Big Bothy Walk #16

The serpentine River Add slithers up the creases of a wide moor and slings a coil to curl under a stoic sycamore tree, behind which hides the bothy that took its name from the water – Car Abhuinn; ‘winding river’.

I had sloshed through a final track from the forest lane to arrive; an eroded mess consumed by bog. Carron raised the level that Dryfehead had previously set in managing to conceal itself on the wide and open plain.

Two terraced cottages; one abode the bothy, and the other in ruin, sit on a road that pilgrims one trod on their way to Iona and where drovers marched the herds south. As the pilgrims lost faith and sheep replaced cattle, pack horses came in; carrying charcoal to the smelters as the industrial age started to blink into being. Now, with no one left to journey, the old road fell to marsh and weeds, with only a stone bridge and a ruin to mark that it was ever here.

Just a couple miles away lies the Kilmartin Valley; Scotland’s richest prehistoric landscape. More than 350 ancient monuments stand in a six mile radius from the valley, some of which are 5,000 years old. Cairns, standing stones and chambered cairns dot around the otherwise unassuming landscape like flakes of gold in a riverbed. This would have been as near to a capital as Megalithic times could have recognised, standing on the route between the large inland lochs and the Irish Sea. Now it is quiet, though the spires of the orderly plantation forests and the distant turn of encroaching wind turbines are reminders that industry sits, and threatens, on the edge of this peaceful moor.

Carron’s single room is well loved and well kept; away from large hills and busy trails it keeps a low profile. With a little library and large benches facing the opposite windows, visitors sleep by the fire.

I had approached from Auchindrain, a folk museum that houses Scotland’s most complete and well preserved example of a Highland township. It had been an informative and fascinating visit; I had become so used to seeing the bothy buildings alone that witnessing how the settlements that once surrounded them appeared, and learning how they operated, was sobering. All these communities, all these interwoven lives and homes and farms where generation after generation of families had lived, all gone. Cleared. Emptied by greedy landlords under English rule to make way for the wool tide of sheep. Over 70,000 Highlanders were reduced to poverty, living in an imposed famine now never far from disease as rents kept rising and their skills had been demoted and diminished. When they were paid to leave Scotland, it wasn’t a choice. Their livelihoods had already been strained, their culture banned, and the land would have likely been taken from them another way.

Only a home or two might have been kept and repurposed as a shepherd’s cottage, but otherwise these townships that once lay in strings up and down valleys now thought of as remote and isolated, fell to wasted ruin and rubble. In creating the bothies, the MBA not only gives shelter, but preserves small corners of history.

In this small corner of history one could see directly the difference between the preserved Carron and the few fragments left of the house that was attached to it; just gaping walls now, a roof long gone and the far gable collapsed. Weeds and marsh would eventually consume the rest.

I made a nest by the fire and was interrupted once by a curious fisherman in his waders, but otherwise I had the bothy to myself. Tomorrow I would head west, towards the coast and, after a day to shower and resupply, I would be on my way to Jura.

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

Carron (1997)

Owner: Ederline Estate: 01949 850372 / 01546810284

Fuel: Deadwood and fallen timber can be found in surrounding woodland, but can sometimes be scarce. You are advised to bring your own.

Water: Burns run to the right of the bothy

Notes: Open all year, but stalking does take place in the area between 20th September – 20th October. Dogs are not expressly banned, but they are discouraged. Particularly during lambing season (12th April – 31st May). I would advise taking your pooch to a different bothy whatever the time of year.

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