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.