What’s better than going on holiday? Going on holiday with your dog.
When Hostelling Scotland invited me to go “Woof Hostelling” to showcase their dog friendliness I almost wagged my tail with excitement.
A heady afternoon on Hostelling Scotland’s website followed as my partner and I browsed the many locations on offer. The Cairngorms, Glencoe, Crianlarich, Durness, Gairloch, Pitlochry and Ullapool were among the many scenic spots where canine friendly hostels are situated.
Eventually we settled on Torridon, in the northwest Highlands. Both of us had driven through before but neither of us had spent any time there.
Ringed by majestic granite peaks and with no end of lochs and rivers, it’s one of Scotland’s most dramatic and wonderful landscapes.
Our neighbour in Dundee, Tam, is a grizzled Scottish mountain man. He recalled going to Torridon Youth Hostel when it opened in the mid-1970s. It was among the first purpose built youth hostels in Scotland – formerly bunk beds had been crammed into draughty old Victorian houses – and it blew young Tam away.
The hostel sits at the edge of the tiny Highland village. Huge, rock-clad mountains rear behind while Loch Torridon glistens in the foreground.
It felt like the perfect place to explore one of Scotland’s greatest outdoor playgrounds.
Our trip took place in late September, during the dying embers of the Indian summer Scotland experienced this year.
Waking up on our first morning in Torridon the weather did not look promising. Clouds loomed and the wind whipped through the trees.
By the time we’d had breakfast it was beginning to brighten, and as we set out for the day the clouds burned away and blue sky stretched from horizon to horizon.
That’s just as well, as our target was Beinn Eighe, the bulkiest of the great trio of Torridon peaks.
The next eight hours were some of the most beautiful and strenuous hiking I’ve ever done, as we ascended more than a kilometre, scrambled along the ridge and down an incredibly steep scree gully.
It’s not a walk for the faint hearted, or to be attempted when weather conditions are bad. However the rewards are great. As soon as you gain a bit of elevation there are stunning views down the valley, over rivers and lochs, to Skye’s Cuillin Mountains.
A peak at the view
After a long, hard and sweaty climb we reached the top of Beinn Eighe. The vista here is spectacular. For me the most special thing was seeing the wild lands that lie on the far side of the mountains, where there are no roads or paths. Sheer cliff faces fall to a mix of rocky valley floor, moorland and marshes, crisscrossed with streams and dotted with lochans.
Seven-year old Bracken proved more surefooted than her two humans, only getting into a bit of a flap during a boulder field when the rock she was perched upon proved to be quite wobbly.
Thick, low-hanging cloud ruled out another ascent the following day. Instead we plumped for two low level walks, a nine kilometre loop around Loch Claire and Loch Coulin, followed by a 7.5km circuit of Aird Mhor and the Falls of Balgy. Both were utterly stunning, and must be among the very best low altitude walks in Scotland.
Covid has changed hospitality everywhere, making an already difficult job even more arduous. Ordinarily hostels are self catering, however to prevent too many people piling into a communal kitchen evening meals are now cooked for you – though that may have changed by next season.
The hostel food was much better than I expected, but for our last night we fancied something special so we strolled the mile and a half to The Torridon.
Once of Scotland’s finest hotels, it sits on the opposite side of the loch from Torridon village. We enjoyed a fantastic three course meal, washed down with copious amounts of red wine, while a happy and tired Bracken snoozed at our feet.
Great though the hotel was, the hostel offered all we needed at a fraction of the price. The hostel’s staff, Matt, Em, Ruth and Mattie could not have been more friendly and helpful if they’d tried. Breakfast and evening meals were served with good cheer and some chat, and the extra cleaning covid measures call for was carried out with a smile.
Best of all, everyone made a huge fuss of Bracken, who was made to feel very welcome. Roll on next spring, when we’ll be back to explore more of Torridon’s wonders, and will be making its hostel our base again.