Take the high road! Why Scotland is becoming a must visit destination if you have a dog
We’ve been in the Highlands for barely an hour when we spot our first kilt in the wild. Miss Babs, lacking social etiquette, says ‘hello’ by putting her wet nose right up the gentleman’s plaid skirt, much to his surprise. And my delight. Travelling with a dog is a great ice breaker.
To celebrate five years together, I’m taking my rescue dog, Miss Babs, on a mini break to the Cairngorms National Park to try Woof Hostelling.
Hostelling Scotland have 17 dog-friendly Woof Hostels across Scotland, including the Cairngorms Lodge on the banks of Loch Morlich (private room from £23pp, dogs £5 per night).
On arrival, Miss Babs is welcomed with a drink at the ‘Paws for water’ station and some treats. Dogs are allowed in private rooms (not shared dorms) which come equipped with dog bowls, poo bags and even more treats.
After dropping our bags off, we cross the road to the loch for a walk. Banked by a lofty pine forest, the snowy peaks of the Northern Corries glowering in the distance, Miss Babs is in her element snaffling out sticks the size of saplings along the four-mile trail around the loch.
After lunch we head to Kingussie, a tiny market town where Treasure Island author, Robert Louis Stevenson famously sailed paper boats on the burn (stream) which inspired his poem ‘Where Go the Boats’. Kingussie means King of the Pine Forest, so we take the West Terrace Circular trail which runs through ancient Caledonian pines where Miss Babs attempts to unearth some kind of caber to bring home.
After our fling around the Highlands, Miss Babs is pooped, so it’s back to the hostel for dinner and a doze. Popular with families, groups of friends and the odd sole traveller with her dog, youth hostelling is a great way to explore Scotland.
Cairngorms Lodge is an ideal base for adventure seekers; opposite is Loch Morlich Watersports, where you can hire paddleboards, kayaks and mountain bikes, while Aviemore and the Cairngorm ski area are a short drive away.
It’s also reindeer territory. In 1952, a small herd were introduced from Sweden – the Cairngorms’ sub arctic conditions and indigenous lichen are perfect for reindeer, apparently – it’s now 70 years later and the 150-strong herd still roam freely across the mountains.
Back in the hostel, dogs are allowed everywhere bar the dining room and communal kitchen, so I leave her snoring in our room and join my fellow ramblers for homemade chilli and apple crumble (2/3 courses £12/14, booked in advance).
Next morning, after a hearty breakfast – I opt for the full Scottish (£9.50), while Miss Babs enjoys a sausage and black pudding – we’re ready to climb a mountain.
Not known for my orienteering skills, I enlist the help of Dave Chapman, an experienced mountain and climbing guide (a day’s guiding from £295 for up to 6 people / £49pp, from Cairngorm Adventure Guides) who’s confident that Miss Babs and I can conquer Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
At 810 metres (2657 feet) it’s a Corbett, rather than a Munro
We continue our ascent, Babs carrying yet another large stick and presenting it to every walker we meet. Dave explains that much of the park is open to dogs as long as they follow the outdoor access code which states that dogs are allowed as long as they are kept under proper control.
As we’re not used to such exertion, Dave kindly lets us stop for a breather at the Ryvoan Bothy. Ducking inside the stone shelter, it has a fairy-tale vibe with a fireplace, a wooden sleeping platform and even a bottle of single malt for fellow hikers – I almost expect to see seven little beds made up.
After our tea (well, whisky) break, we follow the rugged stone pathway up the mountain, looking back over the ancient Glenmore forest and Cairn Gorm, the tallest mountain in the park.
Around 2000 feet we cross a swathe of deep snow which Miss Babs gleefully dives into. As we summit, the peak shrouded in Scottish mist, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of achievement. Following tradition, Miss Babs places a stick, rather than a stone, at the cairn.
As the old Lassie proverb goes ‘the bigger the stick, the happier the dog’ and by the size of the cabers Miss Babs has been carrying, I think she’s the happiest hound in Scotland.
Getting there: Advanced return from London Kings Cross to Aviemore from £167, from the Trainline. For more information visit Hostelling Scotland.
Miss Babs recommends… three more dog-friendly places in Scotland
Radisson RED, Glasgow
Located next to the SSE Hydro and the SEC Centre, Radisson Red in Glasgow is just the spot for the stylish hound about town, with doggy treats and water in reception. All the rooms and the restaurant are dog-friendly, but the highlight is the Sky Bar, a dog-friendly rooftop cocktail bar with views over the River Clyde. Rooms from £93.60pn, find out more with Radisson Hotels.
The Old Bridge Inn, Aviemore
Perched on the banks of the River Spey, this cracking dog-friendly pub is just the spot for a fine meal and a wee dram after a romp around the Highlands. Dogs are allowed in the bar and the lounge, where there’s a log fire to snooze beside. It also has some great live music nights to howl along to. Mains from £15, find out more with Old Bridge Inn.
Inveraray Jail, Argyll
Perched on the western shores of Loch Fyne, Inveraray Jail regularly locked up four-legged criminals in Victorian times. Now the notoriously haunted prison welcomes well-behaved hounds who are free to explore its 19th-century cells and courthouse. However, as one of Scotland’s most haunted sites, it’s for brave dogs only. Adults £13.50, dogs free; find out more with Inveraray Jail.
(Article source: Metro)