Friday, 8 January 2016

The Bothy

Not so long ago bothies were a trade secret. Your best chance of discovering them was to gain the trust of a hillwalker or other gangrel, usually by buying them a drink. Tongue loosened, if they liked the look of you they'd start to ask questions. "Have you ever been to Bob Scotts? Shenavall? Rowchoish?" "No," you'd say, wide-eyed, "I've only ever camped," hoping they would tell you about the famous 'secret bothy'.

Well that was then. Nowadays everyone knows about bothies. The dam broke when the MBA listed the bothies under their care on their website, a controversial move at the time. Now you can read about them in Phoebe Smith's The Book of the Bothy. There has even been a BBC TV programme about them! Bothies are mainstream. So it shouldn't really matter if I tell you this hut's name. It even has a signpost at the start of the track.

The bothy, next morning:

But I'll make you work for it. It is in the direction of Glencoe and not far from Creach Bheinn, the hill we had just climbed. That should be enough of a clue for anyone who knows bothies.

As we walked in a fallen tree appeared in our torchbeams. Oh dear. I hoped the Forestry Commission aren't felling! We walked round it through boggy terrain, only to come across more. The trunks were cracked. It wasn't felling - the wind that had battered us that day had blown these trees over. "What if it is like this all the way?" said Alastair, concerned with the trackless heavy going. I was more concerned with the creaking and yawing sounds coming from the forest around us in the dark. I didn't fancy being hit by a falling tree.

Windblown trees on the way out next morning:

There was the possibility of getting lost if we could not get back onto the track. Would we find our bothy tonight? We had gotten lost last time we had been here, fifteen years ago, before the signposts, before the MBA website. It started to rain and I recalled the last time we walked in to a bothy only to find it a roofless ruin. Would it turn out to be a ruin when we arrived? Such are the thoughts that run through your head on a dark wet night with a bag of coal weighing heavy on your shoulders, up to your shins in glaur because the track is blocked. Nothing is certain in the bothy game.

Anticipation sharpened, it was with relief we arrived, found the bothy intact, and the nearest trees safely distant should they blow over in the night. Let's get the fire on! Let's eat! Let's drink! I had carefully prepared for the night's drinking with some dehydrated beer, starting with a relatively sensible 5.6% Polish lager and ending with 8.5% Orkney Skullsplitter.

The night's entertainment:

We were the only people in the bothy. As the wind howled and rain battered the roof, we sat snug by the fire and talked into the night.

In our bothy:

Isn't it better, more hygienic, convenient and warmer to camp than stay in a bothy? Yes. But so what? That misses the entire point of these rough shelters. On the way home Alastair was keen to see the Rannoch doss, one of Scotland's semi-secret bothies, hidden in a ravine surprisingly close to the main road. It was gone, flattened, a mass of collapsed corrugated iron. Times change, places change. What does the future hold for bothies now they are mainstream? Improved facilities, for example, will attract more tourists to remote areas. It is easy to imagine a European-style system of staffed, paid-for hill shelters in Scotland. But in a world of ever-increasing regulation and homogeneity, there remains something anarchic and free about bothies that will be lamented when it is lost.

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