It’s all going pear shaped, I’m running round the house looking for my head torch, my little stove and my set of pans. I can’t find any of them, time is running out and I’m going into melt down. A little while ago it all sounded so simple, I even had a plan, it was basically the same plan as I always have. Pack up your gear and head into a bothy. Oh how simple that sounds, what could possibly go wrong?
But it is written, in The Way of the Bothy, that it will always take at least twice as long for you to pack everything than you expect and you will always leave at least an hour later than you plan to depart. This is a law, at least that’s what happens to me so, I assume, it happens to you too. By the time I’ve got everything together it’s getting perilously close to being too late to head off for the hills but, I think, I only need one last thing, my map, and I’ll be off.
Bothy trips always start with an idea, or perhaps more accurately, a delusion. You imagine yourself striding over the hills, a few bare essentials in your rucksack without a care in the world and finding some remote mountain idyll in which to reside whilst all the cares of the world melt away. That is the dream, the reality is frequently six hours after having left the road, your rucksack is trying to drive you into the ground and the bothy has hidden itself away somewhere in the darkness. Did I say it was dark? Oh and it’s raining too. At least this has often been my experience over the last few bothy trips.
I have impressed myself with one thing on this trip, I’m currently operating plan B. The fact that I had a backup plan for plan A at all is a feat in itself. I was going to head west and, in the early evening, walk into Craig bothy not far from the village of Torridon, the plan from there was to head over to Poca Bhuidhe bothy and spend a night in glorious isolation. That plan, like all plans, didn’t survive its first contact with the enemy by that I, of course, mean the weather.
I had known I was going to get a couple of days off a week in advance and so began to eagerly watch the progress of endless fronts and depressions as they swept across the Atlantic and emptied their contents with boundless enthusiasm all over the inhabitants of Cornwall. Five days before my trip the Met Office was confidently predicting a minor heat wave in a few days time, well at least it wasn’t supposed to rain and that counts as glorious weather in Torridon in April. As the days of my little sojourn approached the weathermen looked less and less confident in their prediction of paradise. Twenty four hours before I was due to depart someone furtively placed rain drops all over the west coast of Scotland and ran off before anyone could spot who’d done it. On top of that I was reliably informed that at Poca Budhie , an estate bothy, visitors were welcomed by a an enormous padlock so I wouldn’t be warming my toes there anytime soon.
There is only one thing to do under such circumstances, if you live in the Highlands of Scotland, and that is Go East Young Man. I spotted Allt Sheicheanch bothy, a small but impossible to pronounce shelter in the Cairngorms, and decided to head for that. Recently I’ve been using the excellent little bothy locator produced by Ric Lander it’s a handy way to find bothies maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association http://binged.it/1tNb9D8 There are a lot of bothies that aren’t MBA but their locations are only whispered by hairy men through clouds of wood smoke and whisky.
After turning out most of my drawers and finding every map I ever possessed apart, of course, for the one I needed I decided to buy a new one on my way out to the A9. I had a rough idea of where the bothy was and could sort out my route in to the place from the Ordinance Survey (OS) map. By this time the afternoon was fleeing by but I was undeterred by the prospect of a moonlit approach to the bothy guided, as I planned to be, by my new map. Here, sad to say, my plans unravelled once more. Sitting in my car, shiny new OS map in my hands I paused to check the location of the place. To my amazement it wasn’t marked, there was a building shown where I thought the bothy was but as wasn’t absolutely certain and I didn’t fancy walking in through the encroaching gloom to where a bothy might be. I had to waste even more time going home to check the location. By this time, I decided, an evening walk in was out of the question and so I resolved to head down the A9 to Blair Athol the following day when I could meander into the hills without a care in the world and no undue haste.
The bothy is indeed where I thought it was but the OS now only show that a building, or remains of, exists on the spot. The same thing has happened with the gloriously named Tarf Hotel, another bothy a few miles across the hills. On old maps a “Bothy” is marked but on the new ones there’s no reference to a mountain shelter. I don’t know if this has happened to all such outdoor retreats but I’m surprised. Is not a bothy a place where you can head if the weather decides to open up with all guns in July and you only have a tee shirt and shorts or worse a full scale blizzard in December? Or somewhere to make for if someone falls ill or there is some other emergency. Surely it should be marked as a bothy and not just another anonymous building that could be little more than a pile of stones. When did this happen? Why wasn’t I consulted? In another existence I would have dropped my ram’s horn walking stick with shock and startled the sleeping spaniel at my feet, neither of which exists but you get the point. I shall be writing a stiff letter to the Ordinance Survey, their response will be published here. Outrageous!
The following day I bumbled my way into Allt Sheicheanch, although I walked, the whole area around there looks ideal for mountain biking. I shared the bothy with a pair of hill veterans similar to myself. It’s a small bothy but I was warm and cosy in front of the fire while the pair regaled me with endless tales of their exploits. One of the pair lived in a suburb of Liverpool and nonchalantly related an account of being held at gunpoint in his own back garden, apparently that’s a typical Sunday afternoon in the Pool. The other one had been shot at in Glen Feshie, I was getting twitchy.
On the way home I wandered through the grounds of Blair castle. Peacocks eyed with disdain as the castle canons poked menacingly from behind turrets. Fortunately they didn’t open fire and I made it back to my car in one piece. Must close now, off to write to the OS.