Wednesday 10 May 2017

Taking on Scotland's bothies - Strathchailleach

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

Strathchailleach bothy is a short detour from the Cape Wrath trail, one of the most remote parts of Scotland and I was lucky to drop in here a couple of summers ago for a brief lunch stop.

Starting from Kinlochbervie, Neil, my walking friend, and I had camped at the stunning Sandwood bay overnight. It had been a wet and windy night, with very little sleep. After a breakfast of porridge and prunes we started towards Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of British mainland.

Sandwood bay Scotland
Sandwood bay

Sandwood bay Scotland
Camping in Sandwood bay

Sandwood bay Scotland
Stunning Sandwood bay

Soon we hit the bog. Walking through mud, slosh and water, trying to find a solid foothold was tiring. The midges were out with vengeance, making it annoyingly uncomfortable. The fragrance of the Bog Myrtle was heavy in some pockets, providing brief respite from their nasty bites. My energy was draining fast and the knowledge about complete inaccessibility in these extreme remoteness was fast eating into my spirits. With no human settlement for miles around and no phone signal, it was intimidating. Lack of sleep, walking through peaty bogs and fending swarms of midges, I had started to whine and moan. Neil suggested we take a break at the bothy, but my aching muscles and dwindling spirit was reluctant to take the detour. But Neil kept insisting and I am glad he did or else it would have been difficult for me to finish the walk and at the same time deprive me of a unique experience.

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
The bothy appears in sight

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
Strathchailleach bothy

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
From the front with its pretty red door

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
A few rustic benches outside

The bothy indeed presented a welcome stop. The best part was, it provided dry ground to put down our packs and rest the backs. After a brief rest it was time for food, meant a visit  to the kitchen. And surprise! A house with the most basic amenities, located in such remoteness had this incredible backsplash. This was nothing I had ever seen before neither did I expect. Turns out, this place was called home by a James Macrory-Smith for thirty two years and these murals are his handiwork.

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland murals
The kitchen murals as our Scotch dumplings are getting fried

Neil butter fried the Scotch dumplings for a much needed high sugar, high calorie treat (sans fried eggs which he kept complaining about). The utensils were washed in the river and all rubbish packed in our bag's designated compartment. Energised, I looked around the place while Neil filled up the visitor log.

It is incredible anyone could call such remoteness their home for thirty two years. James Macrory-Smith had left his identity in the murals he had painted. There were three rooms, one with a basic wooden platform to sleep on, the second room was used as the lounge with a fireplace and basic seating and finally the kitchen with the murals. Here is his story as written on a board in the lounge. 

'This isolated house is thought to be the last on mainland Scotland that was lived in as a permanent dwelling without any services. No piped water, sewerage services, electricity or gas. No postal services and no road.
This was the adopted home of JAMES-MACRORY-SMITH who lived here as a recluse for thirty two years. Better known as 'SANDY', he walked out for his pension to Balchrick Post Office and on to the shop, The London Stores beyond Kinlochbervie for his supplies, ususally spending some time at the bar of the Garbet Hotel. His return route sometimes took him to the footbridge of Strathan where he sometimes overnighted, though he always described it as a cold house. This walk is about twenty one miles in all and Sandy did this every week - Winter & Summer.

Sandy had some other abilities as witnessed by his artwork on these walls. He was also known to be an astrologer. What kept him here for so long? The writer believes it was the close proximity of the finest naturally drying peat bank in the north. Sandy was rarely without a cosy fire.

About 1996 he moved out to caravan accommodation in K.L.B. After a short illness he died on 20th April 1999 at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness aged 73 years, and now lies at rest in the nearby cemetery at Shiegra. Over the recent year Sandy was, I believe, the living ghost seen by many in the Bay of Sandwood. Now he is the real one.'

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
Looking at the lounge from the bedroom through the corridor

Strathchailleach bothy Scotland
Memories of James Macrory-Smith

Rested, I was now ready to take on the bogs again. The bothy had served its purpose, a welcome shelter for everyone visiting Scotland's outdoors. But we still had to cross the river flowing beside the bothy. After last night's rain it was flowing fast, meant a tricky crossing. As I had anticipated from my previous walking experiences, there was a fall. However, incredibly for a change, it was the infallible Neil who slipped this time instead of me. Thankfully it was a hot day and he would soon dry up. We had a good laugh as we continued on our walk - Kearvaig would be for tonight.

Read about Kearvaig here - Taking on Scotland's bothies - Kearvaig

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