A Hostel? Take a hike!

Risking the wrath from the wife and children,  I take a gamble on family weekend stay in a YHA family hostel in Derbyshire
YHA Family rooms at gradbach mill hostel

“You won’t get me in a Youth Hostel!” stated my wife as I read out the list of features from the Gradbach Mill Hostel on the YHA website. “A stunning rural retreat,” I retort in a voice akin to that from the M&S food adverts, “and with an on-site spa!” I lie. The price of just £70 for a family room for 2 nights was the initial hook for me, but I needed to get the whole family on board.

The spontaneous decision to take a half-term weekend break in October led me on a lengthy google search for a family adventure type holiday. Initially all I could find were either expensive wooden cabins or cheap tin can like holiday camps. Going abroad and staying in a hotel wasn't quite in our budget and we wanted to do something different. My wife outright refused to go for the tent idea and I was determined to get the kids out and about, away from the trappings of modern technology and just run free.

"bags in the boot and hit the road"

After numerous exaggerations and embellishments I manage to convince everyone that the best option is the Gradbach Mill Hostel. Before anyone had the chance to change their mind I immediately reached for the phone and used the recently found YHA promotion code “Memories” over the booking service to nab a great deal. We packed and loaded our bags in the boot and hit the road.

After your standard car journey hell, we turn off the main roads and the excitement kicks in and grips us all. As we enter the Staffordshire moors it’s getting pretty dark. The large over hanging rock formations loom over us as we climb and then wind down the tight dirt roads to the main river. Suddenly, our mobile phones loose signal and even the sat-nav starts to struggle, but the well sign-posted roads lead us into the cosy and vibrant Gradbach Mill.

yha family room

As we enter the old mills the warm glow of the windows provides a welcome sight. We receive a friendly welcome at the reception over the bustle of hikers in the crowded dining area next door.

“No TV?”

We take our bags to the room and I glance nervously between the wife and kids. “Cosy,” I announce reassuringly before a barrage of “No TV?” and “Is this it?” I momentarily doubt my decision and realise this going to be hard work, but I persist in making sure we make the most of our time together and encourage everyone downstairs to the communal dining area.

As we pass through we receive friendly nods and smiles and there is generally a good feeling in the room. We get some tea and cakes together in the shared kitchen as the kids find a collection of board games and start to set them up. Before I know it we’re all having a game of monopoly, this may sound pretty normal, but kids don’t play board games anymore. We are normally all plugged into our various phones or tablets, often in separate rooms, which is a real sad sign of today’s current family life. The nostalgia is a hit with the wife and with no devices or distractions in sight, the kids seem really captivated in the game and it’s nice to just sit and laugh together.

luds church

After a decent nights sleep we head back down to the dining room right on time to catch site of the hikers venturing out into the stunning sweeping hills of the charmingly named “Gritstone Roaches.” We find to our delight that we have the run of the place and I rustle up a full English breakfast as the kids pour over the supplied maps and printouts from the YHA team. The team tell the kids tales of an “Abandoned Spooky Cottage”, which is thought to have housed a family of medieval cannibals!

There’s also the Luds Church, which is an open cave like area cut deep into the hill. Rumour has it that it’s the setting of the legendary King Arthur Poem ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’ The kids can’t wait to get out and my 6yr old leads the way on what proves to be a 5 mile epic hike. We find the spooky cottage and the stunning Luds Church. As lunch approaches we stop for tea and cake and soak in the breathtaking view of Back Forest Ridge. We were all momentarily mesmerised by the silence and panoramic view across all 3 counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire before we dig into a well earned snack.

wincle brewery

We stop at the quaint village of Wincle and I indulge in a sample at the family run Wincle brewery and we start heading back to the warmth of the staff at the Gradbach mill. On our return they tell the kids that there’s a huge cinema style projector upstairs where they can watch their dvds. After them being so good on the walk, I couldn’t deny them a technology fix and we bring dinner up to sit in what feels like our own private cinema as we scoff down rice and meatballs.

What a turnaround!

It was the perfect end to a great weekend. The kids thrived in the sense of adventure, my wife is happy I feel that I've banked the family a memorable trip, all for under a £100. The staff were really friendly and helpful throughout the trip and I wonder more people back home aren’t like that.

The carpets may have been a bit worn but it was clean and just great to come back from our hike, kick off our boots and relax with a mug of tea. No snotty reception lady, no loud arcade, no pestering for loose change just good old family time in an enchanting setting. As we bundle our bags out of the Mill I smile as the wife spots a poster showing another 100 or so Youth and Family Hostels. Some are rated 5 stars which look like Stately Homes, “Ooh they do some by the coast too, look kids!” she says suggestively. 

YHA Membership

For Info and Bookings Visit YHA Website : Family Rooms from £48 and beds from £16 per night. Sources : Wikipedia , Lud Church 

About the author

David Toon

15 years as an IT developer and consultant, currently working with clients in education and online businesses. Founder of Toon Media, Subscription Radar and co-founder of ManMadeClub a lifestyle experience blog. Passionate about working with online technology and the pursuit of living a balanced and active life with my family.