HOSTELLING in Scotland has often conjured up images of spartan abodes and compulsory morning chores, but a new generation of independent hostels is offering cash-strapped travellers and families a host of luxury facilities.
There are currently around 130 independent private hostels north of the border ranging from Inversnaid Bunkhouse in Stirling complete with hot tub and bistro to converted first-class railway carriages in Sutherland.
The new breed of hostels developed as growing number of customers wanted to experience being out in the wilds or exploring city centres but also wanted home comforts without having to share facilities with dozens of other people.
‘Big changes in hostelling’
Tricia Eccles, chair of Scottish Independent Hostels, said many hostels had responded to increase in interest from families by offering en-suite and family rooms and offering additional services such as free babysitting and flexible meal times.
“Hostelling has undergone big changes in recent years with all SIH hostels now quality assured by VisitScotland, offering a wide range of flexible accommodation options to suit families as well as our traditional backpacking guests.”
Rosie and Dave Lang own Inversnaid Bunkhouse in Stirling, a converted church which offers weary travellers the opportunity to relax in a hot tub after a day’s walk before enjoying a meal in the bistro.
Prices range from £17.50 to £28.50 for private rooms in an adjacent cabin.
Mrs Lang said: “People just love the hot tub. It’s a fantastic idea to have something like that to look forward to especially for those who’ve been doing the 35-mile walk from Milngavie. They can sit in the hot tub overlooking the river and we bring drinks out to them.”
However, Keith Legge, chief executive of SYHA Hostelling Scotland which was the forerunner of the hostelling movement, said the traditional sector plays a vital role not only catering for individuals and families but also for large groups such as school parties and undertakes an educational role.
SYHA had around 80 hostels in its postwar heydey but this has now been reduced to approximately 40. A number were no longer fit for purpose or fell out of use as tracks such as cycle routes changed.
“We are a not-for-profit, self-funding charity and everything we make is ploughed back into the organisation,” Mr Legge said.
“Forty years ago it was just us, now there are a lot of commercial operators running bunk houses, farm diversification schemes which have copied our methods.
“But as well as city centre accommodation we offer people the chance of staying in places like Glen Affric in Beauly and Glenbrittle at the foot of the Cuillins on Skye which are communal places to bring people together.”
Mr Legge added: “We probably offer far more private rooms than the independent sector and we also work closely with schools and groups in the educational and volunteer sector.
“Our ethos is very much that of self-discovery, learning and education.”
‘Still a place for traditional hostels’
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “Scotland is in the fortunate position to offer a range of accommodation options for every taste and budget.
“Without doubt there is a growing interest in independent hostels, these often offer a range of unique, quirky and unusual accommodation options that are fun and create an extremely memorable experience.
“Clearly this is something we’re keen to promote, particularly in 2014 when we will encourage everyone to talk about their brilliant moments in Scotland.
“However, without a doubt there is still a prominent place for the traditional hostel, they offer a tremendous amount to the local community and go a long way in spreading the wealth to other businesses within the local area.”
INDEPENDENT HOSTELS WITH THE LUXURY TOUCH
• Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid, Stirling - located at Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way, - bistro and hot tub, from £18.50-£28.50.
• Coorie Doon, Old Banavie Road, Banavie, Fort William - sauna, WiFi, satellite tv. Given 5-star rating by VisitScotland. From £18 per night.
• Sleeperzzz, The Railway Carriages, Pittentrail, Sutherland - accommodation on a first-class train halfway between Inverness and John O Groats. From £16 per night.