Last week I ticked a big one off my adventurous bucket list – sleeping solo in a bothy in the Scottish mountains.
Bothies, in case you haven’t come across these lovely things, are small mountain refuges dotted amongst Britain’s wildest places, mainly in Scotland. Used as warm shelters by tired hikers, they can vary massively in comfort levels – I once stayed in one that was a simple stone room with nothing but a sheep skull in it for company. And I’d never slept in one alone until last week, when at the end of a camping trip around the Highlands and islands I hiked up to Ryvoan, once a crofter’s cottage and now a mountain bothy perched above Glenmore in the Eastern Highlands.
Ryvoan turned out to be the perfect place to try a solo sleep. It’s only about an hour’s hike from Glenmore’s Forest Park car park, just up the road from Aviemore. The path to the bothy is easy to follow and winds through a beautiful forest of tall pine trees and along the shores of the glassy clear waters of An Lochan Uaine, the ‘Green Loch’, an amazing place for a wild swim before or after a night of bothying. You follow the path juuuust past a scary sign telling you’re entering ‘potentially dangerous mountain country’ and there ahead is the welcoming bothy. Inside there’s a fat little stove, a wide bench to sleep on, a big pile of felled logs and plenty of candlesticks. Kind souls had left candles and some odds and ends of food, and the Mountain Bothies Association are trialing leaving firewood for the stove, aiming to stop campers cutting down trees or removing dead wood in the area.
I hiked up the trail at around 7pm, set up my sleeping bag inside Ryvoan and then got to work sawing one of the enormous tree trunks into stove-friendly sized logs, which 1. took absolutely ages and 2. warmed me up so much that I was toasty when I did ensconce myself inside the bothy and got the fire blazing. By around 10pm I’d eaten my emergency chocolate ration and figured it was just me for the night. When darkness fell a raging wind started to shake the bothy, half-lifting and dropping the bolt on the door in an extremely creepy fashion. I lay in my warm sleeping bag willing myself not to watch the door, the dying fire flickering and sending patterns across the walls. Suddenly the bolt lifted sharply and I realised I was about to be visited by a ghost of an 18th century crofter. The door creaked open and in came… a lovely teenager called Tom, who looked extremely relieved to see another human being, and even happier that there was a warm fire inside – he’d spent days wild camping outside in a storm. We had a nice chat about A Levels and then nodded off to sleep. When the sun woke me the next morning Tom was fast asleep, so I left him a few jaffa cakes and headed for the path back down to Aviemore. It was the perfect mini (and not so solo) adventure – I’m definitely hooked on bothy-to-bothy hiking now.
Get there: Find a map of Ryvoan on the Mountain Bothies Association, Grid Ref: LR36: NJ 006 115. Walk Highlands list a map and instructions for walking to the bothy from Glenmore. If you’re heading into the hills to spend the night check my camping packing list before you leave.