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U3A Writing: Happy Hostelling

Hazel Dracup recalls happy youth hostelling days.

When I was attending school near Bradford, it was normal practice to be given the opportunity to go Youth Hostelling once a year on reaching a certain age. I experienced this in the years 1957-1959, when I was aged between 9 and 11.

I remember the preparations beforehand, purchasing a big brown haversack to put my clothes in and having to soak my feet in salt water to harden them as we were advised to do in the fact sheet provided by the school!

The first trip I went on was in 1957, to North Wales, near Colwyn Bay. The Youth Hostel was situated in the Nant-y-Glyn area and was part way up a steep hill.

I can remember having to peel potatoes every day and purchasing a triangular YHA badge in green and wearing it on my coat. I would also buy badges indicating places I had stayed in and sew them onto my haversack.

We explored the castles at Conway and Caenarvon. We went to nearby Llandudno, and walked up Great Orme. We had hoped to go up Snowdon on the train from Llanberis but found that it was not running that day due to bad weather. Swallow Falls and Betws-y-Coed along with a trip over the Menai Bridge to Anglesey were other places visited, and we even went to the cinema one afternoon to see the musical 'Oklahoma'.

The following year in 1958, we went up to Scotland and stayed at two locations. The first one was almost ‘on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond'. The Youth Hostel building was an impressive country house set in parkland with stunning views of the Loch and of the hills to the east. It had a beautiful sweeping staircase and a ballroom. I can remember one evening when we were in the ballroom, one of the male teachers came up to me and asked me in a very formal way if he could have the pleasure of the dance!

From here we visited nearby Helensburgh, and went on a boat trip from Rothesay to Dunoon round the Kyles of Bute. We visited the Loch Ness area (didn't see any monster!) and Fort William.

For the second part of the week we moved to Edinburgh, and the Youth Hostel was just outside the city. We visited several locations including the Castle, Forth Bridge, Edinburgh Zoo, Holyrood Palace and walked along Princes Street. We went inside St Giles Cathedral where we were told the story of Jenny Geddes, who threw her stool at the Dean taking the service in protest against the introduction of a new prayer book back in 1637. We also visited the Cameral Obscura at the end of the Royal Mile, where we were able to view the whole of the city.

My final holiday took place in 1959. I was within a month or so of leaving that school to go to boarding school. (Incidentally, my new school was only 25 miles north of where we were spending the first half of the holiday at the City Mill Youth Hostel in Winchester.) This was within the city limits by the river and had a large water wheel.

Local landmarks were visited, such as Winchester Cathedral, where we climbed up to the tower and had a fantastic view of the city. We also had a look round Winchester College, and I have always remembered the portrait of the Trusty Servant' with an inscription in Latin that translates as follows, thus describing the appearance of the servant:-

'The Trusty Servant's portrait would you see
The emblematic figure well survey
The porker's snout not nice in diet shows
The padlock shut no secrets he'll disclose
Patient the ass his master's rage will bear
Swiftness in errand the stag's feet declare
Loaded his left hand apt to labour saith
His vest his neatness, open hand his faith
Girt with his sword, his shield upon his arm
Himself and master he'll protect from harm'

I learnt that verse on that visit and can still remember it to this very day.

We even managed a trip out into the New Forest and a day in the Isle of Wight, doing a coach trip around the island and stopping at Alum Bay. Taking a test tube of coloured sand home was another highlight of that holiday.

For the final part of our holiday we moved to Bristol. Local landmarks we looked at were the Docks and the Zoo and a walk across the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

A day trip to Bath took in the Royal Crescent and the Roman Baths. We sampled the water in the tap room and it tasted disgusting, Eugh!!

Other places visited were Cheddar Gorge and exploring Gough's Caverns was fascinating. We learnt about stalagmites and stalactites and the fact that 'mites go up' and 'tites go down.'

We visited Stonehenge and saw part of Salisbury Plain. We looked inside the Cathedrals of Salisbury and Wells. (The little figures coming out of the clock as it struck the hour were enchanting).

These holidays were the first I had spent without my parents. They were exciting and memorable times. These were to be the start of my many visits back to these areas over the years.

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