I only became fully aware of the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust when I went to its tenth anniversary lunch yesterday as guest speaker. I came away as a signed-up member because I was so impressed by what they achieve.
The trust’s activists are all volunteers. Between them, led by the chairman Marilyn Barrack, they bought the two hostels, Ty’n Cornel and Dolgoch, in the remote heart of mid Wales (known as the Elenydd), when they were to be sold by the Youth Hostels Association. The volunteers have improved their condition and maintain them, provide wardens for many months of the year, transport wood for heating, sort out the water supplies and hot water, and ensure everything is in good order. This is no mean feat as the hostels are isolated and access by vehicle is not easy. Now the hostels provide enjoyable, friendly, safe and environmentally-sound places to visit—they are the gems of mid-Wales.
The YHA had been closing hostels for many years. It threatened to sell these two, and many other small hostels, in a further wave of closures about ten years ago. The YHA announced these closures at a ‘consultation’ meeting in Bristol. There had already been much anger at the loss of small hostels which members (myself included) felt were a fundamental part of the YHA founders’ ethos. Not surprisingly, when Ty’n Cornel and Dolgoch were threatened, those who loved them leapt into action. The trust was formed to rescue them. It succeeded and now the annual bed-nights exceed those achieved by the YHA.
The Cambrian Way, devised by the late Tony Drake of the Gloucestershire Ramblers, passes the hostels on the route between Cardiff and Conwy. Without them, those walking the whole way would have to camp, so the hostels are fundamentally important to that route. The way is being developed and promoted by the new Cambrian Way Trust. Tony would be delighted.
Now all that is needed is to make the Elenydd into the Cambrian Mountains Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is extraordinary that this wild stretch of countryside still has no protection. That campaign has a long way to go but it is one which must be fought.