Story #10: Into the wild
Everyone has their perfect place to escape from the daily grind. I feel mine is pretty special and I’m going to share it with you guys here.
As a child, we would visit ‘Corriemulzie estate’ by Lairg with family friends, the Campbells. Surrounded by mountains, only accessible from April to November, a location this remote boasts one of the best bothies in the north of Scotland, ‘Magoo’s Bothy’.
If you are uninitiated to the Scottish ‘bothy’, let me fill you in. Imagine a building that a shepherd lived in two hundred years ago. Usually the structure is a stone frame with no running water or electricity or phone signal, truly you are in the wild. The space is typically weather tight with a fire place, door, roof and probably a window – I’m sure you get the picture. These days they give refuge to weary hill walkers. The temporary dwellings are free to stay in but cannot be booked and you must be prepared to bunk down with strangers if you converge with other adventurers.
A recent trip back to ‘Corriemulzie estate’ to climb ‘Seana Bhraigh’ included a night in Magoo’s bothy.
We came across another group of hikers who had the same plan except for their plan for dinner. I was outraged to hear they planned to eat a pot noodle. I was of course preparing venison chateaubriand, béarnaise sauce, fire roasted tatties, onion and spinach. Their two minute snack was promptly put to one side and they joined us for dinner.
The following morning, the night after a fair few whiskies, we set off up ‘Seana Bhràigh’. We had planned to make our way to the cloudline which lay half way up the hill. Fortunately when we reached it, the cloud lifted and we were rewarded with a crystal clear day with blue skies and views for hundreads of miles in every direction. We could see the east coast, the west coast, north coast and the Cairngorms. You would have had to see it to believe it.
Getting to the top of a mountain is one thing, the next task is to make your way back down. We opted to skid down on our backsides like kids in the snow except there was no snow and we only had our walking boots and trousers to slide on. It was thirsty work and we had run out of water. Luckily we happened on a singing spring that was spouting out cold clear water. I don’t know if it was the mountain air or the insatiable thirst but that was the sweetest drink I’ve ever tasted.
As the gradient mellowed a herd of deer picked up our sent and started running past us. There must have been more than two hundred heads we saw as we slid past. We carried on down to the corrie-loch, a small loch in the mouth of an extinct volcano.
The last part of the descent back to Magoo’s bothy meant dinner was not far away: venison meatballs, tomato ragu, ‘Tain Trucker’ cheese, toasted sourdough and few drams of ‘Balvenie’ 14 year old.
Visiting a bothy is a grounding experience. Making sure you are well planned is the best way to make the most of it, don’t get caught out.
Top tips for cooking a feast in a bothy:
- Use great ingredients which cook quickly, like steaks, chops and shellfish.
- Do some pre prep before you go. Eg I like to boil a few tatties,boiling water in a bothy is not that easy.
- Bring some wood to cook your food on. Make sure it is hardwood as softwood and coal can be poisonous.
- Bring a little extra for unexpected guests. It can always be eaten for breakfast.
A few things to remember when visiting a bothy & specifics for Corriemulzie:
- Always replace what you use. This doesn’t have to be a like for like replacement but don’t burn all the wood, eat all the canned food and light all the candles that have been stored there for all visitors.
- Only bring what you need.
- Don’t go in parties larger than six.
- You can’t book – first come, first choice of floor to sleep on.
- Respect your surroundings.
- Respect other users.
- Call the estate office ahead of your planned journey.
- Consider stalking activities especially during September and October.
- Make sure the estate car park is open. Corriemulzie estate carpark is accessible April – November (it is a 6mile hike from there). Most estates have a similar arrangement
- Plan an activity for the morning you wake up. Whether it is swimming across a loch, hiking up a Munro or playing a game of cards until the weather clears up – make sure you complete your mission and you’ll be a happy bunch.
- Pack midgie nets, paracord, duck tape, lighter, playing cards, good food whisky, blister pads, water, light-weight airbed, candles. I can’t emphasise midgie nets enough – if you don’t know about midgies you need to do some reading before you go.
- Take some coal. This can change your night from being a baltic to nice and toasty. Bring 1kg of coal per person use it sparingly.