In my last blog I featured a family break at Hostelling Scotland’s Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel. This time I’m sharing another of their fabulous Wester Ross hostels – Torridon Youth Hostel. Mr G, the boy and I spent a weekend there after our Gairloch gathering. Torridon was the first Hostelling Scotland accommodation we stayed at together in my early days as a blogger. We loved it and were looking forward to returning. So much so, we got a head start on our journey north by spending a night in Inverness.
Day One – Torridon here we come
Our first stop in Wester Ross was for coffee at a favourite roadside cafe of ours. If you love coffee, you’ll adore The Midge Bite Cafe in Achnasheen. Theirs is one of the best cups of coffee we’ve had on our travels.
With our caffeine levels topped up, we continued on our journey. Our next stop was at the Bealach na Ba for a leg stretch and to snap photos of the brooding mountain pass.
We passed through Applecross, and then stopped for a walk at Sands Beach a few miles from the village. Sands, as the name suggests is a lovely sandy bay. The boy enjoyed a paddle and run on the sand, before we left to visit some old friends of Mr G’s – the famous Applecross Heilan’ coos. Despite having visited them a week ago, he still spent ages taking photos of them. He finally managed to tear himself away when hanger started setting in.
Lunch: with a view
En route to Torridon we noticed a food van in a lay-by with an incredible view. It was the first time we’d seen ‘Delicious Food Van’ there, so we decided to give it a try for lunch. I had a Cajun chicken burger with chips. It was cooked to order and the chicken was tender and spicy. Mr G had Cullen skink soup and a bacon roll. He said the soup was delicious. Delicious Food Van definitely lived up to its name.
Exploring in and around Torridon Village
We planned to spend this trip in and around Torridon, so after lunch we headed to the village for a potter.
After a wander by the shore we visited one of my favourite historic gems in the region.
Am Ploc – Torridon open air church
Hidden on a rocky outcrop that juts into Loch Torridon, is an open-air church. It has rows of stone benches and a rocky pulpit. The church was built in the 19th century during a period of religious unrest. Rival factions within the Church of Scotland led to a third of the church’s ministers and parishioners breaking away to form the Free Church of Scotland. Finding themselves churchless, they were forced to get creative – hence Torridon’s unusual church. Sitting on a cold, stone pew in a church open to the elements is about as Calvinist as you can get.
Coffee and a spot of retail therapy
After leaving the church, we popped into The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe in Loch Torridon Community Centre to buy take away coffees. Inside, the boy spotted the chef, who he’d charmed during a visit the week before. She remembered we’d be in for dinner later and promised the boy a sausage.
While we were waiting for our coffees, I had a browse in the community centre gallery. There were lots of tempting items for sale including paintings by local artists, handmade jewellery, gifts, cards and the gorgeous turquoise vases that had caught my eye the week before. This time I wasn’t going to leave, then regret not buying one.
We left with Mr G clutching our coffees, and me cradling my new vase like a precious treasure.
Hello old friend
After indulging Mr G’s Heilan’ coo obsession earlier, it was time to meet a pal of mine – Callum the Torridon stag, who you met in my last blog. As sure as night follows day we found him at his favourite spot in a walker’s car park beneath Torridon’s rugged mountains. A small group of tourists were observing him from a distance when we arrived. When I greeted him with ‘hello Callum” the tourists looked surprised. I explained he was wild, but something of a local legend and was known as Callum. Shortly after we arrived, a local couple turned up with Callum’s lunch. Being toothless, the old stag needs a little help so he doesn’t starve in the wild.
He was treated to a hearty lunch of cooked veg and pasta, soft fruit and brown bread. I was in my element, when I was asked if I’d like to help feed him. While Callum was tucking into his lunch, the boy snaffled a chunk of bread and wolfed it down before anyone noticed.
Once feeding time was over, we sat in the car and had our coffees with a stag and mountain view.
Driving the Bealach na Gaoithe
When we left Callum, we headed back to Torridon, passing through the village, along the coast, then up onto a mountain pass, less well-known than the Bealach na Ba but equally hair-raising. The Bealach na Gaoithe leads to the scattered settlement of Diabaig, where you can park and hike round the coast to visit the stunning Red Point Beach.
We didn’t have time to hike, so instead we enjoyed the lovely view from the Bealach na Gaoithe viewpoint. Standing there, it felt like we were the only people (and wee dug) on the planet. It was fabulous, even if the road was a tad scary.
Our accommodation: Torridon Youth Hostel
At 4pm we headed to Torridon Youth Hostel to check-in. As far as scenic locations go, it doesn’t get much better than this hostel. It’s nestled at the foot of towering mountains, in a pretty Highland village by the shore of Loch Torridon. It’s stunning.
The hostel was built in the 1970s and has a cool 70s vibe which I love. It’s homely and welcoming from the second you set foot inside. The reception staff are brilliant and really helpful. There’s a licensed shop in the reception area, which sells alcohol, toiletries and snacks. You can buy evening meals too, to cook in the hostel kitchen. The hostel also has a drying room, dining room and a guest lounge with a panoramic view.
Guest rooms are a mix of bunk and private. There are separate male and female toilet/shower facilities, and mixed sex facilities too if you don’t mind sharing. Our private room was a bright and cheery double, with bedside cabinets and lamps, a sink, seating, storage space and a skylight which let natural light in. Our bedding and towels were also supplied.
We spent some time relaxing in the room, before getting ready to go out for dinner.
Dinner: ‘Fish Friday’ at The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe
We’d been looking forward to ‘Fish Friday’ at The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe since booking during a lunch visit the week before. Tables for the popular weekly event are always in high demand. The cafe was busy with locals when we arrived, which is always a good sign.
After ordering drinks, it was time to decide what to eat. I chose haddock in batter with chips and garden peas. The batter was as light as a feather and the fish flaky, white and delicious. Mr G had roast cod with lemon, garlic sautéed potatoes, (absolutely NO mushy peas) and chippy curry sauce. He loved his choice too. And true to her word the chef remembered the boy’s sausage. It was presented to him freshly cooked on a pretty plate with bees painted on it. Once it had cooled, I cut it into pieces and he devoured it in seconds.
We finished our meal at The Wee Whistle Stop Cafe with a fabulous sticky toffee pudding. It was a brilliant night with great food, a lovely ambiance and wonderful staff. A real treat.
Wildlife and an impossible game
The last time we stayed at Torridon Youth Hostel we spotted pine martens in the hostel garden. They eluded us on this visit, but we did see other elusive beasties on our walk back to the hostel after dinner. We don’t see bats that often on our travels, so I was delighted when I realised the weird birds swooping past us in the dark were bats.
Back at the hostel we chilled in our room with a couple a silly travel games. One involved trying to guess the sounds the other person was making. It was fun but short lived – you try making the sound of fire or boxing without using words and you’ll find it’s pretty near impossible to do and even harder to guess.
Day two – exploring Torridon and the surrounding area
After a great night’s sleep in our cosy room, we woke the next morning, raring to get outdoors. We’d booked breakfast at the hostel, so after showering and getting ready we headed to the dining room where we found breakfast waiting for us. There was coffee, fruit juice, fresh fruit, yoghurt (plus nuts and seeds to sprinkle on it), croissants, butter, cheese, sliced tomato, jam and bread for toasting. You won’t go hungry if you let Hostelling Scotland feed you. Their breakfast offering varies from hostel to hostel, but what doesn’t vary is the quality. Breakfast is always fab.
After filling our boots with breakfast goodies, we headed out for the day. The neighbouring village of Shieldaig would be the destination for our morning walk.
Walk – An Aird headland, Shieldaig
From the far end of the pretty, coastal village you can walk round the scenic An Aird Peninsula. We started the walk by following a rough track which passed through birch woodland skirting the coast. It was blissfully quiet, apart from the beautiful sound of birdsong, which we stopped to listen to for a while. Further along the track, we arrived at a cairn which gave us the option of taking a low route or high route. We chose the high route, and followed it up and over a rocky hill, then across rough, boggy land, before joining another track.
After a while we stopped again so Mr G could indulge his obsession with climbing. As he charged off to look for a rocky vantage point, I found a big slab of rock to lie on and stare at the sky. Lying there, I watched a flock of noisy geese flying overhead in v formation. Having time to stay still and immerse myself in Scotland’s beautiful wild places leaves me feeling calm. The boy always stays by my side and is content to sit in silence too.
When Mr G re-joined us, we continued our walk. The path soon re-joined the one we’d left by the cairn, and then looped back to the village.
Walk – Loch Damh
On our way back to Torridon we parked the car between Shieldaig and Torridon. It was too early for lunch, so we decided to have another ramble first. We walked up a track surrounded by moorland and mountain.
After 15 minutes of fairly flat walking, we reached a loch with a tiny beach. Loch Damh is off the beaten track, so unless you go looking for it, it’s unlikely you’ll stumble across it. It’s a pretty place which gives an illusion of remoteness. Given it takes little effort to reach, it’s a good walk if you want to surround yourself with rugged scenery but are unable to walk far, or navigate rough terrain.
The boy enjoyed a paddle in the loch, while I tried (and failed) to skim stones. I’ll never make a Scottish stone skimming champion, that’s for sure. Mr G went off to explore a narrow, rocky path that skirted part of the loch. When he returned, we headed back to the car. Now, it was time for lunch.
Lunch: Beinn Bar at The Torridon
A short hop from Loch Damh we popped into The Torridon to see if they had a table available in their dog friendly Beinn Bar. We were lucky.
We were seated in the conservatory and after ordering coffees and cold drinks, our attention turned to food. We had lentil soup to start, and then hot filled Panini – bacon, brie and tomato for me and chicken, pesto and mozzarella for Mr G. The food was good and it was nice to sit and relax for a while.
Cold Water Swimming in Loch Torridon
The morning had been overcast, but the sun broke though after lunch. It was a gorgeous afternoon – perfect for a swim in Loch Torridon.
Back at the hostel, we changed into our swimming things then headed to the village pier. I don’t buy into this modern notion of wild swimming. Swimming is swimming, regardless of where it’s done. More care is needed for swimming outdoors, because you don’t have the luxury of lifeguards or heated water. If done sensibly and safely though, swimming outdoors is incredible.
I slipped into the loch from halfway down the pier and immediately felt invigorated. I stayed close to the shore as I swam and treaded water. The boy looked on bemused from the pier. Loch Torridon made a fine swimming pool with its crystal clear water and mountain views. I stayed in for eight minutes and stopped swimming while I still felt comfortable. The trick with cold water swimming is to stop when you still feel good. Staying in the water longer can get you into serious trouble.
Next it was Mr G’s turn for a dip. He hates the cold and is wary of the water. I suggested he wade in from the shore to acclimatise gradually. He made it into the loch as far as his knees, declared the temperature ridiculous and stormed straight out again.
After our dip (whole body and toe) we spent the rest of the afternoon pottering around locally, before spending a lazy night at the hostel.
Day three – wildlife walk with a view
After another Hostelling Scotland breakfast banquet, it was time for us to pack and check out. It’d been another wonderful stay at Torridon Youth Hostel. We left, longing for our next hostelling adventure.
We decided to spend a couple of hours walking in Torridon before saying farewell to Wester Ross. From Annat at the edge of the village, we followed a rocky hill path from the roadside, up into the hills. It was a lovely morning and the views looking back over the village and Loch Torridon were spectacular.
There wasn’t another soul around. Well human at least, what we didn’t notice at first, as they blend so well into the scenery, were a herd of red deer hinds watching us. We stopped and stared back and they let us. It was like looking at a picture on a shortbread tin.
We walked for around 45 minutes then stopped so the boy and I could sit on a rock for some quiet contemplation time. Mr G left us, to explore more of the trail. We adore spending time together, but those short periods of solitude outdoors give us head space and time alone with our thoughts.
When Mr G reappeared, we returned back to the car. And there ended another amazing Scottish adventure.
We stayed at Torridon Youth Hostel on a complimentary bed and breakfast basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …