#261 – Cwmorthin and the mountains of the Moelwynion (Moelwyns)

Llyn Cwmorthin above Tanygrisiau

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It was a Team training night, and several of us drifted down to the pub afterwards.  The chat is always varied, but I overheard ‘Gaz’ talking about the worlds biggest and deepest slate mine, with miles of passages and hundreds of chambers.   It looked like a trip out that way would fill in a day nicely, which is why Chris and I, plus Border Collie ‘Mist’, were at Tanygrisiau on a fine May morning in 2018.

Setting out from Tanygrisiau

The route

Blaenau Ffestiniog and Tanygrisiau

Blaenau Ffestiniog is well known as being a town that was literally built on the slate quarrying industry, but the huge slate spoil heaps above ground are insignificant compared with the vast underground slate mines in the area.   Amongst the most famous of these is the complex of mines and tunnels of Cwmorthin and Rhosydd, just above Tanygrisiau.

Llyn Cwmorthin and some of the surface works of the slate mine

The ‘barracks’ where slate miners would live during the week

Heading on past Llyn Cwmorthin ….

…. but too slow for Border Collie ‘Mist’

Mining started at Cwmorthin in 1810, but by the 1880’s a series of roof collapses combined with disputes with other mining companies, made the site less viable.   Mining continued though, and tunnels on five different floors were dug below the level of the lake (Llyn Cwmorthin) but when the original company went out of business, the neighbouring Oakeley mining company bought Cwmorthin mine and allowed it to flood to protect their own business interests.

Remains of the chapel ….

…. and the manager’s house, Plas Cwmorthin

Ruined buildings from the quarry workings

Cascades on Allt y Ceffylau

Between the two World Wars, the flooded passages were pumped out to allow mining to resume, but the mine was abandoned during WW2, with only the pumps working to keep the water at bay.  Mining operations were finally halted in 1970 and the works abandoned.  It is possible to visit the underground passages by contacting the Friends of Cwmorthin Slate Quarry, but for most visitors, the abandoned chapel and former manager’s house of Plas Cwmorthin are the most accessible relics.

Start of the track to the upper quarry

Looking back down the cwm towards the lake

Nearly there at the upper quarry

Just a small part of the extensive remains

Flooded mine entrance

At the head of the valley of Cwmorthin, an old quarry track leads to the upper quarry, and just as the visitor becomes used to the scale of the workings at lake level, a whole new complex of abandoned quarry workings comes into view.   Over the many decades, the old waste tips have blended in to become a part of the mountains and are a testament to the hard men who worked here.

Heading up to Rhosydd Quarry

Continuing upwards….

…. with ‘Mist’ ahead as always

The ruins at Rhosydd quarry with Cnicht in the background

At the upper quarry level, an incline carries on gaining height to Rhosydd quarry, with most of the workings here being above ground on what was the ninth level of the workings.    At last we had views of the surrounding mountains, including Cnicht, known as the ‘Welsh Matterhorn’ due to its ‘pointy’ nature viewed from the southwest, and Moelwyn Mawr with Moelwyn Bach beyond, and Rhosydd made an ideal place to stop for a bite and a drink.

Heading towards Bwlch Stwlan below Moelwyn Mawr

The track clinging to the eastern flank of Moelwyn Mawr ….

…. with a steep drop-off to Llyn Stwlan coming up!

From the upper level of Rhosydd, we carried on towards the pass of Bwlch Stwlan, with what should have been a straightforward track running along the eastern flank of Moelwyn Mawr.   For most of the way the track is as wide and as flat as a town pavement, but the weather and seasons have caused the occasional landslip – this might not have been a problem had there not been a steep drop-off to the lake below, and for a short while, Chris was not a happy bunny!

Chris, happy to be off the narrow path ….

…. and heading down to Llyn Stwlan

The dam at Llyn Stwlan ….

…. with a final view of Moelwyn Mawr

Eventually it was possible to escape the narrow path to head down to the lake of Lynn Stwlan, which like so many Welsh lakes is a reservoir.   Despite the hard outline of the dam, the lake looks at home here and part of the mountain scenery.   The dam also makes a handy bridge, leading to an even handier service road running down to Tanygrisiau, and it was a straightforward yomp back to the waiting car, and for ‘Mist’ the ride home for a long-overdue dinner time!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock

p.s.  Our Scottish trips and bothy walks have taken over the blog  for several months now, so it’s nice to be back on home ground in North Wales with this post

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#260 – Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy

Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy © UKH

Hogwarts Express, AKA The Jacobite Steam Train, crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct ©96tommy

 

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I blame Harry Potter!    The plan had been to walk out to Corryhully bothy, known as ‘The Electric Bothy’ due to its being connected to a modest hydro-electric generator.   We had arrived expecting a short hike out and back, but what we hadn’t allowed for was that unpredictable but growing hazard in the Scottish Highlands – the Tourist Trap.    In this case, the attraction was Harry Potter’s ‘Hogwarts’s Express’, known in real life as ‘The Jacobite Steam Train’.

Fort William and the Road to the Isles

Routes to the bothies – Corryhully (red) and Gleann Dubh Lighe (blue)

Glenfinnan and the route to Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy

The train makes a daily run from Fort William to Mallaig and back again, and I’m sure it’s a fantastic sight as it crosses Glenfinnan Viaduct, but don’t expect a solitary experience.  We arrived at a reasonable time to start the trip,  only to find the start point at the railway viaduct had become a car park, and a full car park at that.   Luckily, we had a backup plan, so leaving crowds of disappointed and sulky kids behind us, we headed down to road to walk out to Gleann Dubh Lighe bothy instead.

Setting out ….

…. and heading towards the forest

Cascades in the ‘Dubh Lighe’ or ‘Black Torrent’

The only people likely to show interest in Glean Dubh Lighe are hikers going out to the bothy, or heading beyond to Streap (909 metres) and the wilderness area of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, so there was no competition from the multitude of Harry Potter fans.  Unfortunately, the start of the revised route was a bimble through the woods, though the cascades of the Dubh Lighe stream (translates as ‘Black Torrent’) provided some interest.

A bridge too far?

The view down to the ‘Black Torrent’ below

Out of the woods and into the open

Regular readers will know that Chris and I are not great fans of routes through forests, especially commercial forests, though Border Collie ‘Mist’ is happy enough and spends much of her time checking out the scents of other four-legged visitors.  There was, however, a wee bit of excitement (for Chris at least) before we left the forest, in the shape of a bridge over the stream, with the Dubh Lighe running through a narrow gorge below.  My request for her to stand on the middle of the bridge for a photo was declined, and none too politely at that!

First view of the bothy

Closer view of the bothy

There at last

Having survived the bridge (wide enough to drive a light truck over as it happens), we finally emerged into more open ground and soon after that the bothy came into sight.   In the early 1900s, the bothy was home to the McLennan family – seven children and their parents lived here, with dad working as a shepherd, forester, ghillie and stalker on the Fassfern estate.   When the cottage became unoccupied, it came under the care of the Loch Eil Outward Bound Centre, before the MBA (Mountain Bothies Association) accepted responsibility for its upkeep.

The bothy after the fire of 2011 © MBA

The buildings in the care of the MBA are maintained by the association with the agreement of the owners, to be used as free accommodation for travellers and mountaineers.   A surprising number of the bothies are damaged by fires, and earlier on our May 2019 trip to the Highlands we had visited Bob Scott’s bothy near Braemar, which has the dubious distinction of being in ‘version 3’, the previous two having been destroyed by fire.

The burned-out bothy in a sorry state © Allan

Glean Dubh Lighe bothy was badly damaged by fire in 2011 and was a subject of prolonged debate as to whether it should be rebuilt – thankfully for hill-goers, the bothy was repaired by MBA volunteers.   A faulty gas cartridge was the culprit in this case, though readers looking for a more interesting tale should read ‘The Night the Bothy Burned’ by outdoors writer John Burns.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ ready to try out the renovated bothy

The name on the door – looks like we found the right place

Just inside the entrance

The main room with the fireplace

The sleeping platform in the main room

Looking through the entrance hall to the second room

The second room and the ‘library’

The renovated bothy is light and airy, and undoubtedly an improvement on the original with wooden floors and wood-clad walls.   The main room has the original fireplace and a sleeping platform, and would make a cosy stopover.   The second room lacks a fire but has the benefit of a well-stocked bookshelf – those placing more importance on comfort over reading are advised to arrive early and head for the room with the fire.

The track continuing up the glen

Beyond the glen – wide open spaces with Streap beyond © Andrew Spenceley

We stayed for a short while for a brew and a bite to eat, before setting off back down the track.   Before leaving, Chris walked a short distance up the track to check out the view, but the cloud had descended and there wasn’t much to see.   In better weather it looks much more inviting, as seen in the photo above by Andrew Spenceley, so we have a good reason to return – that’s if Chris is ready to cross the Dubh Lighe bridge again!

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated otherwise.

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#259 – Callater Stables Bothy and the Jock’s Road Tragedy of 1959

The summit of Jock’s Road from Braemar to Glen Clova (SA)

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One fixed point in every day, whether at home or on hols, is a walk for Border Collie ‘Mist’.   That’s every day, rain or shine (but always hoping for the shine).   We had escaped a drenching the previous day on our trip out to Bob Scott’s Bothy (see post #258), but the rain had hammered down overnight.   Fortunately for us, the monsoon finished before dawn and although the sky was grey, it looked like we would get a walk without a soaking.


The Cairngorms with Callater Stables Bothy in the centre

Our route to Callater Stables and Loch Callater Lodge

Closer view of the route

The start of the route up Glen Callater

The plan was simple – a walk up Glen Callater to Loch Callater Lodge and Callater Stables Bothy, a quick brew with our sarnies and a walk back down to the start point at Auchallater.    5kms each way, 10kms in total, plus a height gain on the outward leg of 150 metres – enough to keep dog and humans happy, at least for one day.

Still a way to go

Not stunningly beautiful …. but pleasant enough

Glen Callater isn’t stunningly beautiful, at least not the section we were walking, but it’s pleasant enough and a walk is a walk.    Further on, beyond Loch Callater Lodge and the bothy, the track becomes a path which eventually rises more steeply to cross a col at 880 metres – that’s as high as many respectable English mountains, and that’s just the col!  The path is a centuries-old drove road, popularly known as Jock’s Road.

Approaching Loch Callater Lodge at last

Callater Lodge on the right and Callater Stables Bothy on the left

It’s about 25kms from Braemar to Glen Clova following Jock’s Road, with about 20% of that above 600 metres altitude, which doesn’t sound too serious.    I had walked the route from Braemar to Clova once before in 1977, as a member of 45 Commando Royal Marines, and we often used the area for mountain training.    We would have been carrying military kit and rifles, but the day was a bit of a ‘jolly’ and a welcome break from the Base at Arbroath.    As we marched, I remembered the story of an incident 18 years earlier in 1959, which had resulted in the tragic deaths of five hikers.

*        *        *        *        *

The route taken by the Universal Hiking Club party, New Year’s Day 1959

Closer view of the 1959 route (Intended route blue, actual route red)

It was New Year’s Day, 1959, and members of the Universal Hiking Club of Glasgow had come to the Cairngorms for Hogmanay.    Most of the group left Braemar by car to drive round to Glen Doll Youth Hostel, a distance of 110kms, but five members of the club set out to walk the 25km route over Jock’s Road.    In the group was the club President and Vice-President, plus the Secretary and the Hiking Convenor.   The fifth member of the group was 17 years old, with just two years of Scottish mountain walking behind him, but the other four were well experienced and skilled.

View from Tolmount looking back towards Loch Callater (just right of centre) (G&J A)

The intended descent route to Glen Doll (RW)

The group was overtaken by an unexpected storm, and a straightforward walk became a fight for survival.    The group left Jock’s Road at the head of Glen Callater, passing to the west of Tolmount instead of the east.   One possible reason was a navigational error, but with the experience in the party, this seems unlikely – a far more plausible reason would be that they were trying to avoid the foul weather for a little longer by following a more sheltered route.

Looking back up the descent route towards Tolmount (RW)

From Tolmount, it was possible to follow the ‘Glen of the White Water’ running below Jock’s Road, and at a point below Cairn Lunkard, a short height gain of 30 metres would get them back on Jock’s Road.   Vice-President Frank Daly, who in his mid-forties was the oldest, was the first to collapse.   He died soon afterwards and was left by the others.  Another two, both in their mid-thirties, collapsed along the way, leaving the strongest member of the party, club President Harry Duffin and the 17-year-old James Boyle to continue.

The waterfalls and crags of the ‘White Water’ (RW)

James Boyle was the first of the group to be found by searchers on 4th January – he had sustained injuries consistent with a fall in a short gully but had died from hypothermia.  The search was abandoned a couple of days later, due to bad weather and deep snow and it was February before Duffin was found, at the bottom of the gully where Boyle had died.  It’s possible that he fell whilst trying to go to assist Boyle.

Memorial Plaque (AI)

On 9th March, searchers found Robert McFaul, who was said to have been one of the most experienced members of the Universal club.    On 15th March the body of Joseph Devlin was found, about 400 metres from where McFaul had been discovered.   The final member, Frank Daly, was found on 19th April.   All had died from hypothermia.   The tragedy is second only in Scottish mountaineering to the cairngorm Tragedy of 1971, in which six young people died (see post #253).

Davie Glen’s shelter, known as ‘Davy’s Bourach’ (DN)

One name that crops up constantly in the story is Davie Glen.    He was a self-sufficient hill man who had grown to love the area – it seemed to become an obsession with him to find the missing men, as if their loss has somehow disturbed the peace of the area, and Davie Glen went out time after time to search with organised parties, or even alone; he personally found two of the victims.   In the 1960’s he built a shelter known as ‘Davy’s Bourach’, not far from where Duffin and Boyle were found, and personally carried most of the heavier building materials to the site.

*        *        *        *        *

Callater Stables Bothy

Chris checks out the notices whilst Border Collie ‘Mist’ chills out

The bunk room

Time for a welcome brew

It didn’t take us long to get to Callater Lodge and the bothy.   Callater Stables Bothy doesn’t have a fire or stove, as is quite common with bothies, but it’s well maintained and dry, and would be cosy enough in most conditions.     We had a brew in the common room after a quick tour of the premises – the second room is a bunk room with real bunks, as an alternative to the usual communal sleeping platform.

Callater Lodge ….

…. temporarily providing hospitality on the Great Outdoors Challenge

On the way out, we had a closer look at Callater Lodge, which estate workers Bill and Stan had taken over as a rest spot for those on the TGO Challenge which runs for a couple of weeks every year in May (click here to find out more) – for those making the crossing via Jock’s Road, this would be a welcome break for a brew before tackling the steep ascent ahead.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged SA (Stuart Anthony), G&J A (Gwen & James Anderson), RW (Richard Webb), AO (Ali Ogden) and DN (Douglas Nelson) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence

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#258 – Bob Scott’s Bothy

The current ‘Bob Scott’s Bothy’ © Brian Barclay

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The Cairngorms, including Braemar and our Bob Scott’s route

The route to Bob Scott’s from Linn of Dee

Closer view of the route

May 2019, and Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) were steadily working through my ‘bothy walks’ wish-list. Shenavall in Wester Ross had been all I had hoped for, a lovely bothy in a magnificent setting, and the delightful Ryvoan in the Cairngorms didn’t disappoint either. I still had my wish-list to complete though, and one bothy stood out from those remaining, if only for its history – ‘Bob Scott’s’.

Leaving the Lin of Dee carpark – lots of trees!

Out of the wood …. but still lots of trees!

Setting out from the Linn of Dee carpark, it soon became apparent that the only views we would be getting for the next couple of kilometres would be views of trees. Border Collie ‘Mist’ wasn’t complaining though – for her a walk is a walk, and she had waited patiently while I had faffed about deciding which jacket to wear, from the several mountain jackets I had brought on the trip. Looking at the clouds, something waterproof seemed to be a good idea ….

Finally out of the forestry and in to big open spaces – walking by the Lui Water ….

…. with a large crowd following

We eventually emerged from the forestry, with big open views up the Lui Water ahead of us. Hot on our heels was a large walking group, on a guided hike organised by the Mar Lodge estate. Mar Lodge is a modern-day success story – for many years it was a commercial ‘shooting’ estate but is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, who have expanded the original sporting use to include conservation and recreational use by hikers, cyclists and climbers …. plus the occasional, large guided-walking party.

The track to Luibeg and Derry Lodge …. and the mighty Cairngorms beyond

First view of Bob Scott’s v3

We built up a good gap between ourselves and the following group by opening up the pace a little, and it wasn’t long before we were on the final approach to the bothy. The present ‘Bob Scott’s’ is the third bothy to carry the name, but before going in for a brew, I decided to check out the buildings ahead of us at Derry Lodge and Luibeg that are part of the Bob Scott story. So, who was Bob Scott?

Closer view of the ‘New’ Bob Scott’s

The original Bob Scott’s Bothy at Luibeg (© unknown)

Bob Scott was born in 1903, the son of a gamekeeper on the Mar Estate, and apart from service in the army in WW2, he spent his life working and living on the estate. In 1947 he moved to a small cottage called Luibeg, near to the now-abandoned Derry Lodge and about 600 metres upstream from the present bothy. He allowed climbers and walkers the use of a wooden hut next to the cottage, which became the original Bob Scott’s Bothy, and as such he was an important figure in the Golden Age of Cairngorm rock and Ice climbing in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Derry Lodge, once a shooting lodge, now empty and deserted

The track to Luibeg, with the house just visible, low of centre

Bob Scott did more than merely tolerate the climbers. He would leave a candle burning in a window of the cottage to guide those coming off the mountains in the dark, and frequently used his local knowledge to assist on mountain rescues. He was also a regular at the bar at Mar Lodge, and after ‘last orders’ would often offer climbers a lift from Mar to Luibeg in his Landrover, though he had a reputation for having a mischievous sense of humour – he would load the climbers rucksacks into his vehicle, then drive off without their owners, though that might have had something to do with the amount of alcohol Bob had shifted that night!

Luibeg – once Bob Scott’s house and the site of the old bothy

Border Collie ‘Mist’ enjoying a paddle just downstream of Luibeg

He retired in 1973 and died in July 1981. The next occupant of Luibeg was not as tolerant as Bob Scott, but allowed climbers to continue using the bothy until March 1986, when the building was destroyed in a fire. Cairngorm mountaineers formed the ‘Friends of Bob Scott’s’ association and managed to persuade the Mar Estate that the bothy should be rebuilt. The second Bob Scott’s was built in the location of the present bothy where it stood until it too was destroyed by fire in 2003. Once again, the estate agreed to allow a rebuild, and the third Bob Scott’s remains one of the most popular bothies in Scotland.

17

The path into Bob Scott’s v3 ….

…. with the sign to prove it

Bob Scott’s

Inside, with the sleeping platform just behind ‘Mist’

The multi-fuel stove

Time for a well-earned brew

The present bothy is a warm and comfortable half-timbered building. Rather than tempt fate a third time, the open fire of Bob’s #2 has been replaced by a multi-fuel stove. Unusual in the bothy scene, there is even a toilet for the use of visitors. We stayed long enough to have a brew and a bite to eat before returning to the camper at Linn of Dee, accompanied on the way back by gathering storm clouds.

Time to head for home

We found a great overnight stop for the camper overlooking the River Dee. I’m still kicking myself for not taking a couple of ‘before and after’ photos – the image below shows the river as we saw it that evening, before a virtual monsoon hit the valley that night. In the morning, the meandering River Dee was a raging torrent that filled the valley bottom, a truly impressive demonstration of the power of nature. Without photographic evidence, you will just have to take my word for it!

The River Dee near our overnight stop (SR)

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except Images tagged BB (Brian Barclay) and SR (Scott Robinson) which are taken from the Geograph Project, and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#257 – Shenavall Bothy in Wester Ross

Shenavall Bothy with the Mountains of the Fisherfield Forest behind © Alistair Humphries

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May 2019, and the Scottish trip was going well.   For the second year running, we had picked some of the many bothies in the Highlands as a hook to hang a walk on, and Ryvoan, Duror and Craig bothies had all been great choices.   The one I really wanted to visit though was Shenavall – even the name hinted of great things to come, but the classic photo of Shenavall with the mountains of Fisherfield Forest as a background made it a ‘must do’ trip.

Wester Ross and the North-West Highlands

Wester Ross with the route to Shenavall Bothy

Closer view of the route to Shenavall from Dundonnell

The land between Gairloch, Dundonnell, Gruinard Bay and Kinlochewe is often referred to as ‘The Great Wilderness’ and no wonder.   The A832 road skirts most of the area, but that’s the only road you will see – the interior has a network of ancient tracks left by stalkers, drovers and more recently hikers and mountaineers, but if you had to pick one word to sum it all up, it would be ‘remote’.

Setting out from the road with the peaks of An Teallach peeping out

Walking through the woodlands of Gleann Chaorachain

Better view of An Teallach now, looking to the northwest

The highest point of the walk in to Shenavall just above Loch Coire Chaorachain

Chris and I (plus Border Collie ‘Mist’ of course) had decided on a bit of a wander into one small corner of The Great Wilderness.   The name doesn’t convey the magnificence of the mountain scenery though, with the peaks of Slioch and the Fisherfield Forest being highlights, but the star of the show (well, for me anyway) was An Teallach.   We set off from Coire Hallie near Dundonnell, following the Landrover track to Strath na Sealga, leaving the track at its high point to follow the rough path over the moor.

The view south towards Strath na Sealga

Movement spotted on the moor next to the path ….

…. which turned out to be two riders with pack horses

Better view into the head of Strath na Sealga, with a green oasis central in the image

The path was easy to navigate, though a bit rough and boggy in places.   By now we had traded the view of the magnificent An Teallach for a less interesting bit of moorland, with a distant view of the head of the valley of Strath na Sealga.   Then I detected movement across the moor – it was two riders, each leading a packhorse.   For a moment we could have been transported back a couple of centuries when travel by horse would have been the best option.

Border Collie ‘Mist’ and the view towards the Fisherfield Mountains

Start of the descent down to Shenavall

The Fisherfield Mountains and Loch na Sealga with Shenavall just visible (left and low of centre)

The final part of the descent, Shenavall just low of centre

Chris, happy to get to level ground

Shenavall Bothy ….

…. complete with house name plate!

After a good bit of walking, our path started to descend to Strath na Sealga, gradually at first before becoming steeper on the final section.    I was amazed to find hoof prints and fresh horse dung – our riders had obviously taken this route out from Shenavall, pretty heroic stuff in my book.   Chris was less impressed by the steepness of the descent but persevered, and we eventually arrived at Shenavall Bothy, in one of the most impressive locations you could wish for.

The main room with fireplace

Another view of the main room ….

…. with a new (temporary) resident

Shenavall was once a home to the MacDonald family, who occupied the house from 1891, with Mr MacDonald employed as a stalker.   They had four cows and access to fresh salmon and venison from the estate, augmented by paraffin, meal, sugar and tea conveyed by pony from Dundonnell.   A roll of tweed would have been bought from Ullapool every year, with which a travelling tailor would make suits, trousers, skirts and jackets for the whole family.   It must have been a hard life, but by the standards of the time, they were comfortably off.

Chris checking out the kitchen

Upstairs sleeping space

Time for a well-earned brew!

All mod-cons?

Shenavall is still owned by the Dundonnell estate but is in the care of the Mountain Bothies Association, who maintain the bothy for ‘free of charge’ use by hikers, climbers and mountaineers.   Unfortunately, we were not staying overnight, but with a fire going the place would have been a cosy stopover.   After taking a look round it was time for lunch and well-earned brew, with extra dog biscuits for ‘Mist’.

Heading back ….

…. with an interesting weather front forming over An Teallach ….

…. but ‘Mist’ isn’t impressed as it’s getting near to dinner time!

Time to head for home

Then it was time to head back over the moor.    The views opened up as we left the confines of the stream flowing down to the bothy, with An Teallach taking centre stage again.   We had an extra treat with an interesting looking weather front moving through, but there was still some way to go before we finally reached the campervan on the A832.   Moving further up the road for an overnight spot proved to be a great idea – as well as meeting up with our mates Richie and Babs again, we were also treated to yet another spectacular sunset.    Days (and nights) in the Scottish Highlands don’t get much better than this!

Yet another fine sunset – looking towards An Teallach

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where stated.

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#256 – Craig Bothy

Craig Bothy (low right by the trees) (IM)

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Our “stravaiging” (see post #255) continued onwards from Glencoe, with a diversion over to Skye and the Cuillins (see post #252) followed by Torridon, but it was soon time for another bothy visit.    The main contender was what is probably one of the best-appointed and most luxurious bothies in Scotland, the former youth hostel on the coast near Torridon, and known simply as Craig Bothy.

Craig Bothy plus Torridon and Skye

The routes in from Redpoint (blue) and Daibaig (red)

Our route in from Redpoint

Craig Bothy is 4kms from Daibaig near Torridon and 8kms from Redpoint near Gairloch.  At a distance of 18kms, ‘near Gairloch’ shouldn’t be taken too literally and the walk from Torridon to Daibaig isn’t exactly a short stroll, so it appears that the ‘youth’ of a bygone age were hardier walkers than those of today.  All of which probably explains why Craig is no longer a youth hostel.

The road over Bealach na Gaoithe (NB)

Mind you, neither Chris or I were much inclined to follow the classic but lengthy walking trip from Torridon to Redpoint (and beyond) via Craig, so a ‘creative’ use of the narrow roads was on the cards.    ‘Plan A’ had been to drive to Daibaig and to walk the shorter distance to the bothy and to return the same way, but a look at the map indicated some steep bits – good old Google confirmed that part of the road was possibly the steepest section of public road in the UK.

More of the Bealach na Gaoithe road (PM)

Redpoint and the view southwest to Skye

I’m normally up for a motoring challenge, but the problem with driving a 3.5 tonne camper, 6 metres long and 2.2 metres wide, along roads not much wider than the van, is that many drivers today simply don’t have a clue how to drive.    More importantly, many of them don’t appreciate the issues of driving a big, heavy vehicle on narrow roads, and whilst I was happy to ‘give it a go’ if the road was quiet, the prospect of reversing some distance for some numpty blocking the road didn’t appeal.    Time for ‘Plan B’!

The distant Cuillin Mountains on Skye

The start of the coastal route from Redpoint to Craig Bothy and Daibaig

‘Plan B’ was simple – round from Torridon towards Gairloch, then along the narrow coastal road to Redpoint.    This meant a longer walk in to the bothy with more height gain, but at a total of 16kms there and back, it was going to be quite do-able – coastal walks can often catch out unprepared hikers, who imagine that walking by the coast is going to be fairly flat, as in reality, the ups and downs of a coastal path soon add up to the equivalent of a decent mountain day.

Old fishing station at Redpoint

The route starts out as a thin path above the boulders ….

…. before settling down as a proper path

Setting out from Redpoint, we had great views out to Skye, with the Cuillins the most obvious feature.   Leaving farmland behind us, we passed the old fishing station and headed out on a thin path above the boulders.    Then, as we gained a bit of height, the path settled down into something more path-like.   Quite often the slope below us would roll straight down to the sea, and a casual trip or stumble could easily have developed into a roll down to the water – not a good idea!

Higher up the hillside now ….

….before dropping down to one of several stream crossings ….

…. then gaining height again

Nearly there – the far inlet is the outflow of the Craig River

In true coastal-path style, we ended up dropping down to stream crossings before gaining height again.    The coastline is straight as an arrow on the approach to the outflow of the Craig River, so it was quite easy to guestimate how far we had to go.   We turned the corner to head alongside the river, and the ground immediately became more lumpy and bumpy – before long, Chris decided she had put up with enough lumpy and bumpy and decided to take a break while I carried on to visit the bothy.

Craig Bothy

The common room with a new canine occupant – note the Celtic mural

Another view of the Celtic mural

The kitchen

Upstairs sleeping accommodation ….

…. with a real bed in one room!

On the map, the bridge across Craig River leading to the bothy was so close that I thought I should try to persuade Chris to carry on, but in reality it seemed to take longer.    When I finally arrived, I found a substantial building – I’m guessing that building materials and supplies probably came in by boat because it wouldn’t have been much fun carrying in cement, furniture, pans and a woodburning stove on either coastal path.    The inside was as impressive as outside, with solid furniture and even a bed, true luxury!    One of the most interesting features though is a Celtic mural painted on the wall by one of the previous hostel wardens.

Visit over – time to head for home

I had a good wander around the building before heading back to Chris, who was sitting enjoying the warm weather.    Out came the stove and brew kit, and we had our lunch sitting in the sun, before retracing our steps to Redpoint.    We found a nearby parking spot for the camper, with great views out to sea, and as a final treat we watched the sun setting over Skye, accompanied with a wee dram – what a great way to end a day!

Back at Redpoint, it’s time for the sun to say goodbye ….

…. but with a final flourish on the way

Text and images © Paul Shorrock, except the images tagged IM (Ibn Musa),  NB (Nigel Brown) and PM (Peter Moore) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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#255 – Duror Bothy and the sad tale of ‘James of the Glen’

Duror Bothy, AKA ‘Taigh Seumas a’ Ghlinne’ (The House of James of the Glen)

(Left click images to zoom in, use browser return arrow to go back)

The Scots have a great word for wandering about –‘Stravaiging’.   The meaning of ‘Stravaig’ is a bit more subtle than just wandering about though, as it implies more of an ‘aimless wandering’.    We don’t spend enough time in the Highlands for our wandering to be truly aimless, so for several of our hill days in May 2019 we tagged on a visit to a bothy for the extra interest.  Duror Bothy near Glencoe was the first on the list.

Glencoe, Appin and the surrounding area

The route in to Duror Bothy

From Glencoe, it’s a short drive on the Oban road to the small settlement of Duror at the mouth of the glen of the same name.    The road looks as if it has been there for centuries but has only existed in its current form since the 1930’s.    In summer it can be quite busy with tourist traffic, but May is quiet and probably the best time to visit, and the only campervan you will be stuck behind is probably ours.

Setting out up Glen Duror

The view from the forestry track

Into the woods

The bothy comes into view

If the drive is easy, the walk is likewise.   A gradually rising forestry track takes you up Glen Duror until a junction is reached on the left, where you branch off into the wood (see what I did there? – ‘branch off’ – oh, never mind 😉).     From there it’s a bit more like a maze, heading through the trees until the path opens up to lead to a clearing, with the bothy coming into view at last.

‘Taigh Seumas a’ Ghlinne’, now known as Duror Both

If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of wide forestry tracks or narrow paths through the trees – what makes this trip more interesting is the sad story of Seumas a’ Ghlinne, otherwise ‘James of the Glen’.  If ever a man was wronged, it was James Stewart, and the bothy was his birthplace and at one time his home.

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Duror Bothy

James was one of the Stewarts of Appin, who had fought on the side of Bonny Prince Charlie in the 1745 rebellion against the English Monarchy.  The Glencoe and Appin areas came under the control of the Campbell Clan, supporters of English rule, and Colin Campbell, known as the ‘Red Fox’, was employed as a tax collector working on behalf of the Crown.  As such he was not a popular man and provided a likely target for the disaffected locals.

Glen Duror in better weather conditions than we had (RW)

In May 1752, the Red Fox was going about his masters’ business near to the Ballachulish Ferry when a musket shot rang out, leaving the Campbell man dead.   The Authorities would not allow such a direct challenge to their power and looked for a scapegoat.    James Stewart had been a constant critic of the Campbells and their English masters, and the murder of Colin Campbell gave them the opportunity to settle old scores.    In a sham of a trial, Stewart was found guilty of murder – eleven of the 15 jurors were Campbells and the presiding judge was the Duke of Argyll, the Campbell clan chief

The memorial to Seumas a’ Ghlinne at Ballachulish (CD)

James went to the gallows at a point overlooking the scene of the murder.     He showed no fear but expressed regret that future generations would think ill of him.    The locals were well aware of the identity of the murderer, but it remained secret despite much speculation at the time and since.     As a final act of revenge, James Stewart’s body was left hanging in chains until it slowly fell apart – his remains were subsequently gathered and given a decent burial, and the gallows were eventually thrown into Loch Linnhe by a local half-wit known as “Daft Macphee”.

A monument stands at the site of the execution.  On it is a plaque with the following words

James Stewart
James of the Glens
Executed here November 1752
For a crime of which he was not guilty

As recently as 2014, an appeal was lodged with the Scottish Government to pardon Stewart, but this was refused for no better reason than it would be ‘complicated’ and ‘Seumas a Ghlinne’ remains a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

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Duror Bothy

Inside the bothy

Big chair – or perhaps a throne

New occupant for the throne

The sleeping platform

Chris catches up with the ‘Hut Book’….

…. but in the meantime it’s time for a brew

If the ghost of Seumus still wanders through the glen, we didn’t hear or see it.    The bothy is light and airy, probably more so than when Seumas lived there, thanks to renovations by the Mountain Bothies Association.    Despite its proximity to the road, the bothy does not seem to have attracted the attention of the louts and vandals who spoil the peace of bothies elsewhere in the Highlands – perhaps Seumas is keeping watch after all.

Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except images tagged RW (Richard Webb) and CD (Chris Downer) which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.

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