When Castle Rock Hostel invited Lily (Independent Hostel’s Tik Tok creator) and I (Independent Hostel’s social media manager) to stay at their hostel for a couple of nights, we did not realise what an epic road trip we were getting ourselves into. Soon, our trip transcended into 8 nights at 5 different hostels in 5 different locations around Scotland.
This was especially exciting for me as I had only been to Scotland once before, and that was just for a weekend in Edinburgh. I was excited to see my first Scottish mountain, my first loch and try my first (vegan) haggis! So, on the 7th of April, we piled all of our possessions into my little Nissan Micra and embarked on our Big Scottish Roadtrip!
Our first stop on our epic Scottish road trip was Moffat Independent Hostel. It’s a family-run hostel located in the Southern Uplands. We stayed there for one night, just as a quick stopover before continuing on our journey deeper into the north of Scotland. But let me tell you, once we were there, we really wished we could have stayed longer.
From the moment we pulled up, the hostel was absolutely picture-perfect. The front yard was blooming with beautiful flowers and plenty of parking space was available. The hostel itself had just been freshly painted and it looked absolutely gorgeous. We were greeted by Tom, the owner, who had thought of everything we could need for a comfortable stay. From bedding to towels, reading lights to lockable storage – he had it all covered. Even though our all-female, four-bed dorm was full, everyone was so friendly, quiet and respectful.
The communal areas in the hostel felt like a home away from home, with cosy decor and a fully equipped kitchen. We felt completely at ease and at home during our stay. If we had stayed longer we definitely would have used the pool table in the living room and cooked up something wonderful in the fully equipped kitchen. The hostel is located just a short and pleasant 5-minute walk away from the centre of Moffat.
In Moffat itself, we were surprised and delighted to find out we had arrived on the evening of their annual folk festival! The folk festival was held across multiple venues in the town. At first, it was quite hard to find any venues as, with a population of 2,500 people, the town wasn’t exactly thronging with people or buzzing with music. Eventually, we found a beautiful folk jam inside one of the local pubs and Lily joined in by performing an Irish jig on her tin whistle! I would recommend bringing your ID when enjoying the Moffat nightlife as I got ID’ed for a lime and soda!
During the daytime, our favourite places were a charity shop called Alfie’s Dream for Greyhounds and an excellent ice cream shop called Campbells. Their rum and raisin ice cream is made with local rum and the raisins are soaked in rum for 12 days. It was delicious! I also recommend bringing cash to Moffat as their cash machines regularly run out of cash and most of the shops we visited did not accept card.
We then travelled up the west coast of Scotland and arrived in Oban. During the drive up to Oban, the scenery started to get very mountainous and I saw my very first loch (Loch Lomond!) My first impression of the hostel was that it had a friendly and cosy vibe. The communal area was decked out with colourful sofas, and huge houseplants and even had an open fire. We spent a lot of time hanging out there over the next two days, watching movies and knitting (we’re quite the crafty duo). We had so many great chats with fellow travellers.
The staff were really welcoming, especially when Lily locked herself out of the dorm in the middle of the night and spent the night sleeping on one of the common room sofas next to the fire. A lovely member of staff who started her shift at 6 am let Lily back into the room and reassured her that people get locked out all the time!
The hostel provides a continental breakfast, which is super handy for getting your day started. You can choose from items like toast, cereal or fruit, and they’re all just 80p each. Plus, there’s free tea and coffee all day long. Can’t go wrong with that!
One of the coolest things about the hostel was the huge map of Oban and the surrounding islands. It even had boat routes marked out so you could plan your island-hopping adventures. it was super helpful and made us feel like real explorers. It really surprised me how many islands you could see from Oban’s shore. The mountains of Mull rose up from the horizon and there were many little islands in the foreground too. It was difficult to tell what were nearby headlands and what were little islands. We actually went on a boat tour and got to see Oban and the surrounding islands from a fresh perspective. We even spotted some seals chilling on a nearby rock.
Surprisingly, our favourite thing about Oban was the nightlife. We started our evening in a local pub called The Tarten Tavern where we were quickly adopted by a couple of locals. We enthusiastically accepted their invitation to a nearby party at another local bar. To our surprise, the party was the 18th birthday party of two local lads who worked at the bar. The locals had turned out in full force to celebrate the two lads’ birthday and it quickly became a raucous night with lots of dancing and drink spilling. Andrew, one of the birthday boys, got too drunk too quickly and had to be carried out of the establishment, whereas Liam, the other birthday boy, was in his element performing “the worm” across the dancefloor. Everyone made us feel very welcome and the whole night was an excellent spectator sport.
After two nights at Oban, we drove up the Caledonian Canal with a quick stop at Fort William to refuel the car and ourselves. As we drove further North into Scotland we were blown away by the remoteness of everything. We would drive for what felt like hours without seeing another settlement. Just huge mountains, twisting roads and mammoth lochs. When we arrived at Lochside Hostel, we realised we had arrived somewhere really special. It was completely remote with nothing but Loch Ness and amazing scenery in every direction.
We really enjoyed the night we spent at this hostel. The remoteness meant there was no pressure to do anything aside from relax and take in the unspoiled views of the loch, read in the comfy common areas, take a dip at the hostel’s own private beach, chat with the other guests and volunteers and explore the surrounding hillsides. Pure bliss. Waking up in the morning to see the Loch quite literally from the comfort of your own bed is something special. It’s so peaceful and serene.
Now, let’s talk about breakfast. For just £3.50, you can indulge in a great and affordable continental breakfast with lots to choose from, including toast, cereal, fruit, juices, tea and coffee, and even scones! And if you’re feeling peckish throughout the day, the reception also offers locally-made crisps, beer and microwave meals. Yum!
The next day we visited a nearby pottery studio that was even more remote than the hostel. We drove for over half an hour down a winding track before ending up in a little slice of paradise. They had a little tearoom and you could buy the pottery that was made on-site. We also visited Nessieland! It was a great experience with something for all ages. Of course, we had to climb on the huge Nessie statue. The Nessieland Museum went into great detail about the history of the loch. But it also had lots of interactive components such as huge Nessie toys and treasure chests.
Inverness Student Hostel
After driving from Loch Ness, we arrived at Inverness Student Hostel which welcomed us with open arms.
What especially impressed us what the symmetry of the building – it would have looked very at home in a Wes Anderson movie. The building itself was built into the cliff side and it had views overlooking the river and city. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by the friendly receptionist who took us through everything we needed to know. She was so helpful and made us feel right at home. Lily and I really loved the decor of the hostel; it had lots of lovely plants, paintings and cosy sofas. We really enjoyed having a cup of coffee in the bay window overlooking the river when we first arrived.
After a long drive, we decided to stay in and enjoy the hostel’s evening vibe instead of heading out for the evening. There were people reading, knitting, playing the guitar and enjoying their meals. The atmosphere was so inviting that we felt like we belonged there.
The self-catering kitchen was our next stop and it had everything we needed to whip up a great meal. It was kept spotlessly clean by the staff and other guests. There were multiple sinks despite it being the smallest kitchen we had encountered so far. The hostel provided free tea and coffee which was a bonus, and the buffet breakfast was reasonably priced and exactly what we needed.
The next day we explored the city for a little bit. Inverness is the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands and it is amazing that you can look across the city and see the snowy peaks of the highlands. Our favourite part of Inverness was the Victorian food hall which contained great named shops such as Good Girl Grocery and Bad Girl Bakery. We got some vegan street food from Salt and Fire. We also walked along the River Ness to explore Ness Islands; these are tiny little islands on the River Ness that are connected by bridges. They were so pretty but definitely would have been more enjoyable in better weather.
Castle Rock Hostel
The drive from Inverness to Edinburgh was so beautiful, I had to exclaim to Lily in the passenger seat every time we turned a corner because the views were so incredible. The mountains were so high and snowy that I felt like I was driving through the Lord of the Rings film set.
Once we arrived in Edinburgh, there was some confusion as to where we should park the car. We hadn’t taken into account that we wouldn’t be able to park right outside of the city-centre hostel. We eventually found a free park and ride before checking into Castle Rock Hostel. The view from the hostel windows was magical. We could see Edinburgh Castle right there in front of us, and it was breathtaking. The hostel itself was decorated like a medieval castle, complete with suits of armour, castle-y tapestries and paintings of coats of arms. The architecture and decor created an incredible atmosphere that made us feel like we were living in a fairytale.
The hostel had multiple common rooms, each with its own unique vibe. There was a relaxed cinema, a posh lounge, a “groove” music room, and our personal favourite, the main “party” room. We loved hanging out there in the evenings and in the cinema room to nurse our hangovers the next day.
The staff were amazing! They were so friendly, knowledgeable and always on hand to help us out. Mike gave us great suggestions for things to do and see in the city, and we never felt like we were bothering them with our questions. The hostel staff also ran lots of events each evening, and we joined in with the ceilidh and the bar crawl. They really went above and beyond to ensure everyone had a good night.
I would recommend this hostel to anyone looking to make friends in the city. It’s the perfect place to strike a balance between exploring Edinburgh’s history and culture during the day and experiencing its vibrant nightlife in the evenings. We did many of the tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh Castle (although we didn’t go inside as it becomes more of a military museum rather than a Harry Potter fantasy.) We tried ice cream from Mary’s Milk Bar which had queues down the street. And we also hiked up Arthur’s Seat and managed to catch the sunset. I also tried my first haggis in Edinburgh from a market stall. It was totally delicious!
Overall, we loved our trip to Scotland. It is a beautiful country filled with amazing landscapes, people, and most importantly, hostels!