It was more than ironic that on the night we saw the tail lights of our beloved Landy Defender 90 disappear beyond the woodshed for the last time semi serious snow of late March should fall once more in the night with a vengance. Had we done the right thing in swapping both car and Landy for a single 4x4 car? We hope so.
The old fella 'Finglas' we called him had trundled logs, laundry, bottle empties, scrap, sheep, hens, building supplies and occasionally hostellers over the three years we have had him on the road. He was the latest in a fairly long line of Landy's starting for me in the 1960's with a Series 2, 2a, 3, TDi and then a TD5. Each could tell its stories of adventure and misadventure in and out of hostel service. One thing is for sure; I would not have missed the experience for worlds.
Today we watched an eagle swoop on a hare on the snow covered slopes on the Monadhliath. Black and white Slochd goats were with kid and four herds of red deer, one herd over a hundred strong in number graced the slopes close to the ridge each lying beast warming itself in the sun.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our four Edinburgh University PHd moss hunters who have been under the guidance of those who know their mosses and lichens at RSPB Regional H.Q. They even helped push our quad bike snow plough when it ran out of fuel clearing their track to the road.
We have both WWOOFER and Re- Foresting Scotland venerated leadership people staying this evening. Nice folk with long tales to tell of huts, woodstoves, community woodlands, and lifelong adventures from here to the Arctic Circle in Sweden, Norway and Russia. My pal who is staying to help with the hostel this week reminds us that today is the equinox. Not in my brain it isn't – yet but then so much can change in the short space of a week. We'll see.
Young hostel visitors and our 15 month old grandson come this afternoon to see the 'new' hens strutt their stuff among the sheep in the small field. We brought them back at considerable expense from the Rare Breeds Poultry Sale at Dingwall two weeks back. My! they are handsome and the egg basket now holds a riot of deep browns, whites, creams and occasional blues from the the Cream Legbars and are a joy to see. We still have too many top Primary age kids coming here without any real idea about where their basic food comes from. Wide eyed they watch, listen, join in with the feeding and then, hopefully, talk about it with others whose parents have not yet had the wisdom or opportunity perhaps to bring their kids on a rural hostel visit.
Hostel Keepers or 'Hosteliers', I like that one, are a funny breed. Many are ferociously independent, full of scary stories or even practices. You may remember the legendary tale reported in the press at the time with incredulity where a single female hostel guest had arrived to find no hostel keeper but doors open and welcoming. The open fireplace greeted her along with records and record player, bits and pieces of food and tell tale ex forces swaying and creaking two tier bunks. I know this to be true because I too stayed there most happily many, many years ago. It was a chilly October afternoon so she presumed to light the fire. Enter later the Hostel Keeper with bucket of water which he throws on the growing fire. “There's no fires here until November at the earliest!” His comment to the press ran something like, “ Weel I'm full every weekend; I must be doing something right !”
A number of our stalwart hostel keepers in Scotland are now looking to retire. Everyone agrees it's huge fun and a great adventure getting into running your own hostel. It's not so easy to move on in life and leave behind your beloved creation. What's more of a challenge perhaps is how we can encourage the next generation of true independent hostel keepers to get into the saddle. These are hard times for gathering the vital finance. But what may be even more important I suggest is for us not to find our hostels in the hands of single minded opportunistic business people but genuinely motivated, well travelled, right minded folk and yes, mildly eccentric men and women with the enviable 'hostelkeeper/hostellier mentality and aspiration. That's my hope anyway.
Carry on hostelling and with independent hostelling it may be just that bit more fun.