I recently wrote about the SYHA for the Sunday Herald. Youth hostels have changed a great deal over the last decade and now offer a far more modern approach to overnight stays for active people. The SYHA also offers a programme of activity breaks. Read the full pdfs (left page and right page) or see the article below.
Have you thought about hostelling?
It was a revelation when I returned to staying in Scottish hostels in my 40s. Gone were the large, chilly dorms, the back-to-basics kitchens and the austere atmosphere that I recall from my teenage years. Instead, I discovered accommodation that had been given a 21st century makeover.
While still budget-friendly, the SYHA hostels boasted numerous modern attractions, including rooms-for-two or family groups, central heating, cosy duvets, hot showers, modern kitchens, welcoming living areas and dedicated drying rooms. Some even have bars, games rooms and catered food.
The hostels – and I have stayed at plenty over the last eight years – also boast welcoming staff and usually offer shelter to a host of like-minded active people, with whom I have shared many enjoyable evenings.
As a keen walker, cyclist and skier, I have also discovered the SYHA has a hostel located in all my favourite places, from the Outer Hebrides and Skye to Sutherland, the Cairngorms, Lochaber, Glencoe and in Wigtownshire in southern Scotland.
A weekend break at SYHA Aviemore, for example, provided the ideal base for ski touring in the Cairngorms. My partner, Gordon, and I were able to book our own two-bed room.
After a self-catered breakfast we reached CairnGorm Mountain by car in just 20 minutes before skiing over two peaks, CairnGorm itself and Ben Macdui, via a high-level mountain plateau traverse.
We inspired friends who saw the photos of glorious snow-topped mountains and headed north again from Glasgow for another short break, this time mid-week staying at Braemar Youth Hostel for a ski tour accessed from Glenshee Ski Centre.
A summer trip with friends to hike in the Cuillin mountains on Skye saw our group book into SYHA Glenbrittle. Less than 500m from the access path to reach the Inaccessible Pinnacle, the hostel could hardly be in a better place and, understandably, has a long tradition as a base for walkers and climbers.
Indeed, since the establishment of SYHA Hostelling Scotland 86 years ago, the hostels network has been at the heart of the Scottish outdoors scene. The aim of the self-funding charity has been to offer accommodation that is “affordable, comfortable, safe and quality-assured” and for people on “journeys of discovery and adventure”.
For some reason, however, I had always thought of the SYHA as something quaint and out-dated from my childhood – and to be overlooked during my own outdoors adventures for pricier guesthouses and B&Bs. I had no idea that for the past decade, since June 2004 to be exact, the not-for-profit organisation has been carrying out in a wide-scale up-grading programme.
Under the leadership of chief executive Keith Legge, SYHA has gone through its most radical period of modernisation. Legge told me: “Our vision has been to ensure that SYHA remains the hostelling organisation of choice in Scotland through a sustainable, modern, fit-for-purpose, high quality and affordable accommodation network that meets the needs of contemporary travellers.
“This means 21st century hostels offering a choice in shared accommodation and private rooms, some ensuite, together with the creation of inclusive public spaces where people get together to share stories and experiences of their adventures.”
While some hostels have been sold off for economical reasons in the last decade, many have been the subject of part or full refurbishments. In particular, there has been a major renovation of Oban, Glasgow, and Lochranza youth hostels and the purchase and renovation of Portree Youth Hostel on the Isle of Skye.
This year, Aberdeen Youth Hostel will be treated to a refurbishment and building starts on a new hostel at Glen Nevis.
It seems the vision is working. Legge said: “Financially, the last couple of years have been the best since 2009, with increased revenue despite losing some hostels due to necessary sales.
“We are also seeing far more families and couples booking into the hostels because they are realising that they do not need to share large, single-gender dorms, rather they can have their own rooms. Many talk positively of the friendliness and comforts of the hostels, too.”
Another area that has grown is RentaHostel, which allows groups to take over an entire hostel exclusively at certain times of the year. This is popular with clubs such as walkers and skiers, as well as extended families.
A friend Tansy was delighted to discover she could book the entire SYHA Crianlarich hostel for a celebratory gathering after finishing her final Munro, Scotland’s 282 mountains with a summit of more than 3,000ft.
She said: “We filled the 65-bed hostel for two nights, hiked Beinn Chabhair and kept costs down with pot luck meals and our own ceilidh on the Saturday night. It was a great way to have everyone in one place and really affordable.”
To find out more about SYHA Youth Hostels see www.syha.org.uk
The best hostels for a winter break
Best for snowsports
Aviemore Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Downhill skiing and snowboarding, ski touring and winter climbing in the Cairngorms National Park. See www.cairngormmountain.org
Where: 25 Grampian Road, Aviemore PH22 1PR
Beds from: Adults £16; Children £14.50.
Rooms from: £35.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/aviemore.aspx or 01479 810345
Newly opened last spring, Aviemore Youth Hostel is located just nine miles from CairnGorm Mountain for downhill skiers and snowboarders and access to a back country snowsports arena for ski touring and climbing.
The hostel has multi-share and private rooms, a well-equipped self-catering kitchen, dining area, drying room and lounge with views of the mountains.
Glen Nevis Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Access to Nevis Range Mountain Resort for skiing and snowboarding. See www.nevisrange.co.uk
Where: Glen Nevis, Fort William PH33 6SY
Beds from: Adults £14; Children £12.
Rooms from: £29.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/glen-nevis.aspx or 01397 702336.
Glen Nevis Youth Hostel is located at the heart of the Outdoor Capital of the UK and eight miles from Nevis Range ski centre.
The hostel has a newly refurbished kitchen and lounge, a range of room options and a drying room. It also offers full catering for groups and cooked, or continental breakfasts.
Glencoe Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Access to Glencoe Mountain ski area and the fantastic outdoors playground of wider Glencoe. See www.glencoemountain.com/winter-home.html
Where: Glencoe, Ballachulish PH49 4HX
Beds from: Adults £14; Children £12.
Rooms from: £40.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/glencoe.aspx and 01855 811219
Glencoe Youth Hostel is situated 11 miles from the mountain ski area of Glencoe and for experienced winter hikers, Britain’s finest ridge walk, the Aonach Eagach. It’s classed as a “cosy hostel” with multi-share accommodation but also private family friendly rooms. There’s a large open plan kitchen/dining room and a drying room.
Braemar Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Two ski centres, Glenshee (nine miles) and The Lecht (23 miles).
Where: Glenshee Road, Braemar AB35 5YQ
Beds from: Adults £17; Children £15.
Rooms from: £21.
Note: Limited winter opening and RentaHostel until February 2017.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/braemar.aspx and 01339 741659.
With two ski resorts on the doorstep, Braemar is a great place to enjoy a winter break. The hostel offers a mix of traditional interiors and modern furnishings with many homely touches, such as big sofas, a large self-catering kitchen and dining room. There is a choice of rooms, including private and family rooms.
Best for winter walking
Torridon Youth Hostel
Ideal for: A winter escape to enjoy walking both at high and low level.
Where: Near Achnasheen, Ross-shire IV22 2EZ.
Beds from: Adults £18; Children £15.
Rooms from: £28.
Note: Limited opening until March. Weekends only or RentaHostel. Check website for details.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/torridon.aspx or 01445 791284.
One of SYHA’s “remote” hostels, the Torridon is purpose-built and offers modern, practical facilities for outdoor enthusiasts. There is a spacious self-catering kitchen, two large panoramic lounges, a drying room and both multi-shared rooms and private/family rooms.
The Torridon area is a magnificent corner of the north-western Highlands and walkers are spoilt for choice with hills, coastal trails, historic passes and hidden glens to explore. Ask hostel staff for advice or see www.walkhighlands.co.uk
SYHA also runs Torridon Winter Munros & Winter Walking Skills courses from Torridon Youth Hostel. See www.syha.org.uk
Crianlarich Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Munro bagging in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, or walking sections of the West Highland Way.
Where: Station Road, Crianlarich FK20 8QN
Beds from: Adults £12.50; Children £11.
Rooms from: £36.
Note: Weekends or RentaHostel only during winter until April. Check website.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/crianlarich.aspx or 01838 300260.
From Crianlarich there is easy access to 20 Munros, 11 within walking distance, and numerous lower summits. The famous long-distance walking route, the West Highland Way, passes through Crianlarich between Inverarnan and Tyndrum.
Crianlarich Youth Hostel is a modern bungalow-style building nestled below a forest in the Strathfillan Glen. Facilities include a self-catering kitchen, multi-share and private bedrooms, a cosy lounge, large dining area and a drying room.
Best for getting away from it all
Loch Ossian Youth Hostel
Ideal for: A unique wilderness experience that is accessed via train and a short walk.
Where: Corrour, By Fort William PH30 4AA
Beds from: Adults £18.50; Children £17.
Rooms from: £N/A
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/highlands/loch-ossian.aspx or 1397 732207
Loch Ossian is an eco youth hostel, spectacularly situated on the banks of Loch Ossian on Rannoch Moor. It is accessible only by rail or on foot or bike, via Corrour Station, the UK’s highest mainline station. From the station it’s a 20-minute walk to the hostel. There are two Munros nearby or you could walk a circuit of the loch.
The hostel has full facilities thanks to a number of green developments, including locally sourced hydro power and a wind turbine. There are composting toilets, a reed bed for grey water soak away, fridges, heaters and new hot showers.
Only multi-share accommodation is available but groups and families have the option of booking a room for exclusive use.
Best for island hopping
Lochranza Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Family and group active weekends with plenty to do on Arran.
Where: Lochranza, Isle of Arran KA27 8HL
Beds from: Adults £14; Children £12.
Rooms from: £36.
Note: in winter, weekends only or RentaHostel until April. Check website.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/islands/lochranza or 01770 830631.
Lochranza Hostel on the banks of Loch Ranza, opposite a 13th century ruined castle in beautiful countryside. It is on the Cock of Arran trail, offering a scenic low level walk. Arran also has Goatfell, the island’s tallest mountain, waterfall walks and mountain biking trails.
As winner of the Green Tourism Business Goldstar Award 2011, Lochranza Youth Hostel is ranked as one of the UK’s top 10 greenest businesses. Rooms include group and family, some with en-suites, a self-catering kitchen and laundry service.
Portree Youth Hostel
Ideal for: Exploring one of Scotland’s most popular outdoors destinations, the Isle of Skye.
Where: Portree, Isle of Skye IV51 9EW
Beds from: Adults £15; Children £13.
Rooms from: £45.
Contact: www.syha.org.uk/where-to-stay/islands/portree.aspx or 01478 612 231.
Skye offers an adventure for all ages and abilities, form coastal walks, to mountain biking, climbing and mountaineer. Newly upgraded Portree Youth Hostel is at the heart of the island with plenty of tourist attractions close by, such as galleries, shops and restaurants.
There is a mix of private en-suite rooms and dormitory accommodation plus a lounge and dining area with fully equipped self-catering kitchen. Guests can also enjoy a continental breakfast.