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Highland hostel is holiday haven

Aviemore SYHA Hostelling Scotland
Aviemore SYHA Hostelling Scotland

Despite the decades that have passed, the memory leaps vividly to life as I cross the threshold of the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association’s Aviemore Hostel, dragging my middle-age spread and nine-year-old daughter with me.

We are in the Cairngorm National Park primarily for the skiing, but also for the whole host of other outdoor activities the area has to offer. The trip is part of our plan to take in as many of the SYHA’s hostels as possible in this, its 85th anniversary year.

Today, youth hostelling is quite a different animal to the one of my teens.

Banished is the ban on booze and the requirement to do chores. You don’t even have to sleep in a dormitory or line up for ablutions in the all-girl or guy washrooms.

These days the not-for-profit company established in 1931 offers private and family rooms – many with en-suite facilities – as well as low-cost multi-occupancy rooms. Guests can even exclusively rent an entire hostel for a group or family event.

We are met by a beaming 20-something who, in slick hotel style, advises us that our room (with cosy duvets, sheets and towels) is ready.

And that we can book breakfast in the morning or, as with lunch and dinner, do it ourselves in the wonderful communal kitchen – a self-catering paradise where outgoing hostellers can choose to donate their left-over supplies to a ‘free food shelf’.

I gawk at the well-priced bottles of wine and beer on offer and am overtaken by yet another flashback – did I really door handle-jive to Trini Lopez’s La Bamba after polishing off that Bloody Mary?

The reverie is broken by lively banter coming from the chic, modern lounge where guests laze about in leather-look sofas and chairs. Ages in the room appear to range from six to 76 and in minutes my girl is off to play pool with youngsters from another family.

I take my wine and a book to a spot by the window where the mountain panorama still, after all these years, takes my breath away. This is the life! And without the hefty peak-season hotel bill.

(PA)
(PA)

After a great night’s sleep we’re up bright and early to hit the piste but a text from my daughter’s instructors at the School of Snow Sports based in Coylumbridge breaks the news of 80mph winds, which close the mountain. True to their name however, SOS come to our rescue and ensure that her novice lesson goes ahead on a pimple of a hill nearby known as The Hay Field.

“Now,” announces her instructor, “you can call me John or Granddad John”.

John Mould is 74 and a mean, keen, skiing machine. My girl loves him and in under two hours he has the class – most complete beginners – able to turn and stop. Pretty fast work if you ask me.

By day two and under bright skies my daughter is confidently tackling the T-bar tow and the Cairngorm’s Ciste Fairway (a green or easy run) without a single fall – all thanks to John.

A trip to the Cairngorms gives me a chance to follow in the footsteps of TV adventurer Bear Grylls’ and hook up with veteran ‘musher’ Alan Stewart at The Cairngorm Sleddog Centre.

It lays claim to being the only daily working centre of its kind in the UK and one of only five in Europe.

The centre has a range of courses and events, from safaris to a night ‘viz’ adventure and a remote camp experience.

Alan last year featured with Bear in the show Britain’s Biggest Adventures. But the visit is not designed for kiddies, as Alan explains: “The centre sits at the edge of the last Arctic frontier of the UK, and to date we are the first and only sled dog team to cross the whole Cairngorm mountain range mid-winter. It’s our way of life and not for everybody.

“Visitors who come to our centre spend a few hours in the world of the ‘musher’. What we offer is no jolly husky ride.”

(Ben Curtis)
(Ben Curtis)

There are myriad activities on offer in the Cairngorm to suit all ages – summer and winter.

Loch Morlich has watersports like sailing, while on Rothiemurchus Estate visitors can enjoy clay shooting, fishing, archery, bushcraft, 4X4 driving, gorge walking and
swimming.

I feel another Cairngorm hostel visit may be looming.


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