#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.

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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.

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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.


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)

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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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#254 – Glenmore and Ryvoan Bothy

Ryvoan Bothy © GR

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May 2019 – we arrived just after midday at Glenmore near Aviemore, with several options lined up. I had plans on a trip out over the Northern Cairngorm plateau in a couple of days (see post #253) and I’d promised Chris a walk out to the wild corrie of Coire an t-Sneachda. What was needed was a short walk out into the mountains to get a bit of the ‘vibe’.

The Northern Cairngorms

Glenmore, Loch Morlich and the Ryvoan Pass route

Closer view of the Ryvoan Route

No competition really, it had to be the Ryvoan Pass – we would be following in the footsteps of the cattle thieves and drovers of times gone by, through a setting of ancient Caledonian pines. The cherry on the cake was to be a visit to an iconic bothy – Ryvoan.

The present-day Glenmore Lodge

Soon after starting out from Loch Morlich, we passed Glenmore Lodge, one of the premier Outdoor Training Centres in the UK, the other one being Plas y Brenin in North wales. The original aim of the centre was “to help an individual discover their own physical, mental and spiritual potential” and for the past seventy years, ‘The Lodge’ has done just that, being the start point of hundreds of thousands of outdoor adventures in mountaineering, skiing, climbing, canoeing, etc. Many ex-students have themselves gone on to be instructors in those activities.

The memorial to Kompani Linge at the Glenmore Visitor Centre © RT

Closer view of the memorial © AR

Glenmore Lodge was originally a shooting lodge, part of a local estate. During WW2 it was taken under government control as a military training centre and is best known as the base of the Norwegian Kompani Linge who trained there as commandos. Named after Captain Martin Linge, who was killed on an early raid in a raid on Måløy in Norway, the Company was best known for the raid on the heavy water plant in Rjukan, later immortalised in the film ‘Heroes of Telemark’.

A handy seat for one in the forest

An Lochan Uaine

Next to the Loch

‘Mist’ can’t resist a dip ….

…. and has a final look at the ‘Green Loch’

We didn’t have any heroic plans on this trip out, and carried on past ‘The Lodge’ towards Ryvoan Pass, passing an unusual seat by the side of the trail. A little further on we came to An Lochan Uaine which translates as ‘the Green Loch’, for reasons which become obvious from certain angles. The water has a green hue, which could be down to particles of minerals in the water, though another answer offered by the locals is that the colour comes from the fairy folk washing their clothes in it. Obvious really!

Onwards, up the Ryvoan Pass

Ryvoan Bothy

Ryvoan in 1932 from a photograph by John Henderson, © unknown

From the ‘fairy laundrette’, we carried on along the track to the bothy at Ryvoan. A photo taken in 1932 by John Henderson shows the bothy still in use as a dwelling – a long way out for a quick trip to Tesco though! As with many similar buildings in the Highlands, Ryvoan would probably have deteriorated into a state of collapse but was instead taken over by the Mountain Bothies Association who, with the permission of the landowner, maintain the bothy to allow hikers to use the building free of charge (see post #223).

The storm porch entrance to the bothy

Inside – one of the residents settling in

Plenty of reading material

Lunchtime, and a very helpful Border Collie

My favourite titanium mug featuring 45 Commando Royal Marines

Inside the bothy, we found two hikers who were passing through the area and spending the night at Ryvoan. We weren’t staying overnight, but lunch seemed like a good idea and as usual Border Collie ‘Mist’ agreed in a flash. As with many bothies, there is plenty to read on the walls or in the ‘Hut Book’, but Ryvoan is best known for a poem written by A.M. Lawrence in the 1940’s – she was clearly deeply affected by the magnificent mountains of the Cairngorms. By tradition, a copy is pinned to the door.

I shall leave tonight from Euston

By the seven-thirty train,

And from Perth in the early morning

I shall see the hills again.

From the top of Ben Macdhui

I shall watch the gathering storm,

And see the crisp snow lying

At the back of Cairngorm.

I shall feel the mist from Bhrotain

And the pass by Lairig Ghru

To look on dark Loch Einich

From the heights of Sgoran Dubh.

From the broken Barns of Bynack

I shall see the sunrise gleam

On the forehead of Ben Rinnes

And Strathspey awake from dream.

And again in the dusk of evening

I shall find once more alone

The dark water of the Green Loch,

And the pass beyond Ryvoan.

For tonight I leave from Euston

And leave the world behind;

Who has the hills as a lover,

Will find them wondrous kind.

Having read the poem, we left the new occupants of the bothy in peace and set off back to Glenmore, with ‘Mist’ yet again disturbing the fairies of the Green Loch.

Time to head for home ….

…. but time for one last dip on the way back

Text and images © Paul Shorrock with the exception of images tagged GR (Graham Robson) and John Henderson, which are taken from the Geograph Project and are reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence plus the images tagged RT (Reuben Tabner) and AR (Amanda Ruggeri)

Posted in 1. Scotland, 3. Yorkshire Dales, Bothy days | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

#253 – Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui, and the Cairngorm Tragedy of 1971

The Cairngorm Plateau

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

The Northern Cairngorms

Most of my Cairngorm visits over the years have been to the ski slopes, though on one occasion I did do a trip away from the ski lifts to cross the summit of Cairngorm on Alpine Touring skis. That’s barely scratching the surface of the largest National Park in the UK, though I have made a couple of hiking trips there over the years. The first one was as a teenager in 1969 – a mate and I had big ideas about walking the ‘Big Four’ Cairngorm summits with a wild camp thrown in. For those not in the know, tents back then were a bit more, err … substantial!

The Route – Cairngorm and Ben Macdui

My Blacks Mountain Tent was brill, and would have survived an arctic storm, but it weighed more than 5 kilos (about 12 pounds) and that was just the tent! We ended Day 1 down in the Lairig Ghru, having done Cairngorm and Ben Macdui, with Cairn Toul and Braeriach to follow on Day 2, but we soon realised we had bitten off more than we could chew with our ‘English’ sense of mountain scale and our bloody huge rucksacks! Day 2 we headed back the short way!

Closer view of the route

May 2019 – It was time for a return visit to the wild Cairngorm Plateau but without the weight this time. The plan was simple – starting from the Ski Centre car park, up to the Ptarmigan Station, over Cairngorm summit followed by Stob Coire an t-Sneachda then a left turn before Cairn Lochan to head for Lochan Buidhe, then on to Ben Macdui. From there a bit of backtracking would take me back to the path on the west side of Cairn Lochan before heading back below Coire an Lochain and Coire an t-Sneachda.

Coire Cas (just left of centre)

Heading up the path to the Ptarmigan restaurant and lift station

The Ptarmigan Centre

Ski information, redundant after the spring thaw

The first bit of the day was the least interesting. I’ve already confessed to being a skier, and the commercial ‘uplift’ makes it possible to cram many kilometres of skiing into one day, but the ski infrastructure is a bit of an eyesore. The Ptarmigan station and restaurant was deserted, a victim of the failed funicular railway that is due to be repaired over the next year, as it would cost more than the planned repairs to re-instate the hillside back to nature. Sadly, it’s all about money, as usual.

Snow fences near the Ptarmigan Centre

Snowfield on the way to the summit of Cairngorm

The Summit ….

…. and the summit weather station

It doesn’t take long to leave the commercial scene behind, and once beyond the snow fences, I was heading into wilder country. People seeing these mountains in spring or summer would probably find it hard to believe that in winter these hills are not Alpine – they are Arctic. It was mid-May but the winter snowfields were still clinging on, although the summit was bare. The cairn was a welcome sight and it’s hard to dislike the weather station which, although it looks alien, has probably saved scores of lives by warning of dangerous weather on the way.

Looking southwest towards the cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Leaving the summit plateau, heading towards Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

Closer view of the cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda seen from the top

The cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, seen from below the previous day

Leaving the summit, it didn’t take long to get to the rim of Coire an t-Sneachda, which translates as ‘Corrie of the Snows’. It’s a popular climbing venue, both in winter and summer, but the view looking down doesn’t do the place justice. Fortunately, I had anticipated that by taking a walk into the corrie with Chris the previous day – it’s rare in Scotland to access such magnificent surroundings without a major walk in, but Chris had enjoyed the trip

The bealach between Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and Cairn Lochan

Heading towards Ben Macdui and the site of the 1971 tragedy

At the bealach (pass) below Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, I turned away from the Northern Corries of the Cairngorm Plateau to head directly for Ben Macdui. The route follows an easy path to the small lake of Lochan Buidhe (‘The Yellow Lake’), effectively cutting the corner and avoiding the ascent of Cairn Lochan, which my mate and I had toiled over with our heavy packs in 1969. Today’s route was also the route followed in what developed into the worst disaster in the history of UK mountaineering.

* * * * *

Site of the Curran Shelter (black circle) and the fatal bivouac site (red circle)

In November 1971, two groups of teenagers aged 15-16 with three instructors followed the same route that I followed as described above. Their plan was to attempt the same Big Four that I set off to cover in 1969, an overly ambitious plan considering the ages of the kids. The main difference between the two trips was that my mate and I went in August 1969 – in November 1971, winter arrived early in the Cairngorms.

Looking across to the site of the bivouac (the stream left of centre)

The group had split into two parties, the stronger party of eight going with the one male instructor and the slower group of six following with two female instructors, but both groups were hit by severe blizzard conditions. The emergency plan was to head for a rudimentary refuge at Lochan Buidhe named the Curran Shelter. The weather was so bad that the faster group ‘bailed out’ and stayed at Curran overnight in very uncomfortable conditions. When the slower group didn’t arrive, it was assumed they had turned back.

Lochan Buidhe – the site of the Curran Shelter is at the group of hikers right of centre

The slower group had not turned back, and instead had pressed on towards the Curran Shelter. They ended up following the Feith Buidhe stream, but the snow became too deep to struggle through and the group was forced to bivouac in the open, just 300 metres from the Curran and safety. The next day, one instructor and one boy attempted to go for help but got no further than 25 metres from the bivi site. In the meantime, the stronger group set off back to Rothiemurchus where they arrived at 5pm to discover that the other group was still overdue.

The Curran Shelter, now demolished – note the orange chimney – © Dave ‘Heavy’ Whalley

Contemporary photo showing the chimney in winter! – © unknown

A search was started that night, with the overdue party committed to a second night in a bivouac in near-Arctic conditions. The search continued into the next day, when one of the missing instructors was found trying to raise the alarm. At the bivouac site, the rescuers found that the other instructor and five of the six kids had died of exposure.

Looking back towards Lochan Buidhe and the site where the Curran Shelter once stood

The disaster led to more rigid controls being placed on organised groups of youngsters taking part in adventurous activities. There then followed an acrimonious debate about the Curran and other emergency shelters. It was argued that the fact that shelter was there was an encouragement to press on in bad conditions – the counter-argument was that the shelters had saved lives in the past. In the end, it was decided to demolish Curran and two other shelters, and no trace of Curran can be seen today.

I remember the tragedy well – I was a student teacher in 1971, hoping to specialise in outdoor pursuits, and I remember thinking at the time that there would be big changes in outdoor education. For reasons that had nothing to do with this tale, I didn’t finish my teacher training course and instead took a completely different career path by joining the Royal Marines.

* * * * *

Looking west across the Lairig Ghru towards Braeriach and Cairn Toul

The slopes of Ben Macdui

Closer view of the Summit – not pretty and fairly busy!

Leaving those sad memories behind me, I pressed on with Border Collie ‘Mist’ towards Ben Macdui. It’s not a pretty mountain in itself but it makes a magnificent viewpoint overlooking much of the main Cairngorm Plateau. It was surprisingly busy at the summit, as everyone else seemed to have decided to have a lunch stop at the same time. ‘Mist’ took the opportunity to go scrounging for a morsel or two.

Heading back towards the descent route ….

…. with Lochan Buidhe in view and Carn Lochan above

The path to the west of Carn Lochan, with the Lairig Ghru below on the left

Sron na Lairige on the other side of the Lairig Ghru

I had to retrace my steps back towards Lochan Buidhe, but once again I turned away from Cairn Lochan, this time avoiding it by taking a path on the west side of the mountain. I’ve no idea where the groups who had been on Ben Macdui disappeared to, but my return route was deserted with just two other hikers taking that option. It wasn’t quite deserted though.

‘Mist’ sees something in the distance

Reindeer herd

The first view into Coire an Lochhain below Carn Lochan ….

….with a view of the tiny lakes that give the names to the corrie and the summit

Heading towards the rim of Corrie an Lochain, with its tiny lakes that give the names to the corrie and the summit, ‘Mist’ suddenly went on alert at something ahead. Her eyesight is far better than mine, but I think it was a scent that had caught her interest. It was the reindeer herd that has been part of the Cairngorm magic since 1952. If ‘Mist’ was interested in the reindeer, they had no interest in the dog or me. We left them grazing peacefully – it was time to head for home.


Time to head for home

Text and images © Paul Shorrock except where indicated

p.s. – Although I normally use the local language for mountain names, especially in my adopted home of Wales, I’ve used the anglicised versions of Ben Macdui (Beinn Macduibh), Braeriach (Braigh Riabhach) and Cairn Toul (Carn an t-Sabhail) as the original Scots Gaelic versions would be unrecognisable to most outdoor folk, even those who are Scots.

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