When we began our trekking career many years ago we liked to travel self-sufficient. That meant lugging around a tent, sleeping bag, Therm-A-Rest, stove, pans and lots of provisions. All of that can end up weighing rather a lot, and in our time we have had the sore shoulders to prove it.
Sometimes it is still necessary to go on a trekking holiday with full pack – there will be days when we are in the wilderness. Generally, though, we have become converts to the continental style mountain refuge. These huts are sited in handy locations all through the main European mountain ranges. They offer a basic bunk bed, showers (often cold), an evening meal, breakfast, and coffee and cake. As a bonus, they also normally serve beer and wine. All of this comes at a price, but as well as buying the facilities you are also buying the chance to carry a much lighter pack (and so a more pleasant walk) for yourself.
The huts are staffed by a hardy breed of guardian who lives on location all through the summer. They do all the hut tasks, including cleaning and cooking. Whilst it must be exhilarating to live in the heart of the mountains for the summer it must sometimes be a lonely life. Saddle Mountain Hostel may not be situated at the top of a mountain, or in the middle of a wilderness, but we often feel that in the height of the summer season our job is very similar to that of a hut guardian. We are pretty much tied to the premises as we need to have a hands-on presence to keep the hostel running smoothly.
There aren’t many Scottish hostels not accessible by road, and it has always seemed to us that Scotland’s mountainous and wilderness areas would benefit from staffed refuges, offering something over and above the wild camping or bothy experience. We’re sure there would be no shortage of mountain lovers queuing up to stay in them, and to staff them. What do you think?