Fight to avert youth hostel ‘disaster’

Melrose Youth Hostel.
Melrose Youth Hostel.

THE closure of the region’s largest youth hostel – the 80-berth Priorwood House in Melrose – would be a “disaster for the central Borders”, it was claimed this week.

Councillor Nicholas Watson, who represents the town on Scottish Borders Council, was commenting after he claimed that at a meeting of the St Cuthbert’s Way route management group, the demise of the facility – one of three run by the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) in the Borders – was flagged up.

The scenario of the Melrose hostel closing permanently this weekend was also revealed by two Southern readers who contacted us this week.

The SYHA refused to deny that the facility, which will shut for the season to the general public this weekend, would not, after fulfilling a number of pre-booked school commitments, reopen in the new year.

Instead, a spokeswoman told us: “SYHA Hostelling Scotland is undertaking a routine review of its Youth Hostel network. We expect this review to be complete towards the end of the year.”

On Monday, a cycling enthusiast from the north of England, who has been coming to the Melrose hostel for over 30 years, told us: “I had been told in advance that if I wanted to visit for a final time, then it would have to be last weekend because the hostel is being closed down permanently on October 30.”

The man, who did not wish to be named, went on: “This will lead to thousands of visitors who love the great outdoors being deprived of a low-cost visit to the beautiful Borders.”

The other SYHA hostels in the Borders are the smaller units at Broadmeadows near Selkirk and at Kirk Yetholm, our cycling source claiming the latter was “next in line for the chop”.

“The SYHA is not wanting this to come out and will only continue to operate Priorwood House this year because it has been pre-booked by some school parties. I cannot believe such a thing could happen at one of the best-used hostels in Scotland.”

On Tuesday, pensioner Donald Campbell, who lives in Priorwood Court, said he too had been told the building, once the home of late Melrose provost James Curle and a hostel since the late 1940s, was definitely closing down.

“As a neighbour, I know it has been especially busy this year, bringing loads of people from all over the world, and I simply cannot accept its closure is in any way justified,” said Mr Campbell, 78.

“Not everyone can afford to live in posh hotels and guest houses and it brings a huge amount of trade and colour to our town. It looks to me like this has been kept secret so no protests can be made,” he added

Councillor Watson said he had heard of the SYHA closure plans from a member of the St Cuthbert’s Way group.

“Any half-decent review would have involved local people and organisations, many of whom have strong links to the Melrose hostel,” he told us. “I’m amazed my council’s economic development team has no knowledge of this review, for it has helped youth hostels to run more efficiently in the past.

“It’s certainly not a lack of visitors at the root of this and I just hope this is not connected to SYHA’s recent £1.2m spend in Fort William.

“A range of tourist accommodation in the Borders is really important as there is far more to do, see, eat and visit here than in the Highlands. We know if people come here on a modest budget they come back again and tell their friends too.

“This will be a disaster for the central Borders and we need to rally round to see what can be done to prevent closure.”

Melrose Community Council chairman Willie Windram said his was “stunned” at the prospect of the hostel closing and he confirmed his council knew nothing of the SYHA review.

The SYHA spokeswoman said yesterday that a review of all 40 of her organisation’s hostels occurred every 18 months. “I am sure if closure was on the cards, there would be local consultation,” she added.

But she admitted no out of season block bookings for Melrose were being taken for 2012 pending the outcome of the review.