Big Bothy Walk #30

The bothy sat in a fold of the glen beside the Glencoul Loch, carved out by retreating ice many millennia ago. An old schoolhouse once, to the children of all the tiny settlements in the creases and cracks of the nearby hills. Many of these children would grow up and be sent to a war they never returned from; a simple cross sits high on a nearby hill to remember two of them. It catches the orange rays of sunset on its white stone, facing the bay where seals howl.

Emma and I had wound our way up from the Inchnadamph hostel, over the smooth green hillside moors that lead up past splayed lochan in swooped hollows, to the western side of Beinn Uidhe. The grasses shrank back and gave way to rocks, and the rocks to boulders, and the small breeze that had accompanied us as we left had turned to tearing winds so forceful we had to press against their blast with all of ourselves to prevent being torn off our feet. The grass was gone, the saddle was a dramatic slash full of oddly cubed rocks, beaten and torn and flung around, and, once over, scree and crags juddered and pierced the previously smooth scene. The landscape carved deep and jagged up around up as we followed our route to stay on the side of the hills.

The surface of the pools shuddered and danced with the wind. Every gust sending new frantic ripples across their dark surfaces like startled thoughts. We had come down to the glen to follow the river northwest to Loch Beag, crossing the burns that fed it. The heavy and demanding pound of the Eas a’ Chual Aluinn waterfall smashed into view as the mud started to slide and slip.

I was lagging by the time we made it to the loch, fed on only a hour or so sleep the previous night and getting tired now of falling constantly in the mud. I was not making a fantastic first impression on my new walking buddy. It had been a fun walk up to this point, but now I was ready for the bothy to just be there now. In fact, somewhere along the way I had convinced myself that it was at the head of Loch Beag, not another mile down its muddy shores. I was fast descending into moping.

Like all bothies, Glencoul hid. We were both deceived by a small byre sat right at the head of the loch, but as we approached the bay widened and our shelter appeared hidden in its curve. A woman popped her head out the door. We had wondered if anyone was already there after starting to smell a faint tinge of woodsmoke fifteen minutes before.

Margy had gone out for her first hiking trip ever and not realised that she’d chosen a particularly rugged section of the Cape Wrath Trail for the venture. Somewhat shell-shocked she had reached the bothy an hour or two before us and sat, bewildered, looking through the bothy book not understanding why no one else appeared to have been as completely messed up by the hike as she felt. On explaining that most people walking that route have been hiking for yonks and that many are attempting a trail that has a reputation as the most challenging in the UK, I think she started to brighten. She didn’t suck! She had just accidentally chosen a really challenging route as her very first and nailed it.

It had taken 30 bothies, but I was finally going to have an all-girls bothy! We bundled our bedding on the sleeping platform in the right hand room and admired the fire that Margy had lit in the living area. It was a small bothy, but one that was genuinely cosy; plenty of chairs sat in the living area in front of a shelf of books and faced the fireplace and someone had left a hand-drawn adventure map of the surrounding area on the windowsill of the dormitory.

There was an even greater illusion of space, as the bothy was attached to a larger building; a derelict old home that once housed a family whose children had attended the school, and for whom the cross on the hill remembered. It still had a roof, but was mostly boarded up. We managed to climb in a window to explore the downstairs.

With most of the windows covered, we made our way by headlights around the dark rooms, lighting up a huge range sat behind wasting shelves and stored tools. Someone had left strange notes throughout the ruin; Do you want to play a game? One beckoned, Jigsaw style. We opted out of going upstairs; the state and safety of the staircase unknown.

By candlelight, we told too many ghost stories, despite none of use really believing in ghosts. The gold sun became a dark night, and the wind crashed and bellowed its way towards the southwest as the embers of the fire slowly died.

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

Glencoul (1996)

Owner: Reay Forest: 01971500221

Fuel: Whilst there might occasionally be some driftwood, it is best to bring supplies.

Water: Burn to the front of the bothy

Notes: Open all year. If visiting between 12th August to 20th October, call the estate beforehand for advice on access.

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