Gleann Dubh-Lighe

Big Bothy Walk #24

Gleann Dubh-Lighe translates as glen of dark water with ‘lighe’ referring to water that is full, flooding, or in spate. It had been raining in the days before and the Dubh Lighe river was churning and hurling itself in a frenzy of white, fast and high along the deep, shadowed chasm it had cut out of the earth; the trees on its banks dense and huddled. The next valley along is Gleann Fionnlighe – glen of the light water – where the same quick anger overfills the fords, but in a wide valley plain that welcomes the daylight in rather than banishing it.

Where other bothies might be threatened by water, Gleann Dubh-Lighe avoids it. The bothy is perched on a ledge that juts out of a hillside too far away to be swamped by the dark waters, and the walk in along the main route, unlike in the neighbouring glen, is aided by footbridges. I would not have to judge, or misjudge, any swollen waterways here.

Despite the foreboding name of the glen it was named after, it hadn’t been water that nearly saw the end of the bothy. It had been fire.

In 2011, an accident with a gas cannister saw the building ablaze and left barely a shell remaining. The carcass that was left was so entirely gutted that not many held out hope for its reincarnation. Just the outer stone walls and the stubborn cherry tree outside amongst all the many ashes.

It is important to note here that the man responsible for the accident reported it immediately, and when the MBA with the significant support of the Fassfern Estate went to rebuild it, he came along to every work party. Rumours abounded after the fire; that it had been the result of an undertrained DoE group, or intentional arson; John Burns even captured the event in a fictional short story for his book Bothy Nights that posits the flames were the actions of a woman scorned. It was none of these; it was a terrible but utterly ordinary accident for which the person responsible showed great and humbling remorse.

News of the rebuild in 2014 was a surprise and a joy, and the reappearance of the bothy was a delight. The new interiors of the two large rooms are lined in honey coloured pine with the space that would have been the small central room made into a tucked away sleeping platform extending off the right hand living space. A large table and hearth are lit up by a large window. Another table sits in the left hand room, and throughout skylights are now in the roof, bringing light into the cottage.

The cherry tree outside swoops along the ground and reaches up, cradling the view across the glen. A framed bothy book entry on the wall comes from a visitor, Sheila Potter, whose great grandparents, Margaret and Donald McLennon lived here. Donald had been a ghillie for the estate whilst Margaret raised their seven children in these two rooms. Sheila remarks on the memorable affection Margaret had for the tree outside (which had been dubbed the ‘gin tree’), and how glad they were to find that the fire had not affected it.

The life of the bothy after it no longer served a purpose for the ghillies and shepherds, was almost immediately as an open shelter. Initially unofficially, as those advancing on or leaving the hills beyond found the abandoned cottage well placed for rest, but then under the custodianship of the Loch Eil Outward Bound Centre before being taken over by the MBA.

The renovation after the fire was done in memory of hillwalker and climber Nick Randall. Nick’s death was a tragic and lonely one that left far too many questions. In the midst of depression, he disappeared in 2005, and his car was found three months later. It was simply assumed, with his history as an outdoorsman, he was living wild in the hills now. It wasn’t until 2008 that his skeleton was found in a tent near Bridge of Orchy. Whether his death was self inflicted or from exposure or illness is unknown. Some even theorise murder due to the presence of two sleeping bags that might indicate he hadn’t been alone. As much as the world loves a touch of the dramatic; it is far more likely that a world weary and tormented man had just succumbed to the elements.

Maybe he would appreciate the idea that something extensively damaged was given new life in his name, to continue as a place of refuge and connection.

I was joined far later that night by another woman, and five bikepackers coming in from Fort William. These parties only arrived close to midnight, and I had to be up in only a few hours, but I finally had a chance to break open the bottle of rum I’d been carrying around since 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

Gleann Dubh-Lighe (2005)

Owner: Fassfern Estate: 07767267433 / 01397722217 (Head Keeper)

Fuel: Deadwood and fallen timber in surrounding woodland

Water: Burn to the left of the bothy down the track, river down slope to the front

Notes: Open all year, but during stalking season (1st September-20th October) please contact the Fassfern Estate to enquire about access if you wish to approach the bothy via a route away from the main track.

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