There are around 60 SYHA and affiliated youth hostels across the length and breadth of Scotland, from city centres to remote glens. I went to two of the most beautiful to see what a hostel break can offer – and to explore the mountains and coast of the Highlands.
My first visit was to Allbeithe hostel in the heart of Glen Affric, often considered the most beautiful glen in Scotland – and for good reason.
After a rare couple of weeks without rain the ground there was drier than I’ve ever known it, so the cycle in from the road end on the mountain bike was more dust than dirt riding.
I was joined by my friend Malcolm, who was keen to add the remote Munros deep in Glen Affric to his bagging total, with only a few dozen left to “compleat” all 283. We climbed An Socach after dropping our overnight kit in the open porch at the welcoming hostel.
From the top of the hills it appears as barely a dot in the glen below, giving a real scale of the remote location. This hostel isn’t like any other – it’s eight miles from the nearest road and takes its water from the burn and its power from a small wind turbine and solar panels.
After a night in the bunks, we headed back into the hills the following day, climbing Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain, two of the most remote Munros. There were surprisingly quite a number of people taking advantage of the good weather out here, where self-reliance is key – there’s no phone signal, even on the tops, and unlike many hostels today, there’s no wi-fi back at base.
Reluctantly I had to leave Affric on another glorious morning before heading to Achmelvich Beach hostel in the north-west Highlands. This time I took the family, so we had a room to ourselves, as well as full use of the shared kitchen and common room facilities.
This hostel, a former school house, is just a short stroll from one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland, and the children loved playing on the golden sand and searching for sealife among the rockpools.
It’s a beautiful place to come and relax, or to enjoy a number of walks. Many visitors were staying while climbing the nearby Assynt peaks of Quinag, Suilven, Stac Pollaidh or Cul Mor.
We took a few shorter walks to a 17th century mill a couple of miles along the coast and nearer to the beach a peculiar concrete castle tucked among the rocks.
There’s also great cycling in the area, with the road that loops around Quinag a stunning if strenuous circuit. Achmelvich beach is also on the North Coast 500, so it’s popular with people travelling this route, too.
* John Davidson was a guest of SYHA as part of a feature for Active Outdoors, which will appear in our local newspapers next week, Friday, May 26.