Maol Bhuide is a remote bothy in Attadale that you can get to from either Strathcarron, Bernais bothy or Iron Lodge. It was one of my favourite places to visit in the 1970s and I went there several times with my pals Danny and Ian. Except in 1979, we didn’t get there. Danny slipped when walking alone on Beinn Alligan at Easter and was killed.
Danny wasn’t one for conventional memorials so we raised some money from family and friends and arranged to renovate Maol Bhuide in 1980 in his memory (some pictures of the renovation are here) and for a while I looked after the bothy for the MBA. But babies came along, as they do, and pressures of family and work meant I couldn’t carry on with this. We moved south to a new job and visits to the Scottish hills were confined to snatched week-ends, without enough time to get to places like Maol Bhuide. Even after we moved back to Scotland, work took priority and I never got the opportunity to get to the bothy.
I hadn’t been back to Maol Bhuide since 1983 and one of my objectives on this year’s Challenge was to get back to Maol Bhuide and to see how it was now. It’s a very pleasant walk from Strathcarron to Bendronaig Lodge, then to Loch Calavie before cutting across the shoulder of Beinn Dronaig to Loch Cruoshie and then to the bothy. The outlet of Loch Calavie is crossed by an ‘interesting’ bridge – I decided that I’d rather get wet.
Maol Bhuide is guarded on all sides by water and it can involve some hairy river crossings if the burns are in spate. Approaching from Strathcarron, I had to cross the River Ling which is not fast flowing but which can be pretty deep even in good weather. I was a wee bit worried about what it would be like when I set out from Strathcarron but as it turned out, the river wasn’t a problem at all. The problem was the utterly evil bog just a few yards from the river bank.
This bog was the kind of bog in which you imagine monsters lurk, who will suck you in and then spit your bones into the peat hags. A skin of slimy water over deep, black peat with only occasional tussocks showing. I have crossed a few bogs in my time and so I wandered up and down looking for firmer bits to jump on. I spotted what seemed to be a solid bit and leant over to prod it with my pole. This was a mistake! After initial resistance, my pole went in for about 3 feet. It pulled me and I naturally stepped forward to find one myself in the bog – one leg up to my thigh, the other just above my ankle. I thought at that stage ‘Oh shit!’ (but it wasn’t, fortunately, just peat)
My first thought was can I get out of this without losing a shoe? On Day 1 of the Challenge, that would be a disaster. I wriggled out of my rucksack and fairly easily extricated my left foot. Slowly, by twisting and pulling I managed to free my right leg from the bog and with a pop, it emerged with shoe intact but VERY dirty. I then scouted around a bit more and finally found a way through the swamp.
Here, the depth of the River Ling turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I simply jumped into the river which came to above my knees and by the time I reached the far bank I was clean (ish). Ten minutes later, I was in the bothy meeting up with my old pal Ian – partner in crime when we wandered the hills with Danny in the 70s – and he is now MO of Maol Bhuide for the MBA.
We had a wee examination of the bothy and it was good to see that some of our handiwork from 1980 had survived. I was especially pleased that the rowan tree that I’d planted in 1980 had thrived within the very amateurish drystane dyke that we built to protect it from the deer.
Ian, like myself, is not a lover of dried food and he’d carried in a couple of venison steaks, onions and tatties. So we ate rather better than most Challengers that night, with a couple of bottles of beer and some of my Glen Garioch whisky. No other Challengers arrived so we thought we’d have the bothy to ourselves but at 10.30, 3 Americans and a Scot appeared having walked from Glen Affric. They were tired (to put it mildly) and after a few minutes by the fire, headed to bed.
Next day, it was raining on and off. Breakfast was Stornoway black pudding and Aberdeen butteries (which I recommend, if you can get them, instead of the ubiquitous wraps) and I set off to do more battles with bogs on my way to Strathfarrer.