Balaneasie – the bothy that never was

Balaneasie Cottage, Glen Tilt, Cairngorms

Balaneasie Cottage in the late ’60s or early ’70s

Ever stayed in Balaneasie Bothy?

Thought not. Balaneasie is the bothy that never was.

a ruined Balaneasie Cottage

Balaneasie Cottage now – a sad ruin

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 and friends at Black Bothy of Glen Tilt, Cairngorms, 1964

Colin (right) with companions Brian and Bill, at Black Bothy of Glen Tilt, 1964

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.”

Glen Tilt MC lease for Balaneasie Cottage, Cairngorms

The lease from Atholl Estates to the Glen Tilt Mountaineering Club – £2 a year!

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:

Black Bothy, Glen Tilt, Cairngorms, 1964

Black Bothy, Glen Tilt, 1964

Bynack Lodge, Cairngorms, 1962

Bynack Lodge in 1962. It was burnt down in 1964.

Lower Geldie Lodge, Cairngorms

Lower Geldie Lodge, 1963

 

 

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42 Responses to Balaneasie – the bothy that never was

  1. Ricky M says:

    Hi Neil
    I have an arrangement with Richard Fraser to have a wee look at the cottage on our next trip to the Tarf, 23rd Nov.

    I mind fine crossing the long gone single wire crossing with a cabbie on a sling a few years ago, will be good to see the inside of the place again.

    Ricky

  2. Sinbad says:

    Could this be a future project for the MBA?

  3. Liz Steel says:

    Great story. Its really interesting to hear about the lonely houses dotted about the hills. Such a shame its not getting used.

    • Hi Liz. Looks like we’ve already got a queue of folk wanting to do it up! It’s all up to the estate though – it’s their ba’. Plus, you wouldn’t believe the paperwork involved in bothies these days: it’s not so simple as it was in the ’60s.

  4. Another good read, thanks

  5. neil findlay says:

    dident stay in it neil but I have had a cup of tea in it.i was on an adventure holiday in pitlochry when I was 14 years old.which is 33 years ago.our leader took us in past.we had to go across the bosons chair and there were 3 rough looking guys in the house who invited us in and gave us a cup of tea in the dirtiest cups av ever seen.

  6. malcolm macpherson says:

    Just back from a night in the Alt Scheicheachan. Fab. Always a good read, thanks.

  7. Norrie Muir says:

    I stayed in Balaneasie Cottage for a few day in the end of May 1986, I was going to camp in the glen and do a bit of hillwalking. When I got of the bus at Bair Atholl there was another person with a rucksack getting off, so we went to the pub for a wee drink. He was from Airdrie said he was going to stay in Balaneasie and I could doss there instead of camping. When we arrived at Balaneasie, he cracked open his carry out, 6 bottles of Buckfast, I had never dank Buckfast before, but after one swally, it put me off it for life. The weather was good, so I got a couple of good days walking, while he just sat about Balaneasie sobering up after the night’s bevying.

    I left him to the drink and walked out to Glenshee, I never met the guy again and always wondered if he still went bevying to bothies.

  8. Jon Wickham says:

    A great read as ever. Looking at the map I see another ruin, Creag-Choinich Lodge on the western slopes of Carn Laith. Does anyone know the history of this? It looks like another possibility for a bothy.

  9. peterraikmanpeterraikman says:

    Stayed in both Bynack and Geldie Easter 1960, doing the circuit via Feshie and Tilt. Both were one room even then. Proper Winters in those days – a blizzard at Geldie, so the deer were sheltering downstairs.

  10. sinbad says:

    Can,t believe Norrie Muir had his first drink of “bucky” in 1986.I have memories of getting pissed in “The Coe” with Norrie ‘ but maybe it was on something else similar, or maybe there,s two Norrie Muirs.

    • Or maybe you were just SEEING two Norrie Muirs, Sinbad! 😉

    • Norrie Muir says:

      Sinbad

      I know it is hard to believe it was the first and last time I drank Buckie, I did enjoy a few ‘travelling sherry’ at the weekend on occasion. It has been a long since we last met, I don’t get over East much, however, I did meet a couple of old Dundonians when we were climbing in Coire Sputan Dearg a few years ago, ‘Ben’ said you had retired.

  11. Enjoyed that Neil, another interesting article.
    Amazed at just how many of these old places seem to have been about.

  12. paul sutherland says:

    Hi Niel, great piece. Dont know how many times ive walked past that place and thought what a great bothy it would make. It would be a bit easier to get to than the tarf anyway….

  13. sinbad says:

    Aye Norrie, still getting out and about . Heard you,d met up with Ben and Willie a while back .Good to here you,re still active. Do you remember getting pished in the Bar National in Chamonix when I was looking for Sandy Gibson?

  14. Eddie says:

    That brought back the memories Neil. I stayed at Balaneasie on a cold Friday night in Dec 1969 on our way up through the Tilt and Lairig Ghru. The wire/rope for the bosuns chair was pretty well frozen up and the jerky crossing was pretty scary. The guy I was with mentioned that a climbing club looked after it, but I can’t remember if he knew which one it was. It was in good nick at the time, but every time I walk up the Tilt nowadays I look across to it with fond memories, apart from sitting in a wire basket, dangling inches above the freezing water! I should have a photie of the bothy in the cupboard somewhere. On a slightly different tack, I did come across a photie of me on the old high wire crossing (hand and feet) of the Tarf Water, coming from the Tarf Hotel to meet the path on the North side heading to the Falls of Tarf. That was in the early or mid 70’s, but I can’t remember when that crossing was removed, or fell into disrepair.
    I am not sure if more bothies so close to “civilisation” are a good idea though. Nowadays with good estate roads and mountain bikes, so many of the bothies are easily accessible.
    Cheers
    Eddie

  15. Ricky M says:

    I cannie mind exactly the last days of the wire crossing at the Tarf ponyshed, I can mind of having a conversation with the weel kent Charlie Pirrie (Head Keeper) as the young ghillies were bringing the shot stags over on the line as the Garron would buckle ower the rough stanes of the river bed.
    Anyway must`ve be about 2003 the line was away for good.

    Will be looking over the cottage on 23rd Nov, I am not of the view the cottage should be an open bothy as it is too near the road, this is the view of the Estate also.

    Will report in good time as we see the condition.

    Ricky

  16. Ricky M says:

    The Estate will not consider an “open to all bothy”
    had a chat with them, they have bad memories from the last time it was “open”

  17. Colin Campbell says:

    Hello Ricky M,
    Could you please email me and tell me what the Estate said as regarding those bad memories, as I left the ‘Glen Tilt DC in 1976. To gemmineralsofscotland@yahoo.co.uk
    Thank you. Colin

  18. Ricky M says:

    Hi Colin
    The clear message was that the Estate were not prepared to have “drunken idiots on motorbikes” and “unauthorised cars blocking the Estate roads” accessing the glen and the bothy.

    I do not think the references were to the Glen Tilt MC, mostly some of the characters who went to the bothy after it was left unlocked. It is now nailed shut and will stay that way….. sadly.

    • Colin Campbell says:

      Hello Ricky M,
      So, the estates is still having that same age old problem. As I can recall they had this problem way back in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s.
      The estate in 1966 gave permission to a local ‘Rally Driver’, to practice on the estate roads (So I was informed by the, then Estate Manager).

      But that had really nothing to do with my inquiry, as I wanted to know why the GTMC left ”Balaneasie Cottage”, was it structural damage ? or falling out with the estate ?
      There is more that I could say, but Neil would be putting on his ‘Legal Wig’.
      Thanks for your reply, Cheers Colin.

      PS. Would be grateful if you’d let me know of developments regarding Balaneasie.

  19. I enjoy reading the history of all these old places – that’s another one I knew nothing about. But it was reading the history of the Arrochar Caves that prompted me to get a few mates to spend a night up there with me a couple of years back – we had a great time 🙂

    Didn’t know there used to be a bridge at Geldie…

  20. Trevor B says:

    Thank you Neil for your very interesting article, it was fascinating to find out some of the history of Balaneasie – a place which holds fond memories for me.

    I spent a couple of very enjoyable nights at the cottage, the first in June ’92 then six months later in December ’92.

    On the first occasion we had no idea the place existed and were looking for a spot to camp at the end of a very long day. We met a chap a mile or so further down the glen and he suggested Balaneasie. It was a very welcome respite after several wet nights beneath canvas.

    On entering it was like stepping back in time, the impression being that the last occupant had left decades ago and the place had lain undisturbed since then – except for one modern intrusion in the form of a chemical toilet.

    As bothies go it was very well appointed with furniture, crockery, books and other assorted possessions. I recall there was a bothy book but with very few entries in it, perhaps just 2 or 3 in the last year or so.

    Another couple pitched their tent on the track-side of the river but declined our invitation to join us. A decision they possibly came to regret given the wind and rain that tore down the glen that night. If memory serves, there were the remains of the pulley bridge but it wasn’t functioning.

    The second visit was a short escape between Christmas and New Year. The weather was truly dreich when we arrived in the evening and no better the next morning, dense fog and a pervasive cold that penetrated to the bone.

    My friend opted to remain in the warm confines of the bothy whilst I set off through the damp and clag up the slopes of Carn Liath. By the time I’d got to about 700m the cloud was below me and there was a spectacular temperature inversion – the summits all around were covered in deep snow and shimmered like white islands in a sea of miserable grey.

    It was a fantastic day on the summits with almost no-one else around. The consolidated snow made for very easy going, and in the bright sunlight with no wind it felt pleasantly warm. Night fell and I descended back into the cold, grey fog and made my way back down the glen to the cottage.

    On a third visit some time later (probably the summer of ’93) it was a real disappointment to find Balaneasie was locked and a notice from SNH saying the property was no longer available as a bothy.

    Despite having visited perhaps 100 bothies over the years, Balaneasie remains my favourite and it would be so nice to see it made available as a bothy once more.

  21. David Sharp says:

    T stayed there on 4 djfferent ocassions roundabout 1978-9 Twice with Tommy Dunphy from Provanhill,Glasgow and another time with my girlfriend from Germany,where I stay now. At one point we were overrun from the British Army who were doing exercises on the Glen and they got their jeep bogged doon on the river bank and decided to stay the night and took over the wee loft as sleeping quarters. They were away dead early the next morning but had left cartons of rations for us stacked there. which saved us the long trekk doon tae B.Atholl. Another time I wandered the hills with a certain Raymond..?…who was well known as a climber in the area and one night showed us battery- beamed photos of his last trip in the mountains of Norway.I heard he later died and had his ashes strewen on or in the Tilt. Good days indeed.

  22. Colin Campbell says:

    Hello Neil,
    Sorry to have not in touch for a while. Just that I’d like to update some info as regarding Balaneasie Cottage.
    At the time of the introduction of the Poll Tax in 1989, there was two members of GTMC living in the Cottage married couple ?. Living in the Cottage, climbing the local hills and drawing the dole in Blair and shopping etc, etc. Anyway, the Estate by then were getting pretty pissed off with the (some) dramatics over most weekends and informed the Council as getting rid of the occupants by way of getting this couple to pay their share in the Community Tax.?.
    And that is the main reason it was abandoned. This info came from Alasdair MacDonald whose Grandfather Alexander MacDonald was a former Head Stalker at Forest Lodge and who retired in late 50’s ?

    I met Alisdair in Edinburgh last December quite by chance, as one person I last saw in the 1970s. And he recognised me. Old times were shared in a Bar in Rose Street, and the info flowed out.
    Raymond (Petersen) Millar was a former member of GTMC, one who fairly walked the hills, and whose Mother married a Scotsman. Raymond often went hill walking in Norway, where he stayed with relatives, and whose ashes were scattered in Glen Tilt.
    Regards, Colin

  23. Allan Scott says:

    Interesting thread this. Poked my head through the door at Balaneasie many years ago when the bosun’s chair was still working. Always meant to go back and stay there. Pity that now won’t be possible alas.

  24. David Hughes says:

    I believe the person called Sam was actually Sam McKee from Coatbridge who was great friends with my mother and father, the late Hugh and Betty Hughes, I often visited the bothy, which was a stunning 7 mile walk from Blair Atholl, I remember I fancied a pint when at the bothy, so I walked the 7 miles down the Glen,took my empty rucksack and had a couple of beers and filled my rucksack with groceries and beer, made my way up the glen at afternoon closing time, and fancied another few beers so made my way back down again had another few beers and made my way back up to the bothy, brilliant days walking 28 miles!!!!!!

    • Ray harrison says:

      And you introduced me and brother and uncle to the Bothy , great memories,
      Lovely scenery, if my memory serves me well it was snowing the day we got there and going across the bosons chair was a bit precarious…. Great times, would love a return trip….

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