IF, like many of us, your immediate thoughts on hearing the words ‘youth hostel’ are grim memories of childhood school trips, with rough cotton sleeping bags, hand sewn from an old sheet, and sharing out the daily chores, then you really need to read on.
When I was offered the opportunity to review the YHA’s flagship hostel in York I must admit I was a little wary. I’m not a big fan of sleeping in dorms, and I certainly couldn’t imagine my 13-year-old daughter being amused by big, draughty communal shower areas.
But I am really glad I went.
The hostel is absolutely lovely - it’s a huge old white building, with 32 en-suite rooms, and recently underwent a £2 million renovation.
We had a private room for the two of us, with a small wet room for showering, and although I was initially quite wary of sleeping in a bunk bed I have to admit I got a great night’s sleep.
Of course Jessie blagged the top bunk right away, so even though I pretended to be disappointed, you can imagine I was secretly relieved. I’m far too old to be doing night-time aerobics just to get into bed.
The room was small, but clean and tidy, with warm duvets already made on the beds, and a big, old radiator that kept the room heated well all night.
It’s a fantastic location too. It’s only a 10 minute walk to the very heart of York, and there is a very pleasant riverside path away from the traffic, but sadly, after the recent floods, it was more mud than path. We stuck to the road. Noisier and not as pretty, but much easier (and a lot less messy).
My aunt and uncle were staying nearby in their mobile home, with their cocker spaniel Lottie, and my mutt, Joe, so on the first afternoon the four of us plus the two dogs decided to head into the city to explore.
There were a number of things we had in mind to do; of course the first one on our list was Jorvik the Viking Centre.
We went in half term, so as expected there was a lengthy queue to get in, but it was pleasantly fast-moving, and there were a couple of interesting and interactive Viking displays going on outside, so we didn’t get bored waiting.
At one stage I did rather fear for my dog’s life though, as a grim looking warrior approached with a glint in his eye and pronounced that ‘mmmm, lunch has arrived’.
It’s not that easy when you have dogs with you to visit museums and other attractions together as a family, someone always has to wait outside, but three of us went in, and really enjoyed the exhibition. It’s a bit like a theme park ride through a Viking village, with plenty of cheap laughs for the kids to enjoy.
Just ask Jessie about the big fossilised poo.
We were lucky to find a couple of cafes and restaurants that allowed pets in, strangely for such a tourist hot spot we did struggle to find dog-friendly places. In fairness though it might have been too early in the season.
Our favourite cafe was a small tea room called Evie Brown’s (named after the proprietor’s small baby), where the dogs were treated to a big bowl of fresh water and a place by the heater and we warmed up with hot chocolates and home-made cakes.
It would be very rude, we thought, to visit York and not take a look at the Minster, so that was our next stop - and very impressive it was too.
A highlight for us all was the one-hour long open-top bus ride around the city, run by York CitySightseeing. Joe and Lottie were both very welcome, the bus driver said dogs counted as VIPs in his eyes, so we were all very happy. They both had to be carried up the spiral staircase, but then sat on our knees enjoying their very first cabriolet ride!
In the evening we found a pub close to the hostel with an Indian restaurant inside, called The Gate of India, who allowed the dogs to join us, and we devoured a huge feast and I had a couple of beers, before walking back to our room.
One bonus we weren’t expecting at the youth hostel was free Wi-Fi, so Jessie was delighted to be able to catch up on her teenager’s addiction to Facebook and Twitter, while I checked out the daily news.
Breakfast in the hostel the next morning was a glutton’s feast with full English breakfast, cereals, toast, croissants and freshly brewed coffee. For £4.95 it was amazing value, and set us up well for the day.
Jessie had spotted a haunted house on Stonegate and wanted to take a closer look.
Fortunately my uncle, Graham, was brave enough to accompany her on the tour - although they both looked strangely pale when they later joined us for coffee and brownies at Kennedy’s bar and restaurant on Little Stonegate. (Yes, the dogs were allowed inside as it had just started raining).
The city is a great place for shopping too.
We enjoyed meandering through all the little streets and alleyways, and found plenty of small shops to wander in and out of.
Interestingly enough, one of the most exclusive, the Mulberry factory shop in Swinegate, let the dogs in, as did Jack Wolfskin in Lendal.
It was a great few days away - we would definitely return to York, there’s more than enough to do, even with three generations and two dogs, and it’s a lovely place to just stroll around and soak up the atmosphere.
To find out more about visiting York go to www.visityork.org
York YHA, Water End, Clifton, York, YO30 6LP. Telephone 0845 371 9051.
Jorvik Viking Centre, Coppergate, YO1 9WT. Wesite www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk
Evie Brown’s tea rooms, Bootham. Open every day for home made cakes and drinks.
York Minster, Deangate, YO1 7HH. Telephone 01904 557200.
York CitySightseeing, Stonebow, YO1 7NP. Telephone 01904 633990. Wesite www.yorkbus.co.uk
The Gate of India restaurant, Old Grey Mare, Clifton Green, YO30 6LH. Telephone 01904 631945.
Haunted, Stonegate. Website www.hauntedhouseyork.co.uk
Kennedy’s, Little Stonegate, YO1 8AX.
Mulberry, Swinegate, YO1 8AZ.
Jack Wolfskin, Lendal, YO1 8AQ. Website www.yorkshirewolf.co.uk