The First Year
When we saw the pictures of the hostel in the estate agents’ details, we fell in love with the place, we had bought and lived in a few houses that ‘needed improvement’ over the years so we weren’t too daunted by the prospect of hard work but I don’t think that we had realised quite how much more work a 14-bedroom building with three kitchens would be than normal house in Harrogate!
We hadn’t done anything like running a hostel before, in truth hadn’t been to Kettlewell before, and had never been inside a hostel! Floss had been a Manager for Pret a Manger and latterly a freelance financial researcher so she could be around whist the children were young and Saul had been a Manager for the outdoor brand Rohan, we hadn’t ever worked together but I think that deep down that we knew that that we would be happy!
We bought the Hostel from YHA in January 2015. At the time, YHA were selling off a few hostels that hadn’t been paying their way and investing the money in other hostels that would benefit from a lift, I have been told that we in part, paid for the refurbishment of Boggle Hole, although that might not be entirely true! In its 100 years, the building had been a guest house and has been host to a bakery, cafe, shop, post office and became a Youth Hostel in the 1940s at the height of the Youth Hostel movement.
The place was more than a little run down when we moved in, the carpets were worn, all the furniture was dated, heavy and had seen better days, all of the mattresses needed replacing. There had been several wardens in the last few years and all of which had had a go at making the place a little cheerier but really, it was a bit grim.
At the time, the hostel reception also doubled as the village post office which meant that Saul had to train to become the village sub-postmaster and run, along with Pam (who we could not have managed without), running the post office counter for three hours each day.
In our first year we had decided not to do anything too radical, just get grips with the fundamentals of the job. Having never cooked professionally it was a very steep learning curve for Saul, luckily, we didn’t have many bookings! This gave him enough time to read a few cook books and get to grips with becoming a chef. We had a few ideas of what would be good on the menu, we wanted it all to be hearty fare that would be good after a long walk, but mainly we started by cooking the things that we knew how to make.
Meanwhile we got on with the job of running a hostel: checking in guests, making beds, cleaning everything and making lists of what to do next!
The first set of jobs were mainly remedial, just getting things to work properly. Not all of the taps had water going to them, the hot water didn’t get to every room, the central heating didn’t heat every radiator, there was a smell of oil coming from somewhere… there was no Wi-Fi….. or phone signal… there were three phone lines coming into the building, there was a massive broken freezer that had been used to store paint, there were mouldy mattresses in the garden and a shed with so many rusty cans of paint and broken lawnmowers. Although not every job was big, or difficult, there was just so much to do!
In October that year we closed for a week to renovate the dining room, we took up the gnarly carpet, set to work replacing the broken floorboards, sanding and varnishing the floor, stripped the wallpaper, patched, repaired, fixed the lighting and had new dining table tops made from re-cycled scaffolding planks. We had managed to sell all of the old dining chairs to people around the village and bought new more colourful, stackable chairs.
Around this time, we also introduced our second-hand bookshop to the hostel to try to help the struggling finances of the post office in the hallway.
Once we had this one room done, even if the rest would have to wait a while, it was good for us to see that it was moving forward. We had also started to get some nice reviews on TripAdvisor, despite some parts of the building still being pretty gloomy, I think that the guests that came that year could see that we were working hard and things were starting to head in the right direction!