DISCLAIMER: We were awarded a free 2 night break through the YHA Project 90 scheme set up to celebrate 90 years of life changing adventures through YHA.
At the grand old age of 52 I could be forgiven for thinking I am a tad old for a Youth Hostel Association (YHA) holiday but it turns out that everyone is welcome and they even have en suite family rooms and whole property hires available if sharing is not your cup of tea.
We spent a very happy couple of nights during the recent October half term at the stunning YHA property in Beer, North Devon with Arts and Crafts architecture including gorgeous windows framing the sea view from our en suite family room.
Most hostels include a fully equipped kitchen and so you can make meals just like you would at home. Some offer food although since the chaos of Covid-19 offerings in some places are limited.
The hostel at Beer had breakfast rolls like bacon or sausage, croissant and pain chocolate available but we didn't realise you had to order the night before so missed out. It was our first ever Youth Hostel experience and I would take breakfast foods with me in future as there were fridges and food storage areas for guests and most people seemed to have taken advantage of this. Luckily there was a big supermarket in the neighbouring town so we stocked up there.
Despite missing out on a YHA breakfast we were able to order teas and a nice French press (cafetière) of good real coffee and the host took pity on our plight and added a small pile of breakfast bars to our tray which kept us going until we ventured into Beer, village a few minutes away, where we enjoyed breakfast on the beach at Ducky's. This seems to be quite a local institution and we joined other hardy souls who were obviously regulars. Luckily it was a sheltered spot and the food was delicious.
There's so much to do in the area in pretty much any weather, lots of it free of charge. We enjoyed fossil hunting in Lyme Regis, actually in Dorset but a short drive from Beer. We found crystals on the beach there too and warmed up with delicious traditional fish and chips on a bench in the harbour as we watched the boats bob and a rescue helicopter practicing low rescue skills.
We went crabbing which proved extremely successful. Seriously, at the harbour in Axmouth, the family caught more crabs (and bigger ones) than we have in our 27 years of parenting. No sulks from anyone as all five us us managed to net (then release) lots of crabs. And on a windy autumn day the proximity of a sheltered cafe right next to the prime crabbing spots made the experience even more enjoyable.
We also visited Beer Quarry Caves and enjoyed the fantastic entertaining and educational tour underground. With lots of facts (and a little bit of fiction for fun) we learned about Romans, pirates and ghosts, theology, stonemasonry, architecture and bats. Book ahead and dress up warm. There is an entry charge but we felt it was very good value for money.
We went on the recommendation of friends and to be honest I probably wouldn't have bothered without their nudge. But the whole family enjoyed the trip along with other visitors of all ages-toddlers, teens and those who have a few more years under the belt. There was even a well behaved dog in the group!
Just down the road there was Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary (free admission) where over 200 donkeys and mules live out a peaceful life, many of them rescued from hard lives or an early end to their lives. We particularly loved seeing the residents of the blind and elderly donkey areas. It's a lovely walk round the large grounds but for those who can't walk far there are donkeys within a short distance from the car park.
There's a lovely looking cafe and a gift shop - our tight budget sadly meant we had to give both of these a miss but we still had a lovely time admiring the donkeys. You can even adopt a donkey although my son was disappointed to learn that didn't mean you could take one home!
After seeing the donkeys we had a brisk walk along Sidmouth seafront and watched surfers and kite surfers brave the waves before a spell in a nice playground complete with zip-wire which our youngest really enjoyed.
Tired and hungry after a busy day and lots of sea air we borrowed crockery and cutlery from the well stocked kitchen cupboards and enjoyed our dinner in the dining room along with other families eating. With subtle background music and a decent licenced bar, it was a very nice experience.
Our bedroom was large with big windows and an adjustable radiator so we could get the temperature just right for us. Some hostels have double beds in family rooms but we had three comfy bunkbeds complete with all bedding required. There was a chair and a couple of cubes to use as tables/chairs and a lovely window seat - perfect to set up a game of Uno!
The bathroom was compact but clean and the shower was hot and better than ours at home. You do need to take your own towels or rent or buy some from reception.
We survive on a low income and as a registered carer (who is also disabled) with my own children acting as my respite and carers we are often all exhausted so it was so lovely to have a break. It was brilliant to be able to bring our own food and drink and treats and there was loads of free stuff to do in the area.
With my husband recently diagnosed with a life limiting lung condition the holiday was particularly special as we don't know how much longer he might be able to cope with the physical demands of this kind of break, at least not without dragging oxygen equipment with us.
Once thing I have learned as a parent is that children grow fast and before you know it they dont want to come on holiday with you and all you have left is photographs and memories.
We will certainly always remember the trip to Branscombe beach where Daddy got caught out by a rogue wave and fell over, getting wet from head to toe. I was videoing the waves at the time and completely missed capturing it! Gutted!
Back to the hostel. As well as private rooms like ours, Beer YHA also has beds in single gender shared dorms, bell tents which sleep up to 5 people, and camping for those who want to bring their own kit.
Like all YHA properties Beer gets booked up well in advance, especially in school holidays so I would seriously start thinking about choosing a hostel asap. There are 150 hostels and 45 campsites across the country in rural, coastal and city locations so whatever type of break you enjoy there's bound to be a hostel to suit.
We would like to say a big THANK YOU to YHA for a wonderful half-term break 💖