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‘The merry fellowship of bothies’: hiking in the Scottish Highlands | Highlands holidays

‘The merry fellowship of bothies’: hiking in the Scottish Highlands | Highlands holidays

Park in the Linn of Dee carpark near Braemar and you can hike to two bothies. One path takes you through winding valleys into the heart of the Cairngorms to Corrour, built originally in 1877 and reconstructed in 1949. Or you can follow the River Dee’s glittering expanse on its path down the mountains to the Red House, the Mountain Bothies Association’s most recent addition, which opened last year. The two places represent the bothy world past and present.

I discovered bothies only a few years ago but since my first stay at Cadderlie, on the shore of Loch Etive, my bothy travels have taken me across Britain: to the woods of Eryri (Snowdonia), the peaks of Wester Ross in the north-west Highlands and even Orkney’s bothy museum.

I have come to love these simple stone structures, many of which have been restored and cared for by the MBA. Its committed volunteer work parties look after about 100 bothies and keep them in good condition. In an age of glamping and boutique hotels, staying in bothies can seem an odd pursuit: who would volunteer to sleep in a building without electricity or running water?

Yet these small shelters offer connection, something that feels important in a world where we lament detachment from others and the living world.

My partner and I are in the Cairngorms for a few days in changeable weather. Cloud gives way to rain, which turns to misty snow. But for a while the sun appears and the mountains glow white against brilliant skies, their lower slopes fading to russet. We arrive at Corrour, a small bothy below the Devil’s Point that comfortably sleeps five or six but often hosts many more as hikers grab any spare scrap of floor. You can’t book a bothy, so you never know how many people will be there when you turn up.

The shared living area inside the Red House bothy. Photograph: Katherine Hill

We push open the door, thinking it might be unoccupied, only to find ourselves sharing it with five others: a pair of biologists with binoculars from Cambridge, a scientist from the US reading Tolkien, and a couple from London.

After an evening in Corrour with this happy gaggle of travellers, we hike the eight miles back to the car park and then strike out on the other path, to the Red House, about 90 minutes’ walk from Linn of Dee. Once known as Lower Glen Geldie or Ruighe Ealasaid, it became a gamekeeper’s house…

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