Tomsleibhe

Big Bothy Walk #18

I had run into Jude again in Oban. He had been watching ducks (or something involving birds) on Colonsay before arriving in Oban, and was preparing to go to Mull. As was I. So we decided to go together.

“Will it be a you-walk or a normal walk?” he asked on the ferry. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant; did it mean he thought I was fearless and brave and extreme in my planning? Probably not. He was probably asking if it was going to be some over-complicated affair I had cobbled together that we would both regret. I told him that it was only a few miles down an obvious track, flat, through a glen. He approved of that answer.

From the landing in Craignure, we took a bus to Salen and stocked up at the shop before heading off down the road back to the entrance to Glen Forsa where the track turned off to take us between the hills. Formed in the same volcanic extravaganza that had torn Jura into being, Mull’s bedrock is made up of the same basalt lava flows. From flat peninsula moorland at the shore, the hills slowly rise up to a central mountainous core. Bogs are not nearly as prevalent, though the peat in the lowland areas makes sure they still exist. Jura’s geography is gnarled and scorned, Mull’s is just a touch bitter.

Not that I would do much in the way of pathless trekking or avid hillwalking, this was after all an incredibly simple route, following almost a straight line southeast along the River Forsa. Or it should have been simple. I had reckoned without the cows.

Anyone that has followed any of my previous trails and adventures knows just how much cows hate me, and exactly how convinced I am that they all want me dead. Back in winter, whilst walking the Wales Coast Path, it all came to a head when I was chased around a muddy field by a herd as I yelled for help that never came. I said at the time that the statistics show that cows kill more people each year than wolves and sharks combined, and that they should be called wolfsharks to have the threat taken more seriously. Thing is, up until this point in Scotland, there really had not been a lot of wolfsharks for me to contend with.

As we got further and further into the glen, the herds got bigger and bigger until they stood all over the track, chewing, doing that slow, bovine swing of their great big heads and staring eyes. Jude seemed utterly unphased by the surrounding herd. Perhaps because he had binoculars planted to his face and was distracted by what he thought was a golden eagle. I didn’t really care about the eagle.

“Can we move on? There are cows everywhere!”

“Just a second, it’s really hard to see with the sun behind”

These cows are going to eat us!”

Eventually he decided that the eagle was actually a buzzard, removed the binoculars, shook his hiking pole a bit and the cows dispersed. Why does that work for everyone but me?

At the end the track turned south, away from the river, and a path took us past a monument. A plane propellor was mounted on a stone base with a plaque commemorating those who perished when the plane it was once part of crashed. The RAF C-47B Dakota KK194 had hurled into the side of Beinn Talaidh on 1st February 1945. All eight on board died. There are many of these memorials in the hills and mountains of western Scotland, the changeability of the weather unfortunately leading pilots, unfamiliar with the topography below, to drop too far down in order to avoid it. Whilst I cannot find the ages and names of those on board this plane, all too often those that died in these crashes were barely adults and often still teenagers. Thrown into a war they were unprepared for, to find themselves dying on their own soil.

The bothy was just past the monument, its ruined byre in rubble behind. Back at a classic but-and-ben, the two outer rooms were large, both with sleeping platforms and working hearths and tables. The right hand room held a small library and a painting of an eagle; put up by Fine Art student Paulina Markowska in the November of the previous year. This was not commissioned; she had taken it upon herself in an act of love for these outdoor spaces to paint the bird on a background of the contours that surrounded the bothy and hang it here. At least Jude got to see one eagle today.

The left hand room was lighter and had a better fireplace despite being smaller. In between the two was squeezed a small one or two person sleeping platform. The bothy was fairly sparse and tired, despite Paulina’s lovely addition, but any snottiness about the inside was shot down by the view from the end of the bothy right down the valley to the colours of the sunset on the faint line of the sea. A moderate breeze kept the midges away as we sat outside. As the wind picked up and the shadows lengthened on the sides of the green hills, we went searching for wood.

There isn’t much locally available, but a determined scavenging down by the side of the burn brought up enough to last a few hours as we played cards, drank whisky, and generally insulted each other late into the night.

Every now and then I would glance at the window and see a bunch of beady eyes staring in. The cows. They will never let me be until they wipe me from this earth.

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

Tomsleibhe (1980)

Owner: Glen Forsa Estate: 01680 300674

Fuel: Some wood available for a determined scavenger, but you are recommended to bring your own fuel.

Water: A burn runs behind the bothy.

Notes: Open all year. Stag stalking takes place in the area from 15th August to 20th October, and the hind cull from 21st October to 15th February. Contact Glen Forsa estate for access during these times, and, if approaching through the hills, to find out where stalking is taking place. Stalking areas can also be found out through calling Hillphones (01680 300229). There is a ford to be crossed en route through Glen Forsa, and in times of spate may prove dangerous.

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