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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’.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated otherwise.