed off to find the woodland walk into the village. The sun beat down on her bare arms and she thought it might be nice to be in the cool of the trees as the burning orb climbed up to the zenith.

Then lunch in the village, back to the hostel for the car, and off to explore the museum and the castle if I can manage it.

After taking a few sneaky hours to go surfing the day before, Claire felt a stab of guilt that she’d been slacking on work time. If she had to endure seeing Conor the following day, she wanted to make sure she had plenty to talk about. Even the woodland walk was a luxury, but it was difficult to know what to do with her time when she had such loose guidelines from her boss.

As she had hoped, it was cool beneath the trees and she made good time striding along beside the gurgling brook. All too soon the path left the shelter of the woods and came out in a residential road. Claire prayed it would be easy to find her way into the centre of the village as she paced along the path, her arms swinging at her sides.

Even as she walked, her mind clung persistently to the image of the hostel she’d just left. Something about the cottage atmosphere of the place wrapped itself around her, creating a hot sensation in her stomach that felt like yearning.

Oh good lord, I’m not getting all Cath Kidston, am I? I’ll be wearing a floral apron next, and be studying my Jamie Oliver cookbook to learn how to make bread. Oh how Polly, Molly and Sally would laugh. Maybe I’ll start watching Kirstie Allsopp programmes and make a stained glass window for my real oak front door.

The thoughts rang false, like a fake titter at a dinner party, and Claire realised she’d rather like to have a front door to make a stained glass window for. And if it was a little cottage with a scrubbed pine table, rather than a shiny modern flat with all the stainless steel mod cons John Lewis could provide, then that was okay too.

The realisation crashed over her like a North Atlantic wave. When this was all over, she didn’t want to return to her Manchester flat. Her dreams no longer involved Hobbs suits and holidays to the Maldives. Why travel all that way for perfect beaches when there were some right here?

Claire felt as if ice were sliding down the inside of her skin. She stopped suddenly, only vaguely aware that she had arrived at the harbour. She looked around in bemusement, registering the buildings and the harbour wall without really seeing them. It wasn’t a picturesque place, not like some she had visited, but the endless blue skies still shone overhead, lighting highlights in the whitewashed walls.

Suddenly Claire needed to escape. Turning quickly, she retraced her steps through the town and practically ran back through the woods to the bunkhouse. She wanted to lose herself in castles and museums, reports and recommendations, anything that would distract her brain from the images it insisted on creating. Images of a future she could no longer afford. Even a tiny cottage by the sea in this part of the world was far beyond her reach now.

Not unless I went back to work for Carl.

She shivered and ran on.


Getting Organised: 2013 365 Challenge #297

My beautifully organised boot box

My beautifully organised boot box

The sun came out this morning, so I decided it was a day to get organised. I started with writing a long to-do list, then clearing emails (almost making the children late for school and nursery – thankfully the other school is on half term, so town is quiet). When I got home, even before writing the post that was already late, I got stuck into getting back some order and control.

I started with my car. My car is my mobile house. It replaces my pushchair and baby bag. Usually I can find anything I need in my car. Recently the only things I’ve found are new life forms. When my sister was over, I failed to find plasters, clean socks or snacks – all things I normally have plenty of. I felt wrong-footed by my inability to save the day.

Car seat crumbs

Car seat crumbs

So, with grand plans of taking the car to the valet people, who clean it inside and out for a tenner, I stripped the car bare. I gingerly deposited mouldy things in the bin, recycled twenty plastic bottles and a ream of scrunched up kids’ drawings (shhh, don’t tell them!) I removed the car seats and tried not to flinch at the bucket of crumbs crushed into the seats. Thank God they’re leather. I carried everything in and sat to write my post.

As usual, moments after clicking publish, I had a ‘like’ from one of my favourite Bloggers, Miss Fanny P. I realised I hadn’t stopped by her blog in a while. Turns out it’s been weeks. I sat reading for two whole hours. Looking up, as I got to the end of the posts, I was horrified to discover it was no longer sunny but bucketing down. So much for getting the car washed, taking the dog on the long circuit, or any of the dozen other sunny-day chores.

Still, I sorted my boot box. Plasters (band-aids)? Check. Spare socks and pants? Check. Port-a-potty restocked? Check. I am, once more, calm and in control. It’s just a shame about the crumbs.

P.S. In a fit of super-organisation, above and beyond my usual energy levels, I vacuumed and cleaned the car myself AND walked the dog (though not the long circuit) in between rain showers. I give myself a gold star. 🙂


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked at the neat stack of printed paper in front of her and smiled. Stretching her neck left and right she wondered what the time was. Her tummy’s growling suggested it was a long time since lunch.

“Excuse me?”

Claire turned quickly and winced as her tight neck muscles protested. Rubbing her hand against the pain, Claire looked in mute enquiry at the librarian she recognised from the front desk.

“I’m afraid the library’s closing now.” The woman’s expression was apologetic, as if the worst thing in the world was interrupting a studious person.

“What time is it?” Claire blinked, her eyes tired from their unaccustomed labour.

“Six o’clock.”

Claire stifled a swear word and thanked the woman, who walked off to gently alert the other people still working around her. Claire quickly gathered together her papers, glad the library had allowed her to write and print her notes. It felt good to be more prepared for meeting her boss the following day. Then her calmness evaporated as she remembered the rest of Conor’s call.

Damn I didn’t call the hostel. He really will despair of me if I can’t even get that right.

Hurrying out the building, Claire searched for her phone and tried to remember the name of the hostel Conor had suggested she stay in for the night. Her breathing quickened as her brain refused to come up with the information. Forced to load the YHA website, Claire hoped there weren’t too many hostels around Plymouth.

In the end it was easy, and she had the number. Deciding to call as she walked, Claire looked around, frowning in the afternoon sun, and tried to remember where she’d parked her car. With a brief prayer to her travel gods that it hadn’t been stolen or towed away, she strode off in what she hoped was the right direction.

“Good evening.” The deep voice startled Claire, as the phone eventually connected.

“Yes, hello,” she said breathlessly, slowing her pace. “I know it’s short notice, but I wondered if you might have beds available for this evening?”

“Yes, we have several. How many did you need?

“You do? Marvellous. It’s just for me.”

“How long will you be staying.”

“Just one night. Will I be able to get dinner as well?”

“Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay, thanks. I’m just leaving Torquay so I’ll be there in however much time that takes.”

“Follow signs for the National Trust Overbecks, the road is quite steep I’m afraid, but you won’t have any problem parking as it’s after 5 pm.”

Claire thanked the manager for the information and hung up the phone with a sense of relief. Maybe the fiasco could be averted after all.


The water stretching out ahead of her sparkled in the evening sun, and white boats bobbed on the waves. Claire felt her mind drawn back to the sandy beach she had driven past, wondering if there was time to stop and take in the view. Her tummy gurgled and she decided to press on to the hostel.

The narrow lane wound up the hillside and Claire had to drag her eyes away from the scenery in order to stay on the road. Conor wasn’t kidding about the view, it was spectacular, overlooking the estuary and surrounded by mature woodland. Negotiating another switch back in first gear, Claire gave her new car a pat on the dashboard.

“Come on, you can do it. I know it’s steep; you’re doing great.”

The car grumbled in reply and Claire eased it around the bend, relieved to see the car park up ahead. Her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks, as she pulled her bag from the boot and went in search of the hostel entrance. Wandering along the path, through exotic trees and down endless steps, Claire thought ruefully that it wouldn’t be somewhere to come with small children, and then wondered what had made her think that.

At last the building came into sight, but Claire turned instead to face away over the water. It was idyllic.

What a shame that they’re closing it. I wonder if they struggle to get visitors: it’s not everyone who would struggle up that lane, and it’s not the most family-friendly location.

She imagined what it would be like coming with Sky; constantly worrying that the girl might have disappeared into the gardens or fallen down the stairs.

I guess a baby would be okay, as long as you had a sling rather than a pushchair.

Puzzled by the odd direction of her thoughts, Claire soaked in the last of the view, then went to check in.