This is Ilam Hall. on a later summer evening,
These pictures were taken when the light was fading and the lamps of the hall shine out. It's a most impressive experience to walk up that long path and into the long, 200-year-old building with its coats of arms and leaded windows.
Actually, Ilam Hall is a youth hostel. When I've stayed there, I've found it comfortable, in a stone-flagged, echoey corridor, high-ceilinged sort of way. It's ideal for groups or families (although if you have very young children, the general Gothicky vastness of the place can pose a slight problem, just because it takes five minutes to go right up and downstairs, for instance... .)
There's lots of open space around, including a gigantic lawn at the front where there are often organised games. Families can roam in the many acres of truly gorgeous National Trust countryside all around. My pictures were taken in July, so it will look more autumnal now.
One of hte nice things about the YHA is that it is truly child-centred. Kids staying there can run around and play and get to know each other, and the staff are mostly young and energetic. Another nice thing is that it's not expensive. Sure, there are bunk beds (with duvets - and quite comfortable) But kids don't mind bunk beds - in fact, they like them. A does, anyway (sorry about the blurry picture).
You can cook for yourself, but most people eat in the cafeteria style dining hall, an impressive place indeed.
Now I've had a newsletter from Ilam Hall which describes some really bargain priced and good fun activities for families at Ilam over the coming winter. They've thought of all kinds of things to fill this great big place over the winter months, including Elf weekends and spooky Halloween activities, but I was particularly taken by the Harry Potter weekend on 27 and 28 January 2012.
It costs the bargain price of £45 per child and £50 per adult, including bed, breakfast & evening meal on both days and lunch on Saturday. Wand-making, games of quidditc, potion-making, a party, a banquet and of course lots of hot chocolate, biscuits and stories. The programme's too long to print here, but contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01335 350212 for more details. (+44) 1335 350212 outside the UK).
As Ilam Hall is part of the YHA, they're stuck with a corporate website, which doesn't seem to allow space to put in hostel activites. But if you have kids (or grandkids) and want a short unusual break this autumn, winter, Christmas or New Year, then some of this might be for you.
(By the way, I didn't get a free stay at Ilam, we paid for ourselves. I took out life membership of the YHA when I was 20 and, although some of its recent changes bug me a bit, I think it's one of the few holiday organisations that really deals with kids well, and offers fun activities they can join in).