There was an expression of deep thankfulness in the man's face. The traces of anxiety I picked up immediately on opening the door to him vanished and even the transitory look of guarded disbelief lasted only a second or two. Yes indeed we did have room for him in the hostel. Just as well really for dusk was on us, snow on the ground, the temperature already minus three and had we been full and with no bed for him I could see myself needing to put him in the Landy and both of us heading off to a neighbouring hostel with available beds.
He was also pretty wet having walked over the pass from the glen to the south of us losing his way, easily done, amongst the myriad forest tracks above our village. That said, I judge him to have been unlucky; he was otherwise well equipped and gave me a quiet almost unspoken reassurance that he knew what he was doing on the hill.
Tom soon was cheered up as were Aurelie and Melanie the two Swiss girls already in residence in the hostel. They had the woodstove well in hand having had much practice in mountain huts outside their native Geneva. Both girls are gardeners in summer time and one a Shiatsu practitioner. In winter they travel in a somewhat weary looking van in which they can sleep if caught out without a more solid roof over their heads or indeed when funds are limited. I liked their values as we talked around their meal table the night before. I didn't stay long. I rarely linger with guests unless there is a real reason for doing so or I feel an invitation I should not ignore. It's not that I am inhospitable but as one of two hostel keepers here I have learned over time when it is the right time to withdraw and let guests have the place to themselves.
The next day after three unscheduled days with us the Swiss were gone, heading north to Badrallach. They had also singled out Sleeperzzz at Rogart and The Poor House near Tongue in Sutherland as places they really liked the sound of. We know the Rogart folk, Kate and Frank and, like Hamish Brown who writes affectionately about the hostel in his latest book, “The Smallest Post Office In the World”, we think their railway carriage vision brilliant. Our guess was though that both places opened up again after the winter at the beginning of March or April so the girls went on to our guests' wi-fi to contact both places and find out. Badrallach Bothy hostel and campsite on Little Loch Broom, though assured them they were open and we told them they would love it. There over several years now Mick & Alison have carved themselves an enviable reputation with visitors to the north west. Roy and Issy at The Poor House we hope to meet up with before too long.
Tom had been at boarding school in Perthshire for as long as his parents could support him there and he loves the hills. Now as a tree surgeon in the west country of England he spends his days using his hands, relying on his balance and his skills with dangerous machinery often high above the ground. He felt his education had provided well for him. Tom also stayed three days having not intended to even come to us. His original plan was to get the bus back to the town where he had been in a hostel before starting on his epic wander over the pass. Now he plans to return to the area later in the year bringing his wife with him.
When young people come here and indeed to all hostels where good craic and meaningful blether is plentiful and engage us both in their banter and their thirst for serious enquiry I like to think that for a few of them we might just be joining that long line of folk each of us has a birthright to meet in our formative years. And of course it goes both ways, all ways in fact primarily among those who are doing the travelling and encountering a meeting of minds. Certainly I count myself lucky that I am still enjoying my formative years and I have many of our hostel guests, young and old to thank for that. For are we not all products of people we have met along the way?