Suardalan

Big Bothy Walk #29

I was jumping ahead of my original plan, in order to meet Emma. Emma had been walking the UK perimeter for the last four hundred odd days and was now up in northwest Scotland. We had ended up on the Wales Coast Path at the same time this past winter, heading in opposite directions and therefore could both bitterly complain about the barrage of storms that had come in and managed to break both of our tents; mine in Pembrokeshire, hers on the north coast. I was now over two months into this particular walk and starting to get increasingly lonely; with my route being more flexible than Emma’s I was happy to jump ahead and return afterwards for the rest of the West Highlands and the North Highlands. Definitely worth it for a couple weeks of company.

We were to meet at Inchnadamph, and so I jumped off halfway up my journey to sneak in a bothy whilst she made her way there. I decided to stop at Shiel Bridge, where what would otherwise have been the first bothy of my North Highlands route lay nearby.

A rough Eden this time of year, both heather and bracken grow dense and high where an old croft squats to the west of a steep sided bealach. Light came in as the slopes surrendered, and glowed around Suardalan.

Built at the zenith of the push for sheep farming, it had not lasted long. The tenant shepherd’s home was constructed among the remnants of the settlement that had been entirely emptied – 574 people were evicted from this area alone. Old stone walls mark the pens that came before it, belonging once to several generations of a family sent away on a ship bound for Nova Scotia. The surrounding pasture for which the Norse had named the area, was quickly overgrazed, the riches never materialised, and the cottage was abandoned. It has lived a longer life as both an unofficial open shelter, and an official bothy than it did as a shepherd’s home.

I set up in the small middle room and hung my tent in the right hand room where there was a hearth and benches. In the absence of a drying line I concocted an arrangement of chairs over which to drape the soggy, slug-trailed pieces of my increasingly weary tent. It needed a proper NikWax Techwash at some point. And, to be honest, a seam seal. My sleeping bag could also do with a wash, but that was a whole week long process at home so unfortunately it was going to have to soldier on.

I was joined by a Cape Wrath Trailer, Pete, who was intensely full of himself. I think he talked for an hour straight and never once asked my name. He clearly didn’t think much of me and explained many terms and phrases as if I was an interested child. At one point he was explaining how to take a bearing on a compass. Seriously. I was neither interested, nor a child and having tits does not mean someone can’t read a compass Pete. Eventually he told me he was a week in and expected to be walking about another two weeks.

‘You just out for the night?’
‘No’ I responded ‘This is my 64th night’
‘Oh’
‘I started on the borders June 4th’
‘…you walked all the way from the borders?’
‘All the way’ (I lied. Forgive me) ‘I’ll be up early. I’ll leave you to it’

I feel sorry for people like Pete. Imagine being that boring and only having yourself for company?

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

Suardalan (1976)

Owner: Glenelg Grazing

Fuel: Some wood available nearby, best to bring your own fuel

Water: Burn down slope to the left of the bothy

Notes: Open all year. Throughout the year, local shepherds have priority.

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