Monday, 9 January 2017

SIH Outdoor Activities by Robin McKelvie

Living in the UK and thinking of jetting off abroad in search of wild adventure in the likes of Switzerland or New Zealand? Or maybe you’re an adrenaline junkie outside the UK and think Scotland is only good for a sleepy meander around our castles and distilleries? Well I’ve got a wake up call for you if you fall in to either camp. Scotland these days is a world-class adventure playground awash with everything from some of the planet’s best mountain walks and mountain biking, through to wild watersports and mind-blowing skiing!

The further good news is that getting in amongst Scotland’s rugged mountains, tumbling glens and gushing rivers has never been easier. Very easy for that matter as Scottish Independent Hostels now offer a slew of ace hostels that can organise your outdoor activities for you.

Grab your sense of adventure, throw caution to the heather scented wind and join me now as we bash around the majesty of Scotland getting right in amongst it all with my top 7 places to get wild in 2017!

Dumfries and Galloway – First up we’re off to this southern charmer, Scotland’s balmiest region. It’s ideal for a splash of water-based activities, which come courtesy of the family-run Galloway Activity Centre. The location is ideal on the shores of Loch Ken. On offer are everything from sailing, windsurfing and canoeing, through to archery, laser-quest and seriously cool mountain biking by night in this famed Dark Skies oasis. You can just enjoy some of Europe’s finest stargazing looking out your windows!

Highland Perthshire - Comrie Croft is quite simply one of my favourite hostels and glamping experiences in Scotland and I say that as the author of Cool Camping: Scotland. Its rugged slopes and forests are ideal for the sweep of testing mountain bike trails they have laid out. They also have a massive skills area where you can develop your own abilities. There is both bike rental and tuition available. Boreland Loch Tay Bunkhouse meanwhile lies, as it sounds, by the stunning loch that spawns Scotland’s longest river, the Tay, with views out across the waters. Here you can indulge in quad biking and clay pigeon shooting for that country estate vibe or get wet and wild white water rafting or canyoning. I first went canyoning in Highland Perthshire and it’s a brilliant venue for it with terrain for all skill levels, including total beginners.

Cairngorms – The Cairngorms National Park is the largest in the UK and a real wonderland for outdoor activities. Gulabin Lodge Outdoor Centre specialises in both water and land based outdoor activities, and its location at Glenshee, as well as its underfloor heating and cosy fires, make it ideal for winter sports. Ardenbeg Bunkhouse lies close to its own activity centre with a smorgasbord of water and land outdoor activities to enjoy, while, Slochd Mhor Lodge in Speyside works as well for winter sports enthusiasts as it does whisky devotees enjoying the local distilleries. The Fraoch Lodge offers mountain guiding for those looking to challenge themselves on the epic terrain of the Cairngorm Plateau, but wanting to do so in safety and company. The drying room often comes in handy afterwards!

North Highlands: It’s zooming off near to the very top of mainland Scotland now as we push up north of Inverness and within striking distance of Orkney to Corn Mill Bunkhouse. I love that the bunkhouse is very much part of a working estate (the Bighouse Estates), spread across four crofts with a total acreage of 360 hectares. On site you can enjoy walks, laser combat and clay pigeon shooting. These fun activities make the bunkhouse and estate spot on for stag parties, hen groups and larger families.

Lochaber – Fort William and Lochaber style themselves as the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’ with good reason – here is a video of me enjoying some of the area’s wild charms with my family. The Lochaline Dive Centre is brilliantly located amongst some of Lochaber’s most impressive scenery and within striking distance of one of Britain’s best-known wreck dives, as well as a treasure chest of drift, shallow, scenic, and shore dive sites. It really makes for a complete diving holiday with great snorkelling and walking, plus boat trips, for non-divers too. Glencoe Independent Hostel is the place for guided walks deep into the heart of perhaps the most famous and definitely one of the most dramatic glens in all of Scotland. They also offer expert walking and cycling advice, with the world famous West Highland Way just a short bus trip away.

Inner Hebrides: It’s off to the islands now and the largest of the Inner Hebrides, Skye. This epic island for me really has it all for lovers of the great outdoors, with world-class mountaineering, great cycling, superb sea kayaking and much, much more. The mountains here – the famous Cuillins – are a serious test and I thoroughly recommend taking on the services of a guide, especially if you want to tackle some of the tougher walks, including the rope and scramble up the daunting Inaccessible Pinnacle. The name gives it away! Skye Basecamp are on hand to help with the Skye Guides service run from the hostel. There are also hot showers, a decent drying room and pool table on hand afterwards!

Outer Hebrides: As a travel writer I’ve been to over 100 countries and can genuinely say that the mystical Outer Hebrides are my favourite place in the world. They feel right out on the very edge of that world and they are, as you’ll need to make a long (and deeply scenic) ferry journey or fly to get here. It’s worth it when you get to the Dunard Hostel. I love it here as it’s got a great location in Castlebay on Barra and has its own sea kayaking set-up, Clearwater Paddling. They are brilliant and I’ve been out with them in the local waters a couple of times. They cater for all abilities, from complete beginners, through to those looking to really tests themselves alongside someone who knows the local waters intimately. Uist Outdoor Centre meanwhile have another ideal location in Lochmaddy, the main village on North Uist. Again they offer sea kayaking out in search of seals, dolphins and even whales. They can also offer mountain walking and boat trips even out as far as otherworldly St Kilda!

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