Big Bothy Walk #6

The wind had kept me off the hills the morning I left Gameshope, so I had surrendered myself to the route out by the Talla Reservoir and a lengthy trudge along the road in the drizzle. It was deeply uninspiring. The only small joy being the viewpoint at The Devil’s Beeftub; a fantastic name for the hollow created by the base meeting point of four hills. The border reivers of the Johnstone Clan had used the dramatic and concealed valley to hold their stolen cattle, hence its name.

Whilst this route to Brattleburn was twenty miles; perfectly doable on a long midsummer’s day (though the rain would have you think otherwise), I gave in to my misery on the edges of town and camped by the River Annan. The next morning I was stuck on busy town roads until I crossed the river into Beattock and turned off on the Southern Upland Way.

Brattleburn is one of several bothies along the Way, and both the trail and the bothy were opened in the same year. The Southern Upland Way is Scotland’s coast to coast walk that starts at Portpatrick in the southwest and journeys 214 miles to Cockburnspath in the east over 28,609 ft of ascent. It passes by two MBA bothies and a few non-MBA bothies, something that confused a lone Way hiker I met walking the other way.

“The next bothy from Brattleburn is 90 miles away” he informed me when I told him what I was doing.

“No it’s not. It’s eight miles away”

“I know, I came from it”

“You came from it along the trail, my route is different. Burleywhag is only eight miles past Brattleburn, but it isn’t on the Way.” His brow had furrowed as he tried to comprehend that there were bothies that existed that weren’t on his route. After a few seconds of deliberation, he declared I was wrong (I wasn’t) and that I should re-evaulate (I didn’t). I declared that we should both make a move on because a whole bunch of cows were making their way towards us.

Rather, towards him. His direction faced the oncoming herd and he glanced at me nervously. I waved a cheerful goodbye and strode off into the rain.

Now I was up in the Lowther Hills; an expanse of rolling, grassy fells that combine several ranges. Brattleburn was only a short push further, through the oncoming trees, and on a descent from Crag Hill. It would have been a lot easier if 200 trail runners taking part in a race the previous day hadn’t reduced so much of the path to slosh.

The largest of all the bothies I had visited so far, the sprawling white building sat in a field, bordered by a low drywall. The former shepherd’s cottage was made up of two large downstairs rooms and an attic with more than enough space for at least eight. The right hand room, where I set up my bed, housed the only stove, a collection of chairs and a table. The sleeping platform I chose fit snugly under the stairs. The left hand room was sparser; the fireplace bricked up. Throughout there were racks fashioned out of varnished branches which seemed out of place inside the musty, tired stone walls. Too shiny. But the collection of visitor art that hid around the bothy was a joy; a picture hidden inside the bothy book, a poem stuck above the bricked up hearth, a painting propped up on a mantlepiece.

Despite all this, I didn’t warm to Brattleburn. Perhaps it was because it was big and I was alone that night, or perhaps because of its strong association with the Southern Upland Way I felt like I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. Or maybe it was too quiet; I didn’t even hear one rustle of a single mouse in the night.

Maybe it was simply the grey skies and constant drizzle. I was already getting bored of constantly being wet.

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

Brattleburn (1984)

Owner: Lowther Hills

Fuel: Plenty of fallen and deadwood in nearby plantation

Water: Burn behind bothy

Notes: Open all year.

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