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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?