Neil Reid writes the Cairngorm Wanderer blog. I have met Neil and he has a passion for the wild land of the Cairngorms. In this post he set's forth his
I hesitated before writing about a doss made of granite and iron on a blog frequented by a bunch of lightweights.
(Did I say lightweights? I meant, of course, lightweight backpackers.)
Bothies maybe don't feature much in the lives of people dedicated to travelling light, but staying in a bothy means you don't have to carry a tent, which these days must save, oh, as much as tens of grammes.
Staying in a bothy is also a particularly Scottish thing to do.
Other countries - England and Wales - have their bothies, but they are few and far between; in Scotland bothies are almost ubiquitous, scattered all around the country, mainly in the Highlands but also down in Southern Scotland and the Borders.
Although one or two are custom built, bothies typically are former houses or estate buildings which have outlasted their original use. Their use as hillwalkers' sites grew informally at first and more formally since the formation of the Mountain Bothy Association in 1965, but the essence remains the same: a simple shelter in wild and often remote land.
Bothy culture is a part of Scotland's heritage which I think we can be hugely proud of. Almost uniquely, our bothies, still in the ownership of the landowners, are maintained entirely by volunteers and kept open to all regardless of money, club membership or nationality.
Right now I want to speak about one particular bothy - the Garbh Choire Refuge situated in the heart of the Cairngorms between the peaks of Cairn Toul and Braeriach.
Not a former estate building, it was built by climbers in the early 1960s to provide a base from which to explore the spectacular and extensive but remote and almost entirely undeveloped cliffs ringing the Garbh Choire complex.
It's a basic structure - effectively little more than a steel frame covered in boulders, with a wooden door in front - and so small only four can sleep with any degree of comfort, although the noted climber Andy Nisbet recalls a night of atrocious blizzard when no less than 12 climbers in varying states of exhaustion squeezed in for shelter!
However even on such a basic shelter time has taken its toll and the refuge is no longer weathertight. And, while some repairs such as the new door are to a good standard, other repairs have been made on an ad hoc basis using whatever materials have come to hand, resulting in a multi-coloured and ragged appearance as patches on top of patches have failed to keep the rain out.
A bid to have it repaired was made at the end of last year by Heather Morning of the Mountaineering Council for Scotland, who pointed to the recent and very successful replacement of the Fords of Avon Refuge just a few miles distant. But at that time Mar Lodge Estate declined her offer, the reply suggesting that demolition may be more to the estate's taste.
Since then it has emerged that there are others who would prefer that the Garbh Choire Refuge was removed.
I believe that the refuge should be saved and, together with Kenny Freeman (we can muster over 80 years in the Cairngorms between us) we drew up a paper arguing the case for its retention - you can read the full paper at my cairngormwanderer blog.
The safety argument needs little explanation. This is the only reliable refuge in a huge area of very challenging ground. Corrour Bothy may only be five kilometres away, but the terrain means that even in good weather that's over an hour's walk - potentially much more in severe weather with snow on the ground - and could be on top of an hour or more it took to reach the Garbh Choire Refuge in the first place.
However I don't think safety is the strongest argument. After all, there are plenty remote glens where safety may be miles away.
I would argue that it is our heritage that is important here.
The Garbh Choire Refuge was created by climbers for climbers (and other hillgoers) and the embodiment of an ethos of determination, self reliance and care for one's fellow man. Meanwhile, a few miles down the glen, the National Trust for Scotland spends large sums of money preserving a Mar Lodge, a monument to the landowning gentry who trampled over the rights of the common people and, more recently, engineered a gross overpopulation of red deer which has all but destroyed one of the most important remaining remnants of the Caledonian Forest. (Thought, to be fair to the NTS, it has been doing sterling work to remedy this situation since taking over the estate.)
Up Glen Lui are some ruins: all that remains of an 'illegal' township whose inhabitants were cleared not once but twice in the 1700s.
If the NTS has a duty to preserve Mar Lodge, if it has a duty to look after the remains of the Glen Lui township, then surely it has an equal duty to preserve the Garbh Choire Refuge, for it has an equal claim to be representative of a part of Scotland's heritage.
And, importantly, this is a living heritage, not some relict of days irretrievable. We little think of the social importance of what we do - we're just going for a walk for goodness sake - but collectively, our walks, camps and bothy nights are an important part of what our society is about - the bright reverse to the crimes and inner city riots.
We have a culture which, at a time of conspicuous corporate greed and corruption, holds dear the principals of service to others, of community.
That culture, that heritage, makes a very tiny impact on the Garbh Choire - just a wee rickle o' stanes - but is symbolic of something which, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I think is quite noble.
And to get back to the prosaic: it can be fixed for free - or at least at no cost to the cash-strapped NTS - for the MBA is willing to step in and take care not just of the costs but also the labour, which will be carried out by a group of volunteers who have already built up a fund of experience in similar work in remote and sensitive locations, such as Corrour Bothy, Faindouran, Fords of Avon and more.
The real hurdle to cross is to persuade Mar Lodge Estate and the National Trust that the Garbh Choire Refuge is worth saving and should be saved. It's important to remember that they're not the 'enemy' - MLE has been hugely supportive of efforts to improve and maintain the other Cairngorm bothies - but they do need to be made aware that climbers and walkers regard this refuge as an important part of a national network and that there are sound arguments for its retention (agreeing with its own policies) and benefits to it being properly maintained by the MBA.
The paper written by Kenny Freeman and myself contains - we hope - some convincing arguments, but will the public support - that's up to you.
Note: all photos of this post belong to Neil Reid and not to be used without his permission