Group News

A Capital Trip

St Pancras YH, 15-17 January 2011

7 of 8 intrepid explorers made it to YHA St Pancras by 2pm via car, train and coach; one unfortunate never made it. Five of us made our way to the Pub Behind the Hostel for lunch but they had stopped serving food, damn! looked like good beer too. Following a light lunch at another establishment we returned to the Pub Behind the Hostel. Excellent beer.

After much to-ing & fro-ing and fro-ing & to-ing, not to mention mobile phone texting & calling, (yes, this was one of those rare events where we had excellent mobile signals on all networks), all seven participants finally met and we made our way to book tickets for some excellent shows. Comedies (farces? in keeping with group tradition), since War Horse was fully booked for the next 3 months! A Turkish meal, the show, regrouping then back to the Pub Behind the Hostel for a nightcap or three. Excellent beer and wine.

Breakfast day 2, no comment. Everyone had plans, three made it Outdoors Show – decided the Birmingham event last year was much better. Met at Tate Modern, joined by Chris and Alice, for a pleasant walk to Borough, we are a walking group after all. Made our way to The George Inn for a delicious and very welcome meal. Back to the Pub Behind the Hostel for a Nightcap or three. Excellent beer, wine and cider.

Breakfast day 3, still no comment. What we all came down for; well, except for the cats & dogs washing the grime off the streets of London, which nearly made us change our minds’.

Pub crawl of Historic pubs of London, hoorah hooray. Walked to British Museum where we took refuge from the deluge. Then onwards, down Museum Street, across High Holborn to Drury Lane to The White Hart at 191. A veritable den of thieves and skullduggers in the past. Here we lunched, good grub and drank real ale. On then to Long Acre and The Freemason’s Arms at 81; very posh! but maintained its character. More real ale. A short walk down Bow Street to Catherine Street in Covent Garden where we found Nell of Old Drury at number 39 opposite the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, hmmm! A very small, but wonderfully atmospheric, bar with walls covered in posters of past shows, many signed by the famous thespians. Apparently an underground passage connects the theatre and the pub so that those same thespians can pop over for courage when not on stage. Another excellent pint downed followed by the hunt for Bull Inn Court. Found, after much searching, down a very narrow, twisty passage off Maiden Lane towards The Strand. Here at number 2 our final watering hole The Nell Gwynne Tavern. Doorstep sandwiches to sop up all the beer so far acquired then two more pints before making our separate ways to Leicester.

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend, must do it again!

Mappy New Year!

The turn of the year is a traditional time for ringing in the changes, so here’s a tweak to the website to mark the start of 2011!

As you know, each event the group organises has its own page on the website which includes a map of where the event is taking place. The maps are powered by a free service from Google called the Google Maps Javascript API. The changes I’ve made are a result of moving to the latest version of the service.

A couple of features have been lost in the new version. The overview map that used to appear in the bottom-right corner has disappeared, as have the grey markers that used to mark other group events. I may reinstate the latter when I work out how to do it, but I’m not sure anybody notices them anyway. What’s more important is two exciting new features that I’ve been able to add…

The first is Google Street View. Click on the orange “peg man” that appears to the left of each map and drag him onto any street on the map. You’re rewarded with a photographic reconstruction of the street in question that you can explore at your leisure. Google’s efforts to photograph the whole country might be controversial, but there’s no denying it’s a brilliant way to get a sneak preview of where you’ll be staying/walking!

The second is the addition of driving directions below each map. Type in where you’re starting from (I suggest using your postcode), click the “Show” button, and you get turn-by-turn instructions on how to get to the event. The route’s marked on the map too. It’ll tell you how to go all the way to Ratagan if you ask it to! Try the street view there too.

If you’re looking at our maps and not seeing any of the changes outlined above, you’re probably using a really old web browser called Internet Explorer 6. The latest version of Google Maps doesn’t work with IE6, so you’ll still get the old version. You might want to consider upgrading to something more up-to-date.

So, have a play, and let me know if you encounter any problems.

2011 Calendar for Sale

A new way to support the group has just been introduced – a Leicester YHA Group calendar. Don’t worry, we’re keeping our clothes on, but it is packed with pictures of group members doing what we do best – enjoying the great outdoors!

Each calendar costs £9 (though once you add in postage and VAT, it comes to about £14), which includes a small contribution to group funds.

A preview of what you’ll get for your money can be seen below:

You can order your calendar direct from lulu.com. Order before 31st December and you can get a 10% discount by entering the code NEWYEAR355 at the checkout. Order by the 19th December, use the code UKWEEK3, and get a 30% discount!

To the Manor Borne

Wilderhope Manor YH, 9-10 October 2010

Well we finally got to Wilderhope on the weekend of 8th October 2010, after a failed attempt last year. The hostel had been booked last September/October time but had to be cancelled as nobody had the weekend free. Ten of us set out Friday October 8th in three cars. Norman arrived by motorbike early Saturday morning having had his arm twisted to take up the offer of a free bed due to Boh not being well enough to go!

The hostel, a gabled Elizabethan manor, stands in Hope Dale, between Wenlock Edge and the Aymestry ridge. Described as one of the most remote and least spoiled valleys in Shropshire. During the early part of this century it was uninhabited, derelict and in danger of being demolished. Ironically its neglect and inaccessibility at that time saved it from the Victorian alterations undergone by many other Elizabethan houses in Shropshire. When the Cadbury Trust purchased it in 1935/6 major repairs and renovations were started with the aim of returning it to its original condition as far as possible. Its proposed use as a youth hostel was ideal since it involved no major structural alterations, beyond the addition of washrooms with showers and water supply.

Its main features are its imposing architecture and setting, with external walls of small uncoursed rubble with dressed quoins which are in some places up to four and a half feet thick. Interior walls are timber-framed filled in with wattle and daub, two internal staircases (servants where girls dorm was) and main staircase up to boys dorms are circular and each step being made from a solid block of wood. I found hanging onto the central wood crafted rail with both hands and ‘flying’ down the two flights quite irresistible!

From the outside its setting had an ambience similar to Wastwater hostel, but instead of a lake in front it stood high overlooking grass, apple trees and fields in the distance. The interior was reminiscent, I felt, of both Whitby hostel and Wastwater too re the beams, ceiling décor, smell and feel of old wood. There was even a deserted house martin nest in the large imposing dark wood porch …anybody remember Whitby Hostel?

Those of us who arrived early Friday evening strolled down the quiet track to the pub – about a mile I believe. The pub was very pleasant and Andy sampled the food to his satisfaction. Back at the hostel later, we found the kitchen was not designed for the use of lots of individuals doing different things! The dorms were large and I think ours was 16 bedded. In spite of original window frames being in place we were able to open ours at night and I think the ablutions even met with the approval of Dorothy.

The walk on Saturday was a circular taking in Wenlock Edge. The weather was the kind best left unnoticed – depressing and drizzly. It was a bit disappointing as we could not really tell we were on an edge due to being enclosed by trees/bushes/hedges etc. It was also very muddy underfoot. However Sunday’s weather was spectacular sparkly and cold and bright. Sunday’s walk took us out onto the tops with wonderful views of the Shropshire hills.

The staff have to be mentioned. A bit like faulty towers when it comes to organisation. In spite of wanting our orders for meals in early – they never knew what the menu was going to be until the same evening – 6ish. As we left on our walk we told staff there would be 7 of us eating and anything would be okay excluding offal especially liver or tripe. At which point the staff member shouted to the kitchen staff – cancel the liver …… and the tripe! They were a very good humoured bunch and there were some interesting alternative visitors too including two storytellers with quite a story to tell! Ruth got bored of sitting around quietly Saturday evening as there were two other groups playing games/cards etc who seemed to be having a great time. Ruth duly went over to one group and asked if she could join in their games and frivolity which she did. Overall it was an enjoyable weekend I think all would agree.

Taming Twitter

When I was setting up our Twitter account last year, I thought it would be good to post an update whenever the weather forecast on an upcoming event changed. It’d give some extra publicity to events in the week when they occurred, and the irregular intervals between messages would make them more interesting.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. What I didn’t realise is just how often the forecasts changed – meaning the feed is swamped with messages that the temperature is one degree higher or lower, or the outlook has changed from sunny with showers to showery with sunny spells.

So it’s all changed! The system now checks the programme every morning, and tweets about any events happening on the following day or in 7 days time. It also checks for the date when advance payments are due and reports them too – so you have a reminder to send Dave your cheques!

Another twittering problem has been with slideshows. It’s supposed to tweet whenever a show is added or when new pictures are added to an existing show. The problem is, now that all the pictures are hosted on Flickr, their search facility is not 100% reliable. Sometimes they give the wrong number of pictures for a particular show – leading to spurious “new picture” notifications.

So, with regret, I’ve changed the system to only report when a whole new show is added. If pictures are added subsequently, I’ll report it with a manually added tweet.

Now that we have a more useful Twitter feed, how can you use it in a way that suits you? Originally, when I was designing this part of the site, I was going to have my own “What’s New?” change notification feature. The reason I chose to route those notifications through Twitter instead is to make use of all the ways a Twitter stream can be read, without needing any extra work. So here are a few ways to keep up-to-date:

Join Twitter yourself (it’s free) and follow our feed. You can do so either through the Twitter website, or via a range of client programs.

If you’d rather get an email sent to you instead, you can sign up with a service like TweetByMail to mail our tweets to you when they happen.

If you use a news reader to keep track of blogs, there’s an RSS version of our Twitter feed that you can subscribe to.

Finally, and most simply, you can keep an eye on the Twitter box on the home page of this site, or click the link at the bottom of each page.

Pints, Paths and Puttenham

Puttenham Eco Camping Barn 28-31 May 2010

So what, I was off to Surrey again and the North Downs, this time a return trip to Puttenham Eco Camping Barn. I do like walking the downs and the village of Puttenham is situated right on the North Downs Way, but that wasn’t the only reason for spending this long Whitsun bank holiday at Puttenham Eco – the village local The Good Intent was also holding it’s annual beer festival and spit roast that same weekend!

I was in the last of three cars to arrive but was soon settled in and off down the road to the festival, to find the rest of our party. As I walked into the beer garden I was met by the sight of Liz supping from a half-pint glass of mushy-pea green liquor. I thought “strange coloured lime cordial they have round here”, even more surprising the thought of Liz with a ladies drink, with a lime and lemon? But, first impressions are so often wrong; Liz was actually drinking a glass of green beer – no joke! I did try some for myself, yes, it was beer, but the taste was rather bland for my liking. However, the number of glasses of green liquor, I saw around the beer garden over the weekend, it certainly went down well with the locals. The spit roast was excellent. Two slices each of beef, pork and gammon with a jacket potato plus as much of the various salads and relishes that you could get onto your plate, for just £6.50. It was the same the next night and the beer was in good condition for as long as it lasted but that night it had to be, to make up for the musical accompaniment – some dreadfully out of tune karaoke singing!

That first night I was reasonably comfortable, snuggled up in my four season sleeping bag but, as it turned out, it wasn’t so good a night for the rest of the group. In the morning, they were raiding the warden’s stash of extra sleeping bags and duvets, to keep themselves warm for the rest of the weekend. Puttenham Eco is aptly named; it supplements its electricity supply and makes its own heat from the sun, using solar panels and heat exchangers. Unfortunately, there is no other form of heating for the building, which means that if the sun goes in the barn’s unheated!

On similar environmental lines, the toilet flushes with harvested rain water; the system seemed unable to cope with ten of us using the one loo, until an emergency red button was discovered – one push, as required, and our toilet was reconnected and flushing again! That was our only problem with the ablutions, my thanks to all of the five males and five females who shared that same toilet and shower room for three days, without animosity. Most of us just waited our turn or reduced our usage, though one ‘gentleman’ did find a more novel way around the problem. As he admitted, each morning he sloped off to the local golf club, where he passed himself off as a member, and used their facilities instead – cheeky devil!

What about the real reason Leicester YHA runs its weekends, the walking? On the Saturday, Boh led a damp and drizzly eight mile circular from the camping barn, taking in part of the North Downs Way via the local woodlands and lakes to Shackleford and, yes, a pint in their “Cyder House”. That reminds me, I’ll have to have word with certain new member: if two elder members decide to have a quick snooze over their pint whilst sat on a nice comfy leather settee – they ain’t posing for the camera! We were back in the barn by 2:30 pm where some of us just caught up on lost sleep. Judith couldn’t rest and did a further walk out to Seal and back, whilst Liz’s car took a trip into Farnham for extra supplies.

That evening, cleaned and rested it was back to the Good Intent and more of their festival. The beer and the spit roast were still on form but there was a great improvement in the music on offer in the form of a band called Imitation . A young band from Oxfordshire, who we were told were out on their first gig. From the quality of their performance, especially that of their lead singer, Rosie, it won’t be their last! They certainly hit the right note with Liz: on one occasion when returning from the bar, I was nearly bowled over by her “pole dancing” around one of the outer poles of the marquee! No one bothered about the rain; it was a great sound on a great night.

What a difference a good night’s sleep makes, plus a drastic improvement in the weather by morning. Boh led us on a 14 mile walk on the Sunday, or so he said at the time, out towards Guildford and the remaining walkable section of the Hog’s Back, i.e. the bit that does not lie underneath the main A3 trunk road! To get to this ridge, we first walked out by the local golf course, where I did notice we were getting a few funny looks from the golfers, or was it Andy they were looking at – eighteen holes and then a ramble, he must be fit!

We made our usual elevenses stop at the top of that ridge, overlooking Guildford Cathedral with a clear view over the whole of the city. In fact, it was so clear that on looking further into the distance, we could see London and its various landmarks: the Post Office Tower, the arch of the new Wembley Stadium, the wheel of the London Eye and even the aeroplanes taking off and landing at Heathrow Airport were all discernible – a definite highpoint of the weekend. Our walk then took us through flower meadows, along canal towpaths and river banks and much more, to Shalford and lunch at The Parrot Inn.

Boh supposedly cut the walk short for the route back along a different branch of the river and canal, then a sharp climb back onto the ridge after which we needed another quick half at the Harrow at Compton and finally the footpath straight over the golf course back to Puttenham Eco. On returning home after the weekend Boh measured his walk more accurately and told me we had actually covered nearly eighteen miles that day – after we had all waited our turn to shower, no wonder we felt like getting an early night! Thanks Boh, it was still an excellent walk, I’m glad I did it and I hope I speak for everyone else. Tired or not, we all went to the Good Intent again that evening, only to find they had already sold out of the festival beers, with essentially another day of the festival still to go!

After a well earned night’s sleep, we cleared the barn, packed up the cars and were off to another old haunt of mine: The Devil’s Punchbowl at Hindhead. The punchbowl gets its name from the way the mists collect over its top like a huge smoking or steaming bowl. Andy, who also knows this area well, led us on a six mile circular walk through the woodlands of the bowl, down to Hindhead youth hostel at the bottom. At the hostel we chatted to three families that had hired it for the long weekend and investigated the possibility of booking it for ourselves in the future. After a parting cuppa in the Punch Bowl Café it was off back to Leicester, vowing to return again perhaps to Hindhead youth hostel.

Special thanks to our wardens and the owners of Puttenham Eco, I hope it is not too long before we are back again. Thank you to Mark, Liz and Andy for driving on this weekend and to Boh and Andy for leading the walks. My thanks also to everyone else for their company, especially to our new members Mark and Tony, who I hope to see out again on future events with the group.

And there were more goings on in Surrey.

The editor also asked me to make a mention of the Tanners’ folk night on the 7th and 8th May 2010, I will, though strictly speaking this was not a Leicester Group event but our members were made welcome there. After our usual pub meal at the Stepping Stones in Westhumble Liz, Boh and I arrived at Tanner’s Hatch youth hostel about 9 pm to the usual friendly welcome from the regular folkies and members of Rent a Crowd.

That weekend, as it turned out, one of their members, Lorna was celebrating her 40th Anniversary of going to Tanners Hatch; going there for the first time in May 1970 and she kindly invited us to join her festivities the next day. That Friday evening we sang ’til 1 possibly 2 am before retiring and on the Saturday morning Boh, Liz and I took a walk into Westcott via a very new footbridge over the local brook. An old chap working in his front garden at one end of the bridge was only too eager to give us the full ins and outs, political and financial, of how they acquired that new bridge. After which we retired to a local pub, where over a drink and bowls of his excellent home made soup, we chatted with the landlord over the possible outcome of the general election the previous day – no one came up with the actual outcome.

Then it was a stiff walk back up the escarpment to Tanners and more food. This time plates of ‘home made’ chicken chow mien, since Lorna and friends Sue and Anne said a Vesta Chicken Chow Mien was their staple 70’s hostellers meal. For myself, hostel self catering was more likely to be a tin of Irish stew filled out with half a tin of baked beans, followed then, by a tin of rice pudding, heated through in the same stewy saucepan – those were the days!

Once everyone had arrived and was fed we were all taken on a nature walk by Bruce. Bruce is on of the locals I have got to know from going to Tanners Hatch over the years, he is now an accomplished botanist and professionally interested in the management of countryside. His guided walk was interesting and very informative but a bit longer than Lorna had envisaged. Hence, a worried call on her mobile back to the hostel, to take the pudding out of the oven for half an hour! Disaster averted, on our arrival back, we were all served up with bowls of hot apple crumble and custard, as the usual 70’s accompaniment to the Vesta meal – as members’ kitchen meals go, a bit up market than my stewy rice pud!

This was followed by two or three hours of reminiscing over times and friends, now past and gone, but never forgotten. Tales of ‘Tanners by gas light’ before the electric generator was installed, working or skiving parties at Tanners plus tales of horrible tricks played on fellow hostellers – don’t mention Ex Lax! As more people arrived, the guitars and other instruments were soon taken out and the folk night proper got underway, including two or three unaccompanied ballads from yours truly. The singing went on well into the night finishing at about 4 am, Sunday morning. And, this was accompanied by even more food, as a large buffet had been prepared whilst we were out on the nature ramble.

I did grab a few hours sleep but as usual I was one of the first to get up and, as thanks for the huge repast of the night before, I made myself busy tidying and doing the washing up before most people were awake. As soon as people were awake and we had said our good byes we just headed back to Leicester again – no need for more walking after a day like that! Many thanks Lorna for allowing us to join in and thanks again to Liz for driving on this one.

I’m sorry, but I know longer make Leicester Group bookings to these folk nights but if you are interested in joining me at one please contact me and I will explain the booking procedure.

Slideshow Instructions

Newly posted to the members’ area of the site, a detailed set of instructions on how to share your photos with the rest of the group via our Slideshows. Now you’ve got no excuse for hiding your photographic talents from the rest of us. I look forward to seeing a lot more pictures of group events!

Amongst the Daffodils

Elterwater YH, 17-18 April 2010

It’s the time and place that inspired one of the nation’s favourite poems, which may be why a spring visit to lakeland is such a fixture in the group programme. Be that as it may, this year’s jocund company of expectant walkers gathered at Elterwater youth hostel for two days of mountain walking.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, full of promise for the day ahead. We decamped to the Old Dungeon Ghyll car park near the head of the valley, and were soon striding out towards Stool End farm and the beginning of the walk proper. Ahead of us loomed The Band – a rugged promontory bearing a steep path to the col between Crinkle Crags and Bowfell.

Before long, our own rugged band were labouring their way to the top, making frequent pauses to look over their shoulders at the fine view of Langdale in the hazy sunshine (and not to take a breather, honest!). Progress was steady, interrupted only by the customary elevenses break, and we soon reached the three small tarns which mark the top of The Band.

It was too windy to spend much time resting – once the group were gathered we turned right to climb towards the summit of Bowfell. After a lunch break in a sheltering outcrop of rocks, we reached the top and were able to take in the view. Bowfell is a wonderful vantage point – in the dead centre of the Lake District it commands great views in all directions. Sadly it was too hazy to see any great distance, but still ample reward for our efforts to get there.

Taking our leave from the summit, we picked our way across the rocky landscape towards our next objective. In places, patches of snow lay as a reminder of the winter. Seasoned by our experience on Cader Idris, we were able to cross them without incident – dropping down to Ore Gap before climbing once more to the top of Esk Pike.

Finally we reached Esk Hause, a crossroads high in the hills where paths meet from Borrowdale, Wasdale, Eskdale and Langdale. Ahead of us stood Scafell, Scafell Pike and Great Gable, but they would have to wait for another day – it was time to head for home. Bearing right, we took the path down to Angle Tarn. Mickleden valley was bathed in evening sunshine as we descended alongside Rossett Gill and followed the Cumbria Way back to the car park – the completion of a splendid (if demanding) day’s walking.

Sunday was distinctly less promising in terms of weather, but still good enough to entice us back into the hills. This time the walk started at the hostel gate, following Langdale Beck towards Chapel Stile. The church bells rang out as we approached the village. I don’t think they were warning the inhabitants of our arrival, but in any case we were soon through and into the country beyond.

A brisk climb brought us to Dow Bank, in the middle of a line of high ground separating Elterwater from Grasmere. Turning eastwards we followed this “gently undulating” ridge to the beginning of Loughrigg Terrace.

The second climb of the day took us to the top of Loughrigg Fell. We passed a large party of Chinese students coming down, who were apparently on some kind of exchange trip. They seemed to be enjoying the experience, though some of them weren’t exactly dressed for it. On reaching the trig point we sat down to rest, and to enjoy both the view and a well-earned lunch.

Rested and refreshed, we began our descent back into the valley. Picking our way around the lumps and bumps which grace the top of Loughrigg, we were soon dropping towards Skelwith Bridge. A break for further refreshment in that village’s well-stocked tea shop was followed by a final mile along the shore of Elter Water back to the cars.

Another excellent group weekend, my thanks go to the drivers and everybody else who made it so enjoyable.

New Website Design Launched

If you’ve visited this site at any time in the last ten years or so, you’ll probably wondering what’s happened to it. The familiar green and yellow design has gone, to be replaced by a dramatic new look.

Despite winning the President’s Award this year, the old design was looking tired and dated. Since Christmas, I’ve been working on a new layout that would refresh the site’s appearance and pull together the group’s various online activities more effectively. These efforts are finally ready for a public airing. Here are just a few features of the new design:

  • Colour Scheme:  The new scheme uses a range of natural greens, yellows and browns. As well as being appropriate to our outdoor activities, these colours complement the new banner image and other pictures on the site.
  • Google Search: As part of the new ethos of using freely available services instead of doing it ourselves, the site search has been outsourced to the leader in the field: Google. The prominent position of the search box might mean people use it more too.
  • New Front Page: The home page has been totally rewritten, in order to better welcome people into the site. A Twitter widget (see below) and some news feeds give an at-a-glance guide to what’s happening in the group and in the wider world of hostelling.
  • Twitter: We’ve been posting to Twitter for nearly a year now, but the new design makes it a lot more visible. Tweets are automatically generated whenever new content is added to the site, and can also be written manually by committee members. The widget on the front page makes it easy for everyone to see what’s been happening lately.
  • Advertising: Nobody likes ads, but they do help to cover the costs of running the group. Placing ads above, below and (sometimes) beside the content of each page should attract a few clicks, and a few pennies!
  • Footer: A new area at the foot of each page gives easy access to the Group’s other web outposts. As well as Twitter, we’re also on Facebook, Google Calendar and Flickr. You can also get to the group’s new Amazon store,  where every purchase earns us a small commission.

This is only phase one of the redesign. The next step will be to review each page on the site, correcting any outdated information and trying to make them easier to use. The “Frequently Asked Questions” section will be an early candidate for a revamp.

I’d be interested to hear any feedback – positive or negative – or ideas you may have for further improving the site. Please talk to me in person, by email, or in the comments section below.

Website wins Award

At this weekend’s Affiliated Groups’ Conference, Leicester won first prize (jointly, with Dunstable group) in the President’s Awards Best Website category.

The Presidents Awards is an annual competition between YHA groups, where they are judged on such aspects of their operation as publicity, programmes, newsletters and fundraising. The idea is that, by learning from the winners, all groups can improve.

Leicester group won the best website category for five years running, since its introduction in 1999. Though this year sees a return to winning form, the site will not be allowed to rest its laurels. A redesign of the site has been in preparation since the new year (ironically, partly in an effort to win this award!) and should go online in the next week or so.

A certificate and cheque (for the group, not for me!) were awarded by Caroline White, the Chief Executive of YHA. A full list of winners of all categories can be found on the yhagroup.org.uk site.