Adventure Diaries: Inshriach Bothy
When I was invited to spend the weekend at Inshriach Bothy, I packed by Krukke with my standard bothy kit. Roll-mat, sleeping bag, meths stove and an axe. I love bothies, and I’m used to their basic, utilitarian designs and no-frills setup. I’m used to sleeping on the hard wooden benches, with a draught coming under the door and the windows shaking in the wind.
As it turns out, I needn’t have bothered. As I stumbled through the dark, over a fence and down a narrow, winding track in the foothills of the Cairngorms, I had no idea what a stark contrast this place would be.
Bobby Niven lead the way. He designed and built the Inshriach Bothy, and as it’s simple, corrugated form loomed out of the darkness, I could tell it was unlike any I had stayed in before. For a start, it’s a modern design – clean edges, elegant proportions and tall, thin windows. Set in part of the great caledonian forest, surrounded by low Juniper bushes, it’s silver form pops out of the landscape and yet, with silvering larch panelling at each end , it seems perfectly placed. As the light changes on the forest floor, so does the colour of the bothy itself.
Bobby opens the door and shows me inside. I reach for my headtorch, and delve into my bag, rummaging around to find my thermarest. Before I know it, the interior is flooded with light. An anglepoise lamp sits on a shelf, casting it’s glow over the bothy to reveal a squat woodburner tucked against one wall and even, to my complete horror, plug sockets on the walls.
This bothy has power. Two huge solar panels sit on the forest floor a few metres away. It’s a luxurious addition, installed to serve the numerous artists and designers that head to the bothy every year for week long residencies. Unlike most of the bothies in Scotland, this one isn’t managed by the Mountain Bothy Association. It’s looked after by the Bothy Project – the brainchild of Bobby and architect Iain MacLeod. They design and build shelters inspired by the traditional bothy that push the concept to it’s furthest and most elegant conclusion.
Every detail has been considered. The walls are insulated using sheep’s wool, the windows salvaged from a flat in Glasgow. A small kitchen area, dining table and wing-back leather armchair add some creature comforts and an old wooden ladder salvaged from the Glasgow School of Art leads up to a mezzanine sleeping area, complete with a double mattress. Another table – more of a desk, actually, folds down from the wall below. I certainly wasn’t going to be slumming it, but despite the comparative luxury, there are elements inside taken from the kind of shelters I’m used to. A bookshelf of books left by previous occupants, a stash of food and even some expertly cut firewood.
With so many creative people using the bothy as a workspace every year, the guest book is crammed full of detailed sketches, diagrams and even paintings of the surrounding landscape. One visitor wrote that he’d done so many drawings of a nearby Juniper bush that it has developed it’s own persona – he could see it through the window of the bothy and it taunted him, driving him to leave the bothy to escape it’s terrifying presence. Bloody artists!
I stayed in the Inshriach bothy for two nights. For me, it was a fascinating experience. On the one hand, it was almost too perfect – too refined and well serviced – yet it was interesting to consider the potential of what a bothy can be. An off-grid haven, pairing thoughtful design with scavenged materials and modern technology. I could live here, I thought, away from everything, with no phone signal and surrounded by the stunning landscape and snow-capped mountains. And yet as I feel asleep on the final night, with the solar radio broadcasting the muffled voices of Radio 4, the wind didn’t howl. There was no draught. I wasn’t in the slightest bit cold, and I must admit, I felt like I was cheating a little.