Big Bothy Walk #3

The borders were already used to warfare and uncertainty by the time of the Viking invasion, having battled for centuries back and forth with the legions of the Roman Army, preventing them from moving any further.

The arrival saw the Picts and the Scoti unite their forces to hold back the Norsemen. The Picts were the descendants of the Iron Age settlers of the region, whilst the Scoti were the original Gaels of Irish descent and under their joint banner they formed the first Kingdom of Scotland. With attacks from both the fallen north and Northumberland to the south, the borderlands became a war-torn and dire place for almost five centuries of assault, but whilst lands were ripped back and forth between the factions, the Vikings never managed to fully conquer the borders.

Whilst the influence of the Vikings in Scotland is far more evident in the islands, the centuries of their occupation left their mark throughout the country. Here, the next bothy sat in the Dryfehead valley; an area named for a Norseman who has otherwise sunk into obscurity. Whoever Drifr was, he was great, terrible, or revered enough to be able to place his moniker on this green strip of land and have it long, long outlive any other record of his life.

I arrived at Dryfehead Bothy by way of Eskedalemuir. It had been an easy walk on a forest road down from Greensykes to the small village and the excellent community hub. Barring an unexpected water crossing at the last moment, the walk was happily uneventful. The community hub was set up in a former school and the ladies there served up an excellent lunch. I had planned to stop here because they claimed to house a village shop, which turned out not to be the case right now. This put me in a pickle because whilst I still had some food, my next chance at resupply was a few days away. The ladies in learning of my plight apologised profusely for the incorrect information and allowed me to pilfer their pantry. I left with various ziplocks of de-tinned fruit, bread, cheese, and plastic tubs of syrup sponge.

The onward route started along the banks of Garwald Water before continuing northwest to contour around the emerging hills. The sort of incline that doesn’t appear very much, but in its persistence over several miles becomes a total chore leading to a lot of exasperated throwing-down of my bag and bouts of sulking, but eventually a southward turn saw the Dryfe Valley open in front of me, with the long and languid burn winding its way to the horizon.

Dryfehead managed to surpass even the normally impressive bothy behaviour of hiding until the last possible moment. Here was a wide, open valley in front of me. I assumed I would see the shelter from a long way away, but as I progressed the remaining miles along it I began to worry. There was no stone hut to be seen; where the hell was it? Was it even here anymore? Was I lost?

No, I wasn’t lost. Not today at any rate. The bothy just managed to hide itself in a small hollow behind a couple of the very few trees. Once I passed the sycamores and saw a small shed; the type of which holds a composting toilet, it appeared immediately and obnoxiously; like someone who has put you out of your way only to complain that you made them wait a bit.

There had been tenant farmers here at Dryfehead from the 1600s, but by the time the MBA took guardianship of the building, it had long been abandoned and was in such a dire state that no one even used it as an unofficial open shelter. It was a two year project to give it new life.

Despite being next to the forest road, somehow the bothy retained its own privacy. The sycamores to the back, and a confluence of two streams to the righthand side bordered a grassy lawn on which a bench sat; perfect for sunnier days. Inside there were three rooms; smaller than those in Greensykes but determined to be as bursting with character as possible. The left hand room had a beautiful bench, somewhat too big for the space it occupied, sitting on a rug that would not be out of place in a well-to-do sitting room, next to a range made from an old gas cylinder. The right hand room had the original fireplace, a built in desk and L shaped sleeping platforms. A small, one person room sat between the two.

The inner walls were lined with chipboard, decorated with fairylights. The whole place was odd, but in the most appealing way. I set up my bed in the left hand room under a string of lights and read seated in the big, red armchair next to shelves of books and games.

I waited to see who my company would be that night, but no one else showed up. So I shook my bagged fruit out and had an excellent dinner of pineapple and pudding before turning in for a very good sleep.

For more information about bothies, visit the Mountain Bothies Association website

If you are visiting a bothy, please be sure to follow the Bothy Code

When hiking in Scotland, familiarise yourself with the Outdoor Access Code

Dryfehead Bothy (2014)

Owner: Tilhill Forestry: 01835 863244, Tanlawhill Farms: 01387370228

Fuel: Plenty of deadwood available in surrounding woodland

Water: A convergence of burns is to the right of the bothy

Notes: Open all year. During periods of heavy rain the Dryfe Water is prone to spate and anyone approaching from the south along the more direct waterside path is advised to instead follow the lengthier forest road at these times.

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