A rubbish weekend in the Cairngorms

Litter picking in the Cairngorms. Real3Peaks Challenge

The litter pickers, minus Kirsty, who took the photo.

Just back from the hills after taking part in my first Real3Peaks Challenge litter pick, leaving Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm a cleaner place.

What started five years ago as an event clearing up Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis expanded last year to cover more hills and this year will cover 15 events, most happening next weekend, with teams of volunteers picking up all the litter they can find.

After volunteering to take part I found myself volunteered to organise the Macdui/Cairn Gorm event. We ended up with a group of just 5 people and one dog, which is small by the standards of Ben Nevis, but it was gratifying to note that a bigger groups would only have resulted in people fighting over pits of rubbish, for, in the whole day, we found just 3.5 kg. That’s still, as some have pointed out, too much, but a lot less than on most other targeted hills.

We started from the Coire Cas car park, armed with litter pickers and bin bags and went out across the bottom of the Northern Corries to take the Lurchers’ path up onto the plateau and into the cloud. By the top of Macdui we were sub-zero, with remnants of last week’s snow hanging on in sheltered corners, and after doing a tour of the stone wind shelters we retired to the Sappers’ Bothy for some shelter from the wind – not strong, but biting – while we ate lunch.

Litter picking volunteers on Ben Macdui, Cairngorms. Real3Peaks Challenge

The happy crew sheltering in the Sappers’ Bothy. Andy McNicoll, Tim Hall (with Moray the dog), Russ Baum and Kirsty Ritson

Then there was another tour of the summit area before, the sky clearing, we headed back north, this time following the path along the top of the Northern Corries and up onto Cairn Gorm, where we found refreshingly little rubbish before descending by Windy Ridge.

The easy-to-carry 3.5kg we gathered was heartening to a degree, but any complacency was destroyed just half an hour later as I parked the car near Glenmore Lodge to walk in to Ryvoan Bothy for a night’s kip before heading home. On the short walk in – about 3km – I was depressed by the amount of rubbish I saw. I’d no bag to hand then, but went prepared as I walked out in the morning, collecting a large carrier bag-full of tissues, sweetie wrappers, plastic bottles and drink cans – far more metre for metre than we’d found on the plateau.

So is it a depressing picture? I really don’t know.

Certainly there seems to be more and more rubbish littered around our hills and glens. When I walk in and out from Corrour and Bob Scott’s Bothies, which I do often, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t pick up rubbish on the way, and of course, there’s the perennial problem of fol leaving rubbish in bothies.

But there does seem to be growing awareness of the problem. As we walked out and back to Macdui on Saturday we explained to everyone who would listen what we were doing and all recognised and deplored the need for it.

But what’s really needed – apart from for people to stop leaving rubbish – is for more people to start picking up.

So make an effort. If you were in your own home and saw a biscuit wrapper lying on the floor you’d pick it up without thinking about it. Yet out in the hills, where we presumably go to get into nature and take pleasure in unspoiled nature, you just walk past. It would be the simplest matter to bend over and pick it up and stuff it in a bag – or even those netting side pockets most rucksacks have these days.

I know, it’s not easy sometimes. When I decided to start picking up bits and pieces I found I would stop when other people were about. Why? Was I embarrassed? Why should anyone be embarrassed to be seen picking up rubbish to make the place better for everyone?

It’s progress that people are talking about it more, but it’ll be real progress when picking up litter becomes natural for everyone and ceases to be something worthy of note.

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Vandalism and rubbish at Corrour Bothy

Damaged toilet seat at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

Broken by vandals after only a week.

Bothy maintenance isn’t something for the easily discouraged.

Just one week on from building a new toilet at Corrour Bothy we received a damage report. And worse still, it was deliberate – or at least reckless – damage.

Just six days after the doors were opened a group of people camped outside the bothy on a busy weekend decided to hold a late-night party in the toilet, leaving a broken seat and piles of rubbish.

Angry words from other bothy users in the morning seems to have persuaded the culprits to clear some of the rubbish, but last Monday the MBA received a bothy report alerting us to damage to two toilet seats and possible rubbish.

With an MBA meeting already planned in Glen Feshie this weekend, I arranged to take a day off on Friday, getting up early and heading straight in to the bothy, laden with two toilet seats and a range of tools and fittings, principal amongst which was my improbably heavy battery screwdriver.

Got there by lunchtime and found only one seat was broken rather than the reported two. At first glance most of the rubbish had been cleared, but that was before I found the large rubbish sack containing a roughly bundled Gelert tent, a sleeping bag and quantities of wet clothes.

Grateful thanks to MBA members Peter and Kirsten (I hope I have those names right) who were planning to stay Friday night in the bothy and assured me that once they’d burned the coal and wood they’d carried in they would have capacity to take out the abandoned kit.

Peter also assisted in the process of replacing a burnt-out grate in the fireplace while the fire was still burning. The skills you learn in the MBA!

The grate was a wee additional job, as was fixing a latch to the inside of the toilet door, but though the damage repair was simply dealt with it was particularly galling. This wasn’t wear and tear, nor even normal accidental damage.

Damage to newly built toilet in Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

Brand new woodwork and new toilet seats – it’s clear from this photo that the vandals were up there with their feet.

This was a group of people, ostensibly outdoors enthusiasts, who put their own selfishness above even a basic respect for the bothy. Lots of folk – myself included – enjoy a drink in a bothy, but this was a bunch of ignorant yahoos who clearly had no notion of even reporting the damage they caused and compounded it by leaving several kilos of rubbish and abandoned kit for others more civically minded to remove for them.

The repair was a simple enough job to do, but it required a volunteer to take time off work and spend a full day on a repair job. I left my house at 8am, drove up to Linn o’ Dee, walked in to Corrour by 2pm, did the job and walked back to Bob Scott’s for 6pm to face a drive right round the Cairngorms first thing in the morning to get to the MBA area meeting. Any other volunteer would have had a similar timetable. On top of that the expense of petrol and materials was minor, but still significant.

I’ve always defended the idea that bothies are for everyone and that their locations should be available to all. Most people do treat bothies and fellow bothiers with respect but rubbish and abandoned kit is growing in quantity and frequency (though it’s always been a problem) and even the fabric of bothies has been taking a hit. Vandalism had for a long time all but disappeared from at least the Cairngorm bothies, but just in the space of a few weeks we’ve had this at Corrour and an instance at the Tarf Hotel – Feith Uaine – where legs were sawn off a sleeping platform to burn in the fire. Both of these are remote bothies, so the culprits have not been unaware of what they were doing; it’s pure selfishness and contempt for others.

So what’s to be done?

It seems such selfish behaviour and disregard for others will always be with us, and that ‘proper’ hillwalkers and mountaineers are among the offenders. But behaviour like that is infectious:  where some will feel guilty at leaving rubbish in a clean bothy, and take their rubbish home with them, if there’s rubbish – or kit – already lying it’s easier to leave your own. Same with damage: where there’s already damage people seem to take less care and have fewer inhibitions about causing more themselves.

So it’s important that bothies not only are looked after but have the appearance of being looked after.

If you find rubbish in a bothy you’re doing a bigger service than you realise if you burn it or carry it out. If you find (or indeed cause) damage report it to the MBA via their website, which will allow a repair to be made as soon as possible.

We have a wonderful resource in our bothies, and this weekend alone I met so many people from so many different countries who spoke enthusiastically about the existence and joy of bothies. It’s up to us all to keep them going and it’s so easy to play a part. Please be a part of the answer rather than a part of the problem.

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New toilets for Corrour

Toilet rebuilding work party at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

A hive of activity during the toilet rebuild at Corrour

Following extensive work over the first two weekends in September, the toilet at Corrour Bothy – closed since the end of June – has now been reopened.

Other than that the number of seats has been doubled to four, and that two locked doors have been added front and rear, bothy users won’t notice any difference: it’s still a dry toilet with the waste collected in bags under stainless steel tubes.

MBA volunteers sitting on the new toilet seats at Corrour Bothy, Glen Dee

It’s not absolutely necessary to go in groups of four!

And you don’t have to make communal visits. For starters only two of the four seats will be open for use at any one time. The reason for the four seats is so that two can be left open while the bags under the other two are left to drain prior to being moved round to the storage area before final removal once a year to a waste treatment facility in Aberdeen.

The purpose of the redesign and rebuild was to lessen the burden on the small group of volunteers who for the last 10 or 11 years have been making often monthly visits to maintain the toilet, its remote location meaning each visit used up a whole day and sometimes two. With two seats always open maintenance visits should be cut to once every two months.

The two new doors are for maintenance only and are kept locked for public health reasons, but for those who really have to know, the front one gives access to the shite store, where bags of human waste will hang until being removed; the back door gives access to the rear of the toilets, where sacks of fresh human waste are hanging. Neither is particularly pleasant.

Waste storage area in Corrour Bothy Toilet, Cairngorms

Inside the new waste storage area. The bag in the photo is a dummy, but through the year this area will fill with human waste – a charming thought.

Service area of Corrour Bothy toilet, Cairngorms

The service area of the toilet, with live bags gradually being filled by walkers

The conversion was a major enterprise, months in planning and execution.

First stage was working out the layout and plans for the new toilet, ordering new steelwork for the toilet tubes and drip tray below, and working out the types and quantity of wood, piping, fixings and other materials that would be required.

Empty shell of toilet annexe at Corrour Bothy, Glen Dee

The stripped out shell of the Corrour toilet in June

It all started to become real towards the end of June, when materials were due to be helicoptered in for the Garbh Coire Refuge renovation. Since the MBA was already paying for the hire of a helicopter it made sense to add on a few extra flights to take in the materials for the rebuild – and remove the existing interior structure. So while the new materials were crated up for transport (project manager Kenny Freeman cunningly making the crating from some of the wood destined to be used in the construction) myself and two other volunteers walked out to Corrour and totally demolished the interior of the toilet annexe. While we then went on to help at the Garbh Coire, others (including my fellow Corrour maintenance organiser Neil Findlay) packaged it for helicopter evacuation and sent it out as the new materials were dropped off.

However that was as far as the job could be progressed at that time. The skilled woodworkers and project manager were all up at the Garbh Coire and various personal commitments meant it was September before the right personnel could gather again to complete the job. In the meantime the shell of the toilet block had to remain closed right through July and August.

Come September, the first two weekends of the month were a hive of activity as the long anticipated project finally came to fruition. Both Friday nights everyone met at Bob Scott’s Bothy and walked in early on the Saturday mornings for a frenzy of joinery, toilet fitting and sundry repairs, including a couple of roof repairs, a new chimney cowl, and the building of a sleeping bench inside the main bothy building – and a fresh coat of woodstain on the outside.

Working at Corrour Bothy in the Lairig GhruConstructing the toilet at Corrour

Midges were a nuisance during the work party. It’s not easy seeing to work through a midge net.

I was only present for the second weekend, but afterwards Kenny Freeman commented on how smoothly it had all gone considering the amount of work done – the right mixture of people with particular skills and of willing labourers fetching, holding and carrying.

Comments from passing walkers were encouraging, and hearteningly, one of the Aberdeenshire guides, Garry Cormack, had left a bottle bag in the bothy between the two weekends, containing whisky and rowies, with a note saying it was for the volunteers!

We also had help from a Belgian/Italian couple who had intended staying in the bothy but put up a tent instead and pitched in to lend a hand, the husband sawing away well above and beyond mere politeness.

And a Duke of Edinburgh leader who stopped to chat on the first weekend came back on the second with five pupils from Banff Academy working towards their silver award. All had volunteered to walk in (on what turned out to be a dreich and rainy morning) to help us carry out all the tools and waste at the end of the work party.

The Banff Academy DofE candidates who helped with the take-out

The walk-out is the forgotten part of many work parties. We had used a great number of power tools and hand tools during the two weekends and all of them, plus the non-burnable rubbish produced by about 25-30 people, had to be carried out. Much came in by helicopter, but all had to go out on people’s backs, including an incredibly unwieldy chop saw (thanks Ian Shand) and a weighty and bulky generator (thanks Paul Atkinson and Andy McNicoll).

Paul successfully negotiating the Luibeg Ford despite the generator pulling him off balance

So that’s it. We did run out of woodstain, and a couple of odds and ends were forgotten (including a bolt for the inside of the toilet door, so those with any notions of privacy will have to whistle while in residence for the next couple of weeks) but all in all a successful project and a great satisfaction.

Volunteers at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, after the end of a major work party.

The happy crew, ready to depart after completion of the new toilet. A job well done.


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Real3Peaks comes to the Cairngorms

Ben Macdui, Cairngorms

Ben Macdui

I’ve moaned often enough in this blog about rubbish left in bothies, and get just as annoyed seeing it scattered along paths and around the hills.

So this year I decided to get involved in the Real3Peaks Challenge, a national campaign which gets volunteers up well-known hills to do a deep clean, clearing all the litter, new and old, that they can find.

On Saturday 6th October, a week ahead of the other events, I’ll be organising a group of volunteers meeting at the Corrie Cas Car Park on Cairn Gorm and walking in to do a clear-up on Ben Macdui.

The plan is to leave the car park at 9am and head out towards Lurchers, going up by the ridge beside the gully and on to the Macdui summit that way, picking up rubbish as we go. Time will be spent around the summit area, extracting litter from the many cairns and shelters as well as lifting any lying around the hillside. Then it’ll be back via the higher path leading along the top of Coire an-t Sneachda to Pt 1141 and down by the Fiachaill a Coire Cas. (However if there’s a deteriorating weather pattern this might be reversed to take advantage of the lower ground in the afternoon.)

Weather can be uncertain in October, so, while I’m looking for volunteers to help, anyone considering coming needs to have all the proper kit and be completely confident in their own hill skills and navigation.

Having said that… well, it should be a hoot. A bunch of folk who love the hills having a day out on Macdui and feeling good about making it a better place? How could that be bad? (Yeah, I know, I could write the list myself, but we’ll have fun anyway.)

The Real3Peaks Challenge was started by Richard Pyne of Rich Mountain Experiences. Back in 2013 he and some other guides grew sick and tired of the amount of rubbish they were coming across while leading groups up Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, which when done in 24 hours constitute the Three Peaks Challenge. Rich and the others organised groups of volunteers to hold a clean-up on the three hills.

Over the years the original tally of three hills has grown and this year, the sixth challenge, will see clean-ups at Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Yr Wyddfa/Snowdon, Ben Macdui, Ben Lomond, Lochnagar, Goatfell, Coniston Old Man, Pen y Fan, Yorkshire 3 Peaks and parts of the North York Moors and the Peak District.

You can volunteer to help out on Macdui through the Facebook event  Remember that the Macdui event is on 6th October, a week ahead of the other events.

If you’d like to volunteer for other hills, which will be taking place on 13th October, you can find them on the Real3Peaks Challenge Facebook page

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Bridging the Dee at Corrour

Helicopter beside Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, in 1959Some time ago I wrote of the bridge-building activity in 1959, when several footbridges were constructed to replace existing structures past their best.

Malcolm Douglas, the first Nature Conservancy Council warden on the Mar side of the Cairngorms, told how he had been involved in a number of projects, including bridges over the Derry at Derry Dam, over the Glas Allt Mor, and, of course over the Dee at Corrour.

There had been a bridge of sorts at Corrour too. After a drowning accident in 1950, a wire bridge was built, described by Syd Scroggie after a visit in 1955 as a telegraph pole driven into each side of the bank with two parallel wires slung between them. I’ve heard other reports that the wires weren’t always very well tensioned, leading to some amusing or desperate crossings, depending on whether you were the one doing the crossing or the watching!

The need for replacement seemed quite clear, and the ubiquitous Dr George Taylor, of Cairngorm Club and Aberdeen University designed aluminium bridges for both Corrour and Derry Dam. They were financed by the Nature Conservancy Council and all built in 1959, with Malcolm and Bob Scott among those helping the students at Corrour.

Materials were flown to the various locations by helicopter, an option that had been considered and rejected on cost grounds by the Cairngorm Club for the erection of the Luibeg Bridge just over 10 years previously. However Malcolm said that the cost and time to move the materials by manpower and horsepower would have been greater.

“When the chopper first arrived in Braemar it caused great excitement. All materials had been trucked into the flat opposite Bob Scotts cottage and loading and some unloading labour at delivery sites was freely given by Bob and other Mar Lodge stalkers, plus some Braemar locals whose reward was a flight on the chopper to and from the delivery sites.

Recently a great set of pictures emerged depicting the building of the Corrour Bridge, from the Bill Ewen collection, courtesy of his grandson Alasdair, which can be seen below.

Helicopter landing beside Luibeg in 1959. Cairngorms bridge building

The helicopter coming in to land to pick up a load from the Derry Flats opposite Luibeg Cottage.

Helicopter ferring bridge materials in the Cairngorms in 1959

A load of wood slung under the helicopter, cradled between the landing skids. No long-line carries in those days.

Helicopter beside Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, in 1959

The helicopter landed beside Corrour Bothy

Helicopter carrying in a bridge girder for a new bridge over the River Dee at Corrour, 1959

Carrying in one of the metal bridge girders, Braeriach behind.

Malcolm Douglas and students carrying a rock drill to help build bridge at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, in 1959

Carrying a rock drill to the bridge site. NCC warden Malcolm Douglas is at the front.

Carrying the rock drill for Corrour Bridge, Glen Dee

Carrying the rock drill. Students, with Malcolm Douglas at the right of image.

Scaffolding on the River Dee for the building of the 1959 bridge

Rather shaky-looking scaffolding is the first step. Concrete bridge piers can be seen at either side of the river

Bridge construction at Corrour Bothy, Glen Dee, Cairngorms, 1959

Both sides and the decking now in place. That’s Bob Scott standing on the left of the picture, and probably Malcolm Douglas standing up on the bridge.

Completing the 1959 bridge over the River Dee at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

Finishing touches

Bridge over River Dee at Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, on completion in 1959.

And the finished article. I think that’s Bill Ewen in the picture, with his family. A good piece of work still going strong almost 60 years later.

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Luibeg Bridge 1 and 2: the Bill Ewen photos

1948 bridge over the Luibeg

George Taylor of the Cairngorm Club on the brand new Luibeg Bridge, 1948.

I’ve written before about the life and times of the Luibeg Bridge but have just had made available some great photos of its construction, destruction and reconstruction. (Pictures come courtesy of Alasdair Ewen, who sent them from his grandfather Bill Ewen‘s collection.)

The present Luibeg Bridge, at 014943, was built by the Cairngorm Club (with assistance from builders) in 1948 – but not in that position.

It was built more or less where the ford crosses today, perhaps a little downstream, at a traditional crossing site adjacent to a previous bridge formed of two tree trunks with a decking of planks, which had long since seen better days.

1948 bridge over Luibeg Burn, Cairngorms

The 1948 bridge, with Sron Riach and Ben Macdui behind

Having studied the burn in spate, the decision had been taken to raise it on stone piers so that the aluminium girders which formed the span were about two meters above normal water levels. However there are spates and there are spates, and in 1956 came a spate and a half. Bridge span, bridge piers and large portions of the banks were all washed away. You can see the piers still lying by the burnside.

It was a disaster, but redeemed by the fact the bridge was salvageable. Girders were retrieved from where they lay and a new crossing point was chosen 500 metres upriver, where a narrow gorge through the bedrock gave solid foundations and a good height above the water level which has now stood the test for over 60 years. A new deck was added last year and it looks good for a long while yet.

1948 bridge over the Luibeg Burn, Cairngorms, prior to the 1956 flood

Looking solid, but now you see it…

Site of bridge washed out by flood on Luibeg, Cairngorms, in 1956

…now you don’t. This is the same spot but the 1956 flood not only removed the bridge, it reshaped the whole area.

Wreckage of the Luibeg bridge after the 1956 flood

The bridge was deposited downstream, but in more or less once piece.

Surveying the damage. Bridge debris at Luibeg, Cairngorms, 1956

Well might he scratch his head

The salvaged Luibeg Bridge in its new and current site.

Happy ever after. The salvaged bridge in its present site, a lovely spot and more secure.

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Historic Corrour Bothy images

Some images from the original Corrour Bothy work party appeared recently on Facebook, courtesy of Alasdair Ewan, grandson of Bill Ewen, who took them in 1950, when the Cairngorm Club rescued the building from collapse.

I wrote about Bill Ewen and his active role during this period in the Cairngorms some time ago, and it’s worth reading about his activities.

I contacted Alasdair who kindly shared some more images from the 1950 renovation date and other occasions. I’ll write more about the other times later, but for now let’s have a look at that pivotal time in Corrour Bothy’s history.

Since being abandoned by the estate not long after the First World War, Corrour had been used increasingly by the growing number of walkers and climbers. For many it was just an abandoned building rather than a resource to be cherished for the future, and too many thought nothing of burning first the furniture and then, when that was gone, the flooring and wood lining.

Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms, prior to 1950

A rough-looking crew at Corrour, date unknown but prior to 1950. Pic courtesy of Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

Group poutside a pre-1950 Corrour Bothy, Cairngorms

A slightly more salubrious-looking gang (but who knows), again prior to 1950. The tall man on the right may be Cairngorms climbing legend Bill Brooker. Pic from Scottish Mountain Heritage Collection.

It was already being described as ruinous in the 1930s, but by the late ’40s matters were getting really serious. The roof was on the verge of complete collapse and the weakened walls were likely to follow soon after. The Cairngorm Club, particularly active in that era, managed in 1949 to persuade the estate to allow them to renovate the building and maintain it as an open shelter, although still in estate ownership.

Bill Ewen convened the committee charged with the renovation, which took place over the summer of 1950 and is entertainingly recorded in the Cairngorm Club Journal Vol XVI No 87 by George Taylor, another stalwart of the CC’s construction activities.

Now enjoy these historic pictures of the reconstruction, taken by Bill Ewen.

Roof inspection at Corrour, 1950

A site inspection at Corrour. It’s not hard to see the sorry state the roof was in.

A roofless Corrour Bothy in 1950. Cairngorms

The roof completely removed.

Corrour Bothy, 1950, with roof removed prior to renovation.

Anyone who’s ever helped strip back a bothy for a renovation will know this terrifying stage.

Reroofing Corrour Bothy, 1950

The roof starts to go on again

Re-roofing almost complete at Corrour Bothy, 1950

The roof is almost complete. But note the buttress which now holds up the north gable is not started yet. This work party had a way to go still. Note the home-made ladder: similar improvisation was also used during the 2006-7 renovation.

Corrour Bothy as it stands today in the Lairig Ghru

And how it is now. The wooden extension was added over 2006-7 to house a toilet. This was stripped out just last week preparatory to an improved toilet being built. Photo by Neil Reid.

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