Hostelling Scotland recently invited us to discover the delights of exclusive hostel hire at their Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel in Wester Ross. It sounded like the perfect opportunity for Mr G and I to spend quality time with my daughters Abbie & Murrean (pronounced Murrin, but answers to Mo and Muzzer) and their boyfriends Stephen & Zak. Various work/study commitments and geographical locations mean the six of us don’t often manage to spend time together. When we do, it tends to be a boisterous affair with lots of excitable chat and laughter. Having a hostel to ourselves would be a perfect way for us to catch up and hang out without disturbing anyone else.
Day 1: Loch Carron to Gairloch
To give us a head start on our journey north, Mr G and I spent the night before our hostel takeover, in Inverness with Mo & Zak. Starting our trip in the Highlands would allow us to take a longer, more scenic route to Gairloch where we’d meet up with Abbie and Stephen at the hostel.
Snow on the Bealach na Ba
In high season Wester Ross’s coastal roads are busy with tourists driving the North Coast 500 (NC500). Visiting in March when it’s quiet is a more enjoyable experience, especially on the Bealach na Ba.
Bealach na Ba means pass of the cattle. The rugged mountain pass is an old drovers road – it’s narrow with steep inclines, hairpin bends and precipitous drops. It’s not for the faint hearted, but we LOVE it. Over the years we’ve experienced fog, rain, wind, snow and sunshine on the summit of the Bealach na Ba. No two visits are ever the same.
A Heilan’ traffic jam
After stopping in Applecross for a leg stretch, we continued along the coast. A few miles from the village we were halted by a road block. A fold of Highland cattle were lumbering along the road at a leisurely pace. They’re often to be seen in these parts and are a firm favourite with tourists. Mr G is obsessed with them, so never misses an opportunity to stop and say hello.
Lunch: Wee Whistle Stop Cafe, Torridon
After leaving the coos behind our thoughts turned to food. More specifically where we’d be able to have lunch on a Tuesday afternoon in low season. Luckily, we know the area well and thanks to Google were quickly able to locate an open cafe.
The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe is located in Loch Torridon Community Centre, along with a gallery and gym. The cafe serves sweet treats and light lunches and once a week it opens for evening meals too. There’s an outside terrace with a gorgeous view for al fresco dining, should the weather permit. The four of us immediately fell in love with The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe. Before we’d even tried the food Mr G and I had booked a table for ‘Fish Friday’ the following weekend, when we’d be staying at Torridon Youth Hostel.
After tucking into tasty soup, sandwiches and chips we were ready to explore more of Wester Ross.
Casper left the cafe with a spring in his step. The chef had promised to cook him a sausage when he returned the following week for ‘Fish Friday’. I left full of regret because I didn’t buy a turquoise vase that caught my eye in the gallery.
Callum the Torridon stag
As we were driving out of Torridon village I suggested visiting Callum to say hello. Zak asked who Callum was, and when I replied “a stag” he looked bemused. Like I’d know a stag by name and be able to find him in the rugged Torridon landscape.
Zak soon discovered you don’t need stalking skills to track Callum down. He’s a local legend and hangs around in a walkers car park at the foot of the Torridon mountains, looking for food.
Callum is around thirteen-years-old and is toothless, so foraging in the wild (especially in winter) would be difficult for him. Luckily the locals make sure the majestic old boy doesn’t go hungry.
We found Callum lying in long grass beside the car park and watched him from a close but respectable distance. It was Zak’s first sighting of a stag in the wild and what a sighting it was.
*I’ve airbrushed the boy’s lead out of the photo below. I always keep him under tight control near livestock, wildlife and roads*
After visiting Callum we had more scenic miles to cover. We passed lovely Loch Maree before reaching Gairloch, where we stocked up on provisions for our stay at Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel.
Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel
And then there were six, plus a Wee White Dug.
With Abbie and Stephen now in tow, it was time to check out our Highland home for the next two nights.
Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel is located at Carn Dearg just outside Gairloch. The lovely old lodge, stands by the sea and boasts a spectacular view.
The hostel has six letting rooms (sleeping 31 guests) located over three floors. There are three toilet/shower rooms, a large lounge, dining room, fully equipped kitchen, plus a laundry/drying room.
We were welcomed on arrival by hostel manager Sara who gave us a tour of the building and a run down of how everything worked. Sara would be on hand if we needed her, but otherwise the hostel was all ours.
After inspecting the bedrooms Mr G and I settled on a cheery yellow bunk room with a sea view. It was conveniently located next door to shower and toilet facilities and a few steps away from the kitchen. Being on the ground floor meant we’d be able to get the boy out for his evening and mornings wees too without a fuss.
Abbie and Stephen chose the other ground floor room, which also had a sea view. Their room slept five in three single and one double bed. It was wood panelled with traditional period features.
Murrean and Zak chose a room on the second floor. Their room slept three in a double and single bed. It also had a sea view, wood panelling and period features.
Chat, chilling and champagne
Once we’d unpacked we rustled up some nibbles and congregated in the lounge, where there were plenty of comfy seats for us to sink into. Wind and rain battered at the windows but we were as warm as toast inside. And speaking of toast, we popped the cork on a bottle of fizz or three to toast our family gathering.
Later, when the weather calmed down I popped outside to check the night sky – and high above the twinkling lights of Gairloch I saw a faint green glow. I rushed inside to tell the others – “The aurora’s out”! It was the first time any of them had seen the Northern Lights and they were delighted. We’re all going to Iceland in October and there’s been lots of talk about hopefully seeing them there. As wonderful as that would be, I was glad Scotland had pulled out all the stops and beaten Iceland to it.
The first night of our ‘rentahostel’ experience was brilliant – stories were told, memories recounted and our hoots of laughter lasted into the wee small hours. Abbie said the experience felt like being at school camp with your family, as a grown up. I couldn’t have described it better myself. Hostelling Scotland breaks always make me feel happy and nostalgic, as they remind me of the school camping trips of my teenage years that were responsible for igniting my passion for exploring Scotland.
Day 2: Exploring Wester Ross
We woke on day two of our hostelling break (some of us with less effort than others) to a beautiful blue sky. It was a gorgeous morning and Mr G and I were keen to rally the clan for a hike.
Breakfast: Crumbs, Gairloch
With the sun shining, we decided to buy breakfast from a local cafe to eat al fresco. Crumbs is a great wee takeaway that does breakfast rolls, light lunches, cakes, coffee and ice cream.
We ordered coffee, fruit juice and hot morning rolls, filled with an assortment of breakfast favourites. They were made using fresh, local ingredients and were delicious. The homemade tattie scones were fantastic.
After breakfast, we were ready to ramble.
Hike: the Fairy Lochs, Badachro
Our hike, near Badachro, would take us over rough, boggy terrain to visit some small lochans known as the Fairy Lochs. Having done the walk before, I’d warned everyone wellies or hiking boots were a must. Despite both owning hiking boots, Mo and Zak brought regular trainers, while the rest of us arrived suitably shod.
Ten boggy minutes into the walk Mo and Zak were forced to throw in the towel and head off for a potter by the coast instead.
The rest of us continued to slip, slide and hop our way towards the Fairy Lochs. The boy was the only sure footed one amongst us.
I had a strange feeling of de ja vu when Abbie asked “Mum how much longer?” and I replied “we’re nearly there”. Thankfully we were, and a few minutes later we reached the first of the Fairy Lochs.
After admiring the view, we continued walking for a few more minutes until we reached a second lochan, which was surrounded by the scattered remains of a B-24 Liberator aeroplane which crashed on 13th June 1945. It was carrying US servicemen home after the war in Europe ended – sadly they all died. It’s awful to think they survived the war, but never returned home to their families.
We completed the hike by returning via the outward route. Overconfidence in our bog hopping skills had crept in and we all paid the price. Within minutes we were toppling like dominoes. First to fall was Mr G, who ended up flat on his back in mud. Minutes later Stephen landed in a crab position that resembled The Exorcist stair scene. I followed with a ‘how low can you go’ limbo manoeuvre, then Abbie rounded off the hilarity with a spectacular bottom slide. It was easily the funniest hike we’ve done on our travels.
Lunch: Links Cafe, Gairloch
After a morning of fresh air we were ready for lunch. We decided to eat at the dog friendly Links Cafe at Gairloch Golf Club. As soon as we arrived the boy was offered a doggy treat (he ended up scoring three in total, much to his delight). We had a choice of tables inside and out. We opted for outside so we could make the most of the spring sunshine.
The menu was varied with plenty of old favourites on it. Between us we tucked into fish and chips, lasagne and chicken burgers. The food was fantastic – fresh, flavoursome and homemade. It was the first time we’d eaten at the cafe but it won’t be the last.
Beach fun: Mellon Udrigle
After lunch we took a scenic coastal drive north, then visited the gorgeous beach at Mellon Udrigle so the boy could have a paddle and run on the sand.
It’s safe to say the beach was a hit with the others. Mo and Zak explored rock pools, while the rest of us wandered to a pretty vantage point to take in the view.
After snapping some photos we joined Mo and Zak in the rock pools. Recently, I’ve made it my mission to prise a limpet from a rock. I failed miserably on this occasion, as did the others who became equally obsessed with my frustrating woman v nature challenge.
Rhu Reidh Lighthouse
After leaving the beach we drove back towards the hostel. It was almost time to settle down for the night, but not quite. Passing the hostel, we continued to the end of the coastal road it’s located on, to visit Rhu Reidh Lighthouse. I was hopeful we might spot some marine life there.
I’d forgotten how hair-raising and never-ending the road to the lighthouse was though. It wasn’t helped by the fact we’d just traded in our beloved Audi A1 for a larger Q2 with more boot space. I felt far more exposed in our new car which is wider and higher than our wee A1 was.
I was overjoyed to plant my feet firmly on solid ground when we reached Rhu Reidh Lighthouse. Two minutes into our walk round the rocky headland where the lighthouse stands, I could tell Mr G was champing at the bit to explore a cliff top trail nearby. The rest of us had no appetite to join him, so we waved him off and continued with our potter. We stopped to stare intently at the sea, hopeful of spotting a passing whale or pod of dolphins but if any were out there, they were hiding from us.
Shortly after we arrived back at the lighthouse car park, Mr G appeared, red faced and out of breath. Much to my horror, he often runs so he can cover more ground on his clifftop rambles – grrr.
More chat, chill time but no champagne
Back at the hostel we spent another lovely night together in the lounge. It was a tad less boisterous than the previous night but equally enjoyable.
Lots of fresh Highland air and rambling meant we didn’t quite manage to stay up till the wee small hours on our second night at Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel. Instead, we’d all toddled off to bed by 10pm and were soon fast asleep.
Rentahostelling – the verdict
Our Scottish road trips always fly by, but this one seemed especially quick. Everyone had a brilliant time and loved the ‘rentahostel’ experience. Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel is an amazing property in an unbeatable location. It was great having the place to ourselves for a family gathering. I’d definitely recommend the exclusive hire hostelling experience if you’re looking for somewhere fabulous and affordable in Scotland for a getaway with friends and family. Our busy lives often get in the way of what’s important – spending quality time with loved ones.
Our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …