B&B and Beyond: YHA South Downs, East Sussex

Eight centuries in the making, Britain's latest Youth Hostel opens its doors this weekend. Simon Calder gets a preview

The unpainted plaster in the lounge, interspersed with raw brickwork, has the kind of mottled look for which a boutique hotel might pay a fortune. But in the case of the South Downs Youth Hostel, which opens this weekend, it looks like that from necessity.

"We insisted on plastering the walls with lime prepared in the traditional Downland way," says Duncan Simpson from YHA HQ. "But it takes two years to dry before you can paint it."

When I visited the new hostel on Tuesday, workmen were still putting the finishing touches to the resurrected Itford Farm. A 10-year, £5m project has seen a farmhouse and its outbuildings transformed into cheap and cheerful accommodation in a priceless setting. Itford Farm has stood on a gentle slope towards the River Ouse since the Middle Ages – the oldest feature, the font in the kitchen, dates to the 13th century. It closed in the 1980s, and lay unused. Then a local organisation, Active Lewes, teamed up with the Greenbank Trust and the YHA to revive the property and turn it into the most impressive hostel to open in England so far this century. History, character and views of the South Downs across the valley are included in the modest rates.

The bed

Most of them are standard-issue YHA bunks, packed six into a dorm (which can also be booked by a family). Bathrooms are either en suite or adjacent. But given the rambling spaces of the old farm, the opportunity has been taken to provide plenty of alternatives. There are private rooms for two, with twin beds or a double, and several rooms for families of up to four.

If youth hostels had the equivalent of "executive rooms", the premium offer at Itford would be the Granary, a self-contained unit that feels much more like a cottage on a farm than part of a bigger property – an ideal hideaway for a family wanting an indulgent South Downs holiday on a budget.

Hostelling is a lot less spartan than a few decades ago – expect hot showers and warm rooms. But if you yearn for complimentary toiletries, you're in the wrong place.

The breakfast

Unlike other accommodation providers, the YHA encourages self-catering, so you could buy some local produce and prepare it yourself in the well-equipped kitchen. But in the Courtyard Café you can order a Full Sussex for under a fiver.

The hosts

Another facet of modernising the hostelling movement is that there is no "lock-out" during the day: reception is staffed from 7am to 11pm. Dale Richards is the manager, and takes pride in the fact that the YHA's newest hostel has such a long history: "No two rooms are the same," he says. You don't get that at the average budget hotel.

 

The weekend

Immediately to the east of Itford Farm, the A26 roars past, to the west, the railway trundles, and beyond it the lazy River Ouse oozes its way to the Channel. But the most significant thoroughfare passing the new hostel is the South Downs Way – the pedestrian superhighway that cuts through Britain's newest national park. You can follow the well-marked track in either direction – but for the best of country and city, take the South Downs Way across the Ouse to the lovely village of Southease. Admire the 1,000-year-old church, cross the main road and head uphill, passing the splendidly named Cricketing Bottom – the valley to the right.

You dip down to Telscombe, and pass its own youth hostel, but then climb again on a road that dwindles to a track. Follow it to the English Channel – just before you reach the cliffs, the A259 intervenes, with buses every few minutes into Brighton.

And when you have enjoyed the shopping and sightseeing (especially the Royal Pavilion, England's finest palace), you can hop on a train back to Southease station, a couple of minutes' walk from the hostel.

The historic town of Lewes is a few miles north, and the spectacular Newhaven Fort a short way south.

The pit-stop

Itford Farm has actually become a pit-stop on its own, with the on-site café (and information centre) aimed at hikers on the South Downs Way. The nearest pub, a mile or so away, is the Abergavenny Arms (abergavennyarms.com) in Rodmell, where Virginia Woolf once lived. Or take the train one stop to Lewes where the Limetree Kitchen (01273 478 636; limetreekitchen.co.uk) serves venison carpaccio and pan-fried grey mullet.

 

The essentials

Itford Farm, East Sussex BN8 6JS (0845 371 9574; bit.ly/YHASoDo). Private rooms for two from £50; dorm beds from £16; breakfast £4.99.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album