This month two of the longest serving properties in our network, Gairloch Sands and Ratagan Youth Hostel both reach an amazing milestone and celebrate their 85th anniversary! 

A birthday is not the only thing these two youth hostels have in common, both can be found in remote areas of the Highlands of Scotland and both can also be found beside a beautiful loch. But don't ask us which loch-side view is most scenic, we couldn't possibly decide...

Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel 

A sketch of main entrance, SYHA News Letter, July 1948 and a view of Skye beyond the youth hostel

Formerly known as Carn Dearg Youth Hostel, Gairloch Sands is one of SYHA’s longest-serving properties. It was a former hunting lodge on the north shore of Gairloch and was given to the Association by Lady Mary Ogilvie in August 1931 and opened as a youth hostel on 13th May 1932.

At the youth hostel in the 30s, breakfast could be ordered for 1s.6d or 9d, a picnic lunch for one shilling and dinner for two shillings. A notice to members in 1932 reminded them that the small resident staff would not make their beds, clean their shoes or tidy their rooms, even today we still won't clean our visiting hostellers shoes!

Major roof works were carried out at Carn Dearg in 1999. It was necessary to remove the impressive tall chimneys


During the war wardens could find themselves otherwise engaged, temporarily or permanently; in the summer of 1940 the warden here was to be employed by the Post Office. In height of the war, from 1941 to 1944, Carn Dearg Hostel was closed; it reopened in 1945 and has functioned every year since.

Staying at Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel in 2017, guests will be able to take stunning panoramic views of the Torridon hills and Loch Gairloch from the large window in the lounge.

View of the youth hostel from the sandy beach

Ratagan Youth Hostel 

Ratagan Youth Hostel over the years

On the shore of Loch Duich, Ratagan Youth Hostel was one of SYHA’s first rentals from the Forestry Commission. It was housed in a bare 19th-century farm and rural-industry building, and opened on 14th May 1932. Those who stayed there in the earliest days would have had a very primitive experience and wouldn't have been treated to the luxury of windows, but that was all part of its rustic charm. Don't worry the windows soon came!

The youth hostel had to close after the 1939 season for reasons connected with the war, but reopened on 24th June 1944. Two years later the Association made its first bid to purchase the property from the Forestry Commission; £2,000 was offered, but rejected. The Commission was not in a position to trade its properties just then, as the Government was demanding greater productivity to improve timber supplies after the war. Indeed, it needed to recall the property from SYHA in 1950-51 to house its own workers, and the youth hostel’s future looked uncertain.

Loch-side views at Ratagan Youth Hostel

Nevertheless, Ratagan  returned to SYHA use on 15th May 1952; both it and Balmacara were able to operate side by side for 11 years. In 1971 plans for the remodelling of Ratagan hostel were well advanced. Accommodation at the modernised hostel was to be reduced from 50 to 42 beds and the building was finally purchased from the Forestry Commission.

Today, those staying at Ratagan Youth Hostel will be treated to an amazing view of the Five Sisters of Kintail mountain range from the sitting room and otters, seals and porpoises can be seen from the garden.

Ratagan Youth Hostel in 2017

Things may have changed at Gairloch and Ratagan Youth Hostels over the years but one things has stayed the same, they both offer great accommodation and a warm welcome for those looking to explore unique and beautiful locations in Scotland.

Be part of our celebrations...

We’re looking to create an e-book to celebrate 85 years of hostelling at Gairloch Sands and Ratagan Youth Hostels. If you have any photographs you’d like to share with us, please send to hosteller@syha.org.uk and tell us a little bit about your snap! Full details and terms & conditions can be found here.

Biography for SYHA Hostelling Scotland

Scotland's best known network of youth hostels in stunning city & rural locations. Go on a #SYHAdventure! As a not-for-profit organisation, we encourage guests to join SYHA Hostelling Scotland. Members enjoy a range of exclusive benefits including dual membership of Hostelling International, providing access to more than 4,000 youth hostels in over 90 countries worldwide. Membership and guest overnight income supports our charitable youth programmes and the maintenance of the hostelling network, particularly in rural Scotland.

Leave a Comment