Monday, 9 March 2020

The Bothy Life. Wet, Wet and Wetter Still.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
Ben Lomond seen from the Arrochar- Tarbet road. This was a bothy trip from a couple of months ago. The winter snow over the Scottish mountains has been very intermittent and short lived this year due to very mild temperatures and weeks of heavy rain washing any fresh snow that does arrive over the peaks into the rivers within days. Temperatures dropping below freezing level has hardly occurred this winter in the Central Belt yet the potholes forming on the city streets are as bad as ever, some of them pillow sized and six inches deep with ragged edges- a cyclist and car tyre wrecker.
Undaunted, we set off for a bothy trip. We being myself and John, a long time friend since the early 1980s. The last time I wandered into this remote Western Highland bothy we, Gavin and myself,  went in via a different, longer route which involved a deep river crossing up to our thighs, also in full spate conditions, and loads of undulating featureless terrain that seemed  never-ending. This time we found a different, shorter route but no less soggy due to months of wet weather. As you can see here the path has turned into an ankle deep, fast flowing stream. This can be a common occurrence at any time of year in Scotland with wet sections of path collecting where standing water lies but what made this particular path special was the length and speed of the rushing stream following the path downhill through the forest- due to being lower than the surrounding ground and the water having no other place to drain away from the surrounding trees, turning it into a racing flume chute on the steeper sections.
It also continued for far longer than normal and started to become both surreal and magical, running over tiny gorges and mini waterfalls as it weaved through this large forest, yet stayed on a gentle downhill descent. Luckily, after the last bothy trip, where I got stuck in a waist deep swamp a weekend before this one, we'd decided to arrive early with enough daylight left to see where we were going. Neither of us had been this route before and as the bothy was reached through extensive thick pine forest plantations covering several km of uneven ground and paths which might prove hard to find/follow, we thought it would be wise not to attempt it in the dark, this first time.
As it turned out it was fairly straight forward- follow the path/stream downhill at a gentle gradient until a level hollow was reached in the trees then wade knee deep to the right  through the gathered waters to reach the end of the forest.
After that, walking on open dry ground for a change, follow this stream to the edge of the next pine plantation. You can just see the bothy to the left of John in this photo situated at the edge of the treeline. An easy if wet walk in.

It was smaller than I remembered, only one room with fire and sleeping platform that could hold around six sleepers at most- ten people if sardine packed together, sprawled out on the floor as well but luckily it was empty and we had it to ourselves.  Soaking wet socks were soon exchanged for dry gear and we got the fire going- so nice and easier to keep any small room warm rather than some of the drafty barns I've been in in the past.
One of the great attractions of bothies is going back to a simpler time and lifestyle- same with multi day backpacking or cycle touring- in that you have an easy to understand grail quest/sense of purpose. If you can walk/ travel  x amount of miles in the outdoors every day you come at nightfall to your bedroom which is ever changing... as is the scenery you travel through. Bothies can be very basic... just a table, a fire, maybe a few chairs and either the floor, (stone or wood), or a wooden sleeping platform... but if you have a sleeping bag and carry mat that's all you need for comfort.
The fire is the key ingredient though. It gives a focal point of interest that you can stare at and feed for many hours- the equal of any smart phone or pokemon for entertainment value- and also provides character, light, and heat. Even a wood burning stove, more efficient and probably safer, takes a lot of the thrill away- like seeing a caged animal in a zoo from a distance, even with a clear glass panel installed- tamed and remote- compared to sitting next to a living, dancing, dangerous flame right beside you. As I said before in the last bothy post a few weeks ago an open fire provides an endless kaleidoscope of wonderful images for the imagination. Rather than hunt about for lying wood on the ground we decided decades ago that splitting up a small bag of house coal and carrying that and firelighters in was far easier.
Even bothy candles have that same chameleon ability, as well as casting Gothic shadows on the walls. A young shark emerging here.
Normally a melted candle at the end of its life gutters briefly then goes out but this one kept going long after we thought it would disappear. It was captivating to watch and lasted a full 15 minutes as a tiny flat puddle on the stone mantelpiece, constantly changing shape, sputtering and sparking, then jumping back to life as it found new impurities to burn up beneath it, changing colour and thriving anew as a consequence. If Tinker Bell herself had landed in the room she would have claimed second place as a focus of interest then sulked in a corner somewhere. It was that good.
The happy shark... this was only one image of several different types before it morphed into a snail, just starting to appear here. We were both quite sad when it finally died for good, rooting for its survival like a living creature stranded out on thin ice. Fires are alive. The original smart phone device used for friendship, entertainment, security, food orders, communication and still compelling one million years later. Yet hardly any updates required. Beat that.
Other manly things you can do with an open fire. See how long you can keep your paw stuck in it.
Not very long it seems. More alcohol required. The soothing juice of oblivion and heavy painful mornings. Happily for me, I no longer quench my thirst in that manner these days and awake from sleep bright eyed.
An uneventful walk out in the morning saw us back at the car in no time. This is looking from the bothy door towards the forest we came in from. Definitely the easiest and shortest way in despite the swampy paths.
This particular route is only open though when the forestry commission is not working in the forest, cutting down trees. As it was a soaking wet weekend during a run of bad weather we judged it would be OK and so it proved on this occasion.
On the way back we stopped off at the small popular tourist town of Inveraray, notable for it's white buildings, straight street layout. town jail/courthouse, and tower/folly on a nearby hilltop. As I found out when I used to come here on day trips with my parents, many moons ago, apart from the town itself there's not a lot to do around Inveraray- walking wise. The overgrown path up to this tower through a small graveyard near the stone road bridge was the only exciting excursion in the area. This passed an enjoyable couple of hours but with no real mountain scenery nearby and surrounded by miles of trackless pine plantations any other walks I attempted here proved fruitless explorations of little interest.
The hilltop tower, stone bridge and a lone passing gull, viewed from Inveraray.
We stopped off at the George Hotel for a drink on the way back to Glasgow. It's a cracking pub inside with lots of period character, oak beams, and the like.
Inside the bar/lounge. A cheery interior. Maybe Christmas decorations still up or a winter theme to coax passing tourists in during dark days of grey skies. A nice touch anyway.
The Vital Spark in Inveraray. Para Handy writer Neil Munro came from here and based the ever popular tales of the wily puffer captain and his crew as they delivered coal and other essential supplies to the west coast towns, villages, and beaches that he remembered seeing from his own youth growing up here. Like bothies, memories of a bygone era.
Mountains around Arrochar on the journey back. A good trip.

On a different note just watched Born to be Wild on BBC Scotland on Sat 8:00pm. If you haven't seen this excellent series yet it's a cracking programme about wildlife coming into the Scottish SPCA's animal rescue centre, cared for by a dedicated staff. So loads of baby birds, baby seals, and a variety of injured animals getting fixed then released back into nature, including many creatures you never see close up at an early age, like tiny weasels, water voles and young otters. Well worth seeing as it's currently on every week and on i-player. Link here for that.

Another good wildlife programme at the moment is Colin Stafford- Johnson's Wild Cuba. BBC2 2nd part this Friday 8:30pm. The same guy that did The Mighty Shannon, Ireland's Wild River which was another excellent series full of beautiful photography, poetic prose, and gentle insight. Every bit as good as David Attenborough's best stuff. Link here for Wild Cuba.


Anabel Marsh said...

I’m glad you do this so that the rest of us can just read about it and don’t have to! Glasgow has been wet enough for me, I can tell you. I like your baby shark candle - very cute.

blueskyscotland said...

Thank you Anabel, but it's just a a pale shadow compared to what we used to get up to in our prime, as detailed in my comedy adventure semi autobiographical novel- Autohighography, found on the right hand side bar of the blog and only £1 on kindle. First three chapters free to read in this link.
( not plugged it for a long time but as folk that have read it seemed to enjoy it and gave it top marks I'll just remind people it's there as I can't see me writing another. Not worth all the effort involved compared to the lack of interest.)

Carol said...

I bought my old faithful camera many years ago in Inverary (for 40 quid). The town was bustling that day as there was a Queen of the May procession and we got a trip up the church bell? tower for a great view. Never been up to the folly though - in fact, don't remember seeing it.

Do you know the whereabouts of the Gypsies' 'Wedding Heart' - stones set in a heart shape in a roadend around there (far side of Loch Fyne I think) where they used to get married if they were in that area and wanting to marry? I have a photo of it and would love to re-visit it...

You should have gone out from the bothy the way you'd walked in - would have been even quicker. You could have sat down and 'whooshed' down the path-river!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Type in Tinkers'Heart Loch Fyne or Gypsy Wedding Stones Loch Fyne and you will get it.
We did go back the same way but then the flume chute was running uphill, downhill on the walk in and getting wet feet was plenty wet for me without soaking the rest of us. The Folly is a good wee walk if that overgrown path is still there. 20 years since I walked it last.

Carol said...

Thanks - I appear to have found it - must go for another look. Apparently it's not in a road junction now as the road got moved - it's in a field now!

Andy said...

Been catching up on your posts - again. A good couple of bothy trips in there including what sounded like quite an epic on the previous one. Like you I'm fascinated by fire especially wood fires. I can sit and stare for hours as long as I have a suitable stick to poke it make it come to life.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy.