Glen Affric, an eco-hostel and wonderful Munro bagging
Information notes for the Glen Affric Youth Hostel state: “Your accommodation is in a very remote location with the nearest road 7.5 miles away. A compass and map will be required for navigation.”
I feel the first thrills of an adventure in the making.
The information continues: “There is no phone or mobile phone signal in the area.”
Oooh, how wonderful. A total digital detox could be just the thing after a busy working week.
And: “Because of its location, provisions are limited and we ask guests to bring their own sleeping bags, torch, food, drink and appropriate clothing for the duration of their stay.
“There is no refuse collection at the hostel, so anything you bring with you will need to leave with you.”
We’ll need larger rucksacks and some careful planning, I think. And, oh, I will need to find the right container for taking gin with me.
A trip to Glen Affric
Glen Affric, in the north-west Highlands, had been on my must-do list for a few years. I have less than 30 Munros to walk in my first round and there were three, Mullach nan Dheiragain, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan and An Socach, that would be most easily hiked if we stayed in the Hostelling Scotland accommodation.
Hubby G and I knew the Glen Affric Youth Hostel could be busy and to secure one of the two private rooms – there are also two larger dorms – we made a booking several months in advance. We could only hope for good weather.
We were lucky. On the weekend in late August and after a long spell of wet weather, the weather gods were kind.
We had planned a two-night trip and we finally set off from Glen Affric car park, near Cannich, to follow one of the three possible route to the Glen Affric Youth Hostel. (Note, you need to pay to park here so you’ll need a few pound coins.)
The car park lies some eight miles to the east of the hostel. A rough, undulating track heads along the base of the glen and after so much rain it was very wet and boggy in places.
We had chosen to mountain bike rather than spend several hours walking with laden packs. In fact, it still took more than 1.5 hours to ride and mainly because of the number of times we needed to get off and push the bikes around deep puddles.
(I have to say that the return ride in sunshine and with far less water on the ground was quicker and more enjoyable.) But, still, mountain biking was preferable to walking.
It’s also important to remember a midge net. We set off in the evening and the midges were out in force. There was no wind or sunshine to see them off at the time.
It was after dark by the time we finally rounded a corner to see the welcoming lights of the beautifully located eco-hostel, nestled at the base of a spectacular mountainous landscape.
Wild grass dotted with myriad purple and yellow wild flowers create a “front garden” for the hostel while the back garden was home to the two dormitories in a separate wooden building.
A beautifully located eco-hostel
Arriving inside from the chilly evening air felt like a home-coming. Hannah, the hostel manager, welcomed us into a kitchen, warmed by a wood-burning stove, and we met our first of many friendly fellow guests.
In an adjoining room, another guest was poring over a Scrabble board and we could see several tents outside glowing for the inside in the near-dark landscape.
I confess I had been worried about how basic this remote hostel would be but I needn’t have worried. Mod-cons include gas cookers, flushing toilets, an electric shower and overhead lighting. They rely on natural resources powering a wind turbine and solar panels but all seemed to work efficiently. Do note that there is no fridge, however.
I felt fortunate, too, that Gordon and I would be sleeping in our private bunked bed room. Many others were happy to share the dorms but if I get to choose, I prefer a private room.
Most guests turned in early for bed and we were not far behind. We also arose the next morning after everyone else, but it’s advised that people stagger the use of the small kitchen.
In any case, we had a long day of daylight ahead and “only” three nearby mountain summits to walk.
Munro bagging in Glen Affric
The advantage of the hostel, located at Alltbeithe, is that the start of the hike is right on the doorstep.
There were other hostel guests who were there to bag Munros, and also Corbetts. “The other 50 per cent of guests are usually walking the 44-mile Affric Kintail Way from Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness to Morvich in Kintail,” Hannah told us.
Climbing the steep slope behind the hostel – a finalist in TGO Magazine’s Hostel or Bunkhouse of the Year 2018 – we enjoyed the sight and sound of a bubbling stream and many small waterfalls.
Looking back, we could see the hostel becoming smaller and the view of the glacially contoured glen expanding below us.
The route over the three remote Munros is around 13 miles on rough paths and with some almost 5000ft of ascent. It was surprisingly busy.
We saw more than a dozen walkers, on their own, in pairs or groups – and most had time to spare to stop for a chat about their number one hobby of Munro bagging. We even met another Munroamer on one of the summits.
We were unhurried and enjoyed the wonderful views and relaxed in the sunshine at intervals.
Back to a warming hostel
As we made our final descent back to the glen, we focused on the hostel below as it grew bigger with each step. A solo woman was climbing up the path with a heavy rucksack. She told us she was planning to camp higher up (away from the midges!) and we discussed how nice that would be on the warm evening.
Yet, still, I think I preferred our chosen option, to sleep in the hostel and enjoy the relative mod-cons of the self-catering accommodation.
Arriving back indoors, Hannah again welcomed us and offered freshly baked scones served with jam. I had heard a rumour that this might happen but it still felt like such a great treat.
That evening Gordon and I enjoyed the ebb and flow of people. We met new people, chatted to a couple of runners we had spotted to the Munros and enjoyed Hannah’s company.
Hannah appears entirely content with her role, living almost the entire summer amid the vast, tranquil glen.
On a sunny weekend I could see the attraction. The enforced digital detox of no internet or mobile phone signal was mindfully cleansing while, outside, a spectacular scenery sent my gaze through the windows or out of the hostel’s front door to roam.
Hannah told us: “It’s one of the most remote jobs in Scotland but it’s far from lonely. It’s very sociable in fact and I enjoy welcoming people from across the world to this beautiful place.”
As the sun set outside we stayed in the cosy kitchen. We ate, chatted, played a vintage board game, laughed and sipped a glass of gin. Again we headed to bed early and again we got up late.
It felt wonderful to be away from our usually rushed and busy lives and although we had a plan to walk more Munros that day we did not feel time pressured.
A bike-and-hike day
Again we took our time over breakfast and finally departed the hostel in sunshine in the later morning. The mountain bike back to the car park felt infinitely easier thanks to shallower puddles and daylight.
We were even treated to the rare sight of an adder.
I think that if we could have stayed another few nights, we would have done so. Hannah did mention that many people enjoy the chance to get away from phones and electronic gadgets and I think this added to our sense of calm in Glen Affric.
Back at the car park – this time without the midges – we swapped heavy rucksacks for lighter day packs and made the most of our still remote location to tick off another two Munros.
These were two in Gordie’s second round and while we felt hot and slow on our second day of hiking, by the end of the weekend we were delighted with what we had achieved.
If you get the chance to stay at Glen Affric Youth Hostel I wholeheartedly recommend you do. Remember to book early if you want a private room and then go, switch off and enjoy the natural surroundings.
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