Highland & Islands Bothy Walk

Val Webb and I only just caught the Monday afternoon ferry from Oban to Craignish on Mull since our train from Glasgow ran half an hour late because of a technical fault. A bus took us to Aros Bridge from where we walked east to the ruins of Aros Castle, within which we camped after the dog-walkers finally dissappeared. A former seat of the Lords of the Isles, and the largest and most mas- sively-built castle of its type in either Scotland or Ireland, Aros is a hall-house with a fragmentary courtyard probably of the early 14th century set on a promontory by the Sound of Mull. The next day buses took us round the coast of Mull for the ferry for Iona. Our very enjoyable four hours there constituted Val’s first visit but I’d been to Aros and Iona previously in the 1980s. My book about Medieval Nunneries published early in 2015 resulted partly from this visit and from a visit to Killone Abbey in Co Clare the following June. On our way back from Iona the bus dropped us off at the start of the track into the forest near Torness. Only half a mile of track served us before we found a way under the deer fence and slowly headed northwards on the tussocky ground for two miles towards where we were able (with difficulty) to access the system of tracks round to the bothy at Tomsleibhe. Compensation for our hard work over the tussocks was a fairly close view of a golden eagle flying out of Coire Ghaibhre. We used the lower sleeping platform in the east- ernmost room of the bothy.

Leacraithnaich Bothy

Leacraithnaich Bothy

Wednesday morning saw us heading as quickly as we could northwards down tracks for nearly four miles to Pennygown to catch a bus to Fishnish for the ferry to Lochaline. We had lunch below the recently restored castle at Kinlochaline, still a ruin when I last saw it in the the 1980s. The dry weather held until we were safely in the bothy at Leacraithnaich. Dog walkers called in briefly as the rain started but after they left we again had a bothy to ourselves. Our departure on Thursday morning was delayed an hour until 9am as we tried rather unsuccessfully to cook breakfast using solid fuel to conserve our supply of meths, but in the event this saved us from a soaking. The first part of the path over to Glensanda isn’t easy to follow and took ages. To my delight I was able to visit the ruined castle there, a rare type of 16th century hall-house, before the harbour-master of the quarry harbour supervised our walk past the ship loading bays. Four miles further up we decided to cut the day shorter than intended and camped up beside Loch Linnhe, where to Val’s delight she was able to have a driftwood fire on the beach which we used to cook our meal.

Glensanda Castle

Glensanda Castle

On 18th April (Good Friday) 2014 Val heard her earliest ever cuckoo as we followed the path round Loch a’Choire to Kingairloch. She’d had arthroscopy on her right knee early in February and as it was starting to trouble her we abandoned plans for a high level route over rough to Strontian and went round by a road route where she hitched a lift for a few miles to Carnoch Bridge. At Strontian we stocked up with food again, found a geocache and pitched on the campsite since it had a heated recreation room. Saturday found us following the road past the former mines around Bellsgrove Lodge and then up the track through Glen Hurich to the bothy at Resourie. There’s no barriers across the track and a man and his elderly father had driven all the way up to where a cairn indicates the way into the conifers to find the path to the well-hidden bothy. They took the western room with the stove and we used the eastern room with the open fireplace with a swinging arm to support cooking vessels, a gadget we admired and made good use of after Val had got a fire going.

Resourie Bothy Interior

The room in which we stayed in Resourie Bothy

Early on Saturday morning we climbed up over Meall nan Allt Beithe, using the faint path beside the new fence from NM 865712 up to 862718 which is signed (for those coming downwards). It was easier than I expected but we still had a heavy load of food and took three hours for the 1500ft of steep climb. Val’s knee didn’t like the descent at all and it took another two hours to get down to Scamodale. We enjoyed the views of Loch Shiel from the track heading NE from there although the track itself is too wide to be enjoyable in itself. It was 7pm before we finally arrived at the newly-restored wood-pannelled bothy of Glean Dubh Lighe, which we had to ourselves and loved, although Val was concerned about her knee.

We left the Glean Dubh Lighe early on Easter Sunday. Sections of old road, estate track and a new boardwalk and bridge over Callop River allowed access all the way to Glenfinnan station with the A830 only having to be used for two short sections, much to my relief. We were just in time for the morning train to Mallaig which connects with a ferry to Rum. The original plan to immediately head west was changed after hearing a report of high winds from the south forcasted for Tuesday. Consequently we headed south towards Dibidil so the winds would be behind us when we left. The scenery was stunning but Val was tired and we were disconcerted by receiving a report during the walk in that the bothy was already full up with a mounteneering party of six people. There was in fact space for us in the bothy but we didn’t fancy sharing a room with someone with two dogs (even if they were remarkably quiet and well-behaved) so we camped nearby. However it was difficult to find anywhere sheltered from a southerly wind and I got a tick bite probably resulting from cutting heather to create enough space to take our tent. Each of us had several tick bites by the end of the week.

Guirdil Bothy

Guirdil Bothy on Rhum

On Tuesday we returned to Kinloch and then headed west out to Guirdil. This bothy has a stunning position and I initially liked the interior with its coastal-themed decor until I realised both lower rooms were open to the lofty roof and would be difficult to make cosy in cold weather. The bothy is unusally wide and the arrangements tend to encourage living/cooking in the fireplace room and sleeping either next door or upstairs. We ended up with gear sprawled across the entire building, so it was just as well no-one else arrived. Wednesday saw us back at Kinloch for lunch, a quick look in the shop before it closed at 12 noon (it re-opens 5-7pm) and an interesting tour of the Victorian Castle, before getting the afternoon ferry back to Mallaig.

We got off the train at Lochailort, hid overnight some surplus rations in an old fridge lying there, and were hoping to reach the bothy at Penmeanaich by night-fall. However Val’s knee had just about had enough and we were forced to camp up less than a mile down the path off A830. Early on the Thursday morning I made a solo packless dash down to the bothy to take photos and draw a plan (I have a collection of 1:100 scale plans of nearly all the bothies I’ve visited) and returned to Val and the tent in time for break- fast. Having (just) caught the 10.42am south-bound train Val elected to stay on it down to Glasgow and onwards back to our home at Malvern but I changed trains at Crianlarich and returned to Oban to get the last ferry over to Kerrera. I had a wonderful evening taking photos of the recently conserved ruined castle of Gylen, a tiny late 16th century tower house and court built by the MacDou- galls on a vertical-sided rock above the shore. I eventually camped further round the shore with views of Mull and returned home to Malvern on the Friday.