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YOUTH BEAT

Hosteling the Highlands and Lowlands

March 19, 2000|LUCY IZON

Budget travelers can get a free night's accommodation whenever they spend six nights at any of the 70 Scottish Youth Hostel Assn. locations.

The nonprofit SYHA provides budget accommodations for travelers in dormitory and private rooms, in cities and rural areas throughout Scotland. In urban youth hostels, beds are available from $20 per night, including continental breakfast. In rural regions, you can get a bed in a shared room for as little as $9 per night. Most of the hostels have hot showers and kitchens where you can prepare your own meals. Many include continental breakfast in the overnight price.

The SYHA Reward Card program is open to all Hostelling International cardholders. You can download the Reward Card from the SYHA Internet site at http://www.syha.org.uk, or pick up a copy at any participating SYHA hostel. It's stamped each night of your stay at an SYHA hostel. When you have six stamps, your next night is free. For more details, call 011-44-1-786-891-400.

If Edinburgh is your gateway, four SYHA hostels are open in the summer months, including the Edinburgh Eglinton, at 18 Eglinton Crescent (tel. 011-44-131-337-1120), which is near the west end of Princes Street.

The SYHA Internet site also offers information on guided walking and cycling programs and information for those cycling around Scotland independently. You'll also find details on 70 hostels, including one that is said to be a haunted castle, the 195-bed Carbisdale Castle hostel in Sutherland (tel. 011-44-154-942-1232). The castle, constructed in 1906, was built to appease Lady Mary Caroline Mitchell, who had married into the Sutherland family but was not well liked by them. When she was widowed, she was offered her own home if she would leave the estate.

The castle is known for its collection of Italian marble statues. One statue holds a key to a secret passage that opens a wall panel. When the trigger is flipped, the statue swivels, and the wall opens.

Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel is one of the stops on the popular Haggis Backpacker transportation service.

Since 1993 Haggis has been operating tours and a jump-on-jump-off transportation service that circles around Scotland, making stops at hostels and popular tourist sites. This year a six-day "Compass Buster Tour," from $218, will take you from Edinburgh to the mystical Isle of Skye, to spectacular Glen Nevis, to Carbisdale Castle and to look for Nessie at Loch Ness. Departures are three times per week in winter and seven times a week in summer. The price includes transportation and guide. Your accommodations are arranged, and you pay for them directly at the hostels.

Haggis also offers a three-day "Skye High" tour from $181, and a jump-on-jump-off tour for $108. It departs three times a week in winter and seven times a week in summer. Haggis Backpacker tours are sold through student and youth travel bureaus or can be booked through the Internet at http://www.radicaltravel.com. You can contact the company in Edinburgh at 60 High St., tel. 011-44-131- 557-9393.

MacBackpackers is another Scottish backpacker bus service. You'll find details on the Internet at http://www.macbackpackers.com, or visit the office in Edinburgh at Suite 9-28, North Bridge; tel. 011-44-131-558-9900.

To travel up to Scotland from London, Stray Travel Network, another backpacker tour and transportation service, offers a jump-on-jump-off pass, which goes from London to Edinburgh via Bath and the Lake District for $155. The journey takes a minimum of four days to complete, but you can make stops and take as long as two months.

Departures are from London on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. You can include return transportation to London via York, Stratford- on-Avon and Oxford with Stray Travel Network for $202. Stray tickets are sold through student and youth travel agencies, or visit the office in London at 171 Earls Court Road; tel. 011-44-171-373- 7737, Internet http://www.straytravel.com.

Lucy Izon is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Internet http://www.izon.com.

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