During the next five years the British Youth Hostel Assn. will spend $27 million to upgrade and add hostels to its system.
England and Wales have 260 hostels now and Scotland has 80. Despite the name, there is no upper age limit. The average fee charged to international travelers for dormitory accommodations ranges from 2.30 (about $4.20 U.S.) to 5.50 ($10 U.S.) a night.
In Britain, hostels are in historic buildings, former churches, manor houses, water mills, hotels, pubs, shooting lodges, golf clubhouses and other places of interest.
For example, in London you can stay in the former home of the choirboys of St. Paul's Cathedral. In York the hostel is in the former home of the chocolate-making Rowntree family just outside the city.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led the Scots against the English in the rebellion of 1745, slept in a room in what is now Derbyshire's Hartington Hall hostel.
Former Norman Castle
Henry VIII's widow, Catherine Parr, once owned the manor house that is now Portsmouth's hostel. St. Briavel's hostel in Gloucestershire, at the Welsh border, is a Norman castle that King John used as a hunting lodge. The heated dormitories are in the castle prison, chapel, hanging room and King John's banquet hall.
In Penzance the hostel is in an 18th-Century mansion reputed to have a smuggler's tunnel.
The Port Eynon hostel on the Gower Peninsula in south Wales is in a historic building once used as a lifeboat house.
Youth hostels on popular tourist routes will be the first to receive funds for renovations. This year, for example, improvements will be made at Earl's Court hostel in London and at the hostels in Windsor, York, Brighton, Penzance, Salisbury and Cardiff. A waterfront hostel will open in Bristol at the end of this year.
The improvements will include more space to store luggage, day rooms where foreign hostelers can sleep off jet lag, more showers and laundry facilities, duvetyne for the beds rather then blankets, and more four- or six-bed rooms rather than just large dormitories.
Cottages to Castles
Scotland has 80 hostels ranging from simple, off-the-path cottages to full-fledged castles.
Carbisdale Castle in northern Scotland, built for the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland between 1906 and 1917, is said to be the last castle built in Scotland. The hostel at Loch Lomond was featured in a Scottish soap opera. The one in Stirling is a baronial house near Stirling Castle, which dates back to the 1600s. Visitors have included Charles II and James II.
Scottish hostels that will receive some of the improvement funds this year include the island facilities at Whiting Bay on Arran and Stromness on Orkney. Scottish hostels have opened recently at Crianlarich in Perthshire and Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye.
Many hostels require guests to be members of the International Youth Hostel Federation. You can join through your local hosteling association before you leave home.
However, if you find that you need more information after you arrive in Britain, you can get assistance at YHA Services, 14 Southampton St., London WC2.
Two of the drawbacks to using youth hostel facilities are that you usually have to share dormitory accommodations, and curfews are often imposed.
If that doesn't suit your style of travel, you can learn about some of the budget alternatives open to you in Britain through the free publication, "Young Britain."
"Young Britain" is published annually by the British Tourist Authority. The 1988 edition has general tips on transportation, sightseeing, banking and working, pen friends and includes an extensive accommodations guide.
Accommodation listings for London and popular tourist areas in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland include youth hotels, YMCAs, youth hostels and university residences, plus special interest and religious associations that provide low-cost lodgings.
Free copies of the 1988 edition of "Young Britain" are available from the British Tourist Authority, 350 S. Figueroa St., Suite 450, Los Angeles 90071, (213) 628-3525.