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A recent trip saw four old pals from our hill-walking/ mountaineering club get together for a bothy weekend in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. As you can see here in these photos the landscape of the Southern Uplands can often be beautiful- vistas full of rolling downs, wide horizon views, and a sense of empty remoteness. In fact, given the ever increasing popularity of the Scottish Highlands.... the Southern Uplands/Border Region/Northumbia is often quieter with less walkers/ explorers than the north half of Scotland. And that suits us.
Sheep and cattle country down here. The weather is generally better down here as well so a fruitful combination for all of us, as in Gavin, John, Alex and myself being free to journey together coupled with a dry weekend which was a much anticipated bonus. Years ago and pre-pandemic we used to go into half a dozen or so bothies every winter just for a cheap weekend away but if anyone had a cold in a bothy or climbing hut you usually caught it a day or two later after a night confined in a shared sleeping room with the infected person. That was why for the last couple of years of Covid 19 I was in no rush to suggest another one. At our age though... around 55 to 67 years of age (over the four of us) there's no guarantee it will not be our last bothy as a group. On some occasions the elastic nature of time seems to drag out towards an eternity of waiting, especially if you are waiting for some specific date to occur... still a few years away in the future... at other times decades can drop away in a flash... obscure childhood memories of caravan holidays down the Clyde Coast as a youngster or other adventures undertaken then popping up... not thought about for over 50 years yet fresh, vivid and exciting nonetheless, appearing apparently from nowhere in a flash of sudden imagery recall.... or past alpine walking holidays triggered by a random photograph, short video clip, film, or object, remembered in perfect detail as if they happened to you yesterday..... as they usually only occurred once a year in different locations so no repetition to dull the clarity of the experience. During various lock-downs the mind looking inwards occasionally for some mental stimulation. Like a prisoner confined in a cell might do. Then... suddenly...without much warning... you are old.... and almost past it! A life lived. And you wonder how that happened... where all the time escaped....and you miss that youthful zest for adventure... and that boundless energy that went with it... and that freedom.
I've still got a little of it left of course... but you are more acutely aware with each passing year of the increased possibility that it could just vanish overnight, without any warning. Each new year staying healthy and fit is an increasingly precious blessing rather than a taken for granted natural order/gift. So it was with a sense of the passing of time, the greying of hair and changing facial features in my friends and myself, plus previous remembered decades of outdoor meetings... that we got together. No longer as strongly connected as we once were in our hill-walking prime/youth with weekly meetings occurring but still tenuously linked by some thin, tightly stretched, invisible umbilical, if only through past shared memories of enjoyable hill-walking days out together many years ago. John, myself and Gavin in one car... Alex arriving solo later on. This is the road, above, into the bothy.
Before we got to the bothy though we had a puncture. I've been noticing this spring and summer, even in Glasgow, that winter potholes have not been fixed this year and are still there six months later. This was also true of the B roads leading into the bothy between the towns of Lockerbie and Langholm. Being a stranger on these roads we managed to hit one with ragged edges that ripped a front tyre. So we had to wait for a repair or replacement. It was news to me, (as I've always bought cheap older models) that many new cars do not have a spare wheel on board. So we didn't have one with us. Maybe modern car owners do not know how to change one although this was not true in our case.
Two hours later we got it fixed when a repair van turned up and by this time Alex had arrived. A lot of Southern Upland bothy trips involve a few miles of walking through pine plantation forests or a bothy buried in the middle of dense sitka spruce woodlands at the end of a gloomy track. None of us had been into this particular bothy before so we were delighted to find it was a pleasant and wide open walk travelling gently uphill through a beautiful and summer rich sunlit green valley. Green was the general theme hereabouts.
Rush hour traffic in the Southern Uplands. And it was only a one hour walk in to the cottage. Ya beauty!
A cracker of a bothy walk on a good track (cars not allowed here, numerous wooden gates) made even better by being done in daylight. Normal bothy walks in the past have involved driving rain, snow storms, gale force winds... on one occasion wading up and down through knee deep streams along thickly wooded ravines for a few km as it was the only viable place to march up with trees covering the slopes either side except in the stream bed itself. A real novelty. Or all of these features combined at once... usually completed in total darkness.... with head torches. The last bothy trip I was on I fell through a frozen swamp in the dark into unseen waist deep chilly water and mud then had to crawl out and walk soaked in winter temperatures for another few miles on my own to reach the bothy using a feeble head torch barely above glow worm illumination. This time I came fully prepared... with a new torch... new compass.. new map. So, of course...I did not need it.
Meet the neighbours. A lot of young lambs around.
Walking towards the edge of the Eskdalemuir Forest in the distance.
A closer view of my companions. As a keen photographer you are either at the back or in front of any subjects in question. A hobby/ obsession that suits my semi- loner mentality I suppose. Anyway, three is company, four is a crowd is the rule on tracks like these as someone always has to drop behind due to lack of room to walk four in a line. That's my excuse anyway as I dislike tagging along at the back, a few feet behind, getting snatches but not all of any conversation. However, three years of a global pandemic, various lock-downs and total isolation from any outdoor or other clubs that I'd normally be in showed me that meeting other humans is vitally important if you want to retain some semblance of sanity. I've also seen first hand in my local area how quickly many single older people, deprived of company and any social interaction for the last three years, during Covid 19, disappeared fairly rapidly down the rabbit hole... either into dementia, depression, or just a lack of hope that things would improve before they got too old to enjoy them. Clubs do fill that void for those without close family, friendly neighbours, or even friends.
Reaching the bothy on the edge but not within the vast Eskdalemuir plantation. We all agreed it was a cracker. 5 out of 5 and also picked because it had three separate rooms (two with fires, one without) hopefully meaning we wouldn't have to share sleeping accommodation if anyone else was in.
This proved to be the case as a much younger group of university aged hillwalkers/ bothy visitors from Edinburgh were already inside, using the larger, better equipped, room with a wood burning stove. We veteran bothy folk were happy with that however as I much prefer an open fire, seen here, as entertainment watching the embers grow, change and shift in the grate never fails to delight. A simple but deeply satisfying pastime that must somehow tap straight into our primeval million year old ancestor past as humans living in caves, in woodland realms, or cottage cluster as I never tire of staring into the flames and shadow images created on the walls by firelight and flickering candles in a darkened room. Bothy view with a torch on above. We always carry in coal, kindling and firelighters these days- makes it far easier and worth the extra weight. Means a good fire in under ten minutes every time as local dry wood the right size without sawing is not always available.
Bothy view with only fire and candles. Normally it is not as dark as this in a bothy but the fire was almost out at the end of the night when I took this before going to sleep. We did socialize with our younger friends next door outside the bothy while still daylight and looked in at their part of the building when we arrived but could still maintain a safe distance. Being young and fit they might not even be aware of any covid symptoms at all so two separate rooms proved the safer sleeping option for everyone as well as being less crowded.
Shabby chic in action. Morning sunlight and a typical scene of bothy life on the Sunday around 8:00am. Two zombies in repose. One sleeping high- one low. The room in daylight. Even a bothy bookcase with several decent books including an illustrated recipe cooking book 'The Joy of Pasta.' I added a couple of my own, both well known crime procedurals by best selling authors. From my own reading experience around 90 percent of books tend to be crime fiction of some description so there's plenty to go around.
View of bothy from the compostable toilet. A new green addition added since my last bothy trips a few years ago. Would not like to be around to move it when the hole filled up with human waste though. Grass eaters leave much nicer, sweeter smelling deposits than carnivores. I wonder if that's also true for vegans and vegetarians? Not something I've ever thought about before... until now.
If vegans or vegetarians did not produce little round rabbit or sheep droppings every day I'd be very disappointed. A volunteer is definitely worth ten paid people in this instance.
The scenic walk out.
The 'silence of the lambs'. Hopefully, there might even be a next time into a bothy... but at our age...and our infrequency of trips together as a unit of four... you never know.
Returning to the normal world again. A good weekend away.