It was one of those group psychology moments that you read about, where each team member is waiting for someone else to suggest a better plan, like sleeping in the car, or going back to the pub, or just going home.
Personally, I had strong reservations about leaving the car and heading off down the glen in such terrible weather, because the extra hours in the pub had kept us back way past the sensible time for departure and ensured it was a slightly pixilated group that finally set off to walk in to Feshie bothy to climb the Moine Mhor munros, listen to the stags roaring, and generally soak up the bothy experience.
With heads down in the pouring rain and pitch-black darkness, we walked around the back of the farm, found the path and crossed the stile, heading south on the track that can be seen on the map extract. The weather was so bad that the horizontal rain absorbed the light from our head torches, so that the ground right in front of us was lit with a dim glow in which the Fhearnagan burn appeared as a turbulent and bottomless torrent – with the even worse news that the single plank bridge had been swept away!
Hunkered down against the strong wind and shouting over the roaring noise from the burn, we looked again at our options:
- Go back to the pub and regroup
- Go back to the car and sleep
- Go back to Feshie bridge and walk up the tarmac road
- Go home
- Wade the burn in classic style
Alcohol and stupidity carried the vote and we decided to show our mettle and wade the burn – the thought being that we were already so wet that partial immersion wouldn’t change things. With packs hanging from one shoulder, socks and trousers off, and boot insoles in pockets, we formed into groups of three and carefully stepped into the freezing cold water. Although the burn was only about twelve feet wide, we moved so slowly that it took three or four minutes for us to cross, leaning into the water pressure and feeling every inch of the way across the rocky bottom.
Sheer relief at getting over the burn boosted our morale, and once the breeks and socks were restored we felt like new men and headed off, past the boarded up cottage at Achleum and on to the tarmac at the landrover bridge. From there, it was just a trudge and after a while we passed the redeveloped houses and estate buildings at Carnachuin, then down to the old timber bridge
(Editor’s note; this bridge was swept away in 2009).
Crossing the bridge and turning right, we kept the river on our right and walked upstream, until we could see the dim white shape of the bothy in the forest on the left.
Aware of the lateness of the hour and the necessity to keep noise and disturbance to a minimum, we crept in, carefully opened the inner door – and stepped straight into a crowded and superheated room, reeking with whisky fumes and wood smoke. In the candlelight, we saw that we knew several of those present (members of ‘The Stovies’ club) and we were soon safely ensconced by the fire, whisky glasses in hand.
Next morning, despite grim foggy weather, we planned to walk up the landrover track to the top of Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair, then walk back down over Druim nam Ba with its associated lochan, to try the cliff tops along Creag na Gaibhre. Once off the track, the expedition turned into an exercise in navigating by dead-reckoning , counting and pacing the steps on each leg of the course until we were safely back in the glen and heading for the bothy. Some of the others wandered up the glen as far as the Eidart footbridge, admiring the last survivors of the ‘Great Wood of Caledon’ and exploring the steep ravines that are such a notable feature of the landscape. Other people (sore heads?) lingered around the cottage fire, tidying the place up and chopping wood ready for the evening. During late afternoon and early evening, various small groups and individuals arrived from ‘a the airts’, generally soaking wet and tired, but heading for a rendezvous with a warm fire and a good meal.
After a really substantial three course meal – our ‘cook’ despises dried or packet food, makes everything from basic ingredients, we settled down to listen to the ‘craic’, to swap our hill walking and outdoors experiences and generally to put the world to rights. As usual, it was a great evening, Feshie bothy did us all proud and the whisky flowed like buttermilk – we even had a 2 a.m. recital on the Highland Pipes.
Next morning, the weather looked more promising and we took an exploratory jaunt up through the woods, following the Allt Garbhlach into the recesses of dark Coire Garbhlach, before packing up and starting the reluctant road back into workaday cares and responsibilities. Bothy culture is fairly classless and diverse, although tending to the republican/socialist way, and the people that you meet tend to be interesting and well travelled, so that each bothy experience produces a whole raft of enduring memories. The bothy system seems to be uniquely Scottish and it is something that users tend to cherish and protect – click on the link later on in this story if you’d like to become involved.
A word on the bothy itself. Many hill walkers call the place ‘Landseers Cottage’, after the famous Victorian painter – Monarch of the Glen and all that, but our understanding has always been that he lived a bit further up the glen when he was in the area, look for a forlorn chimney stack, last remnant of a timber cottage.
Nowadays, the bothy is maintained on a co-operative basis between the Glen Feshie Estate and the Mountain Bothies Association and they have jointly done a great job in preserving and developing the place. From the innovative wet-flush toilet system to ample supplies of old fence posts to burn, the bothy is an excellent example of sensible co-operation on access and maintenance.
This site Cairngorm Wanderer is definitely worth a long look if your plans include touring in the Cairngorms with free accommodation.
As of November 2015, plans have been approved for the bothy to be extensively extended and renovated, click here for details.