Sunday, 3 December 2017

Tunskeen Bothy. Galloway and Carrick Forest Trip.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A couple of weeks ago I received an invite to go on a weekend bothy trip and jumped at the chance. It was my old friend John who I've known for several decades now and we've climbed many Munros together as well as European mountain ranges and backpacking trips, home and abroad. This isn't us... just two folk passing on mountain bikes but I rarely miss a good photo opportunity these days when I spot one occurring. The Carrick and Galloway areas, which run into each other, are really good for mountain bike excursions with a network of forestry trails, like the one shown, and a handful of scattered bothies in what is mainly a pine forest, moor, and mountain setting.
Although taken over decades ago by the forestry commission to grow conifer plantations in huge blocks many kilometers across, between the various mountain ranges, it is a wild remote area of rugged, but never jagged uplands. Not many dramatic cliffs and deep gullies here or pointed peaks but it does have a special character all its own and these days is far less visited than the more touristy Scottish Highlands.
We parked just before a lockable gate, just in case, then walked into Tunskeen bothy before darkness arrived around 3:40 pm on a Saturday afternoon. It was a fairly dull, grey day but at least the rain stayed off. There were some nice reflections in the various lochs dotted around of which there are almost 30 of a reasonable size in this general Galloway/Carrick area. Due to storm damage in previous winters we did notice plenty of trees on the forest edges uprooted or snapped off completely giving the whole place a rather untidy air. Apart from the lochs and mountain setting the interior here is admittedly not one of the most scenic parts of Scotland visually, with too many monotone forests stretching everywhere into the far horizons in every direction, but that is part of its appeal as it is quiet and fairly remote. I'd imagine huge tracts of Sweden, Finland or Russia look much like this but cover massive areas many times greater in size: or just over the border the English Kielder Forest in Northumberland looks very similar, which has its own network of bothies, forest trails and around 8 loughs/reservoirs/waters. (different names south of the border for bodies of water) Two of the largest continuous woodland districts in the UK.
Galloway/Carrick is a land of forest, moor, mountain, and shallow lochs so the Roman armies pressing north through Britain didn't try too hard to subdue or tame it for such unproductive rewards. It was also full of very unruly savages at that time, probably bred that way by the harsh upland landscapes they lived in who were notorious for violent behavior with a long pedigree of fighting and refusing any form of control other than their own. The entire Border uplands region had similar warring tribes/clans at that time but even among that group the Galwegians stood out for going the extra mile, often insisting in battles that they lead from the front. Not the wisest move for men fighting on foot against showers of arrows or a line of knights on horseback but one they demanded as their chosen privilege for being totally fearless and enthusiastic participants in previous small scale wars. They seemed to like nothing better than a chance to hack off arms, legs, or heads; as reported in the history accounts of that time and also shifted sides frequently between Scots and English, as the mood took them. It was a violent age, especially in the disputed border lands, so you had to be wily and fierce to survive.
As we parked up the car we hoped not too many of the hard fighting, hard drinking locals would be in our bothy of choice when  arrived as it only had one room. Neither of us had been into Tunskeen before so there was an extra thrill of the unknown involved- that lifelong human quality/curiosity that always assists people exploring the world since the first tribes walked the earth... the compulsion to find out what's around the next bend in the road.
Luckily, there was a good path/track all the way into the one room bothy as Galloway is one of the hardest landscapes I've ever encountered if you leave the marked paths and head off across open ground. Giant tussocks, bogs and deep holes aplenty- one even called the 'murder hole'. Part of the reason for that may be decades of un-worked land without farms or livestock to control the grasses. Even in the more jagged Scottish Highlands deer and sheep numbers often make the trackless mountain landscapes there easier to cross but in Galloway these are mainly absent in large numbers with only a few herds of feral goats on the loose to cover a very large area so minimal grazing occurs here. In some areas like the silver flow the grass tussocks are head high.
As usual we carried a bag of coal in but someone helpful had cut a pile of logs as well, probably the estate or forestry. It was looking in good condition so we prepared our dinner while we could still see to eat.
A short time later it got dark so we built a fire with coal, paper, and firelighters then settled in. There's something about a coal or wood fire that is really magical as you can watch it all night and never be bored. A feeling of calm, communal peace is always invoked, deep inside, around an open fire, probably because our ancestors have been engaged in this activity for well over one million years so it's still locked into our very souls. Luckily, it was a wood burning stove where we could sit with the front entry hatch open without smoke entering the room as it's never the same feeling or experience with a closed stove, fully buttoned up, with no light or flames visible.
With a fire and a couple of candles it's all you need for a great night in. No gadgets, other distractions or TV. Just like olden times- pre- internet and gig economy- like its always been for thousands of generations past.
Speaking of which I watched a fascinating programme recently on TV about the extraordinary Gobekli Tepe in modern day Turkey- the world's oldest known megalithic stone circles which predate Stonehenge by over 6,000 years and could well be the inspiration behind the Garden of Eden story in the bible. According to experts who have excavated and studied this remarkable site it marks a turning point in our own distant past when nomadic hunter- gatherers first changed into static farmers growing crops- which would fix them in one place to tend then harvest them but also leave communities highly vulnerable to natural disasters via famine, floods, back breaking toil for nothing, droughts and death if the crops failed. To put the time scale into some kind of context Stonehenge to the present day is a shorter period of human evolution and time than Stonehenge is to the five metre high limestone blocks situated here. Many of the tall pillars are also exquisitely carved with a range of exotic animals and perplexing symbols from a time when early man was supposed to be scrabbling in the dirt for survival then dating women by grunts, large clubs and hair- dragging romantic gestures to the nearest cave. In short it rips up the rule book on what our notions of early history should be like 11,000 years ago.  Good link here if you have never heard of this amazing discovery of giant stone circles buried on a hill top. Academic opinions vary of course as to its importance but most now agree it is something really unique.

A grey heron flying over the bothy.
The Merrick, at 843 metres, 2,766 feet, it's the highest summit in the southern uplands and sits above the bothy to the south. Having done it in the past we had no intention of doing it again and tackling it from this side is not the easiest way up anyway.
In the morning it dawned bright and clear and we had other plans for the day. Tunskeen was apparently the first MBA bothy to be restored/ reconstructed as a project in 1965 by the esteemed Bernard Heath and friends, including some scouts who gave a hand to change it from an abandoned ruin into the dry unlocked shelter it is today. Over 50 years later  The MBA have close to 100 bothies scattered across the UK in remote areas. A remarkable achievement. We brushed the place up, cleaned the stove out, left some coal and firelighters, then took all our rubbish out again to leave it looking good for the next arrivals. A nice night spent in the wilds. Ages since I've stayed in a bothy.
The walk out was uneventful and a few km later we were back at the car.
The wilds of Galloway.... to be continued.....

Keeping with the ancient theme here's a borders folk song from the distant past. A tale of dark magic, shamanistic pagan beliefs linked to animal spirits, natural 'changeling' herbs and plants found in every culture, and the eternal struggle between man and woman for power and dominance in any relationship. An old song I've linked to before years ago but very topical and an absolutely cracking guitar and dual singing performance in keeping with this traditional feeling post.


Linda W. said...

It's really nice your country has these bothies for hikers to stay in. Beats a cold, leaky tent!

Rosemary said...

Love Galloway - a unique corner of Scotland, and long may it continue to be so. The bothy looks very cosy once you had a good fire and the candles lit. Did you get see a good starlit night sky?
Having visited lots of the sites of antiquity in Turkey I am not surprised to learn about Gobekli-Tepe as it is so near to the border with Syria where Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.

Anabel Marsh said...

I like my comfort so don’t feel drawn to bothies, though I can see the romantic appeal. Also, I would worry too many people would turn up and I wouldn’t get in. You can take the girl out of the city … etc!

Carol said...

Is that bothy near Kirriereoch and Mulwharchar? It looks like that relationship to Merrick in your photo. I've been up Kirriereoch but didn't see a bothy - didn't get time for Mulwharchar as it was getting dark, freezing and Richard was waiting back at the car having only done Merrick.

Definitely the lack of agriculture and grazing stock which makes the land so rough around there - that and probably very thin, poorly-drained and unnutritious soils.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda W,
I used to use them a lot more than I do now but still good to go away... especially in winter.

blueskyscotland said...

Starry skies....We did indeed Rosemary but it's so cold in winter usually that it's too painful to stay out long to admire them. Walked out over frozen puddles the next day so it was minus something that night with a freezing wind.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
Don't think John's wife would see any romantic appeal about two guys sharing a bothy.... and neither do I! :o)
We were glad it was just us though as it's just the luck of the draw who you get sharing one small room and I've had a few strange and mad but memorable nights with a big swally crowd in full party mood up drinking all night who failed to go to bed. Good for a story or two but not that desirable the older you get. We normally pick bothies with a couple of rooms to avoid that happening.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Not far away. It's 2 km east of Shalloch on Minnoch summit and under 4 km north of Kirriereoch Hill. You might not have noticed it as it's right beside a forest.

Anonymous said...

Not stayed in a bothy for ages. I know exactly what you mean about fire. I love lighting one and then sitting in front of it and watching it, messing about with it for hours. A night spent in the wilds either in a bothy or tent is proper time for peaceful reflection.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy,
Can't beat a bothy in winter as long as its not too busy... and a decent crowd if you are with others inside.