We recently explored budget ways of seeing a bit more of Scotland with wee ones. This reintroduced us to the world of hostelling which I’d experienced as a backpacker but discovered works well with kids due to the self-catering element of hostelling, the social side of it and the fact that many hostels are offering private rooms which are better suited to those travelling with young families.
CHECK IN – We arrived at Cullen Harbour Hostel mid afternoon on a wet, miserable day. The rain was lashing down and we just wanted to find our accommodation and cosy up. We met the hostel owner as we arrived, heading off with her son to a sports activity, and she simply gave us the run of the place, no chat about check in regulations or any hassle. The hostel was instantly our home and we were casually welcomed. It was a lovely, laid back start to the stay, and the chilled out vibe continues throughout the property. It’s quite an alternative place, it’s quite lived in, there’s a mix of cups on a shelf in the kitchen, a range of glasses on another shelf, a stack of pots and pans. It’s eclectic rather than clinical, and I really liked the atmosphere. There isn’t a tele, rather a piano to provide entertainment. We’d booked through Scottish Independent Hostels, and that’s the site’s strength, each hostel is unique and independent, it does its own thing. This hostel had character and we liked it.
OUR ROOM – We’d booked the self-contained Family Room with private ensuite facilities – having your own toilet and shower is a huge plus in a hostel. The room was cosy and we could see the rain hitting the windows and the sea lashing outside. There was quite a Scandinavian feel to the cabin and it felt natural to huddle up as the elements worked their worst outdoors. Towels were provided (again, a plus in hostels) but we had to bring our own travel cot. The room had four single beds and by pushing three together we fit the whole family together. Our room had its own front door which felt secure and private, but this meant we had to retire for the night when we put our tots to sleep, due to the room’s separation from the main kitchen and living area, but it was quite atmospheric chatting and drinking a beer as the children slept and the bad weather raged on.
THE DORMS – The dorms were in the main hostel and what I liked about them was their small size, only about four or five beds, with individual beds rather than bunks (so no tots climbing up ladders and keeping you on tenterhooks about whether they’ll proceed to fall off). Each bed is surrounded by a red curtain for privacy, again a nice touch in a dorm, and useful for families as you could curtain a little area for yourself as night fell. Ultimately the aim of hostels is socialising, rather than curtaining yourself off, and early in the evening we’d got talking to two families from Nairn who’d cycled to Cullen. Their children had commandeered one dorm, and their parents were sharing the second one – the kids must have loved this ‘sleepover’ element to the trip. Even though the families were in ‘dorms’ they essentially had the run of a large building all to themselves i.e. if the hostel’s quiet, or if you fully book a dorm, you’ll have it to yourself.
The layout of the main building meant that older kids, and even young children, could come and go between the dorms and the kitchen at their leisure. And once the parents got their cherubs to sleep they could return to the kitchen and hang out. We made a pasta dish for our family and they made a huge chilli for their two families, it was an economical way to feed a lot of mouths and we inevitably got chatting about our trip, our kids and our lives. Mr Boy and Mr Toddler were intrigued by the visitors’ Labradoodle so, yes, you can take dogs here too.
THE LOCATION – Cullen is a small traditional north east fishing village. The architecture i.e. the wee houses often built side on to the sea and wind, provided a good backdrop for a stroll with the buggy, taking in the harbour and the railway viaduct. In town there’s a lovely cafe called the Rockpool Cafe which was recommended to me by a fellow blogger, so if you’re reading this please shout and I’ll give credit where it’s due. Rockpool is a lovely spot for coffee and cake, as well as light lunches.
The following morning, as the sun split the sky, we escaped to Sandend Beach for some traditional, childish fun and to let the kids run off steam. See our photo journal here. The previous day we’d visited the very elegant Duff House in Banff, and another wet weather recommendation is the Marine Aquarium in Macduff. You need a car but these are good options for tourists visiting the Moray coast.
ONE MORE THING – There was no pressure about when we checked out from the hostel, again it was very easy going which is kinda handy when you’re trying to convince your toddler to put on his shoes. When we did pack up to head off Howard, who runs the hostel with his wife, offered us some surplus cooking apples if we thought we could do anything with them. My husband took them home and made a classic apple pie with double cream. Now you wouldn’t get that from a hotel would you?
THE LOWDOWN – We drove from Aberdeen northwards to the village of Cullen which took about an hour and fifteen minutes. I definitely recommend taking your own car or booking a hire car to explore this picturesque corner of Scotland. A guide to current prices for the hostel can be found here.
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