True, walking up and down hills in agony with an enormous amount of weight crippling your back is not always the best way to spend your time. True, I just posted a kilogram of clothes home, so that I now really do look like a tramp at all times, with no clean clothes to change into (I found my current trousers where they had been discarded under a bench in a bothy). Every extra kilogram really is like a bushel of lead-coated straw ready to break this camel’s back.
The thing at the back of my right foot where the heel used to be is a testament to the misery of walking. I can no longer recognise what shape it was. I applied special plasters to the suppurating wounds there. Plasters that form a ‘second skin’ if left for seven days to work their chemical magic. But if they fall off each day you end up with a kind of red and clear plasma discharge – some sort of soup of skin in the making. I haven’t tasted it yet – I’m waiting for bits of old skin to drop off and provide croutons, but you get the picture – walking can be grim for the uninitiated.
So why do it? Where’s the fun in that? The simple answer is bothies. “What the sweet jumping jehosephat on a pogo stick is a bothy?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s a shelter. An old house that is often only accessible by foot, kept in a reasonable state of repair by the mountain bothies association so that the walking wounded such as myself can curl up into a ball and die inside, rather than die outside like a dog.
A bothy can be a stone building, with an open fire and a nearby stream and loch, or it could just be a shed. Either way, they are a delight to fall into in a soaking state, and much preferable to sleeping under canvas. The marvellous thing is that they are unlocked and open to anyone. You can meet all sorts of people in there, and then have a blether over a roasting fire as your every possession starts to dry out. Then you sleep on a raised platform next to them in blissful dryness.
Staying in a bothy can be very much like renting a beautiful cottage in the countryside and partying like crazy in there, only cheaper. Some people park their cars a few miles away on the nearest road, and hike in with 30 kilos of booze, drugs, steak and coal. If they fancy fish for breakfast, they catch a trout in the nearest loch, fire up the stove, and cook it before rigor mortis has time to set in.
One guy I met in the White Laggon bothy had come for his free four day vacation. He had carried in a large camp bed for himself, and a sleeping bag and thermarest bed that was far superior to mine for Max. His dog. He also brought a carton of lager, and an ounce of what he described as,
“Fine hash, none of yer council black.”
I asked him why local kids didn’t come here instead of camping in their back gardens and drink strong cider and burn each other.
“Often they do,” he said. The guest book was testament to the passing of teams of neds. It contained references to chopping people up, vomitting all over the walls, and a strange sense of psilocybin-induced time-dilation.
Bothies are great. They’re free, and you get to meet some interesting people. And sometimes the occasional walker, but they generally pass out at about 8pm, so you can ignore them. When all of this hiking nonsense is over, I’ll get me a car full of booze, drive it to a special bothy known only to a few sacred bothy brothers, and ferry it all in. Then I’ll hole up there with a fishing rod and some potatoes like a hillbilly. Possibly with a rocking chair.