This is Part 1 of my write-up of my participation in the Mountain Bothies Association work party to renovate Leacraithnaich bothy in April//May 2019. It’s a long, rambling story, so if you’re only really interested in the bothy part of the tale you might want to wait for Part 2.
In May, most years, I take part in the TGO Challenge – walking Coast to Coast across the Highlands. It was the TGOC which introduced me to bothies and led me to join the MBA. I’d always felt that I should contribute to the upkeep of the bothies but with most of them being so far away from my Wirral home I’d only been on one work party – at Dulyn bothy, in North Wales, about 10 years ago. I was interested to read that Leacraithnaich bothy would be having a month-long work party in April/May this year. It was a bothy I’d be unlikely to visit, despite being within the TGO Challenge area, but the timing of the work meant that I’d be able to spend a week at the bothy plus travel time either side. I would miss the TGO Challenge but I’d still be in the Scottish hills in the best month of the year.
When people learned of my plans they naturally asked which bothy I’d be working at. Not having the vaguest clue how to say Leacraithnaich I just told them it started with an L and was 2 ferries, a bus and a Land Rover away from Oban.
Pete, the MBA Area Organiser for Southwest Highlands and Islands, had sent the volunteers excellent information about the work party, including travel options, months in advance. However, no matter how hard I studied his guidance, the maps and various train, bus & ferry timetables, this was going to be a complicated journey. Eventually I realised that it was more sensible to have an overnight stay in Oban rather than get stressed about early trains and missed ferries.
You might have expected me to find the packing for this trip quite simple. After all, I’d be sleeping in a tent in Scotland in May – which is what I do every year – so surely I should just take my usual TGO Challenge gear? No, it was more complicated than that. I wanted to take my safety boots, but some more comfortable walking shoes too. Oh, and my Crocs, of course. So three pairs of footwear? I may as well take my Exped Down mattress and a decent pillow for a bit of extra comfort in bed. And I’d need to carry in 7 days’ worth of food just in case the chef couldn’t cater for a Vegetarian. I soon realised that there was no chance I could fit everything in my usual Osprey Exos 46 rucksack, so I split the load between the big pack on my back and a smaller one on my front. As long as I didn’t try to break into a run it was surprisingly well-balanced.
A rail replacement bus between Carlisle and Glasgow wasn’t ideal but, overall, the trip to Oban was smooth and I had a pleasant evening in the town from which I had started my 10th TGO Challenge in 2016. As I’ve never yet repeated a start point I hadn’t expected to be back so soon!
On the Sunday morning I caught the ferry to Craignure from where the waiting bus took me to Fishnish for the ferry to Lochaline. The timetables told me that the bus arrived at Fishnish ferry terminal 5 minutes before the ferry was due to depart but that foot passengers must be there 10 minutes before departure. I reckoned that this was probably an unnecessary requirement at a terminal which is no more elaborate than a stone slipway, and I was right. As long as the loading ramp hasn’t been lifted you could jump off the bus and leap onboard the ferry.
I’d arranged to phone Pete when I was on the ferry to Lochaline so he could come and pick me up. However, I knew that mobile phone coverage at the bothy was not reliable so I was not surprised when he didn’t answer the phone. I left a message and bought an egg roll and cup of tea from the tea shack at the ferry terminal.
The women in the shack knew about the bothy. Teàrnait, they called it. Hm? I’d never have guessed that was how Leacraithnaich was pronounced. I checked the map and noticed that the lochan next to the bothy was called Loch Teàrnait. We must be talking about the same place.
It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed sitting on the grass doing nothing or chatting to the old fella who’d been visiting this area with his wife for their annual holiday for the last umpty-seven years. Although I was waiting for a lift, I knew I could walk to the bothy if I had to so I was pretty relaxed and just enjoying sitting in the sun. After about an hour, though, I thought I might as well start walking. I took the old road along the shore of Loch Aline.
Despite the extra weight on my back (and my front) I felt quite comfortable yomping towards the hills. Maybe I should ditch the workparty and try to blag a place on the TGO Challenge instead?
At the North end of the loch I bumped into Pete coming to collect me. I’d been a bit vague about which ferry I’d be on so he was aiming for the next one. With some shopping to pick up in Lochaline he then took me back to where I’d just come from. Oh, well!
Chores complete, we drove back to the bothy with me spending more time staring at my mobile phone, to see where the signal started and stopped, than admiring the view. Something I’ve noticed with bothies is that they’re often completely hidden until – all of a sudden – they appear out of nowhere. On the journey, Pete had been telling me about how the work had been going so far but I didn’t really know what to expect until the building finally came into view.
I’d arrived just in time for a tea break and was introduced to too many people to remember in one go. Some had just arrived; some were soon leaving; and some were leaving but coming back.
I’d seen fairly recent photos of the bothy on Quintin Lake’s twitter feed and was, at first, quite shocked to see that the whole of the inside had been gutted. Of course, this was completely necessary but I don’t think I’d realised until then just how big a job this was. I admit to feeling sad at the sight of the bothy library lying outside amongst the scrap wood.
I pitched my tent on a flat-ish bit up the hill. I had an excellent view of the bothy and the lochan and could happily have sat and watched the others work but I needed to earn my leisure time so was soon back at the canteen receiving a Health & Safety brief before setting to work with a bucket of lime mortar….