“Bothy” – a humble cottage or hut. A one roomed hut or temporary dwelling. (Chambers Dictionary).
The thrill of a night on the hill can never be underestimated. Even when not taken in the rough and tumble of tent pitched between rock and molehill but within something a little more refined – not much – but content that the sleeping bag will be dry, warm in the knowledge that there might even be a table for breakfast, happy not to have to lug a tent uphill.
There was a rumour of a stone hut, complete with stove, high in the mountains and I was intrigued by the possibility of its existence and a chance to use it as a base for a two day expedition into the Black Mountains. A head start on the day, as well as other walkers, was an exciting prospect.
And so, with perhaps somewhat overdramatic thoughts of adventurers settling into base camps before striking into unknown terrain, I make my way to a grid reference point. The walk is easy. Along a byway crossing from Mynydd Du forest over to Talgarth, Wales, stomping up rocky track, Victorian dam ramparts looming ahead, 550 metres above sea level, catching sight of walkers heading for home.
Alone with sun setting over water, sparse thorn trees thinning to bare grassy hillsides with splashes of heather, I drop down to the banks of the reservoir and see cliffs in front of me. I’m close to the hut at the head of the lake and, edging along the steep slope, distracted by the splashes of rising trout, clamber up to a tiny stone building.
Heart slightly in mouth as I approach the door. Will it be locked, might other inhabitants be there – judging by the exposed location, any self respecting sheep would want to use it – will it be watertight, liveable? There’s a small plaque on the door, slightly damaged, and its words surprise me as well as assuage my worries.
This is no mere hut, but a bothy! I open the door. Inside is a single room with an old iron stove, folding metal table, couple of chairs, pieces of tree – all lit by a single Perspex window. I already feel like I’ve staggered into a place providing a safe haven.
The gloaming is upon me and although I’ve a head torch, candles seem appropriate to illuminate this humble abode. Their effect is immediately warming, and I unpack my rucksac, setting up a basic pantry which furthermore gives the bothy a feeling of homeliness. Setting about making the fire with the kindling I’ve carried up with me, I’m glad that I brought my cooker, as a hunger is upon me. Filling the pan with water from nearby stream, I soon tuck into simple but hot food washed down with a beer – reward for not having to carry a tent.
It’s pitch back outside. The stream ambling its way to the lake, roar of the cooker and low crackle of fire embers. Stepping outside, sensing the surrounding bulk of mountains, looking back at the low glow from the bothy window, I almost forget that I’ve still to prepare my sleeping bag. Back inside, up the narrow metal ladder into the windowless pitched roof space above, clean timber boards provide a perfect sleeping deck.
Albeit summer, it seems instinctive to keep fully clothed to preserve heat and as the outdoor air cools, the combined heat from cooker, fire and myself provides the room with a cosy feel. Settling down to read next to the candles, it leads further into a greater sense of well being and comfort and, as I get sleepier, thoughts of Scott and fellow explorers in their Antarctic base camp hut blend with a safe solid silence broken only by the squeaking door. Soon I’m up the ladder and wedged into my bag, breathing huffs of air as the candle dims.
Fresh air makes sleep easily. Although it gets rough in the night: sound of wind in the roof, banging door catch waking me, rain following, great chunks of it, whipping up under the door; I still feel secure, sleeping well on into morning. Waking hungry for breakfast, I open the door, see the last final squalls cross the lake; the stream, a roaring torrent of foaming mountain, provides a welcome to a warm watery sun. I brush out the bothy, collect water to boil for tea and soon have the sweet smell of egg and bacon eddying around the room.
Now I’m warm, well rested, full up with food and raring to go. The only snag is that I’ve become rather attached to my new home. I leave behind some wood, biscuits and pasta, but find it hard to leave my new idyll. Of course I must go, and off I go, gladly on the rest of my mountain walk.
The Mountains Bothies Association (MBA) was set up in Scotland based on a mantra “to maintain simple shelters in remote country for the use and benefit of all who love wild and lonely places.” It is charity that relies on volunteers to repair the bothies with membership costing £20.00 a year. The ethos behind the MBA is fine indeed with a Bothy Code ensuring respect for:- other users (no key or booking), the bothy (close doors and report damage), the surroundings (don’t burn live trees, remove rubbish, dig your latrine well away from bothy and water), the owner (obey specific closures) and restriction on numbers (less than six users). www.mountainbothies.org.uk
NB. The editor promised me further riches if I provided a Route but this goes against my and the MBA’s idea of the preservation of wild and lonely places. As mentioned above, the walk is easy and a grid reference will suffice: SO227312.
Rob Yorke is a countryman with two hats: one as a chartered surveyor, and the other as a rural commentator chairing debates and writing articles on wildlife, fishing, conservation, farming, shooting and other rural topics for the likes of The Times, Trout & Salmon, Waterlog, Shooting Gazette and BBC Countryfile Magazine. Rob compiled The Little Book of Fishing for WH Smith, and has presented two series for Discovery television channel: ‘The Great Escape’, a Welsh farmstead reality series, and ‘Reel Wars’, a fishing/outdoor survival series. He has lived in west Scotland, north England, London and now permanently in the Brecon Beacons. A regular contributor to the The Times’ letter pages on countryside matters, Rob can be followed at twitter.com/blackgull and via his website robyorke.co.uk.