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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.
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’.
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 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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where stated.
Nice walk. When I stayed at Shenavall in May 2017 it was astonishingly busy – we were like sardines inside and other hikers were camping all around the building!
Hi Andrew and thanks for the comment. They do say that Shenavall is one of the busiest bothies, but the only company we had was a bike leaning against the wall and a sighting of someone approaching, about 1km away. I’ll bet it gets busy most nights though.
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Very jealous – I had a great 2 nights at Shenaval when I was Munroing. Managed to find another guy in the bothy to do a couple of the scarier routes with me and then had a walk with my companion the next day. The day I left I was chatting to an incomer who was a prison warder – he was a great guy. We had around 13 people in the bothy the first night.
Love the wi-fi sign – really great. Do you mind if I snatch a copy of it from your post to show my friend?
Really want to go to Ryvoan myself…
I guessed you would have stayed there for the Fisherfield Munros, so I went back to your older posts just out of interest – thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Shenavall trip. I would have loved to have stayed over, but it wasn’t on Chris’s list of things to do!
Yeah, feel free to copy the wifi sign, in fact feel free to copy any of my pics, though I’ve a feeling that your photo archive is probably bigger than mine. If you want another chuckle moment, zoom in on the image with Chris in the main room – someone has drawn a double 13amp socket on the wall!
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Ha ha – I’ll have another read and zoom in on that photo – hilarious. I always thought the Tarf Hotel’s AA 3-star sign was funny – bothiers are definitely not losing their sense of humour!
I always forget a bit of comment… great idea to bring pack horses – that’s what I need – I hate carrying a heavy pack and I get on well with horses! Wonder if they hired them?
It was a great sight and really did look like a trip back through the centuries. I was amazed when I saw the hoof prints up the side of the stream – I’m sure you will remember how steep it is to walk, never mind ride one horse and lead another!
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Good to see the bothy still in a good state of repair
You may see how that is done on youtube
I.E. Shenavall 2012 ( also on youtube see 2013 and 2014 )
Peter Aikman ( former M.O. Shenavall )
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Thanks for the comments Peter, and thanks to you and the other volunteers of the MBA for the hard work that goes into maintaining the bothies.
Of the various bothies I’ve visited over the years, Shenavall is the one I would return to again and again! Hopefully I’ll be back when the current Covid-19 emergency is over.
How long does it take to walk from the car park to the bothy?
Hi there. I would allow three hours each way following the route in the post. If you’re fit and not carrying much weight, you could possibly knock 30 mins off that. Get there early for the parking though – at weekends and in summer it soon fills up. Have a great day if you go out there.