Hostel Hopping in bonnie Scotland…
For some ‘end of year’ Hostel Hopping, Alicia Brooks reckons Scotland is a pretty awesome bet; with its colourful history, spine-tingling landscapes and a few imagination-stretching myths thrown in for good measure…
Backpax Route Planner: Edinburgh – Pitlochry – Braemar – Findhorn – Inverness – Loch Ness – Fort William – Skye – Oban – Glasgow
Regal capital of Scotland, Edinburgh, is home to the crown jewels and legend piled upon legend, from times gone by. Most talked of is ‘The Stone of Destiny’, an oblong block of red sandstone used for coronations where many a monarch has welcomed both crown and throne. If you’re destined to visit this ‘bonnie toon’, definitely seek it out during your stay.
Strong and stoic, Edinburgh boasts neoclassical architecture set against craggy hillsides. The city centre exudes a welcoming, elegant feel, whilst the surrounding hills act as protection to this fairy-tale settlement. Faithfully watching over, and ever iconic to Scotland, is Edinburgh Castle, defending the city since the 12th century. Best of all for views is, of course, Arthur’s Seat, which sits atop an ancient volcano that has now become a space of contrasting tranquillity. It’s easy to see why legend has it that this was the place of Camelot, a great vantage point over an even greater city.
Sheltered in the heart of Perthshire, this quaint village, although tiny, will easily secure a big place in the hearts of its visitors. Sparkling streams and clean air combined with a rich clan history has created a charming spot bringing a refreshing clarity to busy lives. Pitlochry extends its hospitality way beyond its tourists, to reach even the local salmon. They’ve installed a fish ladder which allows salmon to travel upstream from the waters of the River Tummel! Popular with ramblers, mountains Ben Vrackie and Schiehallion are in easy reach. An empowering trek to the summit reveals watercolour-like scenes with pale sunlight dancing across the mossy hills.
Stay at: Pitlochry Backpackers Hostel
Highland village, Braemar, can be found snugly nestled within the Cairngorms National Park. Mountains soar high above Braemar whilst magical glens – home to ancient pine forests – await discovery. Braemar Castle, built in 1628, closes for the winter but you can still step within its magical walls until the end of October. Tie in your visit with the Braemar Creative Arts Festival which runs from 18th – 22nd October this year. You’ll find it the perfect base for Highland walks, mountain biking and snow sports once the winter kicks in. Close by to Braemar is HM Queen’s royal residence, Balmoral Castle… so keep your eyes peeled for the Princes who may be visiting their granny!
Stay at: Braemar Lodge Bunkhouse
Humble and good hearted, Findhorn Bay on Scotland’s East Coast, may seem traditional at first sight but is also home to a progressive eco-community. Originating as a fishing port in the eighteenth century, the villagers set sail across the North Sea which ties in nicely with the Nordic looking Findhorn Ecovillage which was originally set up by a hippie couple in 1962. As a Foundation, it aims to create a realistically sustainable future with experimental workshops and teachings. Understanding and working with the natural environment to blossom is at the centre of Findhorn’s evolution. If sustainability isn’t what you’re here for, make sure you bring your sea legs as there’s plenty for the seadog amongst us. Sand-dune framed waters are filled with opportunities for catching a glimpse of sea lions from your surf board (or your brightly-painted beach hut).
Stay at: Findhorn Village Hostel
The Scottish Highland’s largest city and cultural capital, Inverness, is home to a 19th-century Inverness Cathedral, the ‘mostly’ 18th-century Old High Church and an enchanting indoor Victorian Market. The contemporary Inverness Museum & Art Gallery bring this northeastern city firmly into the modern day. Majestically settled on the banks of the River Ness, Inverness Castle is solid in building and in history. Wildlife cruises operate from Inverness Marina, where dolphins can often be spotted in the chilly Moray Firth, a roughly triangular inlet of the North Sea. Wrap up warm!
Stay at: Inverness Student Hotel
Scotland is famed for its legends, with Loch Ness arguably boasting the strongest of them all. Seemingly bottomless, Loch Ness is, of course, home to the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Darkened waters hold magical myths of the monster and only they are privy to the truth. Visit the many small towns dotted around the loch, walk along her shore or take a dip if feeling brave. The majestic ruins of Urquhart Castle sits atop a headland overlooking Loch Ness. The castle a must see, whereas sadly, ‘Nessie’ may never be spotted!
Walkers may want to attempt the Great Glen Way, from Inverness to the West Coast town of Fort William, well that’s if you can squeezer over 50 hours of walking time into your itinerary! A hot spot for hillwalkers, Fort William is on the doorstep of the majestic Ben Nevis and so is equipped for the wilder explorer with climbing. Downhill mountain biking is also readily available, as is snow sports in the winter season. If this isn’t to your fancy, train journeys are fantastic for watching the world go by and taking in the Scottish Highlands’ expanse. Glenfinnan Viaduct is just a short journey from Fort William and this Jacobite steam train, which runs along the West Highland Line, makes for a perfect excursion. Recognisable as the real-life Hogwarts Express, steam merges with low-lying clouds, creating a theatrical magic… enough to inspire in true Harry Potter style!
Stay at: Fort William Backpackers
Heavenly Skye, an island with countless mountain-tops kissed by clouds, is attached to mainland Scotland by bridge alone, creating an isolated tranquillity. Taking its name from a Viking reference, literally meaning ‘cloud island’, breath-taking landscapes increase the sense of it being plucked from a mythical tale. Portree, the largest town on Skye, brings you back to sea level and is the island’s cultural hub. This enchanting harbour-side town makes for a great base to explore the nearby silk-like moors and rugged spired mountain tops. However, be wary of the ever-changing weather, as no fantastical fairy-tale is without its badly behaved villain.
Stay at: Skye Backpackers
Roman gladiators may not be the first thing which comes to mind when one thinks ‘Scotland’ but Oban begs to differ. Battery Hill holds a replica of the Colosseum, high up above the town, as a symbol of power and affluence. It was built in the 19th century by a local banker but the folly has little use other than to showcase this gentleman’s Victorian lavishness and to frame the ever-sumptuous views. For a more traditional view of Scotland, visit equally grand Dunstaffnage Castle perched at one end of glorious, glassy Loch Etive. Home of the Campbell clan, it certainly has much more purpose than its Roman neighbour!
Stay at: Oban Backpackers
Sprawled along the River Clyde is port city Glasgow, which grew from overseas trade and shipbuilding, kick-starting what it is today. A far cry from both rural and traditional Scotland, Glasgow is a cultural, creative and ever-growing creature. Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera and the National Theatre of Scotland are just a few institutions to call Glasgow home. Architecture is cutting edge, the nightlife fierce and the Glaswegian’s spirit is equally feisty. Light reflections spend their nights sprinkled like confetti across the prosperity bringing waters of this regenerated city. And, understanding the strong local dialect is much easier after a few tots of whisky!