My experience of staying at 2 Scottish hostels on Mull and in Invergarry

Scottish Hostels Trip

Ad | I recently took part in a paid collaboration with Scottish Hostels where I spent a night on Mull in the Craignure Hostel and then two nights in Invergarry at the Saddle Mountain Hostel. This collaboration was a very good fit for me - I love hostelling and exploring the area around where I am. All words are my own.

My trip was planned for March, which is towards the end of winter and not peak holiday time, but there were many good reasons for travelling in March which I will explore in more detail. It was also still during a pandemic and it was interesting to learn how this had impacted on the people running the hostels and in fact is still having an impact.

View from the ferry
Views from the Oban - Mull ferry

About the Hostels | Stories

Craignure Bunkhouse, Isle of Mull

I have stayed in a few independent Scottish Hostels before, mainly on the islands, so I had quite a good idea what to expect. And indeed my first hostel was situated in Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Craignure is the main ferry port on the island - you get here from Oban which is where I live so it couldn't have been more convenient. The (very photogenic) journey is only 45 minutes, and once you disembark in Craignure, the hostel is only 2 minutes drive up the road, or a short walk/cycle if you don't bring your car.

Craignure Bunkhouse
Claire & Ivan from Craignure Bunkhouse | View from the bunkhouse

The Craignure Bunkhouse is run by Claire and Ivan who live upstairs. They greeted me and showed me round and we chatted about why they were there and what it was like living there. Claire grew up on Mull and her dad lives just down the road. She had been away but the urge to return to Mull was too strong so she came back and got a job working in the local school and also in a nearby hotel. She met Ivan there who is from the south of Spain and has been living in Scotland on and off all his adult life ("Spain is so dry"). His bond with Scotland is obviously very strong.

They described running the hostel as their "dream job". They both have a background in hospitality and also admin and they stressed the importance of having systems in place to ensure the smooth running of the place and the importance of having time to themselves, hence closing the hostel every day between 10 - 4.

It was clear that their number one priority was giving the people who stayed a good experience and they spoke a lot about converting people to hostelling. They admitted it wasn't for everyone but they are convinced that many more people would enjoy it if they tried it!

Saddle Mountain Hostel, Invergarry

The Saddle Mountain Hostel is just under a two hour scenic drive from Oban; it's slightly north of Fort William and slightly south of Loch Ness and pretty much on the corner of the road that leads to Skye. In March and the roads were quiet. There is also a regular bus service between Fort William and Inverness/Skye which stops very near the hostel.

Saddle Mountain Hostel
Saddle Mountain Hostel | Me and Helen at the waterfall  | Highland cows in the field adjacent to the hostel

I was greeted by owners Helen and Greg who also live above the hostel. After I had been shown around and settled into my really lovely and spacious room with a bottom bunk double bed, we chatted about why they were there running this hostel.

Saddle Mountain Hostel Branding

They had been living in Inverness, both with good jobs, but wanted a change. Greg is from Aberdeen originally and Helen is Irish (but was brought up in London and has lived in Scotland most of her adult life). They are very keen and experienced hillwalkers, having travelled and walked extensively in Scotland and all round the world. In fact the hostel branding is all based round the red and white trail markers found in European long distance walking trails. Helen's brother had designed all the branding which is based round maps, walking, navigation, hills. My room was called Corrie, and even the bedding is red and white!

There were so many similarities with Claire and Ivan's story - lovers of the outdoors wanting to share it with others and to give people a really good and affordable stay. Both spoke about finding a balance between time spent with guests and time to themselves. It is hard to get time off because neither couple has staff so they need to do everything to keep the places running. I was shown the boot rooms (drying rooms) of both hostels, and it was obvious that both couples were proud of the facilities - ideally suited to people who may have been out all day getting wet whether it's kayaking on the loch, cycling or hillwalking.

At the Craignure hostel Claire and Ivan had printed out sheets asking hillwalkers to write what time they had set off, where they were going and when they were expected back which was a lovely touch.

Both places had books and maps and you got the feeling you could ask them anything about the area and they would know!

Facilities

Craignure Bunkhouse Facilities
Craignure Bunkhouse, Isle of Mull

  • Kitchens and dining tables
  • Spacious Lounges
  • A mixture of dorm rooms (very affordable) and private rooms. (Note you cannot book a bed in a dorm in the Craignure Bunkhouse, only a whole room.)
  • Drying Rooms
  • Toilets and showers (ensuites in Craignure Hostel, private in Saddle Mountain Hostel)

Saddle Mountain Facilities
Saddle Mountain, Invergarry

Both the hostels I stayed in were immaculately clean; and this was very important to both hosts, especially in the time of Covid-19.

What I Did | Activities Near By

1. Walking at Lochbuie, Mull

Beinn Buie
Lochbuie House

Claire and Ivan know Mull very well and recommended I take a drive down to Lochbuie which is half an hour from Craignure. The road down to it is quite narrow and windy but once you arrive there is quite a big car park and a café (only open in summer). However I was there for the walking. There are big hills all around, which I will tackle another day, but I set off past the church and along the shore, briefly visiting a small tidal island with very sinky sand and then making my way over to Lochbuie Lodge and Moy Castle. It was exciting to see two sets of otter prints on the sand - you can recognise them by the tail marks.

Mausoleum
Mausoleum

I couldn't go into Moy Castle - it was all boarded up - so I carried on along the path and turning the corner got my first sight of the stunning Lagan Sands - a huge sandy beach, The tide was out and the sand was being whipped about by the wind and I passed a large lone tree then spotted a building amonst the trees at the end of the track. This was the Mausoleum - Caibeal Mheamhair (Chapel of Remembrance), a late medieval building which was subsequently renovated in 1972. I was particularly struck by the stained glass stars in the roof, a really beautiful idea.

I retraced my steps and walked back along the beach then turned right along a track onto the road which lead me to a well preserved stone circle (along a bit of a boggy detour) before heading back to the car and just missing a heavy shower!

More photos from this walk in a gallery at the bottom of the page!

2. Kayaking on Loch Oich

Kayaking on Loch Oich

The first morning of my stay at Saddle Mountain Hostel in Invergarry, Gavin from Active Highs came to pick me up and he drove me a few minutes down the road to Loch Oich where we were going to go kayaking. I hadn't kayaked for many years and at the beginning I found it hard to go in a straight line, but by the end I think I got the hang of it. Gavin was very interesting to talk to and great company and he was a good mix of tour guide; telling me about the Well of the Seven Heads, Invergarry Castle and the wrecked boat, and kayak instructor - giving me little pointers but not stressing too much about me getting it perfectly right! We were approaching a wee islet in the middle of the loch and I asked if we could land, and Gavin found a suitable dry spot and we sat and ate cake and I felt very content. Then just after this we came upon a ruined cottage with a red roof which I had visited on my bike last summer when I did my Great Glen Fault Line cycle! It was really interesting looking back on that time little knowing that a few months later I would be approaching it by kayak!

At this point we set off back to the start, and the wind had got up and it was quite choppy but it was fine and all too soon it was over!

3. Walk to the Allt na Cailliche Waterfall

Allt na Cailliche Waterfall

My second activity of the day was walking with Helen and Greg - we walked from the door along the River Garry through the woods and along waymarked trails to the beautiful Allt na Cailliche waterfall (Cailliche means old woman in Gaelic). It was very quiet and the path near the waterfall was surrounded by thick mossy tree stumps. The sun did eventually peep through the trees and when we got back to the hostel there was quite a pretty sky. There are lots of hills around Invergarry - the ones nearest the hostel are the Loch Lochy Munros and the Corbett Ben Tee which you can do from the hostel door. Helen was keen to point out that there are 60 Munros within an hour's drive, so it is the perfect place to Munro baggers to stay, and in fact they do get a lot of walking groups who come annually.

4. Swimming in Loch Oich

Swimming in Loch Oich

The last morning I packed up the car, ate my porridge then Helen and I picked up one of her neighbours - Anna - and we went to Invergarry Castle to go swimming in  Loch Oich. Anna is a very keen outdoor swimmer - she goes twice a week, and completely loves the experience and the people she swims with. I have to say I think it was colder than the sea which is where I normally swim, and we didn't exactly do much swimming but it was good fun and afterwards we were glad we had swum, especially when we were dry and clothed!

5. The Well of the Seven Heads

The Well of the Seven Heads

The last thing I did before leaving Invergarry was to pay a visit to the Well of the Seven Heads. I had seen this from a kayak and now I entered the small tunnel and crouched my way up to the well - it isn't far but it's very dark and I could only see the well when I put my phone torch on. It was lovely turning round and coming back out to the loch though. There is a takeaway cafe just over the road (called the Well of the Seven Heads Cafe) and I got some soup, cake and coffee from there which I ate down at the shore before driving home.

Catering | What I Ate

Craignure Kitchen
Craignure Bunkhouse kitchen

Both the Craignure Bunkhouse and the Saddle Mountain Hostel have excellent cooking facilities, which I think is the norm amongst the Scottish Hostels.

I didn't cook myself a meal at the Craignure bunkhouse because the Craignure Inn is less than a minute's walk away and I knew the food was good. I had scampi and chips before returning to the hostel to light the woodburning stove and settle down for the evening!

Saddle Mountain Kitchen
Saddle Mountain Kitchen | Optional Breakfast | Preparing my pasta and salad

I cooked for myself the first evening at the Saddle Mountain Hostel - my usual pasta and salad! The kitchen had everything I needed, and even if the hostel had been full there would have been enough room for everyone. In both hostels you need to wash, dry up and put away after you've finished cooking. They are more like staying in a B&B than in an old style hostel, except that you cater for yourself (although Helen and Greg do offer an optional breakfast of muesli, homemade bread and jam and coffee) which makes it very affordable, especially if you have a family to cater for!

Invergarry Hotel
Dinner at the Invergarry Hotel

I went to the Invergarry Hotel on the second evening for dinner - it's a 10 minute walk down the road from the hostel. I had mussels followed by caramel ice cream (a single scoop with turned out to be much better than I was expecting, with warm caramel sauce and fresh strawberries and raspberries!).

Travelling in Scotland in Winter

Pros

  • Quiet roads/trains/buses/ferries
  • Good weather can be a pleasant surprise
  • No midges!
  • More availability in hostels/restaurants
  • Likelihood of snow on the hills
  • Still just as beautiful

Cons

  • If you are travelling to an island there is more chance the ferries will be cancelled/delayed
  • Possibly less likelihood of meeting new people

At the Saddle Mountain Hostel there was one other guest, being midweek in March (they were fully booked the following weekend). However the one other guest was Suzie, who I got on really well with, and we had lots of deep and funny chats over breakfast/in the lounge before bed!

Eco Tourism

Hostels are an extremely environmentally friendly holiday accommodation option. The are usually purpose built and house a lot of people under one roof - very unlike many Airbnbs/self catering accommodation which can take housing stock from local communities.

Wood store Craignure Bunkhouse
Craignure Bunkhouse Wood Store

Both Ivan and Claire and Greg and Helen stressed to me how important the environmental issues were to them. The Craignure Bunkhouse has a biomass boiler and they heat the hostel mostly using wood from Mull which is hand chopped by Ivan! They also have solar panels on their roof which does contribute to the running of the place, especially in summer.

Both hostels had recycling facilities, use low energy lightbulbs and appliances and compost bins. Also both are easy to get to by public transport.

Conclusion

  • The main things I took away from the trip was that hostelling really is for all ages; I'm in my fifties but they are ideal for young people and families too.
  • It's a very comfortable experience; bedding is provided, beds are comfortable, they are warm and days of doing chores are long gone. The only thing I needed to do was clean up after myself in the kitchen and strip my bed at the end of the stay.
  • Hostels really are in superb locations, ideal for exploring Scotland! They are also set on long distance paths or Ways so are ideal stopping off places
  • They are such sociable places, even if you are on your own you are likely to meet likeminded people.
  • They are affordable; the accommodation is usually cheaper to start with, especially if there are a few of you (ideal for large families as you can all be in the same room) and you also have the option to cater for yourself, saving money.
  • They are eco friendly

Hostels, like all accommodation providers, really struggled throughout the pandemic. They are such a big part of our culture and we need to hang on to them. I genuinely loved my time staying in them and would highly recommend you consider them for a holiday in Scotland!

Useful Links

Scottish Hostels »
Craignure Bunkhouse »
Saddle Mountain Hostel »
Active High
s »
Calmac Ferries »
Invergarry Hotel Restaurant »
Well of the Seven Heads Cafe »

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Lochbuie, Isle of Mull

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