If you're keen to explore Scotland's Great Outdoors then often a youth hostel is much the best place to stay, situated as they often are slap-bang on top of some the country's most beautiful scenery. Not only that: the SYHA has really upped its game in recent years, and today’s well-equipped, comfortable youth hostels are no longer just for solo backpackers. I’ve visited with groups of friends, and more recently have enjoyed taking my two wee girls, staying in the private rooms that now sit alongside the more traditional dormitory-style options. Here's a round-up of some of my favourite places in Scotland to enjoy the outdoor activities and pursuits that make the country so special...
This newly renovated youth hostel reclines in an old Victorian building in Scotland’s busiest ferry port, the gateway to the isles, and I like that you get a taste for the isles just by staying here, as the views of the harbour and out towards Kerrera and Mull are spectacular. There are private rooms (some en-suite) and multi-bedded rooms spread across the original building and a modern annexe, and they’ve even got a self-contained flat. There is a dining room too, ideal for a full cooked Scottish breakfast to set you up for tackling mighty Ben More on Mull (the only island Munro outside Skye) or for dinner after day's sea kayaking with Sea Kayak Oban.
Set in an epic fold of towering mountains deep in the wilds of Wester Ross, Torridon is an ideal escape for keen walkers and climbers. Choose from private or multi-bedded rooms which look out upon the shimmering waters of Loch Torridon. The knowledgeable staff are on hand with advice on walking routes and can put you in touch with local guides and groups – I reckon the challenging Liathach ridge walk is among Scotland’s top five hikes. The activity team at the nearby Torridon Hotel can also set up sea kayaking and other activities.
Right on the waterfront in the wee Highland town of Ullapool, this youth hostel has great views out over Loch Broom and boasts a good mix of multi-bedded and private en-suite rooms, as well as a self-catering kitchen and dining room. You can also see mighty Beinn Dearg from the youth hostel. Keen walkers can make an epic circuit taking in this and another trio of Munros, and cyclists can push on north to Assynt, a strikingly dramatic region of weirdly shaped mountain monoliths, sweeping sandy beaches and quiet roads. And at the end of the day you can just nip to the pub next door to grab a pint and sit on the wall watching the seals.
Not for nothing is the Isle of Arran eulogised as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, a wildscape of mountain, glen and tumbling burn that is home to the Lochranza, a gem of a village that not only has its own youth hostel, with multi-bedded dormitories and en-suite private rooms, but also a fairytale castle right on the water, deer roaming its streets and its own whisky distillery – what more could you want? Walkers can set off on remote hikes around the Cock of Arran or up into the hills behind the distillery where eagles and deer are your only company. Arran Adventure can set you up with mountain bikes, sea kayaking trips and walking guides.
This exciting new youth hostel on the Isle of Skye only opened in March 2015, a slick modern abode offering both private and multi-bedded rooms. Its location in the island capital is handy for public transport and activities, and serious climbers will want to tackle Skye’s famous Cuillin mountains (good luck on the ‘Inaccessible Pinnacle’ – I’ve still not mustered up the courage to tackle it!) Less technical walks await around the Old Man of Storr and the Tolkien-esque Quiraing. Local company Skye Ghillie can organise wild walking, fishing and foraging trips all over Skye.