Gathering at Spean Bridge railway station in Lochaber on a sunny but chilly spring day, our group is quickly bonded by a sense of adventure.

Helpful hands heft a dozen or so rucksacks and bags, as well as an all-terrain pushchair and small children, on to a busy train before we sink into seats in a warm carriage.

As we speed south on the famously scenic West Highland Line, our eyes dart between outdoor vistas through the train windows and each other’s faces, which are animated by smiles and up-beat conversations.

The journey to reach the “request stop” of Corrour on Rannoch Moor takes just half an hour and we spill with excitement on to the platform at 1340ft elevation – impressively, the UK’s highest mainline station – and drink in the spectacularly wild landscape of rugged mountains rising from a vast moorland of rough, weather-worn vegetation.

Fortunately, the route to our remote accommodation, nestled on the shore of a picturesque loch, is only a mile on a gratifyingly benign Landrover track and, again, we instinctively work together to share the load of the collective gear, food and drink we’ll need for three days off-grid.

The Scottish Farmer: Loch Ossian Youth Hostel manager, Jan. Picture: Kay GillespieLoch Ossian Youth Hostel manager, Jan. Picture: Kay Gillespie (Image: free)

Later, with Hostelling Scotland’s Loch Ossian Youth Hostel oozing warmth – thanks to the wood-burning stove and the convivial atmosphere of like-minded people – two more guests arrive. One has ridden his mountain bike on rough tracks 10 miles north from a road alongside Loch Rannoch, while another has travelled on a later train after a day of hiking in mountains.

At the start of the short break, no-one in the group, comprising 16 people aged four to late-50s, knows everybody, yet by the evening of the first day, old friends and new acquaintances mingle companionably.

We’ve taken advantage of Hostelling Scotland’s increasingly popular Rent-a-Hostel scheme, which has allowed us to book the 20-bed eco-hostel for exclusive use. We allot one dormitory, with sturdy wooden bunkbeds fitted with cotton sheets, duvets and pillows, to the children and the other is adult-only.

Surprisingly, given its location more than 15 miles from a tarmac road – and accessible only by train and foot, or bicycle – there is electricity (solar and hydro generated), showers, a well-fitted kitchen and sustainable toilets. No one can access 4G on their phones but not even the teenagers seem to mind. Instead, the lids are lifted on an array of board games, while younger children enjoy drawing with coloured pens on paper.

Meanwhile, the adults – some cooking a filling pasta meal, some drinking beer or wine and some doing both – discuss aspirations for outdoor activities over the next two days. The hostel manager Jan, who lives in a small, self-contained accommodation next door, pops in with a friendly word about housekeeping, plus a weather report.

It’s forecast to be cold and windy, with some rain, but somehow this makes our cosy hideaway seem all the more attractive.

Perhaps, a more luxurious accommodation with ready-made and indoor entertainments for both adults and children would have been a better option for an early season get-away in Scotland but affordable cost, sustainability and, above all, “adventure” are deemed more important criteria.

In any case, we all have warm and waterproof clothing and footwear and a wealth of options for making the most of our splendid location, right on our doorstep, even if it’s just for an hour or so outdoors.

If you thought that hostels were for the young or hardy only, you’ve missed a treat. In the 21st century, many provide a host of mod-cons, plus comfortable shared social spaces. They are a great choice for active folk of all ages to come together, whether friends or strangers, and enjoy exchanges about new or past outdoor experiences.

In our hostel, the group shares stories of favourite weekends away, including “bagging” Munros (Scotland’s mountains with a summit of more than 3000ft), trail running, cycling and family holidays at the coast and on islands.

At bed-time, the children are thrilled to be part of a “big dorm sleep-over”, while the adults relish time away from busy home and work lives to chat, laugh, play card games or find a quiet corner to read a book. There are no modern gadgets to spoil the back-to-basics experience and one by one they also slip off to bed.

At breakfast the following day, a wide range of plans unfold. The weather is sunnier than expected and my friend Cath and I decide we will challenge ourselves to a long walk to reach two out-lying mountains to the north-west above Loch Treig.

Parents Alice and Ellis and their three children, aged 10 to 16, have their sights set on a couple of Munros, Sgòr Gaibhre and Càrn Dearg, closer to the hostel.

Friends Fern and Gemma are keen for a quick up and down on another Munro, Beinn na Lap, often said to be one of the "easiest” in the list of the 282 summits.

Steve has plotted another bike ride, while David will depart for a long run to mountains on the north-east limits of Corrour estate.

For the younger children, a walk of Meall na Lice is chosen and led by one of the dads, Richard. While the peak rises to almost 1300ft elevation, the climb from the loch shore is only 600ft, which makes it achievable on short legs.

The Scottish Farmer: Loch Ossian Loch Ossian (Image: free)

And so, the outdoor pursuits unfold to suit different ages and fitness levels – and by the time evening comes again, the conversations over another group-cooked meal in the large kitchen-living area are filled with lively stories of the day’s events.

The last day of the short break requires more planning to fit around trains back north but there is still time to explore further. Squally conditions also push us toward a lower-level track around Loch Ossian.

After repacking rucksacks, making sure rubbish is stowed to take home and a tidy up, the group splits into those who want to stroll, others who are keen for a brisk hike and a few who aim to run the full seven-mile circuit.

Finally, it’s time to head for Corrour station and we are grateful that the darkening clouds resist a downpour as we walk west on the Landrover track once again.

You might imagine that by now everyone would be talked out, but the spirited chatter continues, friendships deepen and new plans are formed for visiting another hostel in a different location. We wonder, however, if anywhere will prove to be quite as special as Loch Ossian.

More details

 Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, which won Hostel or Bunkhouse of the Year in The Great Outdoors (TGO) Magazine Reader Awards 2024, see:

Book a hostel for exclusive use: Other hostels:  West Highland Line trains travel between Glasgow and Mallaig. See:

Did you know?

Corrour featured in the iconic 1990s film Trainspotting. The railway station was the scene of the movie characters, Renton, Tommy, Sick Boy and Spud, who “arrive in the great outdoors”.