Looking down through the ice that masks the surface of the river Kingie I marvel at the clarity of the water. I can see all the way down, perhaps eight feet, to the sandy river bed below. Here and there, deep beneath the water, fronds of weed wave and swirl in the gentle current and the occasional rock peeps through the rippled sand. Despite the beauty of the river and the glorious sunshine one thought keeps entering my head. I have been walking for four hours, I am one hundred yards from the bothy but there is a problem. The bothy is on the far side of the river.
I imagine myself crawling out across the ice, pushing my rucksack in front of me. All rucksacks float, no matter how heavy, and mine is heavy, full of coal and tinned food. Then I begin to wonder how cold that water must be and the thought of trusting myself to the thickness of that brittle ice recedes. I turn again and begin walking up stream, each tributary I cross must diminish the size of the river I keep telling myself but the depth of the water remains unchanged and the prospect of a long walk out begins to crystallise in my mind.
Then, a quarter of a mile away, I see a herd of deer moving across the floor of the glen. They know of my presence in this remote place, and are heading, unhurried, towards higher ground unwilling to allow me any closer. I freeze for a moment, crouching in a shallow stream bed watching them pass, wondering where they will cross the river. The prospect of an icy bath must be as unappealing to them as it is to me, I am sure they will know the best place to ford the stream. Perhaps twenty or thirty pass me by, pausing now and again to watch this cumbersome two legged figure stumble his way through the bog beside the river. After five minutes walking I come to the place. The hoof marks of the deer pattern the sand beside the river, there are so many I can see that this is where they habitually cross. Following their lead I paddle across the one place where the river is shallow enough for me to walk through it without even getting my feet wet.
The bothy is cold and dark, I’m the first person there for over two months and, as the daylight fades I busy myself searching for dead wood to burn. When night falls, in this primitive shelter, I know that the clear sky will yield a sub-zero night. Later, sawing the logs, a thought occurs to me. I should propose to the BBC a new show, Pimp My Bothy! Here’s how it works. Secret cameras film two guys on a bothy trip as they huddle before the fire. I the morning, once the occupants of the bothy head for the hills to return that night, Laurence Llewelyn Bowen arrives by helicopter complete with a team of builders. He flits around the bothy fitting curtains whilst a heating system and a Jacuzzi are installed. Then, before anyone can spot Bowen’s lace cuffs flapping in the glen below, he is whisked away leaving the bothy looking like the home of a gangster rapper. Cue reaction shots from returning walkers. Now that’s got to beat Big Brother don’t you think?
That night I sat beside a roaring fire which, despite its ferocity, battled in vain to keep the Kinbreak bothy above freezing with small pools of ice forming at my feet. Muffled in fibre pile I read a great debut novel from mountain writer Alex Roddie. The Only Genuine Jones is a fictional account of the life of the Welsh climber O G Jones who was killed in an accident on the Dent Blanche in the early years of the twentieth century. Roddie is a great story teller and his fascination with mountains and, in particular, Victorian mountaineers shines through in a well-researched and imaginatively written novel that captures the atmosphere of those pioneering days perfectly. Next time you head for a bothy cram a copy into your rucksack or Kindle, you won’t regret it. I’m sure we will hear more from this young talented mountain writer who deserves our support. http://www.alexroddie.com
My experiments with backpacking food continue and, at least during the winter on shorter trips, I’ve abandoned dehydrated food as far as possible and researched what appears to be calorie packed portable food. On this trip I fried up some corned beef and mixed it with powdered potato. It made a great corned beef hash which was really filling. That, and hot chocolate mixed with whisky, I thoroughly recommend!
Hope you enjoyed my latest blog. I’m off to Glen Orrin next week for another audio walk and bothy raid. Do join me, it promises to be fun!
Listen to the audio version of this blog I posted previously http://johndburns.podomatic.com/player/web/2013-03-02T01_06_49-08_00