Hands up if you presume that ‘youth’ hostels are just for young people? Hands up again if you fear you still have to perform chores at Scottish youth hostels? And a last hands up if you think the nation’s hostels are all just about sharing old-style dormitories?
Well, I have to confess, until all too recently, I laboured under some of these anachronisms myself. But here I am now writing the first of my monthly blogs for the SYHA in the comfy lounge of my spacious self-catering apartment in Oban Youth Hostel at the not-exactly-youthful age of 43. I not only have a big bath (baths so beat the now non-existent chores) and a comfy bed, I’ve also picked up some Arran Aromatics toiletries from reception and a bottle of local ale.
My kids are delighted with their cute bunks too and we’ve even got our own kitchen. I’m working on the in-room wifi as my reservations about youth hostels – which to be fair date right back to my teenage years – float off on the gentle late spring Hebridean sea breeze. This is certainly not hostelling as I remember it.
Oban Youth Hostel Apartment
As this is my first blog let’s start at the beginning with what SYHA actually is, something I’ve been a bit hazy about for years. The Scottish Youth Hostels Association (or SYHA Hostelling Scotland) is a not-for-profit, self-funding charity that has its roots way back in 1931. All profits are ploughed back into the network, as it strives to stay true to its aim of encouraging everyone, whether they are seven or seventy, to explore the wonders of Scotland, both urban and countryside.
Oban Youth Hostel is a fine example of the modern face of the 36 SYHA hostels (and 30 affiliates) in Scotland today. This welcoming, engaging bolthole sits right on the waterfront of the Argyll resort town and is graded a five star hostel by VisitScotland. It’s a real delight that is spread between a grand old Victorian building with sweeping views of Oban Bay and a more modern lodge at the back. Both are well equipped, and no one I meet staying at either has a bad word to say about it.
Oban - Gateway to the Isles
Oban is not just a one off. In the research for my blogs, I’ve already visited some SYHA hostels and I’ve also checked out others to book for stays over for the coming months. Nearly all Scottish youth hostels not only offer self-catering facilities, but private rooms too, along with the multi-share rooms that are so great for meeting people. With my two young daughters, the family rooms are proving very handy and we’re becoming firm converts to hostelling.
One surprise for me is the Exclusively yours…RentaHostel service, which allows you to enjoy your very own youth hostel with a group of friends or family on an exclusive use basis at any time of year (though get in quick if you want a specific date or favourite location). Another surprise is that at many youth hostels you can pick up breakfast, packed lunches and evening meals, with local produce often weaving itself on to menus.
Over the coming months, I will be covering some exciting developments in Scottish hostelling as I take you on a tour of my deeply dramatic native country. These days there are SYHA or affiliate hostels up and down the country from the Northern Isles to Southern Scotland. In July, for example, I will be up checking out the new youth hostel at Portree on Skye, which only opened in March. While I’m on the largest island in the Inner Hebrides, I will be dropping by the other youth hostels up there that really open up this beguiling island.
Robin in Oban
August sees a visit to Arran, which I’m really looking forward to as it’s a boyhood haunt of mine. In September, I will be delving deep into the bucolic charms of the Cairngorms as I bed down at Cairngorm Lodge in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. I’ll be bashing around the national park on foot, on two wheels and paddling in the local waters too. In October, I’ll be returning from the wilds to enjoy an autumnal family trip in the cosmopolitan capital of Edinburgh.
So it’s going to be a busy few months for me as I travel the length and breadth of my native land checking out both Scotland’s youth hostels and the glorious swathes of scenery that they open up. Recently I’ve really had my head turned by SYHA hostels. I’d love it if you could join me on a journey that I hope will help turn your head too and lead you to many glorious hostelling adventures. Slainte!
Biography for Robin McKelvie
Robin McKelvie (www.robinmckelvie.com) is a Scottish travel writer, broadcaster and blogger who has been covering his native land since the 1990s. A member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Robin is the author of a number of guidebooks, including National Geographic’s Scotland guide. He regularly contributes to a variety of newspapers and magazines across five continents, such as the Times and the Scotsman, as well as doing travel slots for BBC radio. Robin can be found on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinmckelvie.