It’s two years since I shared the joys of a Hostelling Scotland break with you. Back then I waxed lyrical about their Torridon hostel. Now, having just returned from a short stay at Lochranza Youth Hostel on the Isle of Arran, I’m back to heap more praise on them.
Hostelling Scotland – the savvy traveller’s choice
First, let me dispel some misconceptions about hostelling:
1) Hostels are for ‘youths’
The majority of guests during our Hostelling Scotland stays have been ‘grown ups’ like us.
2) You don’t get peace or privacy staying in a hostel
Hostelling Scotland have private rooms available to sleep a number of guests (some en suite), quiet lounges and a noise curfew between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
3) Hostel accommodation is basic
Hostelling Scotland accommodation has comfortable guest lounges, free WiFi, toilet and shower facilities with a plentiful supply of hot water, well-equipped kitchens, dining areas, plus bedrooms with nice fresh bed linen and towels.
Getting to the Isle of Arran
CalMac operates a regular ferry service between Ardrossan on the mainland and Arran’s main settlement Brodick. The crossing takes 55 minutes – enough time to grab a meal, coffee or wee schnifter (drink) from the ferry’s onboard restaurant. A smaller ferry also runs between Kintyre and Lochranza during the summer months.
Arran is easy to get around. Many visitors arrive without a car to explore by foot, bike or bus. Buses operate between all of the main settlements and sites of interest on the island, which means you won’t need a designated driver to tour one of Arran’s two whisky distilleries.
Day 1 – Exploring the Isle of Arran
We sailed out of a rainy Ardrossan on CalMac’s 9:45 a.m. crossing, grabbing a seat in the dog-friendly section of the ferry and coffee and hot, breakfast rolls from the restaurant.
Approaching Arran, it looked brighter than the mainland had been. Dare we hope for a rain free hike before lunch?
We dared and the sun appeared – hooray.
Hike – King’s Cave, Blackwaterfoot
When we’re on our travels we prefer to do hikes of around 3 miles or so. That way they don’t eat into too much of our day. Our rambles will usually lead us up a hill, through a glen or along some rugged coastline. History, the potential to spot wildlife and fabulous scenery are normally thrown in for good measure.
The 3 mile King’s Cave circuit at Blackwaterfoot ticks all of our hiking boxes, so we decided it would be our first walk of the weekend.
Setting off along a wooded track we immediately spotted a toad crossing our path. We stopped to watch it, chuffed that we’d encountered wildlife so quickly.
After a while we emerged from the shelter of the trees and were treated to a pretty view across the Kilbrannan Sound to Kintyre.
King’s Cave is said to be where Robert the Bruce was inspired to victory after watching a spider spin a web. It’s a great story, but King’s Cave is fascinating, not because of an unlikely link to Bruce, but because it has historic carvings inside. The carvings include a Christian cross, animal figures thought to be Iron Age and Ogham (an ancient alphabet) script.
The King’s Cave circuit ends with a steep climb up to the clifftop above the shore. It then levels off and winds its way inland to the starting point of the walk.
With three hot, humid miles hiked, we’d earned lunch and a rest.
Lunch – Machrie Tearoom
The Machrie Tearoom’s tempting menu and stunning sea view made choosing a lunch venue easy. We ate an al fresco lunch of soup and sandwiches at the tearoom, while gazing wistfully out to sea. Our tattie and leek soup was awesome. As die-hard soup aficionados we know a thing or two about what makes a great tattie and leek soup.
Hike – Glen Sannox
Lunch eaten, we were ready to clock up more steps. Mr G suggested a walk in Glen Sannox – a scenic glen we last visited on a chilly February morning.
The glen can be boggy underfoot, but with the right footwear it’s a lovely place for a walk.
After trudging through bracken and bog we were soon encircled by an amphitheatre of broody mountains.
Mr G wanted to trek further into the glen to snap a photo of it in better light. I knew that would be mission impossible, so encouraged him to continue alone. I was happy to wait on a rock with the boy to soak up the tranquillity of my surroundings. I love my quiet moments with the boy where we enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Scotland.
I spotted a golden eagle soaring high overhead and watched as it circled, before swooping on some poor beastie below.
After a while Mr G jogged back into view. He’d failed in his mission to photograph the glen in good light – who knew.
We left Glen Sannox via a path which forced us to use stepping stones to cross several streams. My brain tells me wet rocks come before a fall. Mr G coaxed me on “trust me, it’s not slippy. I promise”. The streams were crossed without mishap, until I gave up on the final awkwardly angled stone deciding, sod it I’ll wade.
It must’ve been an omen as the awkwardly angled stone claimed Mr G. He lost his balance and ended up going for an impromptu dook. As he fell he raised the boy (who he’d been carrying) in the air, arms outstretched, like he was re-enacting the iconic scene from the Lion King.
We left the glen laughing – one squelchy, wet foot each.
Hostelling Scotland – Lochranza Youth Hostel
It was time to check out our digs for the weekend.
We’ve passed Lochranza Youth Hostel many times before, but it wasn’t until we arrived to check-in that we fully appreciated what an amazing location it’s in. Situated on the edge of Loch Ranza in the village of Lochranza, it’s surrounded by mountains and has a medieval castle on the doorstep. It really doesn’t get any better location wise.
We were welcomed at reception and given a rundown of the facilities. There was a TV room and quiet lounge (dog friendly), a kitchen, dining room and drying room, plus shower and toilet facilities.
Our first floor room was really spacious. We had two sets of bunk beds, two narrow wardrobes, a sink and mirror, plus a table and chairs by the window. Toilet and shower facilities were located a couple of doors away. The decor was fresh and modern and the room nice and light thanks to two large windows – one with a fab view of the loch.
The boy seemed to approve too – probably because a doggy biscuit had been waiting in the room for him on arrival. Dogs are welcome to stay at eleven of the hostels in Hostelling Scotland’s network, for a fee of £5 per night.
A night by the window
We’d planned to spend the evening in the quiet lounge, but ended up spending it staring out of our room window. We watched rabbits, sheep, swallows, a variety of sea birds, a mummy duck swimming with her adorable ducklings, a solitary heron and some red deer cooling off in the loch. Who needs TV?
When we noticed the mountains were glowing like amber we knew we were in for a belter of a sunset. We hurried outside with the boy for his last walk of the day.
It was a spectacular end to a fabulous day.
We slept soundly that night (Mr G on the top bunk and me on the bottom). For me there’s something comforting and nostalgic about staying with Hostelling Scotland. It brings back happy memories of attending school camp as a teenager and falling in love with the great outdoors.
Day 2 – exploring the Isle of Arran
Day two on Arran started with a Continental breakfast. We’d booked it at check-in for an extra £5.95 per night. It was great value for money and set us up for the day ahead.
Wildlife watching – red deer
Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, but we were in one of the best places in Scotland to see red deer stags.
As luck would have it Mr G had seen a herd of them close to our accommodation on his early morning walk. After breakfast we headed straight to the spot, hoping they hadn’t moved.
We found them resting in a field. One majestic big stag appeared to be on guard duty – keeping a lookout for any signs of danger.
We watched from a distance, being careful not to disturb them.
Hike – Eas Mor Woodland
It was hot and humid so we thought a sheltered walk would be best for the boy. Eas Mor Woodland is maintained by local volunteers. They’ve done a wonderful job creating a nice, leafy place to walk.
We set off from the lower section of the woodland, taking a path that led us into a lush green wilderness. The sun was breaking through the trees in places, creating a kaleidoscope of dancing light on the forest floor.
Hidden deep in the emerald green woodland, we discovered a fairy dell in an enchanting little nook.
You’ll be wondering if we spotted any fairies. We did – three, but there may well have been more.
After exploring the lower woodland it was time to check out the upper section.
We climbed an insanely steep path which levelling off when we reached a viewing platform. To our left, Eas Mor Waterfall was tumbling (well, trickling after a dry spell) into a deep gorge below. Rising from the sea directly ahead we could see the iconic lump of volcanic rock known as Ailsa Craig.
Once I’d recovered from our uphill hike we continued on our way. The path led us behind the waterfall and over to the other side of the gorge.
Hidden in the trees was a wooden hut with a grass roof.
Inside, the walls were decorated with drawings and notes left by visitors. Paper, colouring pens, pencils and crayons were provided to allow visitors to unleash their inner artist.
I doodled the boy, then pinned my artwork to the wall to blend into a sea of paper.
We ended our walk at breakneck speed, propelled downhill by a path best described as vertical.
Hike – Glen Rosa
After grabbing lunch and indulging in some retail therapy at the Isle of Arran Distillery (for heavenly nectar known as Arran Gold) and Arran Aromatics (for lush smelling toiletries) it was time for another walk.
Glen Rosa is one of Scotland’s most picturesque glens. A good path cuts through it, so we decided to while away a couple of hours there, hiking and hopefully spotting wildlife too.
Entering the glen, the path led us past a field teeming with dragonflies. I’ve never seen so many of them in one place before. I’m a sucker for a dragonfly – they always remind me of holidays in sunny climes.
Further into the glen the dragonflies were replaced by butterflies in all shapes, sizes and colours. A peacock butterfly kindly stayed still long enough for me to admire it up close.
Besides dragonflies and butterflies, we also spotted a pair of buzzards, shiny black beetles, a lizard scuttling into the undergrowth and a wee grasshopper. All in all, a bumper wildlife haul for us.
I love hiking through glens more than any other type of landscape in Scotland. Visiting Glen Rosa on a sunny afternoon, when wildlife was in abundance made this particular walk one of my all time favourites.
We left Glen Rosa absolutely, buzzing. Immersing ourselves in the great outdoors always has that effect on us.
Full of optimism after spotting nearly every creature on Arran inside one scenic glen, we decided to visit a spot near Brodick to see if we could add seals to our wildlife spotting list.
Our luck was in.
Another night spent gazing at the view
We spent another relaxing night at the hostel, gazing out of our bedroom window. There were no bathing deer or dramatic sunsets, but we did see a beautiful rainbow. That’s what I love about travelling around Scotland – nothing is guaranteed and each new day is different.
We’d arrived on Arran with no set plans, other than to hike and hopefully spot wildlife – mission well and truly accomplished.
We were sad to say goodbye to Lochranza Youth Hostel and the beautiful Isle of Arran, but with two more Hostelling Scotland adventures just around the corner we won’t feel glum for long.
Our accommodation and breakfast were provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time ………