So here’s the situation. Close group of friends from grad days in London now all grown up and dispersed inconveniently around the country (from Northumberland in the north to Sussex in the south). Desperate to meet up but can’t bear the torture of an 8 hour drive (plus stops) with young kids in tow (are we nearly there yet?). What do you do? Well, other than waiting for a magic teleporter to be invented, you meet somewhere in the middle. Which, in our pin-drop moment, transpired to be… rural Lincolnshire.
Next task: find a place to stay for our agreed weekend in October half term (painfully chosen 10 months in advance). Immediately I did my thing of searching for somewhere boutique and chic. ‘Hey guys, check out this converted watermill? Look at the grounds! The Aga! The fireplace!’ I was quickly kicked in to touch by my friends – ‘£1500 for 2 nights! No chance?’. They were right, I wasn’t thinking, that was ridiculous. Then, a suggestion – not from me, I might add, but my outdoorsy friend Anna. Youth Hostel Exclusive Hire. Why don’t we investigate? Well, on the plus side, at least the C-word wasn’t mentioned (that’s Camping for those of you in doubt). And Youth Hostels to my knowledge had roofs, toilets and hot water. But I still needed convincing. I’ve become accustomed to certain comforts in my old age and Youth Hostelling felt like going backwards to student days.
Still, the more we investigated, the more boxes started to be ticked. We found a hostel bang where we needed one, in a village called Thurlby (just outside Peterborough before you reach for Google Maps). It had enough beds for everyone. A private garden for the kids to run about in. Heating. A kitchen. A living room. And it was cheap. Unbelievably cheap. The whole place cost £570 for the weekend – or just over £100 per family. My word, there were practically paying us to be there.
With the tasty price clinching the deal, we booked and then waited for 10 agonising months. Finally, as the fog of autumn descended and leaves fell, the time for our reunion came around and we all excitedly set off to meet in the middle.
On arriving, first impressions, it has to be said, were not great. Youth Hostels come in all shapes and sizes and (I subsequently found out) in varying degrees of plushness. Unfortunately, Thurlby is one that has escaped any noticeable investment in recent history. The décor was tired, the smell damp, the bathrooms a tad mouldy and the lighting as atmospheric as as a bus station cafe. But it was functional: warm with a well-equipped the kitchen, sofas and piles of clean sheets.
And what’s more, the kids didn’t give a hoot. There was space a-plenty to run around; bunk rooms for them to share with each other; and plenty of tables to do their drawings and crafts on. And as parents, we were able to immediately relax as there really was nothing for them to trash (not that we have kids that trash things, of course).
Thanks to ropey traffic and late arrivals, Friday night was a rush for everyone. Kids were given a quick home-cooked tea and, fortunately for adults, there was an incredibly cheap Chinese take-away 5 mins down the road in Bourne to provide a quick and easy feast (plus a 24-hour Tesco for some last-minute bits).
The next morning heralded a damp and misty Autumn dawn. Perhaps the best thing about staying at the youth hostel was that, despite the weather, we didn’t really want to leave and didn’t need to. The whole point of the weekend was to see each other, laugh, catch-up and have fun with kids we hadn’t even met yet. The large garden at Thurlby meant we could get the kids out in the fresh air and have run-around time without getting in cars or walking for miles. It was Hallowe’en so we had planned fun activities for the kids, starting with a ‘spider hunt’ in the garden followed by pumpkin carving. Not that the kids necessarily needed us to provide amusement. They had already decided the lounge was the perfect place to build a den and dragged every duvet, sheet and rug they could find to create a spectacular Bedouin tent.
After lunch, we did go for a wander into Thurlby, a quiet, pretty village which has just about what you need: a village shop (we forgot to bring matches); a pub (we never made it but good food apparently); and a playground. The playground was a hit – bigger than you’d expect – and we managed to while away a good hour on the slides, climbing frames and playing in the crispy leaves.
Back at the Youth Hostel, once darkness had fallen, it was party time. The kids got dressed up, the music was cranked up (bring your own Blutooth speaker) and the party tea was laid out. Apple bobbing, eating doughnuts on strings, pin the boo on the ghost – we dredged up the old favourites to the squealing delight of the kids.
Once we had managed to get the children all to bed, the party games continued with the adults, including a reprise of the ‘cereal’ box game (which for the uninitiated involves picking up a cereal box with your month without touching the floor with any part of your body except your feet), played for the last time by everyone pre-kids. Amazingly, middle age and multiple children had failed to noticeably inhibit anyone’s suppleness.
The morning after, a little achier than the night before, there was time for a game of IT in the garden before everyone was bundled into cars for the drive home. The weekend had been a total success: the kids had declared it their ‘best hallowe’en’ ever, getting on like a house on fire; and Mums and Dads had chatted, drank, relived the old times and proven they still had it with the cereal box. YHA Thurlby won’t be winning any awards for boutique luxury anytime soon and you do have to go with the right expectations. But now we know it’s fun to stay in the YHA, we’ll be hostelling again next year.