THE closure and sale of two South Lakeland youth hostels which have welcomed visitors for the last 70 years is a ‘crying shame’ and will impact businesses, locals have said.

The Youth Hostel Association announced it had made the ‘difficult decision’ to dispose of the popular Arnside and Elterwater properties because it would take £1.2 million to ‘bring them up to standard’.

Elterwater hostel opened in 1939 while Arnside moved to its current location on Red Hills Road in 1978. Both buildings will be put on the market at the end of the summer season with the charity hoping to redeploy staff to other locations.

With the youth hostel movement at the heart of tourism in the Lake District since it began in the 1930s, Derek Cockell from the Wainwright Society said members were ‘saddened’ to hear of the closures.

“The YHA network of hostels is an integral part of the Lakeland landscape and, for many years, has encouraged walkers, both young and not so young, to explore the Lake District on foot,” he said. “Elterwater is a perfect base for fellwalking, with so many notable fells in the vicinity.

“While we regret the loss of this hostel, which has been established for so many years, the society understands the reasoning of the YHA in needing to take difficult decisions of this nature, particularly in the current economic climate.”

Polly Robin, joint chairman of Kendal Ramblers, said many members happily reminisce about their introduction to walking at youth hostels with their parents.

“Indeed it was possible, not so many years ago, to plan a walking holiday from hostel to hostel but, as closures proceed, this becomes an option no longer,” she said.

“School parties, even families, are favouring alternative accommodation rather than the YHA hostels because they have become more expensive.

“The dramatic reduction of revenue during and following the foot and mouth epidemic undoubtedly undermined YHA’s maintenance and refurbishment programme.

“It now seems that they are concentrating on tourist honey-pots such as York, Canterbury and Stratford at the expense of other areas.

“The loss of YHA hostels in the Lake District will be a blow particularly to those on foot.”

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron said he was concerned by the decision to close the hostels while other properties have received investment.

“I am pleased that YHA Ambleside is being done up but it is a great shame for the others,” he said.

“I understand they have got to look at the bottom line and look to maximise income but surely there is a way to make a better go of the hostels.

“Elterwater is at the heart of the Lake District - if you can’t make a decent go of a youth hostel there, by God you’re not trying very hard.”

And Richard Greenwood, Cumbria Tourism’s Head of Policy and Performance, said he hoped the hostels would live on with new owners, as previously sold YHAs at Kendal, Grasmere and Derwentwater have in the last two years.

“Whilst we are obviously disappointed about the news of these closures, we are aware that the YHA is restructuring in order to safeguard the future and raise the quality of other hostels in the county,” he said.

“We hope that the hostels at Arnside and Elterwater will be taken on and run by other operators to offer budget accommodation for our visitors.”

Duncan Simpson from the YHA said customer numbers across the Lake District were up last year, which had prompted investment at YHA Ambleside.

“We are confident in the future of youth hostels and the Lake District where we’ll still have a great concentration of hostels in places where people want to stay,” he said.

But local traders in the two villages, who benefit from the custom of YHA guests, said they were concerned about the impact if the hostels were not kept open.

Andy Parker, landlord at the Britannia Inn just down the road from the hostel in Elterwater, said: “We get a lot of trade in from the YHA and it would be detrimental to the area if it was to close as a hostel, especially during the quieter times.

“It is disappointing for me. In quite a small area with not that many people living here and so many second homes, it is very sad to think it could finish as a hostel. And it would be the loss of another local business.”

Andy Jackson, duty manager of the nearby Eltermere Inn said: “Business is tough for everyone at the moment. We mostly get guests from the time share in the village and the holiday cottages, but we do get people from the YHA coming in for a nice meal and a drink, or to meet up with friends. It is definitely a sad time.”

Duty manager at The Albion in the centre of Arnside, Chris Rodowicz said the pub benefited from a lot of passing YHA trade.

“Just recently we’ve had a big group of 14-year-old rugby players in who’d stayed at the hostel, and groups of students on field trips,” he said.

“The biggest groups are probably university students who come down and have a few beers; because a lot of them are here working in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty they tend to be very well behaved and have their tutors with them.

“It is a lovely, big building, what a shame.”

Tim and Erin Woodburn, who own The Bakehouse bakery on the promenade, said they would also lose out if the hostel closed as they welcome school groups as well as single and older travellers.

“With 72 beds up there, when it is full there are a lot of people down in the village spending money in the shops and businesses,” they said.

Chairman of Arnside Parish Council, Dave Willacy said the announcement had come as a blow to the village, where there has been a youth hostel for at least 65 years.

“People I have spoken to are not particularly happy because it has been a successful and well-run hostel. Before the hostel moved into Oakfield Lodge, which was an old school, there had been a hostel on the promenade for as long as I can remember.

“It is a crying shame because there is not another YHA in the area and we get quite a lot of visitors come by train to stay there. Coming here provides a quieter exploration of the area around Morecambe Bay than staying up in Windermere and Ambleside.”

Mr Simpson from the YHA added the closures were part of an overall plan to fulfil the charity’s vision of ‘enhancing the lives of all young people’ across England and Wales.

More than £2 million has been invested in the iconic Ambleside and Black Sail - above Ennerdale - hostels, while £800,000 would be needed for Arnside and £400,000 at Elterwater.

“It’s always a difficult decision and we have to balance the needs of the whole of the YHA,” he said.

“At only 40 beds, it is difficult to develop a viable financial model to retain Elterwater as it does need a considerable amount of capital spending on it to bring it up to standard and future proof the business.

“The property is in need of a major refurbishment and there is no strategic reason to hold onto it.”