Families can enjoy some old-fashioned seaside fun in an 18th century corn mill right on the beach in North Yorkshire. Ruth Campbell meets the inspirational characters behind one of the best located youth hostels in the country BOGGLE Hole Youth Hostel must have one of the best locations of all the movement’s properties. Set in a steep, densely- wooded ravine in a former smugglers’ cove, it has a dramatic beach-front entrance.
The very name sounds as if it has come straight from the pages of an Enid Blyton novel. Five Go Mad in Boggle Hole, perhaps.
Many of the families who stay here do, in fact, enjoy an Enid Blyton-style holiday.
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There is no TV and the mobile phone and internet signals are hit and miss. So most people spend all their time on the beach, examining rock pools, hunting for fossils, exploring the woods or heading off along picturesque coastal paths.
Just a short walk along the beach from the quaint fishing village of Robin Hood’s Bay, and surrounded by high cliffs full of nesting seabirds, rocky shores brimming with marine life, dramatic headlands and sheltered bays, the setting could not be more idyllic.
Peta Nugent, who runs the hostel with her husband Andy, and was the inspiration for the character of Isabella in author GP Taylor’s best-selling Shadowmancer children’s book, which is centred around this very 18th Century corn mill building and bay area, says: “We see older kids reverting back to childhood.
“When they haven’t got the distractions of PlayStations and TV they start being more creative, building dams, making sand sculptures or exploring rock pools. It is lovely to see families doing things together on the beach.”
Set in the heart of the North York Moors National Park, on the route of the Cleveland Way and at the end of the Coast-to-Coast long-distance walk, it attracts a large number of callers: “We get all sorts, of all ages and from all walks of life,” says Peta, 44.
She and Andy both grew up by the sea and are constantly inspired by it. Dedicated beachcombers, they can often be seen scouring the rocks and sands for the latest treasures to be washed up by the tide. Their most unusual find, at nearby Stoup Beck beach, was a mysterious looking plastic tube marked ‘reward if found’, ten years ago.
When the couple contacted the Aberdeen phone number on the label, the owners said they would arrange for it to be flown back to Scotland. It was a piece of computerised oil surveying equipment and Peta and Andy were given a £750 finder’s fee as a reward.
“We booked cheap flight and accommodation and went to Morocco for three weeks,” says Andy.
While most of their prize finds are not worth quite as much as this, they are all, to Peta and Andy, valuable in their own way. Both the hostel and their charming cottage home nearby are full of furniture, artwork and quirky, fun items created from the sort of driftwood, beach pebbles and old ropes and nets that make up their usual haul.
A pirate flag flying from the building sets the tone for the sort of stay families can enjoy in their warm and welcoming hostel by the sea.
There is an open air badminton court, created from old fishing nets.
Families are crowded round the tables of the outdoor cafe, which is open to the public, playing games of “pirate noughts and crosses”, created from beach pebbles painted with skulls and bones.
Peta credits her talented 43-year-old husband Andy, as the creative force behind the hostel’s tel staff, Andy moved to Robin Hood’s Bay from Middlesbrough when he was 11. His father, a builder, and mother, a teacher, enjoyed doing up houses.
“Mum was quite artistic and I was always making things,” he said. He spent all his free time on the beach. “It is magical, a calming, but constantly changing, landscape, different every day, depending on the weather and the tides. I would get up as early as possible and follow the early tide down. It was always a race, the first person got first pick.”
Andy left to study food science at Manchester, but he couldn’t wait to return: “I liked it there, but I missed the sea. It has always been a part of my life.”
THE mill and annex, which sleep 85 people, in 20 two-to-ten-person rooms, is full of his incredible creations, all drawn from the sea. Rooms, decorated with sails and compass points, are named after real shipwrecks, and a story unfolds around each one.
A mermaid made from garden mesh and newspaper and with fishing net hair, hangs from one ceiling. There are pirates on rope ladders overhead in the restaurant. An underater- themed theatre, complete with glow-inthe- dark fish, is used to entertain children in the education room, where cupboards made from old floorboards with rope handles are marked “wooden legs”, “ship’s biscuits” and “parrot seed”.
There is an emphasis on old-fashioned seaside fun, with dressing-up clothes, hobby horses and driftwood pirate skittles. Andy has even created Sixties theatre-style seaside-themed silk screen posters to decorate the walls. He has also used driftwood to make frames, coat hangers, hat stands and mirrors. Even the clothes horse in the drying room has been made from driftwood and rope.
“This is not about being a high class hotel, with everything bought in new,” says Peta. “We don’t want people to be worried about children running around wet with sandy feet.”
There are a number of quirky surprises too.
Andy has turned an old stone store in the woods into a charming “grandma’s house”
folly – complete with a model of the big bad wolf. And there is a bizarre “cabinet of curiosities”, which includes a ‘vampire slaying kit” in the downstairs toilet. There is more, but to divulge anything further would spoil the fun for those lucky guests who have yet to arrive at the Old Mill. YHA in the 1930s, it is becoming increasingly popular, regularly booked up 4-5 months ahead and catering for more than 8,500 people every year.
Peta and Andy, who have been together nearly ten years and married a year ago, live just a short drive away in their charming 1650 cottage, a former coaching inn with a stream running directly underneath it. Their idyllic daily commute involves driving downstream through the beck and across the beach in their 4x4.
The couple’s wedding rings were specially made, cut out to mark the outline of the coast from Kettleness to Ravenscar, which is the area they also help to cover as coastguards.
The pair also share a passion for marine conservation, which they and their staff promote through a programme of education and talks to the more than 6,000 students from all over the country who come here on school and college trips every year: “We want to help preserve this area for the future,” says Peta.
Having met while working together, they married at Sandsend, where Peta, originally from Teesside, grew up.
The author GP Taylor, who Peta first got to know when he worked as a vicar in the area, revealed the Shadowmancer character Isabella was based on her, signing Peta’s copy of the book with the words ‘To the guardian of Boggle Hole’. “He told me ‘It is all about you, Peta, all about Boggle Hole. I was blown away,” she says.
“The Boggle, by the way”, says Peta, pointing towards the cave outside the youth hostel, “is part of local folklore, a creature who lives in a cave. He’s a good luck charm who protects the coast and keeps us safe.
HOLLYWOOD producers and directors planning to make a film of Shadowmancer are among some of the unusual callers the hostel has welcomed in recent years.
“All sorts of people pull up and happen upon Boggle Hole,” says Peta. The pop star Mel C, formerly of the Spice Girls, did a photoshoot for the cover of her new album on the beach here last year. “She came and did her make-up in the hostel and her crew stayed here,” says Peta.
The Heartbeat crew used to film here a lot too.
“So many artistic people come here to get inspiration, they gravitate towards us. People make films in the woods. Many of our staff come from art college or just happen to be very creative,” adds Andy.
It’s a creative force which is also evident in their own home, which they converted after it lay empty and neglected for two years, opening up rooms, putting in floors and building fireplaces.
Andy built the extension himself, using recycled materials to make windows, doors and work surfaces.
Shelves have been created from a huge piece of oak washed up on the beach, a lobster float acts as a door stopper and rope handrails run along the stairs. A book case was made from an old fish box case marked Whitby Fish Selling Company Ltd, which Andy found nearly 30 years ago.
He has created cobble boat style beds for his sons – 17-year-old Jabez and 14-year-old Joah – tiny, quaint cupboards and a “fairy house” in the wall, the size of a plug socket. Two bedside lamps, which he has made by cutting sea scenes with boats, lighthouses and rough seas into copper plate look dramatic when lit up at night.
When Peta said she wanted a summer house in the garden, Andy refused to buy one and instead made her a stunning wood and glass retreat, based on an old shepherd’s hut design.
She comes here after work to relax: “But I love our job. No two days are ever the same it’s so unpredictable.
“We try to make people’s holidays and one of the nicest things is when people say we have inspired them to go off and do something themselves.”