Off The Grid | The Scottish Highlands
An adventure to the wild highlands of Scotland has been high on the to-do list for a while, but it wasn't until the Scottish Bothy Bible fell into our laps that Mat and I put a wee plan into action. Taking inspiration from micro-adventurer Alistair Humphreys and author of the Bothy Bible Geoff Allan, it was finally time to step over the border and experience our wild North.
Geoff Allan is Scotland's premier bothy expert and founder of the Bothies on a Bike blog. He has hiked, biked and slept the night in each and every Scottish bothy, all 100 of them! It was a tough job to narrow down 100 bothies to a mere 6 or 7 when all are located in such breathtaking scenery. The book not only reveals the locations of the most unique and quirky huts but also the hidden network of cabins that are further off the grid and several hours walk from the public road. These open shelters are free to stay in (you don't have to book) and offer a chance to experience the ultimate in wild adventure living on a tiny budget. Right up our street..
The first bothy pinned on our map was Camben located in the depths of Kintail forest. It is one of the most remote bothies being 2.5 - 3 hours walk away from where we parked the car at the Mountain Rescue hub. On route we hiked through the five sisters of Kintail, scrambled passed stunning waterfalls and found the perfect place for a skinny dip. It was glorious to cool off on what must have been Scotland's hottest day of the year, until we spotted a couple sat close by eating their packed lunches. Oops!
We scrambled on red faced for an hour until a red roof appeared amongst the sparse earthy landscape. Camban Bothy - a welcomed site and heaven for the feet after a long journey. We made ourselves at home, lit the fire and met our room mates for the evening, two Scots and two friendly Germans.
The next morning the sunshine had disappeared beneath thick cloud but we pressed on to reach the car and then venture onwards to New Camasunary bothy on the Isle of Skye. The drive led us through rugged landscapes and towering sea cliffs, perfect for two keen photographers.
Mat planned our 13km bike route to the bothy across gravel terrain and over river crossings. Little did I know this wasn't the route suggested by the Bothy book but instead a more adventurous 'Matthew inspired' one for us to take. Mat has too much faith in my riding skills, ones that I certainly had to pull out the bag for this route. The weather was grim and fairly wild, but arriving to a bothy surrounded by a herd of deer made the journey well worth the 3 hour battle with the elements.
This new single-storey shelter had two rooms and although there was no fire or stove, it was insulated throughout – perfect for drying off. Fitted out with bunks it can comfortably accommodate about 15 people. We grabbed a well deserved beer, cooked up some delicious hot food and enjoyed the views of the water from the comforts of the cabin. Through the kitchen and bedroom windows you can see the munro Blàbheinn and the shore of Loch Scavaig. Happy days.
The weather had worsened overnight and our route back was flooded by burst water crossings and swampy marshland. We decided to alter the plan and ride up and over the Cuillins to the nearest village and then hitchhike back to the car. The loaded bikes were pushed up through some harsh weather and then rode downhill into the nearest village of Torrin taking in the beautiful views of the Cuillins. It was at this point that the sun came and we spotted a sign for the Blue Shed Cafe. Time for a brew to warm up and then for Mat to hitchhike back to the car in Sligachan whilst I took care of the bikes.
Our journey of Skye continued taking a scenic drive over to the lighthouse at Neist Point followed by a hike up to the Old Man of Storr and pedal over to the Quiraing. This is a must see for any photographer as we passed though some of the most spectacular landscapes in Scotland. As part of the Trotternish ridge, the Quiraing has been formed by a massive landslip which has created high cliffs and hidden plateaus. Perfect during the golden hour when the sun beams off the pinnacles of rock to capture some otherworldly snaps. We also found time to chase each other around the bizarre landscapes of the Fairy Glen.
After an awesome couple of days exploring, the next bothy on our list was at the tip of Skye and known as The Lookout. Built in 1928, this bothy was just that – a former watch station for the coastguard. It all made sense with those perfect sea views over to the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The place is perfectly decorated with coastguard ephemera, including some binoculars, an old shipping telephone and whale charts. Apparently you can spot dolphins regularly, but minke whales, orcas and even basking sharks have been spied from here. The hut only sleeps three people and a couple from Canada beat us to it. We didn't want to spoil their fun, so we had a quick look, tested the binoculars then made our way to wild camp. We camped next to the shore, set up the fire, and watched the golden sun go down.
During our week away we were determined to find a bothy with just our names on it so we headed south to a remote spot on the rugged coastal headland of Arnish. This place was once a fishing village and Peanmeanach bothy was the post office for the area. Built in the mid-19th century, it sits in a line of ruined houses facing out to the crystal blue waters and views across to Ardnamurchan and Eigg. The walk to the bothy took us through landscape which Mat likened to Tasmania, through soggy land and through knee deep water – tick heaven as we later discovered.
This bothy was huge with two lower rooms and a large attic space, perfect for sharing with three boozy Scots who were night fishing for cockles and a group of fifteen walkers from the Czech Republic. After a cosy nights sleep we woke up feeling sad to be heading further south and towards England. On route home we managed to fit in 1 more bothy in the heart of the Galloway forest. The ride out to Clennoch is through diverse landscapes with moorland and heather clad hills. With some steep inclines on rocky terrain we pedalled with tired legs towards the bothy. Being fairly remote, we hoped that the last shelter of the trip would be our own. Riding downhill the cabin came into sight, we were nearly there. But first, right before the bothy door, we had a river to cross. Knee deep we waded through the fast flowing water then pedalled up to the bothy with wet legs and opened the doors to an empty room. Hooray!
We fell madly in love with the Scottish highlands and bothy culture. Hats off to the volunteers of the Mountain Bothy Association who keep these stunning shelters well looked after. We will be back very soon.
Only 94 bothies to go...