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.

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: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003