Why save the Garbh Choire Refuge?


Garbh Choire Refuge, Cairngorms

The Garbh Choire Refuge: a part of our culture worth saving

It’s small – tiny even – but the Garbh Choire Refuge has been a welcome sight for many a climber and walker, even after their joy at reaching it has been tempered by the realisation of how dilapidated it has become.

The Refuge was built in the early 1960s by the Lairig Club from Aberdeen University. One of the main activists was Jerry Light, a noted climber of the time who put up a number of ascents in the area. Its existence, near the mouth of the Garbh Choire, between Coire an Lochan Uaine of Cairn Toul and Coire Bhrochain of Braeriach, did much to ease access problems to this spectacular but remote climbing area, still probably the least developed in the Cairngorms.

However the Refuge was only ever a very basic shelter and its very remoteness meant even minor repairs involved major effort. And with no formal arrangement for maintenance – as exists with most other bothies – the years have taken their toll. The Refuge is no longer weathertight and is pretty dilapidated.

Despite this state of disrepair, the Refuge remains a valued part of the ‘bothy portfolio’ of the Cairngorms. Repairs have always been carried out on a sporadic and ad hoc basis and voices are being raised to help preserve it for the future.

The means and the manpower exist to renovate the structure and to ensure its continued maintenance; the job is to persuade the owners of the Refuge – the National Trust for Scotland, through Mar Lodge Estate – to allow the renovation to take place.

That’s not a straightforward matter, because there are persuasive arguments in favour of demolishing the building.

I’ve created a new page on this site, titled Garbh Choire Refuge, which consists of a paper prepared by myself and fellow MBA and Friends of Bob Scott’s member Kenny Freeman. It gives the background to the Garbh Choire Refuge, makes a case for its retention and renovation, and explains how this can be done and the advantages it will bring.

This paper has been put before a number of organisations seeking support, and I’ll update progress as it happens, but if you’re interested in and care for the Cairngorms or for bothy culture, I’d urge you to have a read through. There are those who are arguing for the removal of the bothy and, if no voices are raised in its defence, it may not be available for future generations of walkers and climbers.

And that’s important because?

I’ll give two brief arguments. The first a memory passed on by noted climber Andy Nisbet:

“I remember a night at Easter 1978 when 3 of us were staying in the bothy in deteriorating weather. As the evening progressed, parties kept arriving in increasing stages of distress until there were 10 in it. When another two arrived at 11pm in a state of near collapse to find every inch of floor space occupied and still asked if there was room yet. The only spot was a puddle on the floor near the entrance. There was no way you could say no.”

Secondly, a matter of culture. The culture of bothies, looked after by volunteers and freely available to all, is a particularly Scottish one and a culture to be hugely proud of. It speaks of a strong sense of community, and of caring for our fellow man whether friend or stranger. Big business and corporate greed have no part to play in bothy culture; there is no profit in a bothy, yet bothy culture thrives. It’s a part of our national character, and one to protect zealously because it’s part of who we are. If we allow bothies to disappear we are losing far more than just a building.

Read about the case for retaining Garbh Choire Refuge here.

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19 Responses to Why save the Garbh Choire Refuge?

  1. Martin Rye says:

    Well said Neil. I fear too many treat the Cairngorms in a flippant way. They see blogs and videos of it in nice weather and assume its all rather big and nice. But the snow storms in summer only last the day. But it’s a wild place and the shelter is a refuge in times of need. They for me are a needed thing. A place to go if in trouble in terrible weather, if caught in the high crags of the Cairngorms in bad weather. I hope the shelter and others remain.

  2. Alistair says:

    Couldn’t agree more Neil. Spent a wild night in the shelter once. A night that would have downed a tent. It’s part of mountaineering history and should stay. Fully support rebuilding it and it’s on the right side of the ‘gorms to lend a hand!

  3. Pingback: eBothy Blog » Help support some mountaineering history in the Cairngorms

  4. Fraser says:

    I’ve had need in the past to make use of the Hutchinson Hut following tent failure in high wind, which was admittedly due to choosing the wrong tent for the conditions. However, it was a relief to arrive to the shelter rather than face the long walk back to Linn of Dee. I can only imagine how grateful one must feel to get caught in blizzard conditions and find a bothy nearly to take refuge in. I say keep it!

  5. geoff says:

    That’s great news Neil; it would be wonderful to see this historic bothy returned to its former glory. I’ll put a link to your post on my blog (http://mywildcamping.blogspot.com/) in the hope of giving the project some additional publicity.

  6. Rab Young says:

    Retain it I say!! It’s a fine wee howff that should be re-furbished and maintained and thanks to you for starting the process. I’ll be watching with interest on how the story unfolds. If there’s any financial help needed I’ll contribute.

  7. Carl Mynott (@Locomountaineer) says:

    Wholeheartedly support this – well done!

  8. Thanks for everyone’s support on this. I think we need to be able to show the strength of feeling in favour of keeping the refuge, so every voice helps.
    As for the cash offer, Rab, it’s heartening but, assuming the MBA agree to take it on, that should be covered. MBA is always looking for members though…

    • Hi Neil,

      I’ll try and get views and opinions from as many Etchacan Club members and other Aberdeen-based climbers as I can, and forward them on to the National Trust. I’ll also try and get some interest going on UKClimbing.com.

      I’m very much for retaining the place, having enjoyed some formative climbing experiences from a base in the bothy.

      Cheers, Guy

      • Hi Guy, thanks for your support in this. Maybe teaching my granny to suck eggs here, but we’re hoping to keep to a softly softly approach, looking to persuade the NTS that saving the refuge is a good idea rather than to make it a big conflict, because, as I say in the blog, they really have been tremendously helpful in other ways, so I’d appreciate if any approaches to them could be friendly rather than confrontational. I’m hoping we can get things formalised with the MBA quite soon, which would allow us to make a formal request.
        In the meantime, if you do get any concensus of opinion from the Etchachan Club and Aberdeen climbers, I’d appreciate being kept in the loop.
        All the best, Neil

  9. The Bothy Ghost says:

    Hi Neil,
    I posted a comment on your response to the threat to the Garbh Choire howff.
    The last time I used the howff was maybe 6 or 8 years ago under circumstances which would probably be wiser not to go into. Suffice it to say that shortly after having negotiated the sharp right-hander of Braeriach’s Coire Bhrochain with less that 2 mtrs viz (I couldn’t see my feet) that I smugly popped the compass back in my pocket, the “track” took an unexpected dip, split, dispersed and things rapidly went tits-up form there. It took me too long to admit that I had issues and very soon the most sensible options were all downhill. It was when a swirl in the cloud revealed Lochan Uaine straight ahead of me across the coire that I thought the compass might come in handy again, as it appeared I might have veered off the track!

    It wasn’t a life threatening situation; I knew Garbh Choire Howff was there and a night there was no great discomfort. It was certainly a welcome alternative to walking uphill to what, only a short time before, had been mainly a downhill objective.


  10. Scott Muir says:

    I think the refuge should be retained, preferably after being a renovated. It is out of the way for the majority of folk who head to the Cairngorms, and even in a renovated state, it’s not going to attract the same numbers as Corrour, for example. As it is, you hardly notice it – it looks just like a cairn. Ideally, this look should be retained in my opinion!

    I went past the refuge yesterday on my way to Garbh Choire Mor. As I got near the refuge, I could see that the door was open. It appears that the section of wood that the door bolts to is on a hinge, and must have blown open. I used a couple of the bits of offcuts of wood that were there to wedge across the entrance, so the door shouldn’t blow open any more.



    • Cheers Scott. Glad you were able and willing to make a temporary repair there, but that underlines the need for a full makeover. There seems to be a lot of support for this, so let’s hope the estate will see the sense in it.

      • Scott Muir says:

        Couldn’t agree more that it needs a makeover, but figured there was little point in allowing it to get worse by letting the newest feature (the door) get destroyed by the wind!

  11. Rod says:

    Hi Neil,

    The Garbh Choire howff is indeed a great place to spend the night out but I do wonder whether we should consider not retaining it? My basic premise is that Cairngorms should be truly a wild place and having a bothy there… even a very basic bothy, is comprimising the character of the hills. With so much industrialisation of Scotland’s landscape going on at present – is it not time to reverse this trend and make a point?

    All the best,

    • Hi Rod, It’s certainly a point of view and there’s a lot to be said for it. But in my mind it’s a case of balancing the two arguments and, as I’ve argued ad nauseam here and elsewhere, I believe the balance is in favour of retaining the refuge. The element of ‘civilisation’ involved is tiny and makes little impact on this massive choire complex. And, of course retaining it doesn’t close the doors on the rewilding argument is the balance of opinion should change: retaining it means that the option to remove it is always there, while it will only ever be removed once – once it’s gone it’ll never be replaced.

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