Taigh Seumus a’ Ghlinne/Duror

Big Bothy Walk #22

I now have a V-shaped scar between the index finger and thumb of my left hand, the flesh snared on a barbed wire fence as I battled the haggard path from Resourie. Mired and slowed in mud and bogs up until the view from the point of Meall Daimh where the last of the morning mists rose up from the mountains to the sky. I had Glen Scaddle to myself, guided to the waterfall at the end of the lochan by Susan’s cairns. A tranquil walk beside the water, cupped by the hills, until I was poured out to the forestry tracks and then, blinking, onto the road. The narrow road that ran along the west of Loch Linnhe. The original plan to camp somewhere along it to take the Camusnagaul ferry the next day was scuppered when I realised the next day was Sunday and there would be no ferries.

I had almost run those last six miles to get the last boat across to Fort William, but I triumphantly made it. The next leg was not one I was looking forward to; it involved joining the crowds on The West Highland Way yet again. This time going against the tide that was pushing to the finishline in town.

It was just as frustrating as I imagined. I was constantly stepping out of the way for trailhikers, barely any of which even grunted any thanks, even when I was the one heading uphill and they were the ones charging down. I hardly even noticed the scenery, Ben Nevis passed me by entirely, as I pushed on, determined to reach the point where my route took me away from this goddamn trail.

I reached it at the ruin of Blar a’ Chaorainn. Even though I would now be on forestry road, exposed entirely on a blisteringly hot, cloudless day, rather than the far more picturesque drovers path between the hills, I couldn’t have been happier. I was free! I was hot. Very hot. And the midday sun pelted down granting me absolutely no shade as I headed southwest around the lochan and followed the track along the water that headed for the shore. I camped among the trees in the hills above Onich and made my way to Ballachulish the next morning.

I was headed to a bothy with an unusual history, a true story of a maligned man that was written into fiction. To know it, we have to go back to the 1750s, a time when The Clearances were in full force and Highland culture was being outlawed in the wake of Culloden. Clans had had to choose their allegiances, with some benefitting more from their choice than others, and the small settlements that strung across the land had been thrown into uncertainty.

The Red Fox was dead. A bullet through his back in Lettermore Wood, but few were grieving.

Colin Roy Campbell had loomed a heartless shadow over the Stewarts of Appin. The factor had earned his predatory moniker as he separated the clan and dwindled their numbers; his iron fisted evictions left many homes empty and others in quiet dread as he pillaged their pockets with ever rising rents.

The culprit had fled, but the Campbells were out for blood and someone had to hang. So an innocent man was found guilty and dragged to the gallows at Ballachulish.

James Stewart had an alibi and everyone knew it, but with eleven Campbells on the jury and another as Judge it would never matter. His sentencing was for being an accessory and, by default then, a murderer.

“False witnesses rose; to my charge things I not knew they laid. They, to the spoiling of my soul, me ill for good repaid.”

He chanted the 35th Psalm before he fell to his death, and his body didn’t touch the ground for eighteen more months. It was left to putrefy and rot at the end of the noose and, as it fell apart, stitched back together with shoddy wire and chains. His horrifying corpse a warning from the Campbells to the Stewarts.

There is a memorial to James of the Glen at the site of his execution. But his birthplace also still stands. The only home left standing of the Appin Stewarts. Taigh Seamus a’ Ghlinne; otherwise known as Duror Bothy.

The low building hunches high on the walls of the valley, its single stone room cool on a blistering hot day. The nettles out front are tall and wild and, once, there was an interpretation board here, telling James’ story. It was gone when I arrived, long since removed from its posts..

From here a story started that gave its name to not only the Psalm that James recited, but was the influence for Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’. Neither the Campbells nor the Stewarts own Glencoe now, but James Stewart’s crumpled birthplace reminds. As the Scottish government is continuously petitioned to pardon him, maybe we will see the day when his name is cleared, and the story of James of the Glen can end in peace.

The building that sits there now is likely not the original house; its square corners, large chimney and lime painted walls mark it out as being far too young. Stone footings sit behind it, the layout indicating a building whose style would have been far more in keeping with what would have been expected of James’ birthplace. Likely the stone from that original building was repurposed in the making of the newer one.

The bothy was short and long. Two windows front, and one back; probably originally another but-and-ben but now just one large, stone room. Sleeping platforms lined the walls of the right hand end, whilst a stone, a wooden sofabench and a carved chair sat down the other. A desk perched in between. A low ceiling was cut with skylights and, despite being a single room, it was not squeezed for space. A sign with the bothy’s name on hung on the wall, a biography of James Stewart was printed out and neatly placed on the table, and a sprig was attached to a library shelf with a note encouraging visitors to boil the needles and make a tea.

Despite being associated with such a violent history, the bothy filled me with a quiet joy and a welcome sense of peace so strong I can feel it again when I remember the night. I was alone for it, curled up on the platform, level with the window and watching the rain fall outside. The juddered and battered side of Coire na Capuill, tall and grand the other side of the valley, embraced the fading light.

Taigh Seumus a’ Ghlinne (1994)

Owner: Lorne Estate

Fuel: Deadwood and fallen timber in surrounding plantation.

Water: Burn to the right of the bothy

Notes: Open all year. You are asked not to light fires outside, as the fire risk to the surrounding plantation is high.

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