It was winter, I was ill and we had little money but we were desperate to get away from the city. The plan was to get some good hiking in, but the weather and my immune system had other plans and without good quality winter sleeping bags, camping wasn’t an option. So we searched for some hostels in the Highlands of Scotland and decided to head off for a road trip. A lot of the accommodation in the Highlands is pretty expensive, especially if you are looking for a cosy getaway. We were craving snuggling up to an open fire and after a good search we came across Gerry’s hostel: an old cottage originally built to house rail workers and their families during the creation of the West Coast Railway. It is the oldest independent hostel in Scotland, based in Craig near Achnashellach train station.
One of the best things about being a teacher in Edinburgh is the early Friday finish time, allowing us to hit the road early afternoon and complete the five plus hour journey before tea time. We arrived at Gerry’s in the dark, grabbed our bags out of the car and looked for some signs of life. There weren’t any. We took a walk in, noting the cold, and found Gerry near the back of the house. He was an old chap with a brilliant mane who showed us around the place and directed us to where our room was. It was a basic establishment with very little heating throughout the building, other than the room heater (which Gerry was very meticulous about us not leaving on if we weren’t in the room) and the open fire in the main room. After rustling up some food, we headed through there and sat down with a bottle of wine accompanied by the sweet sounds of Rod Stewart on the record player. We were the only ones staying and Gerry kept trying to scuttle past so as not to invade our privacy but we were keen to chat with him. After a reluctant initial answering of questions, Gerry eventually relaxed and appeared to enjoy the company. He was an interesting man, who had chosen to base himself in this almost wilderness despite being from south of the border. He left us to finish our bottle of wine in front of the fire before we headed up to bed.
We were staying in the family room, which was a cosy little base with 5 beds. We opted for the double but upon lying down and feeling some vibrations from the mattress, I realised some other inhabitant had claimed that bed for themselves. Needless to say, we moved on to the bunk beds, snuggled ourselves in the duvet before having one of the best night’s sleep ever.
We awoke to torrential rain blurring the stunning views from the window. It was clear that a big hike wasn’t going to be on the agenda and would have to be replaced with a drive – we got the map out and planned a route. Sharing my dad’s love of the area, I wanted to explore around Torridon. Despite the horrendous weather, we had an amazing drive along the Shieldaig Penisula and along the coast by Applecross. I have never been to this part of Scotland when it hasn’t been wet and I honestly think that it adds to the beauty of the area. The rugged peaks were clouded in grey which, when reflected in the lochs and bays, added a milkiness to the water.
That night was spent by the open fire, playing cards and chatting some more to Gerry.The next day we followed this up with a drive up to Ullapool through the snow before beginning the long journey home.
The weather had beaten us in terms of getting outdoors as much as we had liked, but the whole experience had whetted our appetite to return as soon as possible with the tent and to get in amongst the hills!
Sadly, as I came to write this I learned that Gerry has since passed away. Both Andy and I were so fortunate to have had such a great experience with him at his hostel, which is now run by his son, and will remember him and the time fondly.