I doubt whether you’ll approve of my story about Wholehope Youth Hostel, but it was a long time ago and, like it or not, it is part of the history of the place.
The truth is that Wholehope had a slightly darker side when it was regularly visited by people – myself included – who were not members of the YHA, but who liked the place, always paid our dues and treated it with respect.
How this all came about, I can’t say, but I was a young reporter on the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle at the time and my introduction to Wholehope was through a friend who was studying at King’s College.
My first visit was on a Friday night in 1958 when my friend and I drove to Alwinton in my 1936 Morris 8 (same age as myself!) and took refreshment in the Rose and Thistle until closing time – which in those days was whatever time you finally decided to leave…
We walked up to Wholehope, arriving at about 1.0 am, to find a group of people – who had left the Rose a little earlier than us – chatting by the fire. As the conversation progressed one of the company boasted that he had managed to ride his motorcycle up to the hostel from Alwinton. Being young and fuelled by a mixture of alcohol and testosterone, I said that was no great achievement and I could easily have driven my car up there had I chosen to do so.
This, of course, became a challenge, and at 2.0 am I set off back to Alwinton hell bent on fetching the car to the door of the hostel. I’ll not bore you with details of that epic journey, which included cutting my tow-rope into lengths and tying them round the wheels to get a better grip in the muck and the mud, but suffice it to say that as the sun came up on Saturday morning I finally pulled up outside the door of Wholehope Youth Hostel. I think I’m probably the only visitor ever to drive a car up there.
(Editor’s note: Nope, Ricky Bareham used to drive his Morgan up there quite regularly, also, the first of Gordon’s photos shows Brenda Bareham, smiling knowledgeably!)
I attach a couple of photographs to prove it. One shows the car with the youth hostel – and some of the visitors (and the motorcycle) in the background. The other shows me leaning against the car looking pleased with myself.
At the time of this visit there was, of course, no warden; the men’s dormitory was on the ground floor and the women slept in the loft. A few months later we visited Wholehope again, calling as before at the Rose and Thistle en route and arriving at the hostel at about one in the morning. The place was in total darkness, so we groped our way quietly into the men’s dormitory and continued to grope around looking for a couple of empty bunks.
Suddenly there was a cry of alarm, a distinct flutter in the nest and a man with a lamp suddenly appeared in the doorway. He introduced himself as the new warden and demanded to know who we were and what we were doing groping around in the women’s dormitory! You’ve guessed it; they’d kicked the men into the loft and brought the women to the ground floor.
I don’t suppose the warden believed for one moment the hastily constructed story that our late arrival was because we’d got lost on the hills, but he allowed us to stay the night. Next morning I completed my task, insisted that I’d mislaid my YHA membership card, gave the warden my membership number (my mother’s co-op number – honestly) and fled.
Over the past few years I’ve walked that way several times, and I always pause for a while at what little is left of Wholehope to remember my youthful (you might say disgraceful) adventure.
The old Morris 8, incidentally, had already been a stalwart friend through two years of National Service, ferrying me back and forth between Newcastle and RAF Duxford in Cambridgeshire – then still an operational fighter station. During that time it became known to just about everyone on camp as the “Northumbrian Maid”. I even painted the name on one of the front wings alongside a lovingly reproduced coat of arms of Northumberland.
In 1959, a year after the Wholehope affair, the Northumbrian Maid completed it’s greatest adventure, a trip to Barcelona and back with three of us and all our camping gear on board. We had a fire under the bonnet on the return journey through France and she finally broke down right in the middle of Paris, making me two days late for work at the end of the holiday. Like the warden at Wholehope, Arthur Grey, the then news editor of the Evening Chronicle, refused to believe a word of my story.
Life is so unfair!
The Northumbrian Maid remained my faithful friend for another year until a move to the Evening Despatch in Birmingham required a more modern means of transport. But the Northumbrian Maid was my first love and I’ll never forget her.