Winter Wilderness

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Loch Ossian Youth Hostel

The Winter Wilderness Weekend was a regular event during the 1990s organised by Jim Kinnell. It was a Mensa gathering based at the remote Loch Ossian Youth Hostel on Rannoch Moor in the Scottish Highlands. The hostel is nine miles from the nearest road, while the railway passes 1.5 miles away at Corrour Halt, where guests would alight and walk down the track with their supplies for the weekend.

The hostel had two dorms giving a maximum capacity of 20 places, and Jim would book the entire hostel under the SYHA's book-a-hostel scheme which operated during their normally closed winter months. There was no mains water, electricity, gas, or plumbing at the hostel; toilets were two huts out back containing buckets, the only plumbing was a hand-pumped cold water tap fed from the nearby loch whenever it wasn't completely frozen over.

The weekend began as a hillwalking event but eventually became an annual pilgrimage for an experience which thrust the score of guests together in close confinement in a spectacular setting. It became traditional to hold an elaborate dinner party on the Saturday evening, there being nothing else to do but make your own old-fashioned entertainment. The dinner featured variations on the Burns Supper format with guests encouraged to entertain the group with songs and stories, as well as many rounds of toasts.

All good things come to an end, and eventually the weekend wasn't the same, so from 2000 the weekend roved to different locations for a more purely hillwalking event under the aegis of RAMSIG. It has visited Braemar, Aberfeldy and Killin, before settling for the past few years at Jim & Jean Kinnell's By The Way hostel in Tyndrum. Meanwhile the Loch Ossian hostel has been extensively upgraded and refitted, losing some of its magic along the way.