The Coldest Bothy in Scotland

Bothies vary a great deal in terms of cozieness. I like to apply the following criteria in determining whether a bothy has that ‘hygge’ feel:

  • First, does it have a fire place? If it doesn’t – Carnmore in Fisherfield or Callater Stables in the Eastern Cairngorms are examples – then it doesn’t get of the starting grid in terms of coziness.
  • Second, is it a good fire place; maybe with a roasty toasty wood burning stove…. like the big wood burning stove that used to be in Glen Barrisdale bothy in Knoydart or the excellent stove in Bob Scott’s?
  • Next, is the bothy wood-lined affording it a cozy, warm atmosphere? Coire Fionnarich bothy in Strathcarron is a good example with wood on the floor, walls and ceiling.
  • Then there’s furniture. Does it have a comfy armchair with some some cushions or mats to keep your bum warm? Uaags bothy in Applecross has some fine home-made armchairs that are delightful.
  • Lastly there’s the setting. Coastal bothies do it for me: bothies like Peanmeanach near Arisaig, An Claddich on Islay, Glengarrisdale on Jura, Uaags again in Applecross or the wee bothy east of Rubha Reidh lighthouse in Wester Ross.

Throw in dark winter evenings, candlelight, good company and some whisky and bingo, you’ve got top billing when it comes to a cozy, hygge bothy.

So, applying these criteria in the negative, the coldest, least hygge bothy – for me – is one with no fireplace, without wood-lining or comfy furniture and far from the sea. Last night I think I found it – Invercauld Walker’s bothy.

I don’t want to come across unkind to the bothy or the estate that built it because my alternative lodgings last night was a 3×3 tarp held up by a walking pole and some snow stakes. That or I’d be skiing back to the car in the dark and kipping at the roadside. I really like all the bothies I’ve visited, including this one. It’s just that it was cold and shook in the wind and had snow drifts inside it.

Last night I set off from the Spittal of Glenshee at 8:20pm with the plan of skiing up to the bothy. And then, the next day, contining on to Carn a’Gheoidh and An Socach before descending to lower ground to bivvy.

I’d read about the bothy the week previously. I hadn’t met anyone that had been there and it isn’t on any maps. I had found out where it was by looking at satilite photos. From what I’d read there was a good chance it would be open, but it would be basic and without a fireplace and quite possibly covered in a snow drift. I had a shovel just in case.

It was a cold night. There was snow down to the road, the stars were out and there was no wind at all. Navigating in winter, in the dark, to a bothy at an altitude of 800m that you haven’t been to before is apt to make you a bit scared. I worked hard to keep the fear in check and focused on the nav, keeping track of every break in slope and every feature on my snowy ascent to the bothy. The snow had formed into hard windlab over much the hillside and there were deer and hare tracks everywhere. After 2 and half hours skiing uphill by torchlight and I gained a top of a ridge. There, the wind picked up and the visibility worsened a bit. The ground began to drop a little which was good… now I just had to look for the bothy on my left. Thankfully, a bit further on, 50m off to my left, the rectangular shape of the bothy came into view. It was 11pm.

The bothy was partially buried in a snowdrift. With my shovel I quickly dug out the door, pulled down the door handle and pushed… it didn’t move. My immediate thought was: the door’s locked but that’s ok, just get on and put the tarp up in the lee of side of the bothy. But maybe the door was jammed. I gave the door a hard push and it opened. Inside there were small snow drifts where snow had filtered in through the warped doorframe. There were some chairs, two tables, a big metal BBQ and a gas heater (not working). I was very thankful to be inside. This would do very nicely. I needed a hot drink then bed.

Here’s where things started to not go so well. I searched and searched by couldn’t find my fuel bottle. I must have left it in the car. Nevermind, I had some spare water and could always make tomorrow shorter. I lay my sleeping bag on the concrete floor and got comfortable. At first I was fine but before long the cold began to creep in.  My feet were the worst. I tried rubbing them, I tried putting on more layers but I couldn’t warm them up.  During the night the wind picked up and shook the bothy.  Snow began to filter in through the ill-fitting doorframe and I feared the door would burst open and I would have to get out of my sleeping bag, shivering with cold, to sort it out. It was a rough night and I didn’t sleep much.

Next morning I decided to just do Carn a’Gheoidh then head back to the car. Outside it was cold and windy but the views were great. The snowy mountains were lit by a pink light. After an hour I reached Carn a’Gheoidh and to my relief I felt my feet warm up. The rest of the morning was good fun, skiiing downhill with the wind behind me.

So, for me, this was my coldest bothy experience. I have stayed in the shelter on the summit cairn of Ben Nevis in winter and I remember a particularly cold night in the small – now locked – shelter at the foot of Carn Liath; but this bothy – Invercauld Walkers Bothy – was the coldest.

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