Big Bothy Walk #1
One day in June 1993, Will Ramsbotham set off for Snowdonia.
Will was a dedicated athlete who passionately embraced the outdoors. A member of several record-breaking mountain relay teams, he had a particular fondness for endurance events and had been well liked and admired. His trip to Snowdonia was to take part in the Cader Idris Mountain Race, which he won.
The day after his victory he returned to the mountain, this time to climb it. But this time the mountain would take his life. A broken belay saw him plummet to his death. He was only 27 years old.
The sudden death of such a young and celebrated member of their community shook the fellrunning and climbing circles that Will had been a part of. His friends decided to create a memorial to Will, one constructed with his friendliness, openness and love of the outdoors in mind. With permission from Forest Enterprise Scotland and the assistance of the Mountain Bothies Association, they renovated a small ruin on the Scottish Borders to become a bothy; a place of sanctuary and shelter for others that loved the outdoors, and a place where strangers meet, share stories, and become friends.
Will’s Bothy at Leysburnfoot was the very first MBA bothy on my Big Bothy Walk. I was still civilised back then; not having been reduced yet to chewing my nails short rather than trimming them, wearing the same pants for five days or forgetting how to use a knife. I probably still smelt human rather than just continuously of peat and sweat. My hair was last cut in a salon rather than being sawed with a penknife.
I spent the night before at a guesthouse in Hawick having handed back the key to my flat and put all my worldly belongings into a tiny storage unit in Manchester. I realised that despite my diligence, I had left a crucial piece of gear somewhere in a now faraway cardboard box; my spork. A teaspoon nabbed from the guesthouse teatray would be my cutlery for the next few months, right up until I turned east at Cape Wrath and found my way to Strabeg.
My thirteen mile walk to the bothy from Hawick kept mostly to a now disused railway line. The branch line of the Waverley Route was built purely to serve the small, isolated settlement of Riccarton which, astonishingly, had no road access until 1963. Once a forest track had forged its way to the village, and the population dwindled from its peak of 118, it had no longer made sense to keep the line open. Whilst trains no longer trundle along these tracks, another former station, Whitrope, has been preserved as a museum to the old Waverley Route; aging photos and old, wonky pieces of machinery cobbled up into displays were crammed inside a defunct train. Accounts from those who lived and worked in the area sat behind panels. The railways formed a large part of life here once; not only being the one link to the rest of the country, but also being the dominant employer. In 1959 at least one member of each household in Riccarton worked for British Rail.
The walk along the line was green and easy. A couple detours were required around an unstable viaduct and an unexplained, giant pit, but eventually I arrived at the station museum. I didn’t realise that a small service had been reintroduced at Whitrope and thought that the signalman’s box was part of the museum. I was swiftly corrected by an older gentleman that lunged out of the corner as I excitedly went to pull the levers. He let me pull the levers anyway when the next train arrived.
Will’s Bothy was only a short mile or so past the station museum along the forest track. Despite being set close to the path, if you weren’t actively searching it would be easy to miss. A peek through the right set of trees saw the hut laid out in a streamside meadow beyond. The low building was surrounded by the tall grasses and nettles sprung from a wet spring though, unfortunately, its tranquil setting has regularly been subject to abuse.
Being easy to access with a location that was widely publicised even before the MBA started listing coordinates, has sadly made Will’s Bothy into a magnet for antisocial behaviour. Vandalism is not uncommon, and it is frequently used as a party den with not a lot of clean-up performed afterwards. The struggles against the abuse of the bothy has lead the guardianship to be passed back and forth between the MBA and the Friends of Will’s Bothy. For a time, it was under neither. The MBA were in charge again when I visited, but for how much longer?
It would be a tragedy if this bothy, renovated as a monument to one man’s love of the outdoors, was closed for the irreverence it has been shown.
On my visit however, the bothy was in its best light. Clean and tidy, properly swept, I would never have guessed it was such a target for misuse. I am glad I got to see the bothy on a day that did it proud.
The two main rooms each have sleeping platforms; one also has a stove and a few armchairs, whilst the other holds a table and chairs. Sandwiched between them is a small kitchen area with a counter and shelves lit by the only back facing window. Outside, a woodshed sits at one far end and a toilet at another. Whilst the toilet gives the appearance of a flush toilet, it requires buckets of water poured in by hand in order to do so and many would simply prefer to just use the spade.
The stream that looped around the meadow, disappearing amongst the trees. When I arrived a couple were set up outside having a picnic. They often came here on lovely days they told me, though they had never stayed over.
If I had known at the time that this would be one of only a small handful of lovely days I would have over the course of the Scottish section of my Bothy Walk I might have appreciated it more.
I settled in the left hand room, by the range, to sleep. The busy pilferings of a mouse somewhere in the kitchen area managed to be unreasonably loud, and it scattered whenever I approached to investigate. Since there were no goods on offer that I could see that would attract a mouse, I could only deduce that the rodent just enjoyed being a arsehole.
I was further interrupted at two in the morning, when a bikepacker crashed in out the dark. He was startled when he saw me and offered to leave. Leave where? It was two in the morning! Wasn’t shelter and strange company exactly what bothies were for? It transpired that he had drawn up a route in training for some insanely long bike race, got lost, and just not made his end point. Finally he had worked out where he was and realised the bothy was nearby.
Of course, I found most of this out in the morning when we were able to be properly introduced after a few hours sleep. He would set off to get on the right track again, and I would head west over the next two days, towards the next bothy.
The mouse, I assume, stayed around to mess with whomever arrived next.
Will’s Bothy/Leysburnfoot (1994)
Owner: Liddesdale Estate
Fuel: Plenty of deadwood available in surrounding woodland
Water: Burn passes in front of the bothy
Notes: Open all year. Due to continued abuse of the bothy, it is under Bothy Watch which means the police drop by occasionally during the week and on weekends to check there is no funny business going on.