Saturday, 21 March 2015

Island Focus, the Isle of Eigg

Isle of Eigg, the Small Isles, Inner Hebrides

The Isle of Eigg dominated by An Sgurr

The Small Isles

Between the largest Inner Hebrides islands of Skye and Mull lies a group of magical islands known as “The Small Isles”.  The Isles of Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck are equally fascinating, each with its own unique beauty, atmosphere and scenery. 

The isle of Eigg

Glebe Barn Hostel
The Isle of Eigg is the second largest and most populated of the island group.   It is community owned with a vibrant population of 100 residents. Eigg was bought by the Eigg Trust in 1997 - a partnership between Eigg's residents, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and Highland Council. Eigg’s pioneering community buy-out ushered in land reform in Scotland, giving islanders control of their future for the first time.  Among other achievements, Eigg now has the first completely wind, water and sun-powered electricity grid in the world. The Isle of Eigg was cited as one of the Scottish Herald's Top Ten Scottish Islands to visit this spring.
Laig Bay

Glebe Barn Hostel: special offer April

Go now and stay at the Glebe Barn Hostel, on offer with up to 25% discount in April for individual or group bookings, or contact  for further information quoting "SIH" with your enquiry.

Glebe Barn Hostel is a charming and characterful conversion of a 19th century building. The accommodation has a relaxed and homely ambience with breathtaking views.
Minke whale off Eigg
 Situated only one mile from the pier, where there is a licensed cafe/ restaurant, shop and craft shop, the Glebe Barn is ideally located for exploring the island.

The Heritage and Wildlife of Eigg

Eigg lies ten miles off the Scottish mainland coast and is very beautiful. The Eigg skyline is dominated by the remarkable vertical pitchstone ridge of An Sgurr, the largest in Europe. Laig Bay in the north is famed for its wide curve of sand with a stunning outlook over the Cuillins of Rum.  Nearby are the Singing Sands, a stunning musical quartz beach which squeak as you walk and which are surrounded by outstanding geological formations.  Eigg has many cultural and historical attractions: Picts and Vikings have left their mark, and its rich history is steeped in clan warfare and the crofting way of life. 

Eigg is an Island with a rich, diverse habitats supporting a wide variety of wildlife. The Island's bird life reflects this diversity with around 70 species breeding each year and many more occurring as passage or winter visitors.In the waters around the island, otters, seals, dolphins and whales are regularly spotted.

Travel to Eigg

The mainland ferry terminals of Mallaig (Caledonian MacBrayne) and Arisaig (Arisaig Marine) are about an hour from Fort William on the A 830, the famous 'Road to the Isles'. The total journey time from Glasgow is about 3 to 3 1/2 hours, and from Edinburgh about 4 to 4 1/2.

There are only a very few miles of road on Eigg and the only vehicles allowed will be those of islanders (with permits) and service vehicles.

The ferry to Eigg from Mallaig is with  Caledonian MacBrayne , or from Arisaig on the Shearwater.  Caledonian MacBrayne operates all year round while the Shearwater sails only in the summer months.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

App Innovation from Haggis Hostels

A new "digital concierge mobile app" is being launched during the Edinburgh Tourism Action Groups (ETAG) Technology Solutions for Tourism Conference on March 20th.  The innovative smart phone app by Edinburgh-based Haggis Hostels will provide visitors to the city with all the information they might need during a trip to the capital, with information on the local area, money saving deals and opportunities to explore the wider country as well as booking functionality.

Part-funded by an Innovation Grant from The Scottish Funding Council in cooperation with Edinburgh s Napier University, &  Haggis Hostels Managing Director Christopher Davidson has developed the app through the introduction of Hamish the Haggis, a character designed to appeal to the youth market, who are a key audience for the hostel.  Christopher is also a new Director of the SIH Board

Commenting on the launch, Christopher said Im delighted to be launching our new app during ETAGs conference.  Its an exciting time for Haggis Hostels as we develop our digital assets to enable us to further engage with our core market.  We know that visitors to Haggis Hostels are exploring our historic city and we want to ensure our guests are fully informed about everything they can do in Edinburgh, while ensuring the very best value for money.

It is hoped that visitors will use the app throughout their stay, with Hamish keeping guests up to date with deals and offers on attractions and food & beverage outlets, and also enabling them to book their next stay at the Hostel or a trip with one of the citys local tour operators.

Robin Worsnop, Chair of ETAG comments 'Haggis Hostels new Digital Concierge embraces the advancements in technology available to consumers. This innovative Smartphone App will encourage their guests to experience Edinburgh and Scotland to the full.'

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Sky at Night in Scotland – March is the time to view

Shooting Star over Loch Ness

Scotland is one of the best places in the world to witness the sky at night and March is one of the best times of year to view.  Remote parts of Scotland have low light pollution, and many of our Hostels are in these areas.  There is a great choice of Hostels in locations that are perfect for viewing the night sky.

Galloway Activity Centre
With some of the clearest night skies anywhere in Europe, Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries & Galloway is the perfect place to star gaze and has been named the UK’s first Dark Sky Park. More than 7,000 stars and planets are visible with the naked eye from the Park.  Even the Milky Way is visible without the use of a telescope

Galloway Forest Park was the first national park in the UK to be awarded Dark Sky Park status from the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in November 2009. The awards are aimed at reducing light pollution, protecting the dark skies and the natural nocturnal habitats in which wildlife thrives.

Marthrown of Mabie
It is one of only three dark sky parks in Europe and gives year round opportunities to stargaze. 
On the edge of Galloway Forest Park is the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory. Facilities include two impressive telescopes, and a roll-off-roof observatory which offers a unique 'out in the open' experience.  Stay at Galloway Activity Centre or Marthrown of Mabie in nearby Mabie Forest 

Dark Sky Island
Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides was named as Scotland’s first Dark Sky Island in 2013, only the second in this classification to date.
Coll Bunkhouse
As the result of locals working to record measurements of the darkness of the night sky and adjusting lights, you can enjoy exceptional unspoilt views of starry vistas with minimum light pollution – the nearest lamp post is around 20 miles away, on the nearby Isle of Mull.  Stay at Coll Bunkhouse

Dark Sky Discovery Points
A number of sites on the Isle of Skye identified as Dark Sky discovery sites. Nine unique locations across the island include Clan Donald, Kylerhea and Kinloch Forest.  View our Hostel accommodation on Skye and theOuter Hebrides

Other points in Scotland include Glen Nevis in Lochaber.A stay at the Ben Nevis Inn would be ideal!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

At The Hostel Door: March 2015

Sail Mhor Croft Hostel

One of the first independent hostels I remember staying at was Dave and Lynda Neville's now venerable Sail Mhor Croft Hostel   at Camusnagaul, Dundonell in Wester Ross.  We had been doing some elementary hill walking with young people on the Scoraig Peninsula across the waters of Little Loch Broom by which the hostel sits, pristine white and welcoming.  We're going back some thirty years and I well remember the evening visit to the local hotel where, to our amazement we were caught up by a wedding party, invited to sing for them and treated to supper.  Just how good can it get?  I was reminded of this lately by a 'boy' who was there, now in his mid forties and a successful author.

It's so easy to go west in Scotland.  There's something magnetic about crossing the watershed to where the mountains heave themselves to great heights with less of a footprint than say in the Cairngorms.  There in the Grampians the ancient lumps and scoured corries may have the wildest of all hill weather as  friends who run their hostels there will tell you.  Many an experienced hill walker never mind the novice ones have found themselves pushed hard to get back to the welcoming warmth of the hostel fire.  However, a night in a hostel in the west can be unrivalled for the sunset, the symphony of mountain and sea and a hardy breed of resident, many of them three hours drive from Inverness and its hospital clinics.

Rattray Head Eco Hostel
Last year though we took time off from the hostel to go east.  In particular we were taking ninety year old mother- in -law back to Rattray Head   a headland on the Buchan coast, just south of the loch of Strathbeg and close to Peterhead.  Mother in law challenged Rob Keeble who with his wife Val are the hostelkeepers there with the twinkly question, “ Do you know I haven't been in here for seventy years?”  No Rob didn't know but was soon to be enlightened.  M.i.L had been based at the next door Crimond, later Rattray, Airfield during WW2 as a meteorologist.  She recounted not only her flights in flimsy aircraft both to RAF Leuchars and elsewhere, her life in barracks across the main road and which we discovered amongst head high weeds and were able to explore, but also her long walks to the lighthouse and back.

Well not to the lighthouse itself as that stands well off shore from the eleven miles of sandy beach and dunes.  The cottages, built 1892, housing the keepers  and which now host the hostel and apartments were home to the Principal lighthouse keeper. And this keeper had a son.  We know no more and must not speculate but the long walks for tea around the keeper's stove and then back to the barracks before curfew were spelt out for the benefit of us and an interested Rob.  I loved the flumpy, comfy, faded glory, salt laden feel of the main room on the upper floor.  Signs of Val's clever craft making work is never far away and she tells me that this year she is opening her adjacent craft shop and activity centre to test the waters for interest.  Good on the pair of them for diversity in action.

 Meanwhile, Rob is released a wee bit more to allow him to indulge his second love:- teaching advanced maths to those who can learn from him.  It strikes me now that his first love might be the hostel.  It will be a close run thing though as those of you, including the countless university students on field work who have visited will remember.  To heat his hostel's newer age boiler Rob collects discarded wooden pallets. Never in my life have I seen so many in one place.  However, in addition, out of these he built, wait for it, his baronial Viking hall in which he, Val and their guests celebrated their wedding in 2013.  That's independent hostel keepers for you. No top down bureaucracy for them!

Cullen Harbour Hostel
I have had a few chats over the years with Howard Owens and Ruth Hyde who have created their own magical eastern seaboard hostel at Cullen on the Moray Firth.   Put simply, Howard is a genius in wood.  If I am right it was he who contributed to the remarkable hardwood cabinet making in John Maclean's hostel on Iona.  Cullen though has virtual tree trunks as bunk uprights and stone walls quite thick enough to make you feel safe so close to the sometimes heaving salt waters.

The ruins at Back Street, Portsoy
 Further along the coast at Portsoy a remarkable undertaking is now progressing.  A new independent hostel or bunkhouse will be created from the Back Green ruins which once housed flax, rope and sail making, all at different periods in history.  With handsome financial support from The Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and others The North East Scotland Preservation Trust together with the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival Committee are taking forward their hard worked at plan to create not only a hostel for visitors but a venue for teaching traditional boat building and other maritime crafts.  There is a tight time scale for completion but all parties are confident of success.

Coll Bunkhouse
 Malcolm Handoll  in Alyth, appointed in 2001 by IBHS, now SIH as its first inspecting Hostels' Visitor  and asked to promote and implement the organisation's member evolved 'Essential Standards' is helping with advice and his experience.  I am a bit involved  with the Portsoy project myself and we have recently welcomed the major players here to discuss ideas, provision and strategy.

Breakfast at Smugglers Hostel
The idea of hostels with a social enterprise remit appeals to me.  That's why I just love to see the community hostels in the company of other SIH members    and the slightly less available to solo travellers,   We can learn from them.  It's not for most of us of course even though a good many hostel keepers will be quite aware of the difference they are making to other people's lives.

Findhorn Village Hostel
 Again, with social enterprise in my sights I was intrigued recently to hear from Cambo Estate in Fife where at a different level the owners whose forebears have lived there on and off since the seventeenth century have created both viable holiday accommodation in the house, apartments, cottages and glamping snowdrop teepees and activities on an impressive scale for the learning disabled of Dundee, horticultural and craft students and much more for the general public. 
Smart City Hostel, Edinburgh
I heard from Struan Erskine, Steward of Cambo who wrote asking if we could share the design and build features of our recent hostel development here.  It's great to hear of location appropriate developments in Edinburgh and Glasgow:-     and    It is also happening in the rural sticks and Cambo, again with Heritage Lottery Funding support is seeking to extend its educational and social remit. 
Euro Hostel, Glasgow
One day they may even add a bunkhouse to their portfolio.  They certainly have a beautiful energy.

Well, close enough to the hostel here we had three pine trees snap off in last night's gale.  One is a lodge pole pine so we won't weep over that.  The others though have left a gap we rather were not there.  Carmel and her walk in party of four staying the week didn't hear a thing.  A former hostel keeper herself from Rotorua, down under she must be well used to blanking out intrusive noise.  As the days are getting longer and we have today taken the snow plough off the quad bike there's much to celebrate.