I decided at the weekend, that I’d like to get out and about and witness my first Red Deer rut in Scotland. After doing some searching online for likely locations, I found that the area surrounding Blair Atholl and in Glen Tilt would be a good area. The downside was that we are still in the tail end of the deer stalking season, so large parts of the hills are considered off limits just now (unless you really want to risk angering the people with the high powered rifles!).
They don’t do stalking on a Sunday, though, so I thought it might be a good idea to find a safe place to hole up for the night on Saturday night, so I could be in about the rut at dawn on the Sunday morning. When using the Hillphones service, I kept hearing that ‘the path from the bothy is always safe’, which started the old brain working. What bothy, and where is it?!
After a little research, I found the bothy in question on the map, along with the path to it (if you search online, you’ll find most hikes to the munro Beinn Dearg go past the bothy). Having never used a bothy before, I didn’t have any idea what the protocol would be. I went to the Mountain Bothies Association website to get the info. It turns out that the bothy I was going to be visiting doesn’t have easy access to firewood, so if I wanted a fire, I’d have to bring my own firewood, etc.
So, Saturday dawned, I packed up my stuff into my 40l rucksack, and off I went. I took my sleeping bag, mat, stove and food for the 2 days, warm clothes, as I was expecting to be a bit chilly and enough firewood for a small fire that would last an hour or so.
It was a bit of a miserable day. Very dull and overcast, which would explain why the car park at Old Bridge of Tilt was deserted when I got there at 10am in the morning.
The walk out to the bothy took quite a bit of time, but there was a fair bit to see on the way. At first, the walk takes you through the village of Old Blair, along the minor road. It’s not long before you come off the road, and into some woodland.
The trees are just starting to show off their colours now, so I reckon next weekend, I’ll take in a walk which has a bit of woodland in it, where I can see it at its best!
At the end of the woodland, there’s a gate, which has recently been rebuilt, to provide easier access for cyclists. Prior to this, cyclists had to carry their bikes over a massive style! A photo of which can be found HERE.
The current gate is shown below
Once through the gate and out of the woodland, the scenery is dominated by moorland, as far as the eye can see. In honesty, it does get a little bit monotonous.
Eventually, on the slopes of Meall Dubh, on the left, as you’re walking towards the bothy, I found the rut!
At this time of year, the Red Deer Stags compete for the attention of the Hinds by bellowing and roaring. Occasionally, they’ll lock antlers and fight for territory and mating rights. When I was there, I saw plenty of deer, heard lots of bellowing, but didn’t manage to see any of the fights. Sadly, the deer were all quite some distance away, so I didn’t manage to get any really good photos on the way in (the photos below were all taken at max 20x zoom)
As you can see, there were significant numbers of deer in a very small space. As an added bonus, they were literally just around the corner from the bothy, so if I went out around dawn, I could potentially get much closer to them and get some decent photos!
Next came the bothy itself. As I mentioned earlier, I’d never been to a bothy before, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I’d seen some photos online, but none of them really showed what the interior was like, so I was keen to find out.
It looked idyllic in its setting, it has to be said. A great place to spend a night and get away from it all!
There are two doors into the bothy, as can be seen. The right hand (red) door leads into a small room, with a picnic bench and ladders leading up to the loft space. (I have a bit of a fear of climbing ladders, so I didn’t go up there) The left hand side had another picnic bench, the fireplace and a couple of benches, suitable for sleeping on.
The photo below shows the view from the doorway.
As it was only 12:15 (much earlier than I expected to get there!), I decided to drop off the firewood, then go for a bit of a walk. I’d originally planned on tackling Beinn Dearg while I was there, but as the weather was vile and the cloud base so low, I didn’t see the point. There was definitely going to be no view at all up there. Below is a photo I took just beneath the cloud base, however. Still not a particularly good photo, but it really was an awful day.
I was back at the bothy for 3pm, where I had a chance to get my bearings and get a feel for the place.
The problem with most photos, etc of bothies is that they don’t really give you an idea of what the place is actually like, in terms of draughts, warmth, etc. In this case, as a stone structure, which is only occasionally, at best, lived in, it felt cold. It felt colder inside the bothy than it was outside.
One of the first mistakes I made was to take my boots and outer socks off. I didn’t realise quite how damp the flagstones were, so I ended up with dirty, damp, cold feet, which didn’t help the overall feeling of cold (see the photo below of yours truly, with clearly damp feet!)
However, it wasn’t all bad. The bench/pallet I can be seen on would work out perfect as a sleeping platform. At about 6′ long, they’d be fine for most people. My feet hung over the edges, but they do that on a regular bed, anyway! (I’m 6′ 4″).
After spending an hour or so unpacking, and generally staggering aimlessly about, I decided I was still a bit on the cold side, so I decide to have a bit of an early meal. I was hoping that the heat from the gas stove would take the edge off the cold.
15 minutes later, I was eating away at the typical backpackers fare – super noodles! I felt warm again… for about 10 more minutes.
At about 5:30pm, I gave in and lit the fire. After about 30 minutes, the place actually started to feel warm, and I began to relax a little. I set out the sleeping bag on the pallet next to the fire, took a quick photo (below) and got comfy.
However, all was not well. I only really had enough firewood to keep the fire going for an hour or so. In the end, as the fire was starting to die down, and the light was beginning to fade, I decided to pack up and make the trip back to the car. I probably could have coped fine. The temperature wasn’t forecast to drop too low outside, and my sleeping bag would have most likely kept me warm enough. I was simply bored.
The return trip, in near pitch black, with deer bellowing all around me was more than a little bit unsettling, it had to be said, so it wasn’t really surprising to find that the return trip took 30 minutes less time than the outbound trip!
Was it a complete waste of a day?
No, I actually don’t think it was. It’s given me an insight into bothies, and how to prepare for them, which I suspect is a reasonably valuable lesson. I also got to see and hear the Red Deer rut. Sure, I didn’t get any good photos, so that I could share the memories… but I did get the memories themselves!
Now that I know what to expect, I’ll take more firewood and/or coal, so that I can have the fire burning through the night, if required. I’ll also take sandals or something like that, to stop my feet getting wet on the damp floor. I’d also bring something along to keep myself amused, to prevent boredom kicking in.
I’m hoping that I’ll be able to increase the amount of overnight/weekend hiking trips I can do during the winter months, now that bothies are an option for me. Normally, I’d be giving up with hiking and camping at this time of year. I still wouldn’t go into any of the higher altitude bothies during the winter months. I’m simply not that experienced, but some of the bothies in glens and valleys are definitely options for me.
On Sunday, to avoid having wasted the whole weekend, I took Janie to Beecraigs Country Park, in West Lothian, so that she could see (and hear) a tame version of the rut, at the deer farm there. Sadly, the rutting stags had been de-antlered, so it wasn’t really much of a show, but here’s an adolescent, not quite to maturity, just so that you can see what they look like up close! As the UK’s largest land mammal, they really are stunning!