Ever stayed in Balaneasie Bothy?
Thought not. Balaneasie is the bothy that never was.
It’s a small ruined cottage in Glen Tilt, at NN 910719, a kilometre east of Marble Lodge and on the ‘wrong’ side of the river.
But way back in the 1960s things looked a little different to a trio of hill walkers who saw in it an ideal base for the hills, situated, as it was, at the foot of Beinn a Ghlo.
Colin Campbell, ‘Big Rab’ and Willie Hanna approached the estate with a plan to renovate the cottage to the best of their abilities.
But there was a problem: lack of transport.
Colin explained: “None of us had motor transport back then, although I did have a driving licence. The idea came from Big Rab that we should approach the newly formed Mountain Bothies Association for help with transport for sand and cement etc, and share the cottage between us.”
Everything went well for the first two weekend work parties but, with the MBA then an untried force, the estate factor turned up and announced that the Duke of Atholl would prefer to lease the cottage to a mountaineering club rather than have it open to all and sundry.
“Big Rab, Willie Hanna and myself, along with Richard, Alex and Sam – I forget their second names – decided to take up the Duke’s offer and we formed the Glen Tilt Mountaineering Club.”
Unsurprisingly, there was bad feeling between the Glen Tilt MC and the MBA (although all the Glen Tilt were also MBA members) but the deal was done: for the princely sum of £2 a year – payable in advance – the Glen Tilt MC had a club hut.
Colin remembers: “I worked in the Royal Naval Dockyard at Rosyth at this time and met up with a Royal Navy CPO that I’d known for a few years and I often spoke of our mountaineering club and the cottage, and it was he who donated the old anchor at Balaneasie cottage – which I’m told is still there!”
There was also an offer from the Factor to build a footbridge across the river, saving a hike in from Marble Lodge, but this came to nothing. Instead the Royal Navy faction of the club arranged a rope and pulley bridge, as shown in the photograph (top of post).
For a few years things went well, but the original trio eventually withdrew from the club they had been instrumental in forming.
“Eventually an element came into the club that put some of us – myself included – out on a limb, and the club gradually became known as the ‘Glen Tilt Drinking Club’. We more or less became a laughing stock amongst other mountaineering clubs for all the drinking and carry-ons.
“Finally, Big Rab, Willie Hanna and myself pulled out in 1976. It was a sad end.”
Arthritis limits Colin’s walking activities these days, but he still remembers his young days wandering in the Cairngorms, staying in buildings and bothies now long gone.
“I really loved the western part of the Cairngorms, where in early spring and summer I could watch out for the dotterel, wheatears, snow buntings and other upland birds. I became a volunteer for the RSPB early in 1962, observing and recording what I saw.
“By myself and with my friends we constructed several rough shelters in these parts, some of which did not survive the heavy winter falls of snow.
“I remember sleeping in the Upper Geldie Lodge before it was demolished by the estate around 1966. I slept in a tiny room two flights up, although the main boards of the stairs were gone and you had to use the supports to climb anywhere. I think all the major parts of the lodge must have gone into several fires.
“With arthritis in my hands and legs, I can’t walk very far now, and I often curse those early days in the hills not having the right kind of equipment for sleeping in rough, boggy places. Mind you, the poor wages in the late ‘50s early ‘60s did nothing to help. So the damage was done without me knowing about the consequences in the future.”
Some ’60s bothy images from Colin Cambell’s collection: