RUSH TO THE TOP BUNK; Wintry weekend in Newtonmore dispels myth that hostels are just for backpackers.
Hostels conjure up a very specific image in my mind. They are basic, with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. I've never been a fan. Frankly, the thought of sharing a dormitory with a bunch of people you don't know from Adam is a bit off-putting.
But what I didn't know was that hostels can be set in the most beautiful of surroundings and sometimes you can hire the whole place for not a whole lot.
We headed to the Bunkhouse at the Roundhouse, situated near the Highland village of Newtonmore, for a weekend away with a group of friends. Just over two hours from the Central Belt and we were in a winter wonderland.
It's a group-only bunkhouse, located on a working farm, overlooking the picturesque Spey Valley in the Cairngorms National Park. The hostel, part of Scottish Independent Hostels (hostel-scotland.co.uk), is rented out on an exclusive use basis only, which means it's perfect for a group of friends or family to share a break away.
Owned and built by farmer Roy Tylden-Wright, the Bunkhouse has been designed to sleep up to eight. There's a family room which sleeps four with a double bed and bunk beds. Up in the loft, there are a further two rooms with two single beds in each.
The Bunkhouse is linked by a timber walkway to the Roundhouse. Roy, a joiner by trade, told us the buildings were inspired by the Hobbit and Scottish crannogs.
He built them on the land that once belonged to his grandfather and which he now uses to raise prize-winning Highland cattle - which, incidentally, he is happy to introduce you to.
I was pleasantly surprised by our base. It has underfloor heating and wi-fi and a well-stocked kitchen.
A large sundeck offers five-star views across the valley and is the perfect place for an early-evening drink as you watch the sun set.
In the summer it would be a great spot for a barbecue. But we were there in the depths of winter and it's the time of year this area of Scotland really shines.
Strathspey and Badenoch is a place of outstanding natural beauty.
And when the snow falls, as it did for our weekend away, the place takes on a magical feel. The Bunkhouse is located about 25 minutes from Aviemore and CairnGorm mountain, the perfect place to ski and snowboard in the winter.
But you don't have to be in that club to appreciate the stunning views from the majestic mountains.
The funicular railway runs all-year round, weather permitting, and takes you to the top with little effort. From there you can drink in panoramic views from 3500ft, and they're as spectacular as you would imagine.
Aviemore itself is a bustling little town where you can easily while away an hour or two in the shops. There are also plenty of places to eat and stock up. The Cairngorm Hotel, The Cairn as it's known to locals, offers hearty bar food.
Or try International Starters which, as the name suggests, offer a selection from round the world.
If you're self-catering, like we were, there's a sizeable supermarket there, so you can stock up before heading back to the hostel. After a night of food, wine and chat in our cosy accommodation, we decided to get a good boost of Highland air the next day and headed for Newtonmore's Wildcat Trail.
It's a route that passes along the banks of three rivers, including the Spey, through wooded glens, a gorge and past a waterfall. The path circles the village and you can walk sections of it or tackle the full circuit. Either way, you'll get views of the Cairngorm and Monadhliath mountain ranges.
You can pick up a Wildcat Trail brochure from the Wildcat Centre beside the village hall.
Newtonmore, the location for the popular BBC series Monarch of The Glen, is also home to The Glen Hotel, which offers home-cooked grub in its lounge bar. And it was there we headed to refuel. As we wolfed down a delicious meal, we all raved about what a fabulous, yet inexpensive, weekend we'd had at the hostel with views you'd definitely pay top dollar for.
Bunkhouse at the Roundhouse is a member of Scottish Independent Hostels - who represent the privately-owned hostel sector in Scotland with 120 unique hostel members located in the most attractive parts of Scotland. Each is quality assured by VisitScotland. Hostels have changed hugely in the last few years with the introduction of private and en-suite rooms. The common theme that remains is affordability, through shared facilities such as self catering, and the helpfulness of the owners.
Sally stayed courtesy of Bunkhouse at the Roundhouse, Uvie Farm, Newtonmore, PH20 1BS. Price for exclusive use PS360 to PS432 per week. Short stays: 2 nights minimum, Friday-Sunday: PS96 per night. Monday-Thursday: PS72 per night.
January and February weekend offer: Exclusive use of the Bunkhouse for up to 8 people (including linen) only PS150.00. Stay Friday & Saturday night with Sunday departure time by agreement. For more information and bookings go to www.myhighlandbunkhouse.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01528 544344.
A Funicular Railway day ticket is PS10.30 for adults and PS6.60 for kids. Family tickets (2+2) are PS30.90.
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For these and other deals, visit www.thomascook.com or call 0844 412 5970 or visit the nearest Thomas Cook or Co-operative Travel.
Flying from Glasgow on April 24, seven nights in Gran Canaria staying at the three-star Altamar on all-inclusive basis, from PS389pp.
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For these and other deals, visit www.
barrheadtravel.co.uk or call 0141 222 2223.
WONDERLAND Meet the farm's Highland cattle and soak up the breathtaking views PERFECTION Bunkhouse is connected to Roundhouse by a timber walkway MODERN The well-stocked kitchen area