The Youth Hostels Association celebrates its 90th anniversary in the most difficult of years, but this unique social enterprise recently reopened 30 hostels
Bethan applied the brakes, brought her tiny bike to a halt, and gasped. Ten metres ahead of us, a red deer had materialised from the piney depths of the forest. It had early-season antlers – a pair of bony stumps the size of garden hand-forks – and a glossy, chestnut coat. Eyes fixed, it trotted across the cycle path and disappeared again into the trees. “That was like … an animation!” spluttered Bethan. Then her attention turned to her older brother, pedalling ahead of us in the middle distance, and an even more exciting thought occurred: “And Joe missed it!”
The three of us – respectively aged 8, 11 and lost count – had come to the New Forest on a two-night hostelling trip. Among other things, it was a chance to get away and enjoy another part of the country. But hold on. A hostelling trip in summer 2020? Well, technically, yes. YHA England & Wales eased back into business earlier this month, reopening 30 of its 153 hostels on 17 July. A further 63 are now available for exclusive hire. The 30 properties taking individual bookings were selected chiefly for their outdoor space and their self-contained accommodation options. YHA New Forest, tucked away down a long, unsealed lane in the dappled belly of the national park, fits that bill.