Clennoch

Big Bothy Walk #9

I had come to Clennoch after spending the previous night stopped off in Sanquhar; a small town far more charming that I expected it to be with a museum in the old town hall, the original jail cells, a castle, the oldest post office in the UK and locals that were very, very nice and thought I was much younger than I am. I had to drag myself away.

I had originally planned for twenty miles, initially along the Southern Upland Way and then turning off near Craigengillen, but I heeded a warning about the state of the path that lead off the Way and took the bus to head in from New Crumnock in the north instead. I’m genuinely not sure this was advice I should have followed because the route was really quite dull and far more effort than it feels it should have been,

It had followed a pretty much deserted road along the Afton Water for far longer than I had patience for. The velvet-like green hills were starting to get rougher; grey crags starting to protrude from the previously smooth faces. The ranges within the lowland hills aren’t as specifically defined as you might expect and even the locals disagree. One man might say he lives in one set of hills, and his neighbour disagrees and claim to live in another. Within all the ranges are smaller clusters, and within the clusters, tiny cliques.

As far as I was aware, yesterday I had emerged on the side of the Nithsdales, and today entered the Scaurs. The granite that was now emerging, lurching out of the rumpled grasses, had been exposed by retreating glacial ice that skinned and scraped away at the flesh of the fells. Character was starting to build into the landscape, but the hard tarmac under my feet was unbearably boring.

I eventually turned off, but not necessarily for the better as the track lead up to one of the areas many windfarms. A sprawl of white propellors, dully turning with the soundtrack of a constant whoosh whoosh as they loomed above. The otherwise quiet hillside suddenly felt more utilitarian than the road. I felt like I shouldn’t be there.

From one industry to another, a brief drop into a plantation curved the path around the northside of the oddly named hill, Jedburgh Knees. I stopped by the edges of the trees to dig something out of my bag for lunch as men worked high on pylons stuck in the ground above. On I went, through the trees, the whoosh of the windfarms continuing always from somewhere.

Did you know that in winter water can turn to ice in the propellors of the turbines and be flung out at speeds of 250mph? I didn’t. I hadn’t even thought about it before. Bright yellow warning signs repeatedly informed me. Or, rather, not me in particular; whomever was considering a nice jaunt up here sometime in January. Don’t go walking around windfarms in January. Now you know.

A gap in the plantation by the end of Polwhat Rig granted me the off-path clamber up to the top of Dugland. Dugland is a Donald. It isn’t always a Donald. The mountain status of Dugland goes back and forth. By the time you read this it might no longer be Donald. And, honestly, for all the Donald Baggers I out there I hope it isn’t; it really isn’t worth the climb.

Not that my climb was huge. By that point in the day I had already gone up 500m in a fairly gentle fashion and this last push to the day’s high point was only 112m more through the high grass and lumpy slope exposed by the gap in the trees. On the top of Dugland, more turbines sprawled. A sea of white, bland, turning propellors copied and pasted all over the shorn hilltops. The drop down the other side of the hill was far more daunting, but with the bothy in sight from the southern side of the summit, I enthusiastically dropped to my arse and glissaded my way down.

It’s odd to think now, in the middle of all this busy industry, that the farm at Clennoch was once so entirely remote that tenant farmers and their families that lived here would buy provisions to last entire seasons since it was too far and difficult to obtain with any greater regularity. If any medical attention was needed it was a huge ordeal; operations would generally be carried out in the cottage itself as the alternative was carrying the casualty all the way down the pathless Bow Burn. Since it was abandoned in the 1930s, as many sheepfarms would be during and just after the Second World War, forestry has encroached and plantation roads cut into the hills all around. Windfarms sit on the hilltops, not just of Dugland but also the appropriately named Windy Standard that rises to the east. Their whirring loudly heard from within the bothy itself.

The stubborn, short building has only one room, and like other one-roomed bothies has been creative with the inside space. Bunks are squeezed high on two sides of the room, one above a storage area and another above a bed with a mattress on. I am incredibly avoidant of mattresses in bothies; I cannot imagine how disgusting they might be after all the damp and vermin has had its way with them.

A counter desk ran along another side, and on the final wall was a generous row of hooks above a bench. It would have been a squeeze if the bunks were full to capacity. The hallway, built to counter the draught, was decorated with posters of birds and cartoons, whilst the interior held fading laminated articles and typed interviews with a former tenant of the farm. These small loving touches that gave Clennoch personality likely came from an additional group that helps to care for it; The Friends of Clennoch.

As intrigued as I was by Clennoch, I feel I met it on an exhale. It was shabbier than it should have been and whatever storage areas there were in the tiny space were crammed full of building materials; bags of cement and rolls of wire. There was no bothy book; in fact it looked as though someone had burnt it in the firepit outside. Surprising, since it generally avoids the vandalism and bad behaviour of other border bothies by having no fire or stove and thus being far less appealing than others.

Yet I loved it. I love its quirk and obnoxiousness, still sitting though industry had taken over the hills and its remoteness removed. It has seen a valley change several times already and the bright blue door and the rubble strewn byre has plenty of fortitude left in it to breathe again.

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

Clennoch (1975)

Owner: Moorbrock Estate

Fuel: No stove or fireplace. There is a large, constructed firepit outside that appears well-made enough to be assumed to be official, but I cannot confirm that. No local wood.

Water: Burns to the right and front of the bothy

Notes: Open all year.

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