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If you wait for good weather in the Scottish Highlands, you can spend a lot of time doing just that – waiting! Some of our best fine-weather experiences in the Highlands have been in May, but the 2022 version of May wasn’t playing the game, and ambitious hiking plans were postponed for better days. It wasn’t just the weather that dictated the trips out though – we also had to find routes that were not too taxing for Border Collie ‘Mist’, now over 14 years old.
Despite her age, the old dog still became excited when the walking boots came out, and we made sure we got out every day, whatever the weather. On the occasions when better weather came along, we looked for outings suitable for ‘Mist’ but also interesting for the humans, and we always managed to find something. The ‘something’ in this trip was a little known bothy known as Carlotta’s Eyrie, near Arisaig.
You can find the answer to many things by using Google, but don’t bother trying to find out more about Carlotta’s bothy, because there’s little info out there. During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive used this part of the Highlands to train agents, who were then infiltrated into occupied Europe, and ‘Carlotta’ is thought to have been a trainee saboteur. Other than that, nothing is known about the mysterious bothy constructor.
Our route for the day wasn’t in any way mysterious as we set out from Arisaig village by the sea loch, Loch nan Caell. On this occasion, Google did tell us why the stream running alongside our route was called ‘The Canal’ – it had been widened to float timber from a steam-driven sawmill to the sea. That must have been some time ago as the stream is now slowly reverting to being just a stream. Beyond there, the track steadily deteriorated, eventually becoming a muddy path that even ‘Mist’ tried to avoid.
As we gained height, we left the worst of the mud behind. We were looking out for a ‘cup and ring’ stone dating to the Neolithic to Late Bronze Age (4000-500 BC) but failed in our task – we did, however, find an amazing tumbledown tree which had been blown over but was still growing vertically from the horizontal trunk. Local legends about the stone say that an apprentice blacksmith could gain additional skill and strength by washing his hand in the largest cup mark on the stone – I hope they had more luck in finding it than we did.
Beyond the tree, the ground dried out a bit, and a gradual slope took us down to the stony beach at the bay of Camus Ghaoideil. The bothy is on a rocky outcrop above the beach, which became more obvious as we approached, but I ended up on a false start, looking down to the short climb onto the outcrop. It is said that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted – the outcome of this recce was that Chris and ‘Mist’ would not be visiting Carlotta’s little hideaway.
Chris isn’t much into climbing things that you might fall off, and ‘Mist’ was too old to be mucking about on steep rock, so I left the two of them on a grassy bank, while I skirted round the outcrop to the start point of a scrappy little scramble up a shallow groove – good holds were provided by the tree roots and cracks in the rock, but a handy-looking rope dangling down the groove was also put to good use. Once up, a scrabble about over a rock slab led to the door of the bothy.
This isn’t one of those bothies big enough for a happy bunch of hikers to hold an impromptu ceilidh, but it’s cosy enough for 2-3 if they are good friends, more if the floor was used for sleeping. I didn’t stay too long as Chris and ‘Mist’ were still on their grassy bank, so after grabbing a few photos, I reversed the Indian rope trick to descend the groove. After a coffee and a sandwich, we set off to return by the way we had come – it was time to head for home.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock except the image tagged as © Luke Oldale, which is taken from the Geograph Project and reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence