Although much used by schools, I am glad to say that the hostel is still available to individuals walking the Ridgeway or anyone who fancies a night or two in rural Oxfordshire. There are private rooms, a self-catering kitchen with stunning views and an amazing place to eat and chat under the timbers of the old barn.
YHA Ridgeway opened on 24th April 1987 with a blaze of publicity lead by David Bellamy. The creation of Dr Dick Squires, the youth hostel was produced from nothing by countless acts of altruism from the local community, as well as Dr Squires’ indomitable powers of persuasion.
Situated high on the Ridgeway chalk escapement with 80 mile views over rural Oxfordshire, the hostel was built on the site of the Court Hill Quarry. Given to the local people by the 1803 Enclosements Act “to draw chalk to furnish their highways”. The Quarry had long become the property of the local council and had been most recently been used as a landfill site. Court Hill Quarry lay midway between Pangbourne and Ayebury on the Ridgeway Long Distance Path, the perfect place for a youth hostel. Amazingly no purchase price was paid for the land. Dr Squires sold the idea of a youth hostel to the local council. No small part of this must have been due to the charitable objectives of the YHA , with the added benefit that the Ridgeway Centre should also serve the locally community. So the land was given for free.
The building was made from the frames of 4 old timber barns. The products of traditional craftsmanship, these structures were given to Dr Squires by local farms to ensure their preservation. The wooden frames were taken down by volunteers and re-erected on the Court Hill site. These beautiful historic structures were provided for free.
Much money and effort was required to provide the foundations (no easy feat on an old rubbish site), reconstruct the barns and fit them out to provide modern standards of accommodation. A couple of grants were given and the income was made to go a long way by the favours provided by Dr Squires’ local contacts. The services to this remote site were laid in return for copies of documents in the local museum, large diggers were ‘lent’ for a week or two, local hauliers used their empty return trips to provide carriage and cost-price building supplies were provided by local firms. Labour was even donated as part of the council job creation scheme and a vast amount of time was given by volunteers.
The project took around 8 years to complete and after 20 years of operation as Ridgeway Youth Hostel, The Ridegway Centre cut its ties to the YHA and became the Courthill Centre.
This split was caused by the YHA’s requirement that locals should be excluded from the site. This could not be accommodated under the charitable aims of the Trust, which had a dual function of providing service to the local community as well as a youth hostel.
Rebranded as The Court Hill Centre, YHA Ridgeway joined the Independent Hostel’s network in 2007 and has been with us ever since. Hosting over 4000 people a year for overnight visits and enjoyed by thousands of local people. I am glad to say that the Court Hill Centre has continued to uphold the old youth hostel motto “To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside”.
The majority of the hostel’s usage is midweek bookings from school groups, who get exclusive use of the whole hostel. Schools love the freedom to explore in Court Hill’s woodland, the great value dorm accommodation, plentiful private bedrooms for teachers and the home cooked catering provided within the hostel.
The Court Hill Centre still serves the local community with the on-site café open all year. Much used by locals coming up to the Ridgeway for lunch out with amazing view, or for a snack with a breath of fresh air.
I am glad to say the that hostel is still available to individuals, walking the Ridgeway or anyone who fancies a night or two in rural Oxfordshire, just 90 mins’ drive from London. There are private rooms, a self catering kitchen with stunning views and an amazing place to eat and chat under the timbers of the old barn.