In an age of budget airlines and instantly shareable seductive holiday snaps, it is hardly surprising that most of us consider a long weekend in Lisbon or Rome as the ideal way to de-stress from the demands of their degree. As fortunate as we are to be able to jet-set with relative ease, we can be quick to forget that by studying at Edinburgh, we are living only a few hours from some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world.
A few days into the new year and still experiencing the post-Christmas blues, that inevitable restless feeling was beginning to establish itself. I was itching to leave the overwhelming city streets, and meandering up Arthur’s Seat was not going to cut it this time. I needed to take a deep breath – both literally and metaphorically. So when, out of the blue, two friends sent me an invitation to join them on a last minute trip to Glencoe, I took it as a sign.
Less than 12 hours later we woke early, bundled ourselves into a car borrowed from somebody’s parents and set off with enough packed lunches and socks to last us two days in the wilderness. The journey to Glencoe takes three hours and the landscapes we passed through were dramatic enough that I only lamented the lack of phone signal for a few moments. Despite the spontaneous nature of our trip, there were plenty of beds available in the SYHA Hostel, and incredibly we weren’t underprepared for the January weather.
Although we had tackled Munros previously, none of us considered ourselves to be experienced hikers, so we didn’t attempt any ambitious mountains in the limited winter daylight. After arriving around lunchtime, we set off for the Pap of Glencoe (pictured) – a medium level climb with glorious views of Loch Leven. Although not the most demanding ascent, we were certainly hungry by the time we settled into the cosiest hostel I had ever visited. Being able to cook your own meals made the trip both laid-back and affordable.
In total we spent: £10 pp on fuel (Diesel), £17 on one night in a hostel (inc. £3 SYHA membership), £7 on food for packed lunches, £1.60 on a cup of tea in a pub.
As is inevitable in hostels, there were so many interesting fellow travellers to chat to that we did not fall into our bunks until late. Yet we still managed to rise early enough to make a hearty breakfast of vegan pancakes before tackling the Lost Valley of Glencoe, a mysterious expanse only accessible by a scramble up a rocky gorge – my favourite part of the trip (apart from lunch). It is impossible not to feel humbled by the striking mountains encircling you.
Speaking of lunch, we had assembled hummus and beetroot sandwiches on rye, which sounds odd but I highly recommend. After devouring them we set out for a final walk, following a section of the West Highland Way, before our legs finally gave up. We collapsed into the car and began our journey back to Edinburgh. Our hearts had grown, our lungs expanded, and after feeling so tiny beside such spectacles of nature, my head even felt a little bit smaller.
Taking a last minute ‘staycation’ in Scotland is the ideal way to unwind; it is financially realistic for even the most cash-strapped student, better for the environment than flying somewhere hot, and the valleys play havoc with your Wifi reception. Just don’t forget to take some pictures to Instagram upon your return.
Now it’s your turn:
In the absence of a car, reaching any location that isn’t a city can seem daunting. If Glencoe has tickled your fancy, you can get there by public transport – take the train to Glasgow and catch a direct bus. Otherwise there are trains leaving Edinburgh Waverly every day for places like Oban and Aviemore.
The University has many adventurous clubs who run trips throughout the year – look into Hillwalking, Orienteering, Running and Mountaineering. These societies are great for beginners as they run skills workshops to build your confidence at often freezing high altitudes or uneven terrains.