Some hostels cry out to be visited on the strength of their location alone. The little pink triangle that marks the position of Grinton Lodge on the OS map declares its magnificent isolation on the southern slopes of Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales national park. A footpath and bridleway shoot out from the hostel across Harkerside Moor, and the massive ridge above simply demands to be climbed on two wheels.
The bedrooms in the main building are not due to reopen until next Saturday (17 July), so I stayed in one of the hostel’s five camping pods (there’s also a bigger “Landpod”, sleeping four). Tucked into a lofty copse of mature sycamores and conifers, the pods are sheltered from the vagaries of Dales weather. Impressively sheltered, in fact. I arrived sodden after an extremely damp cycle from Darlington (the nearest railway station, 23 miles away) and was beginning to regret having brought nothing on which to cook but a little twig-burning stove. I needn’t have worried. The ground – and the sticks and fir cones scattered around it – was almost bone dry, despite the torrential rain. Repairing to the stone-built barbecue area that evening, I had no trouble getting a little fire going and soon had dinner bubbling away.
The grade II-listed hostel building – complete with castellated tower – was built as a shooting lodge in the early 19th century and converted into a youth hostel in 1948. The pods within its modest walled grounds are in the familiar “upturned boat” design (I’m 6ft 1in and didn’t have to duck). The smaller pods have two single beds inside, while the larger ones like mine include an extra futon-level double at the end. Unusually for pods, bedding is provided, which lightens the load if you’re getting here under your own steam. The mains sockets were useful for the little bit of charging I needed to do and would power the supplied electric heater on colder nights. Low-key illumination, meanwhile, came courtesy of a couple of LED lights. All in all, it proved a snug and peaceful little cave to come back to after my adventures.
And I only had to take a step out of the thicket for them to begin. Sumptuous views across Swaledale to the heights of Marrick Moor lured me out onto the hostel’s own Harkerside Moor. The sun showed itself at last and I wandered westward across the precipitous grassy slopes towards Maiden Castle, a neolithic fort. The hillside is strewn with ancient earthworks and a hut circle, and there’s still an engagingly primitive feel to it today.
The following morning, I took my mountain bike off for a 30-mile dale-hopping tour. I say “my bike”, but it was my brother’s, kindly lent to me at the last minute when my own faithful steed died on me. “It’s about 20 years old,” he’d told me, “and not all that fancy.”
He failed to mention that the bottom gear was, well, not very bottom-y. The back-road climb from the River Swale up on to Whitaside Moor, Summer Lodge Moor and then Askrigg Common starts gently enough but grinds remorselessly on for mile after mile until suddenly it gambols precipitously upward. It’s not one to tackle on a bicycle built principally for coasting merrily downhill. The view from the top was quite something though. Below me in the sunshine lay Wensleydale – not so much a valley as a convenient meeting place for all the world’s shades of green.
I dropped down to stone-built Askrigg to compile a picnic lunch from the cupboard-sized village store. Hauling myself back into Swaledale over the glorious Buttertubs Pass was the cue for more ravishing views of granite-formed hills and spurs. A section of the 12-mile, mostly offroad Swale Trail took me through fields and woods above the river. Passing through Reeth and its immense village green, I stopped for a much needed alfresco coffee and flapjack at the Dales Bike Centre in Fremington. Refuelled, I tackled the ascent to the hostel to collapse in a jelly-legged heap on my mercifully comfy bed.
Current Covid measures include self-check-in, social distancing, time-slot shower booking (in spotless facilities that the youthful staff cleaned almost constantly) and, sadly, the closure of the guest kitchen. This all meant that my stay was very different from the usual hostel experience. However, once the bedrooms are reopened I’m sure the customary buzz and bonhomie will return too. One of those bedrooms is really quite special: a penthouse honeymoon suite with its own freestanding rolltop bath. And, believe me, if you happen to go for a honeymoon spin over into Wensleydale and back, that bath will be very welcome.