It’s all very hush, hush. I’ve issued conflicting information on which Scottish mountain I’m going to camp on to confuse the opposition. As I head west from Inverness even I don’t actually know where I’m going. I’ve decided to see where the enemy is weakest and strike there. Driving along the wide sweeping road to Achnasheen it appears I’m heavily outnumbered. The “enemy,” great banks of rain clouds, appear to be lurking behind every hill. They seem to take no notice of me as I speed past but I know they are watching me waiting to strike. I turn off the road and head for Torridon, hoping to sneak under their radar and, amazingly, my ploy works, the further West I go, the better the weather appears. Perhaps I’ve foiled them or maybe this is just a trap and they are secretly waiting to get me as soon as I leave the car, it’s hard to know, I trust no one, never let my guard slip, after all this is guerrilla hiking.
I’ve narrowed it down to two areas, one is Fisherfield, the great deep glen surrounded by high rugged hills with its low rent, down at heel bothy, Carnmore. Or, even more mysteriously, I might head into Flowerdale, a place I’ve never been. Flowerdale is sort of round the back of the Torridonian giants of Ben Alligin and Liathac, and accessible from Gairloch. Its bothy, Poca Buidhe, is, I am reliably informed by those who know better than me, on the Mountain Bothies Scotland forum https://www.facebook.com/groups/268689209898537/ locked. That doesn’t bother me, I’ve got my brand new, state of the art nylon palace of comfort, tent and I’m itching to spend a night in it.
I notice that the clouds seem to have missed Flowerdale and are focusing their forces on a sustained bombardment of further north. According to intelligence reports, the weather forecast, the enemy are heavily armed and might be able to assault me this afternoon with everything from a sustained shower (that’s code for three weeks of rain) hail storms and even, if they are feeling playful, a snow shower. I choose Flowerdale and, as I climb out of the car, I pretend to be admiring the view and tying my shoelace and declare loudly that I’ve no intention of going for a walk. The sun is actually shining at this point and sparkles on the small loch that sits where the path leaves the road and winds its way off into the hills.
Before the clouds can spot me I haul my rucksack onto my shoulders and scuttle off along the path. The weather is glorious, I can’t believe my luck, and this leads to a regrettable bit of behaviour that I am ashamed to admit I rather enjoyed. The thing is that today is a Monday and I recently became semi-retired. I am, therefor, not sitting staring at a computer trying fathom the unfathomable, I am not in some interminable meeting talking about things that that I have not the slightest interest in other than I’m paid to think about, I am, in short, free. I raise my walking sticks above my head and, at the top of my voice shout, “It’s Monday!” I follow this outburst with a chorus of maniacal laughter and several minutes of shameless gloating. A cuckoo calls back to me from across the loch, he sounds a bit shocked, although I think he understood.
I don’t know how it is but, when you are packing at home, you fill your rucksack with lots of things that weigh “hardly anything at all,” and by the time you are trying to get them all up a mountain they have assumed the weight of grand piano. Despite the sweat inducing load the landscape that unfolds before me fascinates me. As the path climbs the land becomes increasingly open and, once out of the glen, I’m able to gaze across from Flowerdale to the Fisherfield hills and beyond there to slopes of An Teallach where Sheneval bothy lies hidden from view.
Eventually I reach the head of Loch na h Oidhche (Usually known as – Loch what?) it is there that the giant pyramids of the Torridon hills begin to loom on the horizon and your eyes are drawn ever upwards toward these ancient hills. After a mile or so the bothy pops up from hits hiding place, you can’t see it until you almost fall over it. The sheer scale and spectacle of the views takes me by surprise, from here you see Torridon’s hills from a new perspective and this little high bothy commands one of the most incredible views of any mountain shelter I have ever seen. I just stand looking, amazed at the grandeur and just as surprised as to how this place can be so little known. My eyes wander, again and again, away across the small patchwork of lochans and on up the slopes of Ben Alligin, with its great sweeping perpendicular gullies and towering conical summits, and then on towards one of Beinn Eighe’s summits, peeping over a nearby ridge. For this view alone the whole was worthwhile.
Such a pity then that this bothy, in such a splendid situation, is barred to the outdoor community. Although one part has always been used by the estate for the exclusive use of shooting and fishing parties, one small section used to be kept open for walkers, it is so sad that this is no longer the case. Doubtless we are all being punished for the mindless actions of a few in damaging the bothy in the past. Surely there must be some way to solve this problem. Many estates work well with the outdoor community and share their facilities with little or no difficulties due in no small part to the efforts of the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA). Why is it different with this estate? The heritage of these wild places belongs to all of us and such a fine bothy should be accessible even if at limited times. I would be very interested to discover the history to this.
Muttering to myself about the injustice of the world I set up my new tent a few hundred yards from the bothy. I am now the proud owner of a Vango Tempest 200 which seems to be a brilliant little tent. Plenty of room for me and my gear and incredibly well designed by the sort of people who understand angles and stuff. I’ve got one of those “Sit anywhere seats,” and bought the Vango because there is enough head room for me to sit up in it, just. After I’d eaten my chili I calmed down enough to reflect on just how privileged I was to be fit enough to walk in there at all.
The following day as I walked out scouting parties of clouds searched the hills for me and, by some fluke, it appeared to be raining everywhere around me apart from where I was. I noticed one narrow column of slowly following the route out of Fisherfield as though targeting one solitary walker plodding out beneath it, teeth clenched, cursing to himself.
Next time I go to Poca Buidhe I shall take a key and place it on the doorstep in mute protest or perhaps I’ll raise it with the powers that be. As I walked out, missed by every raindrop for miles, I reflected on my best Monday morning for a very, very long time.