The word ‘hostel’, I have to admit, gives me the clanging horrors. In my mind I am transported to my student days: dilapidated, mouldy buildings filled with cramped rows of beds; musty blankets; the aroma of feet and worse in the air.
Palmers Lodge, Swiss Cottage, sets the clanging to rest almost immediately. Hotels in London can be viciously expensive, with no guarantee that price guarantees cleanliness, but you can stay at the award-winning Palmers Lodge in one of the shared dormitories and still have change from a twenty pound note. Not bad at all, particularly when you take your surroundings into account – bright, warm and welcoming from the moment you walk into the lobby, everywhere is clean, with not a hint of eau de foot in the air. If anything, first impressions are of a quirky, possibly magical boarding school – shades of Hogwarts, even down to the suit of armour on the stairs. (He is called Bruce, and he didn’t walk; at least not that I saw…)
The lodge dates from the 1880’s and was originally built for biscuit magnate Samuel Palmer of Huntley & Palmers Biscuits. Having in the past seen service as a Children’s Hospital, been requisitioned by the War Office in World War II and used for nursing accommodation, it has a varied history. Fully refurbished, the imposing red brick exterior contains many nooks and crannies inside to explore and find a little privacy. If you don’t fancy a dormitory room – in which the beds are curtained and are made up with clean sheets for you – there are also double en-suite rooms available.
Modern facilities complement the Victorian splendour of the building. There are plenty of hot showers and a lounge with books, internet access and a fire to fall asleep in front of – a vast improvement on the utilitarian surroundings of many hostels.
A bed for the night in central London that doesn’t cost the earth and provides an unusual, comfortable base may just be enough to win over a new kind of traveller – not everyone who stays in a lodge is a student, or has stinky feet.
Kate McCormack quit her job in Education Management to take a middle-aged gap year. So far, she has visited Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Israel, Palestine, Italy, Australia and New Zealand. She tweets as @gentletourist and is in the process of setting up her blog www.gentletourist.com