Inspiring Adventures – Day Three

Continuing the story of Hilary Hughes, based on the log book of her cycle tour in the South of England in August 1936, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of two young women in 1936, when they were alone in the world, unaided, for a week.

Breakfast was nothing, Hilary declared to her diary; a pint of milk, left over bread rolls, butter, lemon curd, coffee and cornflakes. After the meal “we were rather hungry and wished we had eggs of some description, still,” she added, “we did not die…”

They made their beds, tidied up, and said goodbyes while the rest of those staying had only just finished washing. The hostel had been really nice, Hilary decided.

They spent the morning in the New Forest. After mending a puncture on Margaret’s bike, oil splashed Hilary’s shorts, and she walked through Lyndhurst “looking horrible”. A photo of her tidying her hair with the aid of a comb, and a small mirror pokes fun at her vanity. The brake rod on her bike also needed attention.

Keeping dry

In the forest, they enjoyed their lunch despite being charged too much for bread rolls by “a horrid old lady in a bun shop”, but with 25 miles still to cycle they “stepped on the gas”, leaving the forest for “bare, bleak North Hampshire”.

Rain began falling. They stopped, hoping for the storm to pass but the rain settled to a real, hard, steady pour, and they faced the 20 mile ride to Nether Wallop with macs, and berets securely on. Their macs, or macintosh coats, made of rubber coated material, were the standard waterproofs of the day.

Named after their inventor, Charles Macintosh, they were heavy, worn until nylon broke into use in the 1960s. I remember them from my childhood. How they would have loved our modern equipment, and lightweight, gortex fabrics. How I do.

Their knee length coats didn’t keep them dry. Hilary’s was too small. Rain soaked her knees, got into her shoes, and down her collar. When they had to get off, and walk, the wet coats clung to their legs, a plight familiar to anyone who has cycled in the rain.

Regional differences

They went hopelessly wrong, not lost as map readers do claim, because they knew vaguely where they were. Their Bartholomews half inch map had been used so often colours, and names had worn away from a strip.

Small boys with queer accents gave them directions, their manner of talking making Hilary realise how far they had come from home. Regional distinctions, in landscape and accents, were jarringly obvious in those times.

Even what we would call local travel was full of incongruities, and variations, an experience that education, mass communication, and photography amongst other influences has largely erased from contemporary living.

Further directed by a labourer, aided by raisins, nuts, and toffee, they climbed a hill before the road swung downhill in sweep spoiled only by a sharp bend that nearly threw them into a brick wall.

The roof of the downs

Despairing that they would ever find their hostel for the night, which was beyond the village after which it was named, they plugged on, and were finally rewarded by the appearance of a roadside sign announcing a petrol station and youth hostel.

They had arrived at Nether Wallop youth hostel, on the Stockbridge and Salisbury road, “high on the open hills, … by a road that runs right over the roof of the Downs unflinchingly into the south-west wind.” [1]

The hostel first opened in 1933, and was run in conjunction with a petrol station. “Petrol pumps may sound unromantic but the kindness and efficiency of the warden more than make up for this.” [2]

Mr Roper, the warden, described as an old sailor by another guest, showed them to the hostel, telling them where to get water, promising to bring an oil stove, and potatoes.

Hilary mentions no toilets, and presumably washing was done in the dormitory with water carried from wherever Mr Roper directed them. A little drawing indicates that again they slept on camp beds.


They had the hostel to themselves, a converted American Air Officers’ hut used during the 1914-18 war. The common room, and mens’ quarters were at one end of the hut. To get to the women’s dormitory they had to go into the cold, round the back and into another door.

They changed from wet clothes, peeled potatoes, and cooked food they had bought in Lyndhurst, a “marvellous supper [of] fish and chips, stewed plums and custard, coffee, bread and butter, and our old favourite lemon curd.”

After feasting, with belts slackened, they read magazines in the common room, studied maps, and wrote their logbook by the light of an oil lamp, and all the candles they could find. The hostel was the quietest one they had visited, with no other guests, and no get-together in the common room. They had no need to evade others or to refuse invitations to games of table tennis.

They were alone, and nervous in a dark lonely place. A mysterious tapping frightened them, though they tried not to show it, until Hilary realised that the tapping came from a bramble, blowing in the wind, against the window. After much laughter at their own fears, they retreated to the dormitory.

The day had been their hardest so far, after an early start, with not much breakfast, mechanical problems, rain, and losing their way so often. Going to bed they locked the door carefully. Almost before their heads touched the pillows they were asleep.


Leaving Nether Wallop the next morning took time. The story of Hilary and Margaret’s tour continues.


Image (Y050001-Nether Wallop 601-8pcY) courtesyYHA Archive at Cadbury Research Library.

All quotes from Hilary Hughes’ log book (Y691019), except

1. from an account by Herbert Gatliff, Southern Pathfinder, Spring 1934

2. London Region Youth Hostel Guide 1935

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