Last week I took a trip down memory lane with a short break at the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) Torridon hostel. The last time I stayed at one of their hostels I was a fresh-faced teenager attending high school camp – Duran Duran and Wham dominated the music charts, twilight teaser was the only shade of lipstick to be seen in, and leg warmers were the height of fashion thanks to the kids from Fame!
I credit organisations like the SYHA for opening my eyes to the wonders of Scotland and the great outdoors. I grew up living in a top-floor tenement flat on an Edinburgh housing estate – Scotland’s lochs, glens and mountains were alien to me. I can still remember visiting places like Loch Lomond, Glencoe and Mull for the first time and returning home to excitedly share what I’d seen – a whole new World.
As an adult fond of home comforts, and life’s little luxuries would I embrace the experience of hostelling as much as I did in my youth? I joked with friends that I was spending the weekend at school camp with Mr G and the Wee White Dug.
After a 4 1/2 hour drive from Edinburgh we arrived in Torridon and were immediately met by a large welcome committee of midgies.
The hoard of noisy youths I’d expected to be occupying the place were conspicuous by their absence. In fact the other guest were all grown ups just like us.
Our private room was perfect – it was really cosy and had a sink and comfortable seating area. I’d expected it to be basic and functional but it had pretty curtains, cushions and nice prints of Scottish scenery hanging on the walls. Best of all we had an amazing mountain view – a view that would normally come at a premium. The boy sniffed around until he found the perfect sleeping spot, then put a mammoth amount of effort into plumping up his blankets to make himself a comfy wee dug nest!
That evening we ate locally, then relaxed back at the hostel with a couple of drinks in the quiet lounge. Being licensed and with hot food available it felt more like a hotel stay. Ahh, it was nice to unwind with my two favourite boys.
We were joined in the lounge by an older lady with a book. She ignored us and settled into a chair at the opposite side of the room. Hmmmfffff she cleared her throat loudly. Hmmmfffff and again, and again, and again, and again! Non-stop in fact, and for good measure at random intervals she spoke to herself too! I couldn’t look at Mr G as we’re the World’s worst gigglers and it doesn’t take much to set us off. A few years ago on the Isle of Iona we were relaxing in a hotel lounge when two ladies we later dubbed Hinge and Bracket came in and started singing hymns and playing the piano we were sitting right next to. We sat with tears streaming down our faces, failing miserably to stifle our laughter – Hinge and Bracket were oblivious!
After a sound sleep we woke early and enjoyed a Continental breakfast before heading out for the day. SYHA have a policy of sourcing their food locally. Not only does this help to support the local economy, it’s also better for the environment as food doesn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the table. Food scraps are recycled to feed birds and wildlife, or made into compost so nothing is wasted.
Back on the NC500 road-tripping
With Torridon directly on the famous NC500 driving route we were perfectly located for a scenic drive on one of our favourite sections of road in Scotland.
I’ve shared this section of road on the blog before but from a dreich (miserable) day out. This day was very different – the sky was blue, Loch Torridon was reflecting a dream, the sun was casting a rich amber glow on the mountains and the low-lying clouds looked like billowing candy-floss. It was one of those days that makes you feel glad to be alive.
The pretty red roof of my favourite little but n ben in all of Scotland.
This time the summit was clear and we were able to open the car doors without fear of the wind ripping them off and hurling them down the mountain.
Back at ground level, we snapped photos and reminisced about our last visit when the wind nearly blew the boy’s whiskers off.
We timed our crossing of the Bealach na Bà perfectly – it was lunchtime and we were at a favourite cafe of ours. we enjoyed soup, sandwiches and a good cup of coffee at the Bealach Cafe & Gallery. It was nice to chill for a while. In between begging the boy napped under the table.
An added bonus of lunching at The Bealach is the fab wee gallery attached to the cafe. Last year I left with a lovely print of the Bealach na Bà, this year I left with some locally made silver jewellery and a cute little croft house, complete with passing place and washing line.
Strome Castle sits on an elevated spot overlooking Loch Carron. Dating to the 15th century the castle was once a stronghold of the Lords of the Isles. Today it’s no more than a shell but it boasts impressive views, and is a lovely spot to stop and rest for a while.
The boy was super excited as he made a new friend at Strome. A big black dog came bounding out of a nearby cottage when we arrived at the castle. The wee dug and his new friend enjoyed a game of rough and tumble in the castle courtyard – the boy remained attached to his lead due to precipitous drops and a lack of common sense!
Our final stop of the day before returning to our Torridon base was to the Loch Maree viewpoint to admire one of Scotland’s finest views.
We decided to eat in that night as the hostel menu had all of our old favourites on it. One beef curry for me, pizza for Mr G and Mackie’s ice cream for two later, we were relaxing in the quiet lounge.
We toasted another great trip, and happy memories made with a bottle of fizz we’d brought back from Paris a couple of years earlier. The fact that it’d survived, unopened in our house for so long was nothing short of a miracle!
I was beside myself with excitement when I looked out of the lounge window and spotted a couple of Pine Martens playing outside. I last saw a Pine Marten 30 years ago. The boy jumped around excitedly too – I’m not sure why as he wouldn’t know a Pine Marten from a House Martin.
Our Torridon hostel stay had flown by in a flash. It’d also been a real eye opener for me – I arrived thinking I’d probably outgrown hostelling in my teens, but left clutching a brochure and wondering when and where I could enjoy my next SYHA mini-break. What’s not to love about getting great value for money and comfortable accommodation in a stunning location?
Exploring Torridon Village
The National Trust for Scotland’s Torridon Countryside Centre was a stone throw away from our hostel so we headed there to follow a way-marked walking trail.
It was a pretty walk and signs of autumn’s imminent arrival were everywhere. Bright red berries, golden leaves and ripe fruits – it was like a Keats poem come to life.
Our walk had wildlife aplenty too, as we passed a deer park and Highland Cattle enclosure. It was odd seeing those beasties enclosed, especially somewhere as remote as Torridon. We’re far more accustomed to seeing them roaming free on our travels.
Skirting the shore the boy waded into the loch, possibly in search of the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – sadly he returned empty-handed.
Torridon is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s prettiest villages. The whitewashed cottages contrasted against a backdrop of hulking mountains are beautiful and dramatic, and the black waters of Loch Torridon give an air of mystery to the place.
The village is a gem for history lovers too. There’s a rocky, open-air church, which is thought to have been used by Free Church congregations during a period of religious division and unrest which saw them denied land to build churches.
You’ll also find the remains of ruined clearance townships if you know where to look. We visited the township of Doire na Fuaran (Field of the Springs) which sits directly behind the modern-day village.
If ever a place-name was understated this is it. Springs hints at streams of crystal clear water meandering lazily downhill. Doire na Fuaran is probably best described as boggy and froggy.
The place was saturated and every step I took squelched loudly. Thankfully my boots were Gore-tex and water tight, so I had no need to fret about my watery surrounding as I set off in search of my history fix for the day.
As I squelched my way uphill I noticed we weren’t alone in the Field of the Springs – frogs were hopping around beside us. Mr G got increasingly exasperated as I stopped to watch each one I spotted. I love encountering wildlife on my travels and alway get excited by my finds. Mr G couldn’t give two hoots about frogs!
For generations a thriving crofting township existed on this site, keeping livestock and raising crops. That all came to an abrupt end in 1845 when the landlord decided not to renew their leases, opting to use the land for more profitable sheep farming instead. Many of the displaced Highlanders left Scotland in search of a new life overseas, while others remained, struggling to eke out a living by any means they could.
I always find clearance ruins poignant and sad. It’s impossible not wonder what became of the families who once called these old tumbledown piles of stone home.
I’d like to end by offering a HUGE big thank you to the wonderful SYHA. Although our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis, all information and opinions contained within this blog are accurate and entirely my own.
Until next time ………..