White Laggan

Big Bothy Walk #11

I was dragging on only a couple hours sleep leaving Tunskeen. I miserably headed back up the path I’d arrived on, this time turning off through the forest to walk around the head of Loch Riecawr and continue through the trees until I arrived at the west side of Loch Doon. I headed south, around the end where several vans had wildcamped the night before, their occupants now enjoying a warm morning in the water. I continued south, into the plantation. I was about ten miles down now, halfway there.

But the southward path suddenly turned east, and kept east. It didn’t turn south again like it was supposed to. Once again I had fallen foul of the shifting states of forestry being out of sync with the maps. This time, in the opposite situation to my Dryfehead approach, they hadn’t been felled; trees had been planted. No path to be seen at all and just dense woods, narrowly planted together, with only dark in between. How long would I have to push between them? The remaining miles were all in the forest. The route was now simply unwalkable. I could have cried out of tiredness and frustration.

I didn’t know what to do, so I turned back on myself with a vague aim to get to the caravan and camping site that sat up on the north end of Loch Doon. It was still ten miles away, but I knew where it was; there was a road to it that actually existed. Maybe I would be able to pick up a hitch? (I wasn’t. No one ever stops when you really need them to). An aging man hiked towards me, a local. He told me, almost with pride, that no one could find their way through those woods that wasn’t a local. I asked if he could point out the way through the woods on the map, seeing as he was a local. He took the opportunity instead to tell me why I should be using two hiking poles instead of one. I decided he was being intentionally patronising and useless (he probably wasn’t) and rudely walked away mid-conversation. I feel absolutely no shame about doing so; you never comment on another person’s choice of gear. He was about a hundred years old so should have known that by now.

I called my mum (of course) at the first glimpse of a weak signal and begged her to please work out what my alternatives were because I was too tired to think straight, and she was my mum, and the fact that I was firmly in my mid-thirties was irrelevant.

The alternative was simple; stay at the campsite tonight, and the next morning walk up to Dalmellington to get the bus to St John’s of Dalry. Walk along the Southern Upland Way from there. So that is what I did.

The next day a morning attack from thousands of midges as I broke camp made sure I was truly awake. I managed to wrestle the Smidge out of my bag, but the swarm was determined to sacrifice themselves and die on my skin just for the chance to bother me. I would be scraping their corpses from the back of my neck over the next hour. When I shook out my clothes later, it would be like dropping a tin of tealeaves.

The route along the Way was dull but certain. No one was just going to plant trees all over a Great Scottish Trail. However there was no denying that it was an uninspiring trudge over hard unmetalled forest paths. The soles of my feet and my knees ached from the endless impact. The weather couldn’t make up its mind, whether to be fiercely drizzling or sunny and layers came on and off several times an hour. I barely remember the scenery it was so repetitive. I just wanted to reach the bothy, the final bothy of the borders.

Finally by the side of Loch Dee, a bright blue saltire painted large across the shelter’s gable beckoned me up the hill. I was unfortunately brusque with the Dutch bikepacker using the bothy as a rest stop, but I really just wanted to decompress slightly before I could coherently converse.

The stone cottage sat at the base of Curleywee. It had originally been built to occupy a tenant shepherd and his family as part of the Kirroughtree Estate in 1799, but was converted fifty years later into living quarters for the staff that assisted the Estate’s shooting and fishing parties with the guests housed in a lodge that once sat in front of the dwelling. The building had been larger then, and a rough outline of the foundations show how it was extended. Later the lodge was demolished and guests were housed in the area now only indicated by those remaining foundation stones. The servants would have stayed in the area that is now the bothy.

The entrance was on the side, south facing wall and went straight into a sleeping room with bunk space enough for three. This lead on to a larger living area with armchairs, a fire, and yet more platforms. A dartboard hung above the fireplace and a small glass-walled sideroom held the kitchen counter and a collection of canned goods.

The renovation of White Laggan from disrepair to shelter had taken two years and was undertaken in the timebefore the MBA organised helicopter dropoffs. This meant that all the materials were carried in on foot from Craigencallie, and later from Glentrool as the Forestry Commission extended the track. The entire project was a proud display of the commitment, dedication, passion and comraderie that the organisation had fostered within it, and to this day White Laggan is seen as a symbol of all of those qualities.

I emerged from the bothy to apologise to the bikepacker. He told me he was over for a week with no set plans; just to ride around Galloway and have a good time. He didn’t spend the night. In fact, despite being sat on the Southern Upland Way, no one arrived to join me. I was yet again all alone in a bothy. This was the eighth lone night in a row now and I was starting to feel starved of company.

Not to worry. This was the last bothy of the lowlands. Next I would ride up to Balmaha and find myself on sections of the West Highland Way which, in June, is about as full of people as Oxford Street at Christmas. I would soon be looking back at these lonely days of walking with a rose-tinted nostalgia.

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

White Laggan (1973)

Owner: Galloway Forest Park: 0300 067 6900 (Forest and Land Scotland, Southern Office)

Fuel: Deadwood and fallen timber can be found in nearby plantation

Water: Burn to the left of the bothy.

Notes: Open all year.

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