Salmon Weir Hostel (Woodquay, Ireland)
On my last trip to Ireland, just about the only part of my trip that I actually planned was a stay in Galway. I remembered the lively town from my last visit, nearly three years before, and always promised myself that I would return the next time I was in Ireland. Knowing how my plans never unfold the way I expect "On the ... Road" I decided I would do that which is formerly unheard of in my travelling history, and book ahead.
So one week before I packed my bags I had a squiz at my 1998 Let's Go (tells you how good hostels *used* to be before three and a half year's worth of smelly backpackers tainted their beds, walls and kitchens - we don't even talk of toilets!)
Then I went online to see what I could find. An area sadly lacking on Dooyoo I spotted straight away - come on Eire hostellers! H owever with a bit of further research I found that one of the most consistently recommended Galway hostels was the Salmon Weir Hostel on St Vincent's Avenue.
Phrases like "Friends for life!" and "You'll never want to leave!" sounded quite appealing to this lone holidaymaker. I've stayed in dozens of hostels before, and the best ones are those which provide a crowd of no-strings-attached, good-for-a-laugh, ready-made friends for however long you want to stay there, be it a night or a year.
It was also recommended in my Let's Go, and appeared to be everything I could want: a clean, friendly, fairly small, independently run hostel. Read on...
I took the plunge and booked three nights, thinking I could then extend it if I chose.
The hostelier seemed friendly on the phone. The young Australian voice made the booking quickly and easily with no fuss, and asked me to call the night before I arrived to confirm I was still coming. There was no need to give a deposit, although this may become necessary in the peak season.
When I arrived in Galway it took me nearly an hour of going round in circles before I found the Salmon Weir Hostel, tucked away in a quiet street just round the corner from the centre streets.
Once I had found it that first time it was not a problem to return, but you might want to take directions with you, as no-one seemed to know the name of the street.
A small sign above a doorway indicated that I had finally reached the Salmon Weir. I rang the two bells, as requested and someone came to the door within seconds.
The hostel is run by an Irish girl and her partner, but I only saw her once. The rest of the time the people on duty were Australians, passing the months by making money working at the hostel.
I was shown around, and paid my first night. Although there were people milling around I could tell it wasn't overrun, so I decided to wait and see what it was like before comitting to any more time.
I went into the small common room, took a seat and gave my usual charming smile. At first, everyone was really friendly, and we had the usual boring chit chat that you always get before the fun stuff - where are you from, where have you been travelling, how long are you staying.
Then something a bit weird happened. I found that most of the people in the room had been living at the hostel for a few weeks or even months. As soon as I said I only had ten days in Ireland, and was just on holiday, the whole atmosphere changed. Three people got up and walked off together and the other ones started talking in their own languages (fair enough), or moved into the kitchen to speak.
If I wasn't much mistaken I had just been completely dinghied. If I'm not much mistaken now, that spelling of dinghied is severely flawed.
To cut a long story short I stayed in the Salmon Weir Hostel for only two nights before leaving Galway altogether. I found the place quite unfriendly, although I noticed people who came the same night and said they were lo oking for work in Galway got a completely different reception.
For somewhere to stay the Salmon Weir hostel is perfectly adequate. It is quite clean, there is free tea and coffee until 9pm, and at 13 Euros a night it doesn't break the bank.
I imagine that in the summer when more tourists are about it can be a smashing friendly place where there is a great mix of cool people.
But everyone's experience counts for something, and I'm afraid that mine wasn't very pleasant. The people in my 6-bed dorm had been at the hostel for four months, and after three or four failed attempts at making conversation I gave up. The beds are comfy, but quite soft and very squeaky. There isn't much room for anything else in the dorm, but it is adequate.
My experience was that the Salmon Weir hostel is a great absorbtion centre for travellers looking to stop in Galway for a month or more. You will get advice on where to go, how to find a job, resources for long-stay visitors and a good laugh into the bargain.
I have no doubt - and the evidence is all around - that many people have had a super time staying at the Salmon Weir.
It is well situated very near the nightlife and shopping areas, but not enough to be disturbed in the middle of the night. There is a 2am curfew and the well-resourced kitchen closes at 9pm.
However it rather spoilt the experience of Galway for me this time around. I met some smashing people in the pubs and even in the square during the day, but I'm afraid I felt thoroughly unwelcome at the Salmon Weir hostel.
There are heaps of hostels in Galway, and while the Salmon Hostel has done well for itself with consumer advertising, the other hostels are just as adequate, and no more expensive.
Two mornings after I first arrived I left Galway for the Aran Islands, where I had a much better hostel experience. Maybe I'll tell you about it one day.
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Rackwick Youth Hostel (Orkney, Scotland)
One of the most memorable episodes of my past life was a three-week-spell on the island of Hoy. Not as a tourist, I must add, and not even in the tourist season. No, I spent a miserable (not really!) 3 weeks in Rackwick Hostel, in a wild, wet, windy November. Working. Yes, working. Far ... out of my home territory, but through a friend of a friend, two of us ended up erecting a mere two miles of stock-fencing for a conservation project, and working to a very strict deadline, on the island of Hoy..
In the interests of economy and profit, I had to find cost-effective accommodation.
Rackwick Hostel is only available to groups or parties, not (sadly) to the itinerant nomad.
And only by prior arrangement with Orkney Islands Council, of which contact details later.
Fortunately, my client knew the warden. And equally fortunately, but not surprisingly, the facilities were not in great demand during the winter months.
Thus we crossed on the St Ola from Scrabster (Thurso) to Stromness (Mainland Orkney), passing Rackwick Bay (our destination), close by the Old Man of Hoy, less than a third of the way into our outward journey.
From Stromness, whence the ferry departs, you can see the Old Man of Hoy and Rackwick Bay.
It is but spitting distance for a kittiwake.
But logic does not prevail.
You have to travel approximately five times the distance the kittiwake flies, because, as a human, you have superior intelligence to a kittiwake, and therefore know best.
Ermm . . . so we got off the Ola at Stromness, along with all the other green people. Yes, green. This is the Pentland Firth in November, to the power of which jambutty will no doubt attest.
If ever Martians wish to invade Earth, undoubtedly their best chance is landing in Stromness as the Ola docks. Green men on the quayside are the norm.
How ever, in our decrepit 4x4 pick-up, we headed for Orphir. Orphir is the inter-island-ferry-embarkment-point for Hoy. We expected a ferry terminal.
What we found (luckily) was an oil-drum at the roadside, with “Ferry” in white paint thereon, pointing down a track.
The ferry took four vehicles.
Because several weeks previously, the skipper/captain/madman (sorry, I’ve still not got to grips with these nautical terms) had rammed the pier and b*ggered one end of the ship/boat/craft.
And Orkney Islands Council didn’t have the money to do the repairs.
So this Ro-Ro ferry was now a Back-On-and-Ro-Off ferry.
And the punters could only get on one end.
Which meant the ferry had to do a three point turn and “reverse” – another nautical term – into the pier at Orphir.
Much to the amusement of humans, seals, auks, shags, otters, cormorants, kittiwakes, and even scallops.
Watching the p*ssed Hoy farmer reverse his Landrover and sheep-trailer down the pier and on to the ferry was an education.
I realise I am becoming anecdotal, and perhaps drifting away from the specific topic of Rackwick Hostel.
But you know me.
I’ll get there eventually.
And so we did.
We found ourselves in a building which had once been a one-roomed school.
And most meritorious of ODC to have retained the building, and put it to a positive use.
(Though personally, I would rather it were still a school – but that’s too political a topic for an op such as this. We don’t want to be troubled with issues like the deliberate rape and decline of rural communities by Governments with exclusively economic objectives; now do we?)
However small the Rackwick (or indeed the Hoy) population, I firmly believe our children deserve an education within a reasonable radius of home.
My brief experience in Hoy made me aware that in our more remote parts (not only islands), even primary school kids are required to be away from home five days a week (in many cases), because our Government (Holyrood, Westminster, it doesn’t seem to matter which) has decided it is uneconomic to sustain local schools with only a few kids.
Hands up. I confess I was writing an op on a remote Youth Hostel, and I became a bit political. I accept this is improper, and I won’t do it again. (Hrmm!)
Back to the tale.
We found ourselves living in Rackwick Hostel, which used to be a school, and which in it’s naiveté/wisdom, OIC has decided to subdivide into two bedrooms and a kitchen. Using cheap timber framing and plasterboard to six feet. And the original room is seven feet to the eaves, and at least ten to the ridge.
How can I put this politely?
This is a spectacularly beautiful place. If your hobby is rock climbing, come here, and seek out the Old Man of Hoy.
If your hobby is bird-watching, yes, this is the place for you, because the seabird colonies on these cliffs in spring and summer are something else.
If your hobby is shagging, find another youth hostel. Unless you are very familiar with your friends.
I suppose you want consumer-type details.
God, this is the really boring bit.
I mean, if you wanted to go to Hoy, you would check out far more web-sites than I’m going to list.
Well, okay, I’ll play the game.
Rackwick Hostel is available at any time of year, but only to organised groups/parties. Telephone Orkney Islands Council for details on 01856 873535, ext 2604.
This is a department phone in the Council Offices in Kirkwall.
Don’t quote me, but the chances are you will speak to some wee lassie/laddie who has never even heard of Hoy, never min d be able to tell you about Rackwick Hostel. Such is the centralisation of local government, even on the islands.
You can but try.
Perhaps you should visit www.syha.org.uk/pages/hostel_pages/rackwick.html
where you will learn substantially less than I have already told you.
Since I cannot help you very much with your travel arrangements, perhaps I can give you a little assistance for surviving your trip across the Pentland Firth on the St Ola.
I am no seafarer, as you know.
But I have overheard a few phrases on the occasions I have made this trip.
I hope these nautical terms will be of some assistance.
Fore: Duck! Golf balls crossing the Pentland Firth.
Port: a necessary alcoholic, and medicinal, anti-dote for sea-sickness.
Ro’locks: An apt description for this opinion.
Bo’sun: a plastic container useful for containing sea-sickness.
Pieces of Eight: for which read Pieces of Carrot.
Draft: the beer you can’t drink, ‘cos you’ll throw up.
Ferry: An islander’s adverb, usually preceding “scary”.
Bridge: I believe OAP’s play it, but I’m not quite old enough to know for sure.
Fo’c’sle: a mis-spelling. I’m chucking up, and the suffix should be ‘..sake.
First mate: Anyone contemplating losing their virginity while crossing the Pentland Firth must be completely off their trolley. Second, third or fourth, or even umpteenth, must be aware that on the Ola, the expression Knee-trembler refers to something you perform with your head either over the side, or down the sadly few-and-far-between bogs.
Hard-a-stern: I have no idea what this means, but whenever I hear the expression, I stand with my back to the fo’c’sle.
Oops – have I digressed slightly from topic?
Terribly sorry, and I am sure my anecdotal ramblings are less th an helpful to seeking-genuine-consumer-info-type-people, - of which there may be a few.
If I may quote someone without naming names, I was told a wee while back on Ciao “ This would be a good opinion if you cut out the guff.”
‘Fraid I can only be me.
Guff is what I do best.
If you want bald facts, read somebody else..
Doubt if I’ll contribute anything else this year, so all the best for 2002 to all involved with dooyoo, contributors, staff, and peripheral wankers. ‘Tis the season of goodwill to all, even abusers. Who, after all, will see very little of 2002 on this site.
(Power to your elbow, Jo.)
© Mike Clark 2001
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Glen Brittle Youth Hostel (Isle of Skye)
Ask any climber about the Isle of Skye and he/she'll tell you about the Cuillin (pronounced "coolin"), the arc of mountains in the southern half of Skye, which about 10,000 years ago were volcanoes. The Cuillin is on a par with the Alps - the only difference is the altitude. There's nothing else like it in Britain. ... Climbers love it.
Then ask the climber where the best base for Cuillin activity is. He/she will probably say Glen Brittle, the valley running down the western side of the Cuillin. This side offers better access from the eastern side (Glen Sligachan), with more paths and easier approaches.
But since it's the Highlands, and Skye in particular, there's not much else there than the mountains. Glen Brittle is a 10-mile long valley, from Drynoch at the northern end to the water at the south. The only accomodation there is the Sligachan Hotel at the north end, with limited access to the mountains, or the Glen Brittle hamlet down the 9-mile single-track road.
Accomodation comes in two flavours - the campsite or the youth hostel. Do you :
(a) spend your holiday in a tent, cooking on a portable stove, in the rain, with no central heating;
(b) spend your holiday in the comfort of a central-heated, double-glazed, fully-equipped youth hostel, kitchen-and-all?
We know what we did.
Glen Brittle YH sleeps a total of 40 people over 4 dormitories, in the standard youth hostel double bunk beds, pillows and duvets and bedsheets provided. Downstairs, all cooking equipment is provided - hobs, oven, toaster, microwave, fridge (no freezer), plates, bowls, cups, cutlery - everything. All you need to take is food.
You can buy small odds and ends from the hostel reception - cereal, tinned meat, drinks, milk (UHT only) and other non-perishable items. The shop at the campsite a mile down the road sells more items like bread, fresh milk (for the first few days of the week, t hen it's back to UHT) and the usual souvenir items. Both sell local maps and walk guides.
Other than those, the nearest supermarkets are at Portree (20 miles away) and Broadford (30 miles away). If you go by car, make sure the tank's well topped up - there's a small fuel pump at Carbost 10 miles away, but that's only open shop hours (ie. not early morning, late night or Sundays). Apart from that, it's another journey to Portree or Broadford to fill up.
As you might have guessed by now, Glen Brittle YH is quite remote. That's what's so great about it though - you can go there and relax (unless you're going climbing on the Cuillin of course).
Although the Cuillin is mainly a climber's playground, those of us who don't know the ropes can still go there on foot. Some of the peaks can be reached without climbing gear, but be prepared to go back down the way you came up - there's plenty of cliffs waiting to surprise those of us who came up the "easy way".
Or, failing that, the huge corries below the cliffs provide not-too-hard walking - pick up one of the leaflets from the YH for some ideas. Or there's the Rubh' an Dunain peninsula (watch out for the archaeologists though, hint hint). Or if you jump into the car, the Trotternish region to the north has the strange rock formations of the Quiraing, or go eastwards for the easier peaks of the Red Cuillin - Blaven is a particular favourite. Just because Glen Brittle's remote, it doesn't mean there's nothing to do.
Interesting fact : from some places, you can see South Uist, one of the islands on the Outer Hebrides. Beyond that is the Atlantic Ocean. Three thouand miles beyond that is America.
A Gaelic name for the Isle of Skye is "Eilean a'Cheó", which translates to "The Misty Isle". They're dead right, you know. The Hebrides are fairly flat, so the Cuillin bears most of t he brunt of the Atlantic weather storms. Which means it rains quite a bit. To quote one of the books : "there's no point in sitting out a rain shower on Skye, they can last for weeks".
It isn't all doom and gloom though, the isle does get some good weather - May seems to be the best month. And the Cuillin acts as a barrier as well - go eastwards and the weather can brighten up.
Another Gaelic name for Skye is "t'Eilean Sgitheanach", which translates as "The Winged Isle". Anyone who's been there will know what it means. Midges. Plenty of them. I can recommend the Mosi-Guard spray, available from the Glen Brittle campsite shop for about £4.
Cost : varies from £8.25 to £8.75 per person per night (see website)
Beds : 40
Recommended Map : Harvey's Superwalker - Skye : The Cuillin (available from the hostel shop)
Area map : http://www.streetmap.co.uk/streetmap.dll?grid2map?x=140500&y=822500&zoom=4&isp=200 &ism=1000&arrow=y?157,103
How to get there
The usual approach to Skye is the A87, over the Skye Bridge (£5.70 for cars), then continue to Sligachan. Turn left on the A863. Then left on the B8009, from which Glen Brittle is signposted. Be warned - it's single-track roads from here!
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