It’s my dream job, says manager of remote Scottish hostel
I met the manager of Loch Ossian Youth Hostel on a recent trip to run around the loch. Jan Robinson talked warmly about her life and work in such a remote location. Here is my interview with Jan.
‘I would not want to work anywhere else’
Many of us crave the chance to escape relentlessly busy lives from time to time, but imagine living full-time in one of Scotland’s last great wilderness areas.
For the manager of Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, located in the Highlands, the closest public road is 15 miles away.
To access a supermarket, it’s a hike with a rucksack to the nearest station, Corrour, which is the UK’s most remote and the highest, followed by a 45- minute train journey to Fort William.
Everyday routines for most Scots, such as attending a doctor’s appointment, going to the gym, meeting friends for a coffee, need to be planned well in advance and are reliant on a day off, as well as favourable weather.
Yet Jan Robinson would not have it any other way.
The 65-year-old has been a Hostelling Scotland manager at Loch Ossian, located on a vast and remote estate on the edge of Rannoch Moor, for eight years and believes it is a “dream job”.
She said: “I’d returned to Scotland after a some time travelling and I needed a job. I spotted the hostel manager role, applied and I was living at Loch Ossian just two weeks later.
“It felt right from the start and I have never wanted to work anywhere else since.”
Jan, who is separated from the father of her grown-up son, reveals that the job appealed for many reasons.
She is based in a tiny self-contained staff quarters next to the hostel, itself located close to the southern shore of Loch Ossian and surrounded by wild moorland and high mountains.
She said: “I like to spend a lot of time outdoors and amid nature. I am always in and out of my accommodation and back and forth to the hostel and so I spend lots of time outside.
“An office job would not suit me at all. I don’t think that indoor fluorescent lights and radiators agree with me.
“Every day I feel so fortunate to have my loch-side job. I frequently see something wonderful, such as wildlife, amazing skies and great views across the loch and mountains.”
The eco aspect of the hostel was also attractive to Jan. She said: “In my younger years, I was an active Greenpeace member and I have also spent time living in an eco community in north-west Scotland.
“I like very much that my day-to-day life has little impact on the environment. I don’t have a car, we have solar panels, compost toilets, water comes from the loch and a wood-burning stove.
“We had a wind turbine for years, which gave powered the whole hostel and staff quarters including lights, pumps for water and two radiators. Laundry went out to Glen Nevis and we used sleep sheets.
“We had a small back-up generator, too. Now the electricity is supplied by locally sourced hydro power – and, I must say, it is most welcome. It is great to have showers, electric cookers, kettles, panel heating in every room and a washing machine now.”
The redundant turbine was gifted to a Scottish ski group for their mountain hut.
Jan lives and works on-site year-round. In the summer, she works three weeks on and has a week off. In the winter, days off are Mondays and Tuesdays when the hostel is closed. She has annual leave, which she usually takes in the winter.
She aims to stick to a daily routine of work. She said: “I like to get up each morning and check emails for hostel bookings and other admin. I have satellite broadband for the Hostelling Scotland work.
“Next, I will go into the hostel to light the stove if it’s winter and make sure the guests – we have 20 beds in male and female-only dorms – are okay. I might assist them with questions about where to walk or train times.
“At 10.30am, when most guests have left, I will do the hostel chores, including cleaning, changing the bedding, then the toilets and showers before the arrivals from the next train from Glasgow come in.
“There is a rhythm to life and it’s often determined by the train timetable.”
The hostel is a busy place despite its location. Jan said: “There is rarely a day when I do not see someone and in summer it can feel like you are surrounded by people. This is not a bad thing at all. I really enjoy the company of people.
“People might imagine that I am a loner because I live in such a remote place, on my own, but I am not in the least bit anti-social. I do like the peace and quiet of this place and I am very comfortable to spend a lot of time on my own but I am endlessly interested in other people.”
Jan, who previously worked as youth and community arts administrator, has seen a trend for people to stay longer at Loch Ossian.
She said: “People seem to want to stay for greater periods for a number of reasons. Some are keen to escape their busy lives and we often get visitors who work in the rat race of London and southern England. They mostly want to relax and enjoy the surroundings, or take photographs.
“Others come to enjoy more energetic activities, such as walking in the mountains – there are three of Scotland’s Munros here – running, mountain biking and wild swimming in the loch.
“I think that the showers and electric heating has widened the appeal of the hostel, too. Although it is still a basic hostel, there are more mod-cons these days and people like their comforts.”
Jan is in frequent contact with other staff at Hostelling Scotland and has visits from her managers, usually bringing food items like cans and bottles, and “the odd box of wine” that are too heavy for Jan to shop for on her fortnightly supermarket trips .
The wider Corrour Estate has a lodge, self-catering cottages and in summer there is a restaurant open at the station. “I do see quite a lot of people, surprisingly,” she said.
Jan’s favourite time of the year is just before and after the summer. She said: “I like May and June then September and October the best. The weather is often more favourable then.
“Winter is also great because it’s quieter. However, it can bring the worst of the weather and that is something I do worry about.”
Jan, who is originally from Sheffield in South Yorkshire, is rarely afraid despite living on her own miles from civilisation, yet the weather can make her anxious.
She said: “I don’t fear strangers or wildlife or being alone. It’s the wind that worries me.
“I know it’s not rational and there should be other things that frighten me more but when it is windy or stormy I worry about the trees being blown down and falling on me as I sleep and when we had a turbine I worried about that being broken by the wind.
“But, I am trying to make friends with the wind. It was the turbine driver, it dries the laundry and it keeps the midges away in summer.
“The weather can be harsh here at Corrour, so when I have time off, I like to head to warm and sunny places.”
Another treat for Jan when she has time away is the cinema. She said: “I always catch up on as many films as I can. I don’t miss much living here but current films is one of those things.
“I miss the company of others to sing with as well. I used to be part of a choir and now I just sing to myself.
“I sometimes think it would be great to have easy access to a yoga class or the gym as well but then I remember that I have all the wilderness around me and I can go for a walk, cycle the trails or take a dip in my own open air pool whenever I want.
“My work and life feels like a gift from the Gods and I hope to be here for as long as I can.”
- A version of my interview appeared as a feature in the Sunday Post.