Wednesday 10 May 2017

Taking on Scotland's bothies - Kearvaig

bothy /ˈbɒθi/ noun
(in Scotland) a small hut or cottage, especially one for housing farm labourers or for use as a mountain refuge.

Kearvaig bothy, the only bothy where I have stayed overnight but had the experience of a lifetime. Though, given its accessibility from Durness by a bus service (infrequent, but still existing) makes it not as remote as many of the others dotted around the Scottish wilderness. However once here, you can definitely soak in the incredible ambience of true Scottish wilderness.

After a long tiring day walking through the peat bogs of the Cape Wrath trail (and visiting Strathchailleach bothy on the way which I wrote about in my previous post. You can read about it here Taking on Scotland's bothies - Strathchailleach) Neil, my walking friend and I finally reached Cape Wrath, the most north westerly point of the British mainland.

Cape Wrath Scotland
Cape Wrath lighthouse - the most north westerly point of mainland Britain

It was late afternoon. The lighthouse on the cliff is another of the Stevenson's constructions standing against the ravages of the North Atlantic ocean. This is the most north westerly point of the British mainland. Though the name rings of nature's ravages visible in its rough and rugged terrain, actually in old Norse it means the Turning Point, definitely an important navigational point in the old times.

Bog walking isn't easy and I say I earned my diploma in bog walking on this particular outing. My legs were tired and the boots were soaked in the peaty bog. A few blisters were raising their harsh heads. Kearvaig was about an hour away, but the thought of putting another step forward was daunting, but it had to be done.

It seemed a much longer walk than the 3 miles to my tired and sore legs. We walked on a track through a desolate landscape, it was grassland and rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, the sea keeping us company on our left. The area is used for military training and during the period the road is closed as live ammunition hits the ground. A timetable is published by the MOD and needs to be checked for planning a visit.

I was keeping a snail's pace, but Neil, staying true to the spirits of a walking partner was keeping me cheerful. Despite smothering myself in Smidges and stuffing my pockets with Bog Myrtle, the midges were relentless. We passed the Cathedral stacks to our left and knew the bay wasn't far away. Soon we were on our final descend, glad I had made it.

Cape Wrath Scotland
The stacks of the Cathedral rock, sea birds nesting grounds

The sun had already set, leaving golden streaks in the sky above the sea. The bay was surrounded by cliffs and between them stood the bothy, a silhouette, as the west sky still glowed in the twilight. It was a heavenly picture and a photograph I have shared over a number of times on my page. The welcome couldn't have been any more majestic.

Cape Wrath Kearvaig Scotland
Kearvaig bothy at sunset

There were already people staying in the bothy. Given its accessibility by bus from Durness, it is often visited by people wanting to cherish its wild, secluded atmosphere. The place is still without electricity, sewerage and running water. There was smoke from the chimney - an inviting sight after a long and tiring day.

Some say the bothy is haunted. A lady, an artist, had mysteriously died here a few years ago and the stories taking shape from there. Though the truth is, she was found by some walkers on the edge of death, emaciated. She was then airlifted, but died in the hospital a couple of days later. The mystery still remains as to how a young woman, experienced in surviving the wilderness, get herself to the limit of starvation.

We carried our backpacks up the steep wooden ladder to the upper floor on tired legs, lighting up our way with head torches. There were two large rooms in the upper storey separated by a landing. Someone had helpfully left a couple of sleeping mats in the room, a welcome find since I wasn't carrying any. It would be a little more comfort than just a sleeping bag on bare floor. Downstairs was another room, which the other occupants had taken up. This one had wooden platforms for bed. The young group of boys had arrived by the bus from Durness. From the room a corridor led to the kitchen, the main entrance door to the right of the corridor, a hall to the left from where the ladder led upstairs. A couple of spades were hanging from the corridor wall, a reminder of the lack of facilities, a much needed accessory when answering nature's call in the wild.

The kitchen had a long table with benches and a fireplace. The boys had found some wood and had started a fire. A couple of tea-lights on the table provided what little illumination the place had. There was another room behind the kitchen where a girls' group had put up. They were planning to spend a couple of days in the bothy.  

The company was good, but unlike them, we had a long walk and craving for sleep. Neil made a dinner of spiced couscous as I tried to help by chopping some vegetables we had in the bag, for an added zing. The tea lights were dying so dinner had to be finished by head torches. This was followed by washing up in the river by the bothy, I made sure I kept the moral support going for Neil.

I stood in the dark, smelling the sea breeze, hearing the waves crashing on the cliffs. There was still a faint glow in the summer night sky through the cloud cover. Scotland cannot give more than one day of clear skies. A few raindrops barely made it to the ground in the strong sea breeze. The only sign of life was in the bothy amidst the miles of remoteness that surrounded us. It was time for bed.

Fortunately I was carrying my ear plugs, so even with the ruckus in the kitchen I could sleep in the room right above and keep warm from the heat of the fire. Neil had to escape to the next room and was soon joined by another tired walker who had tried in vain to sleep downstairs. The young group was probably up all night.

Kearvaig bothy Scotland
Kearvaig bay - early morning

My boots were still soggy despite staying out on a windy ledge overnight. I walked barefoot to the beach, feet too sore for any cover, even flip-flops. The waves were crashing dramatically on the cliff faces in the early morning high tide. It was mesmerising and I stood frozen there, almost hypnotised by its wild beauty. Neil went for a little hike up the cliffs for a closer view of the Cathedral rocks. I tried to accompany him but after taking a couple of steps had to give up on the idea of any more walks.

Kearvaig bothy Scotland
Bothy by the beach

Kearvaig bothy Scotland
A misty morning

Kearvaig bothy Scotland
Time to leave

We left after a late breakfast. One of the girls was chopping firewood for the night.

Braving midges we waited for the bus but it was full, meant waiting for the next one which the driver assured us would not be long. It was another hour before we were on the rickety ride to Kyle of Durness. From here a boat would take us across the water to Keoldale. Once on the mainland we would walk to Durness, or probably try hitchhiking.

Kearvaig bothy Scotland
The bus leaves without taking us

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