the low-carbon road to the Highlands

<span>Photo: Christian Heintzen/Alamy</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/” data-src “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Christian Heintzen/Alamy

The sky is a fuzzy gray as the sun begins to rise, just visible behind the dense low clouds. We glide slowly – but not silently – into the mirror-smooth Loch Ossian. Reflections of bare branches ripple, a bird of prey hovers on the horizon. It doesn’t get much wilder than this; a full immersion in the elemental Highlands.

We stay at the Loch Ossian youth hostel on the water’s edge, one of the most remote in the UK. Off-grid, with no vehicle access and sleeping 20 in twin bunks, it’s a place to truly escape from the world. Old black and white photos of early female mountaineers hang on the walls; our damp hiking gear dries on racks by the fire; At night, the pitch-black sky sparkles with countless stars.

I’m here traveling with Wilderness Scotland to test “how low can you go?” when it comes to low-impact, low-carbon travel. During our three-day itinerary, we explore on foot, e-bikes and electric vehicles, visiting rewilding projects and learning about the landscape and the people who work to protect it.

I’m traveling to test ‘how low can you go’ when it comes to low-impact, low-carbon travel

“This is what the future of travel could look like: treading lightly and encouraging connection to the land,” says Ben Thorburn, one of our guides for the weekend, from Wilderness Scotland. “On a trip like this, your carbon impact may be smaller than if you stayed at home.”

Last year, the company, working with consultancy eCollective, conducted a full carbon audit of more than 300 suppliers to calculate the carbon cost of each holiday offered. It is a step towards their goal of becoming truly net zero by 2030 and reducing carbon emissions by 90% in that time. In addition to cutting emissions as much as possible, they purchase reputable offset credits and plant trees to sequester more carbon and restore habitats. Customers can also choose to plant additional trees.

The secluded Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, off-grid with no vehicle access.

The secluded Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, off-grid with no vehicle access. Photo: Callicious/Alamy

Our journey begins on the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Inverness (a fraction of the emissions compared to flying). It’s still dark when I wake up and look out from my cabin, the landscape slowly coming into view as we get closer to the station.

An electric car awaits – the company is working to replace all vans with electric vehicles – and we glide through the Cairngorms National Park to our first stop, Lynbreck Croft near Grantown-on-Spey. Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer bought the 150-acre ranch in 2016 with little money, no plan, and no farming experience, just a desire for a wilder life.

We tour the site and learn about the challenges and rewards of farming in symbiosis with nature – and the determination it takes to succeed. Polytunnels are brimming with produce, Scottish Highlanders and rare breed pigs roam, and Lynn talks about the importance of soil health. In addition to selling their products, they organize tours and workshops for those who want to learn more about small farms and regenerative agriculture. We picnic in the autumn sun with views of the Cairngorms on the horizon and don’t want to leave.

Visits to local sustainable businesses feature on many Wilderness itineraries and that evening – after a walk along the Speyside Way from Boat of Garten to Aviemore – we head to the Inshriach estate and distillery, where Walter Micklethwait makes small craft gin with wild juniper berries and locally picked ingredients. Hidden in the woods, the bar combines a wild west saloon with a speakeasy vibe; the cocktails and magical setting make for a fun evening before returning to Aviemore for dinner and our B&B.

Eurasian wild boars used for bracken control in the Dundreggan rewilding project.

Eurasian wild boars used for bracken control in the Dundreggan rewilding project. Photo: FLPA/Alamy

Loch Ossian, on the Corrour estate, can only be reached on foot or by bike, so the next morning our e-bikes are delivered to Moy Lodge along the road and we saddle up to cycle the 15 miles to the hostel. They make easy work of climbs through woodland and open tracks across Rannoch Moor. The autumnal palette of rust and gold, splashed with waterfalls and rushing rivers, stands out against a steely sky. A red deer appears at the top of the hill, perfectly silhouetted, and grouse fly up from the grass. It starts to rain heavily, but nothing can extinguish the glory of the landscape.

Dripping but happy we arrive at the hostel – and before going to bed there’s one last jaunt in the dark to the Corrour Station House Restaurant, where the estate’s venison comes. This is the highest railway station in the UK and the next day we board the West Highland Line (recently fitted with a special cycle carriage) for the scenic ride to Spean Bridge.

One of Wilderness Scotland’s partners is Trees for Life, which works to rewild the Highlands and restore the Caledonian Forest. Before catching the train back home, we visit the flagship Dundreggan Estate – where the UK’s first rewilding center will open in March. We tour the nurseries and walk through the beech forests, learning where natural rejuvenation works and where reforestation is needed.

It’s an interesting end to a whirlwind long weekend that showed how travel can be educational, exciting and fun, with minimal impact on the planet. The CO2 emissions for a trip like ours would be about 38kg per person over three days (including everything from accommodation to food, but not the train up), says Ben, while the average CO2 per person per day in the UK is 15 kg. Of course, not all itineraries can have such a light footprint, but it’s an inspiring step in the right direction.

The trip was provided by Wilderness Scotland, which offers a range of low carbon guided and self guided holidaysin which sustainable housing and experiences are incorporated. Prices on the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston to Inverness or Aviemore start from £55 for a sitting area, classic rooms from £205 for two, Club rooms from £255 for two

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *