The Sinclair Hut – one of the Cairngorms’ lost bothies

The Sinclair Hut in the Lairig Ghru, by Jim Barton

Sinclair Hut © Copyright Jim Barton

NH 959038 – 1957-1991

I first stayed there about 40 years ago, and seem to recall a sprung metal bedstead in one of the two rooms, although that could be a trick of memory.

The time I really remember was some years later, arriving there one February Friday night, well after the witching hour, after a fraught journey through a Chalamain Gap rendered hugely treacherous by snow and ice over the jumbled boulders, and not improved by the pitch dark night.

We arrived in the relative shelter of the bothy and commandeered a sleeping bench each. Wooden this time, and fixed to the concrete walls – which were lined with a good inch of clear ice. It was a cold, cold night and thick weather in the morning. Even had we been fit enough to reach the cliffs of the Garbh Choire we wouldn’t have been able to see them. By such means are the lives of the incompetent sometimes saved.

We never did get in to climb there, although at least twice more we made that exhausting, nerve-wracking midnight journey to spend the dregs of a Friday night and Saturday morning in the Sinclair Hut. I wonder if, at some level, despite condemning its demolition in 1991 or thereabouts, we were relieved that we were being saved from further purgatory.

It was, to be fair, a fairly comfortless stone box but then so were most Cairngorm bothies in those days and I never quite understood the rationale for taking it down. Vandalism was cited in the papers at the time but – well – what was there to vandalise?

The Sinclair Hut was, properly, the Angus Sinclair Memorial Bothy, opened in July 1957, just a few months before I made my own debut in the world.

The plaque in the bothy recorded:

Angus Sinclair OBE DLitt, Colonel of the Officer Training Corps, Reader in Philosophy, University of Edinburgh. He died on the slopes of Cairn Gorm on 21st December 1954.

Angus Sinclair was born William Angus Sinclair, in Edinburgh on 27th December 1905. He was a lecturer in philosophy at Edinburgh University and, in 1945, had stood as a Conservative and Unionist candidate for Edinburgh East. However, his sympathies appear to have been elsewhere for he subsequently joined the Labour Party and wrote the posthumously published ‘Socialism and the Individual. Notes on joining the Labour Party’, having been selected as a prospective Labour Party candidate for the 1955 election.

It was a busy period for him, for in August 1954 he got married.

However in December that year it all ended. A review of ‘Socialism and the Individual’ stated that he “met with a virile death in a snowstorm in the Cairngorms in December, where he was on duty with an Officers’ Training Corps detachment.”

Equally, a Glasgow Herald story about the bothy in 1974 referred to him dying in a blizzard on the slopes of Strath Nethy.

However, an obituary of his widow, Susan, a respected lecturer in her own right who had a strong commitment to the welfare state and died only in 2010, said that he had fallen ill and died while climbing in the Cairngorms. So it’s not clear whether he died from hypothermia in a blizzard or from natural causes. In any case, he was dead just days before his 49th birthday.

His fellow officers and cadets in the OTC obviously held him in some respect, for it was decided to build the bothy in his memory.

The Sinclair Hut in the Cairngorms, by Elliot Simpson

The Sinclair Hut in summer, copyright Elliot Simpson

The site was marked out in May 1956, choosing a prominent location in the Lairig Ghru, on top of a rise which meant the bothy would never be buried by snow (even if it made going down the steep slope to the stream for water a bit of a grind), at a ‘crossroads’ between the main Lairig path and the paths through the Chalamain Gap and up Sron na Lairige towards Braeriach.

A start was made in August to carrying in pre-cast concrete blocks, which carried on again at the Christmas break.

The following Easter more carrying in was done and the ground excavated and concreted to create a base for the bothy. The walls were started, but a heavy snowfall put a stop to work. Even when building started again in May, strong north winds with rain, hail and snow made work difficult and one night a section of the wall was blown down.

A further long weekend in June saw the work continued and the OTC contingent moved up for annual training on June 22, getting the roof on by 26th June.

It had been some feat. The site was above the 2,000 foot contour and approximately 16 tons of building material had been carried there from the base at ‘Picadilly’ (long-standing nickname for a junction of paths in Rothiemurchus Forest), which was the closest vehicle access.

The materials were carried up four miles of rough track in over 700 man-loads of about 50 lbs each (about 23 kilos), including difficult components such as 15-foot lengths of angle iron, doors and windows. In addition, about 25 tons of local stone, gravel and sand had been collected or quarried on the site.

The OTC reckoned that the actual building has taken 16 days, but the carrying had taken 35.

A list of thanks in a brochure produced to mark the opening (on 6th July 1957) showed – as today – the amount of goodwill there had been to the project from outwith the immediate climbing community.

The pre-cast concrete blocks were delivered free to Picadilly by the Scottish Construction Company of Edinburgh; teak for the doors and windows came from Cruden’s Ltd of Musselburgh, and the doors and windows were constructed by David Findlay of Heriot-Watt College. Most of the remaining materials came from Arnott McLeod Ltd of Edinburgh, and carrying frames and help in the carrying parties was arranged by Murray Scott, the then warden of Glenmore Lodge.

Initially the bothy was looked after by the Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities’ OTC, with funds from an endowment but, in 1974 the Glasgow Herald reported an appeal for funds to help with the maintenance. It was reported that, with the increasing popularity of hill walking and mountaineering in the Cairngorms, the bothy was being used by more and more people each year. The need for more maintenance and the erosion of the endowment by inflation meant the students were running out of money for the job.

I don’t know what happened to the Sinclair Hut after that. My first visit was in the mid ‘70s, round about the time of the appeal. I seem to recall a table, perhaps wooden benches, and a plastic water container as well as the metal bedstead I mentioned above. Of my several visits in the ‘80s I remember little other than the cold and exhaustion. (Although I do recall my companion’s loud groan not long after we arrived in the frozen early hours of one morning. “I’ve lost the car keys,” he said. It was useless to think about going back to look in the dark and we put off thinking about it until our return on Sunday. Incredibly, they were lying in the middle of the path just quarter of a mile from the car.)

Eventually it was demolished and removed in or around 1991, reports at the time citing vandalism and – unbelievably – graffiti as the reasons for its demise.

I’d like to thank John Arnott, Chairman of the Mountain Bothies Association, who kindly made available to me the text of a brochure produced to mark the opening of the bothy, which contained details of the construction.

Photos: © Copyright Elliott Simpson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Jim Barton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

 

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32 Responses to The Sinclair Hut – one of the Cairngorms’ lost bothies

  1. Norrie Muir says:

    I stayed in the hut a few times, and it was one of the worst huts/bothies I’ve used. I’ve dossed in better and cleaner toilets, bus shelters and coal sheds. Mind you, I still had a few laughs in it.

    • True, but think how the Hutchie used to be and how it is now. Picture window would have gone nice in there. 😉

      • Norrie Muir says:

        Aye, I went last year to the Hutchie, a big change from the heather floor.

        One of the most miserable nights I’ve had was in the St Valery hut. The door had been left open and it was full of snow, so we had to dig it out to get the 4 of us to be able to sit up to sleep.

  2. Sinbad says:

    First stayed there in July ’68 on a “hungover” walk through the Larig.The night before had been spent in the Mar Lodge Bar followed by Bob Scott’s.. Ended up sunbathing on the “Sinclair” roof. Then, as the light began to fade we could see the beckoning lights of Aviemore’s fleshpots.We gave them a miss due to the previous nights excesses!! But we were tempted. You’re right Neil, there was a bedframe there. I even remember one in the Hutchison, but that’s another story.

  3. Davie Walker says:

    Neil Great post, I recall being advised that use by “Druggies” was quoted as another reason for it’s demise. There appears to have been a spate of vandalism with wooden paneling and even floorboards being lifted and burnt within a number of bothies, resulting so I was told in one or 2 becoming derelict and demolished (can;t name any so unsure if that’s correct. Visited the Sinclair a number of times, I recall struggling in deep snow to reach the hut, perched so predominantly. Rgds Davie

    Date: Mon, 28 Apr 2014 21:50:59 +0000 To: daviewalkerraf@hotmail.com

    • Cheers Davie. It’s a damned shame to have lost all these ‘drugs dens’ because it must have meant we had the fittest junkies in Europe, with all the miles they must have walked to get their fixes. And there wasn’t a lot to vandalise in the Sinclair, either. No wooden panelling and no fireplace to burn it in anyway. Still, regardless of the public excuses, I daresay there must have been reasons.

  4. Davie Walker says:

    Neil

    You may find the following from Heavy Whalley of interest and may wish to copy the post to your sight. Heavy is happy for you to do so if you wish. Rgds Davie

    http://heavywhalley.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/el-alamein-bothy-in-the-cairngorms/

  5. Davie Walker says:

    Having been posted from RAF Kinloss in 89 to Belize, then RAF Valley, I like many RAF MR Troops returned to Kinloss after the Sinclair Hut had been removed. Imagine my embarrassment when leading a party of budding MR troops from the Chalamain Gap to Braeriach that we’d take a break at the Sinclair to find it had “disappeared”.

  6. Good read. Think I might have suggested this before – can’t remember – but it would be interested to find out the year with the greatest number of huts/refuges/bothies in the Cairngorms and what the number would be?

    Before WWII there were huts in Glen Einich and also Glen Quoich I believe. On the other hand late 1960s with the army built plateau refuges might be the time.

    • Be a hard one to figure out – or even to define what you were counting. I know of places used as a doss that were, legally, probably breaking and entry rather than bothying. I think it would take someone with a far more methodical bent than I, although my feeling is that it would probably be at some point between WWI and WW2.

  7. Davie Walker says:

    Neil Another interesting article to supplement your great site. Rgds Davie

    • Thanks again Davie – the St Valerie is a logical follow-on from El Alamein, nd Heavy’s doing a great job there. I think I’ve rather neglected the northern Cairngorms and really should spread out a bit. Heavy’s right in this post about John Duff’s book: there’s a lot of good stuff in it and it really should be more widely read.

  8. Mark says:

    Interesting read. I only used the place once and as noted above it was a bit of a bunker. Still I was glad of it on a storm-tossed night in the 70s when we’d stumbled through the Chalamain Gap carrying an insane amount of gear for a weeks trip.

    Years later we came the high route from Corrour intending to send the night there. Only it wasn’t there and had to push on to Loch Morlich in the dark.

  9. Simon Kelly says:

    I stayed there only once, March 1983, we’d almost finished our 6th year stint at the IRA (Inverness Royal Academy) and decided to go off to be real men with God forbid neoprene raincoats, Karrimor rucksacks, thick wooly sweaters, boots as hard as nails, maps we didn’t know how to use with the compass that probably never left our pockets and tails of trails in far distant places from Clive Rowland in our heads….. freaking awful place was Sinclair, a cold horrible night but glorious day traversing over Braeriach, Carn Toul and Devils Point down to the wonderful Corrour Bothy.

    • Aye, it wouldn’t have been much fun in March, especially with poor gear. But, in it’s favour, it didn’t tempt folk to waste too much of the day faffing about in the morning. 😉

  10. Bill Linton says:

    I visited the Sinclair hut three times. The first, on a springtime stravaig with a mate in the late ‘70s when we decided to bivvie outside the bothy for the night… so that is the single night I can say I spent in the Sinclair Hut, albeit by dint of the fact that we drank all the booze we’d bought earlier in Aviemore and couldnae make it to the tents. No other substances were abused, honest! And I very much doubt that I was the first not to do so!
    I too can remember seeing the light of that den of iniquity trying to tempt us back. Fortunately, we were both very aware of what a trauchle we’d had hoofing it the miles we’d come to get away from the place! Aviemore, that Jezebel persisted in twinkling at me every time I went ootside for a pish.
    Next morning, though sorely tempted by the doonhill slope of Lairig Ghru, we did the manly thing and chose the right-hand road leading us up toward Sron na Lairige and Braeriach, Sgor an Lochain Uaine, Carn Toul and the Deil’s Pintle before dropping down the coire for a brew in Corrour. I know this will upset a few of you Gorms lads oot there, but that was the culmination of my first ever trip to the Monadh Rhuadh as, with the beckoning delights of Aviemore still fresh on our minds from the night before, we headed straight for Deeside’s answer to Singapore’s Bugis Street… Braemar to partake of strong drink!
    Having spent some 6 or 8 years wandering elsewhere with the memory of my earlier encounter with Braeriach playing on my mind, my second encounter with the Sinclair Hut was in September around 1985 after abandoning the car at the ski tow carpark and [appalled at the scars inflicted upon Coire Cas] heading off SSW to battle my way up the western slope of Cairn Lochan against a hurricane force wind. That was the first time the wind had ever picked me up, turned me to face the way I’d come, then dumped me on my back like a stricken yow wi ma legs kickin’ in the air and ma rucksack jammed atween twa rocks.
    I traversed Cairn Gorm at an angle of 45°, peered directly into the wind wi ma hair standing on end from Coire Raibert at whatever blurred image I could make out of the backdrop to Loch Avon through streaming eyes, pressed on to The Saddle and the shores of Loch Avon and spent my first night in the Ath nam A’an shelter. The following morning I flew up Bynack More and Bynack Beag –I mind runnin’ uphill wi ma jaicket held open like a sail- which must have affected my wits in some way that I decided I was having Ben Avon as well!
    Don’t try it, dinnae even think aboot it, because that stands [almost] alone as the dumbest decision my befuddled brain has ever come up with in a mountainous environment! The glauriest, most awkward and deliberately cumshauchlt lump o’keich in Scotland, and although I did conquer Ben Avon via a route nobody in their right mind would ever attempt [or thought I had, because the memory of a lochan in the coire has haunted me ever since], I still returned to Ath nam A’an with a feeling of defeat, dragged on my rucksack and collapsed for the night in the Hutchison Memorial Hut. The only bothy I’ve ever sat in and watched midgies hatching oot the quagmire they called a floor!
    Next noon, after footerin aboot Loch Etchachan for too long, I set out for the cloud that hid Ben MacDuibh and got a helluva creepy feeling when huddled over my map at the ruin near the summit marked on the map as “Ruin”, legged it for the trig point just as the hail started and made my way down what I now know to be Allt Clach nan Taillear with the intention of flying, as would a crow, directly to Corrour bothy. Well it didnae happen just like that as, having knackered mysell the day afore, and still being knackered, it took forever to get doon that gully. It being grey dark by the time I did get into the Lairig Ghru, I was shortly after to discover when sheltering behind a rock to get a bead on the bothy that the rock I was sheltering behind was called Clack nan Taillear, and again I got off my mark with the clear understanding that looking at maps enabled the potential to scare the crap oot yersell!
    Three older gents carrying two gallon cans of paint each turned up at Corrour shortly after I arrived, me thinking that was awfy good of them to carry in all that paint to paint the bothy. I got the brew on and they fed me drams. After half an hour two of the gents left, and the next morning I was press-ganged into painting the bothy interior by auld Jimmy Cosgrove, who knew exactly where all the pitons and 7 inch nails had been hammered into the walls for the benefit of some unsuspecting young pup of a hill stravaiger just like me to turn up and paint the top half.
    I went oot for a pee that night, and looked up to see a stag in perfect silhouette at the top of the track in the saddle of Coire Odhar, which was of course my route the next morning for the Deil’s Pintle, the line of Braeriach and my second encounter with the Sinclair Hut, where I had a brew before passing through the Chalamain Gap on my way back to the car.
    My recollecton of the Sinclair Hut on that occasion, apart from the expected rubbish left behind, was that it could do with looking after. My third passing of the Sinclair Hut is what sticks in my mind, cluttered with rubbish and used as a toilet, uncared for wi the door and windows panned oot, and a sad looking case in general. The fact that it was nothing more than a concrete box is irrelevant. I always suspected just what I’ve discovered through this thread of discussion. It had a story which would in time become a history, as opposed to its current standing as a minor bit of hill lore.
    Nae names, but it is very tempting to blame certain outdoor magazine editors for publicising and encouraging people to walk the Lairig Ghru, so increasing the numbers of passers-by, plebs and ne’er-do-wells, and because proper hill-folk wouldnae behave like that… but you ken as well as I do that’s no strictly true, and can probably name some perfectly well respected people with a past misdemeanour that stands in contradiction to the view that mountaineers are responsible folk that wouldnae just brek things for fun!
    It would appear at first glance that the corporate mind-set destroying that which isn’t in keeping with its ethos is behaviour entirely set aside from vandalism. But when we see destruction based on some imaginary notion of pristine wilderness and implemented in the guise of conservation/preservation according to some obscure board room decision making process, there stands the evidence that vandalism isn’t always carried out by mindless drug crazed Knobs, but sometimes very well paid ones in suits!
    Thanks for the fascinating article, Neil, and all else contributing such terrific information. I’ve heard tell of both the refuges, El Alamein and St Valery, though had no idea where they were or who had built them. It’s somehow warming to discover they were built in honour of the 51st. Highland Division. When are the work parties?

    Cheers,
    Bill.

    • Bill, it’s high time you had your own blog – that comment must have been longer than my original post! 🙂 Haven’t heard from you in a while – you still getting up the hills?

      • Bill Linton says:

        Hi Neil, sorry aboot that, but ye ken me… ‘Oh, that’s nice. Ah’ll just add a few words in reply…’, and it turns intae a rant that taks me an hour to delete the expletives!

        I’m getting out with Gus occasionally, mostly to bothies requiring a short walk. I do need to get some condition back though.

        I had a giggle to myself reading your post, I think it was about a climb in Coire Sputain, where you said you’d forgotten how to tie in your harness. How many hundreds of times have you tied a Fig8 follow-through or double loop? You know what they say mate, Use it or lose it!

        Cheers Neil,

        Bill.

      • Glad to hear you’re still getting out and about, Bill, and don’t worry, I wouldn’t have hit the ‘approve’ button if I didn’t, well, approve.
        I’ll admit to a certain comic licence with the bit about tying on: it was more just a general rustiness. 😉

  11. fyrish53 says:

    meant tae say in the previous post my 1st visit tae the sinclair hut happened around august 1986 when a group of us (venture scouts fae dundee, nae less) paid a misty visit tae braeriach via the notorious chalamain gap, though from that particular visit I cannie seem tae recall much, or even any, memory of the interior of the sinclair. It wisnae until a year later (september 1987) I mind stepping inside on a sunny afternoon following some torrential rain on the bus journey from perth and inside the ‘bothy’ resembled some kind of grey bunker-like place, or a bus shelter, and there were possibly some stained-glass windows coloured red but bulletproof, like the kind you will often find on the exterior of a public toilet or maybe that’s bullshit, no pun intended. Never stayed there overnight, ken the sinclair, but kept onwards for D. Lodge, my first ever crossing of the Lairig Ghru & I was eighteen. Also there were two older-looking fellows staying at the bothy (this goes back to 87) and they had even brought their own deckchairs for sitting ootside with the sunspecs which surprised me as it seemed an awfully long way tae carry in deckchairs!
    Despite having lots of previous knowledge of it, having had a great many conversations on the subject with several of my fellow Venture scouts, that is the last I ever saw of the Sinclair hut & from there I always remember the last sighting of Aviemore & the overwhelming cliffs of the Lairig Ghru going south.
    One of my friends from school in Dundee became a member of the territorial army unit & it wisnae until many years later he revealed it was his bunch of people who knocked the Sinclair hut down. In his story my auld friend included details about ‘four of five helicopters carrying in gear’ from god knows where, but no further details were given.
    Despite how horrible the place might’ve seemed tae many, one cannot avoid regretting the place has gone the way of all souls. I especially appreciated the nice memorial (an enormous bronze rectangle) fashioned into a suitable boulder at the river directly underneath the place where Sinclair’s hut used to be.

  12. Brian Porteous says:

    My late father (James Porteous) who was an architect with Scottish Construction Company (ScotCon), the company which provided the blocks, did the sketch plan for the design of the Sinclair hut. It was hardly the biggest commission of his career!

  13. Bill Linton says:

    Sufferin fae a bout o’ owerexcitement efter reading this post and writin a reply, I’d jist hit “Purchase” on http://www.deesidebooks.com for a copy of John Duff’s wonderfully entitled book,
    A BOBBY ON BEN MACDHUI; Life and Death on the Braes o’ Mar, when the thoucht struck me… ‘Hing on, Ah’ve a copy o’ that lyin aboot the hoose somewhaur!’

    My book arrived yesterday morning. My first thought after finally managing to burgle the reinforced packaging [followin the thoucht that they build them tae last on Deeside] was, ‘It’s a bit thin fer 16 quid [p&p inclusive].’ my next thought was, ‘Ah dinnae recoginse the cover’, then when thumbing through it, ‘Aye, Ah’ve got this lyin aboot the hoose somewhaur!’

    Ah dinna care, as I know it’s a brilliant wee publication, a great read and a piece of specifically Scottish mountaineering history… bit Ah’d be both a wealthier and poorer man gif Ah’d kept the money Ah’ve wasted on books!

    Thanks to all who spread enlightenment!

    Bill.

  14. Shame I never saw the hut – didn’t realise it was so near to that crossroads of routes though – haven’t seen any footprint of it – they must have made a good job of demolishing it. It doesn’t look big enough to have had much room for an iron bedstead…

    BTW – you’re the same age as me 😉
    Carol.

  15. piper says:

    A cauld damp place indeed. A stove or fire place would have helped matters a lot …plus would have helped burn all the crap left. I recall the students from some university would head up to the ‘gorms in the summer time and give the hills and bothies a good clean oot.

  16. Lennie says:

    I visited Sinclair Bothy in 1963 & 1965 on a trip from Calvine to Aviemore. At that time myself and another member of the staff from Polmont Borstal Inst took ten inmates from the borstal on an adventure training course, this was done by four parties each year from the Inst in the 1950s/60s. We stayed in a bothy off road at Calvine for three days then walked for the next four and finished up at Coylumbridge. Some of the names escape me now but I still remember the Lairig Ghru, White Bridge, and Ben Macdui I remember an uncomfortable night sleeping on the table top in the Sinclair hut and also the metal frame bedstead but little else. At that time we were told the hut was built on that site because Col Sinclair wakened during the night, left his tent to go for water and slipped on the slope and landed in the stream below, but there had to be a story. It was nice to find this page and read all the interesting replies which brought back pleasant memories. Thank you.

  17. David Fairhurst says:

    I can remember going with my uncle (Plum Worral) back in the early seventies on a quick expedition ski-touring for a couple of days, my uncle worked for Glenmore Lodge as a teacher, we had a party of around 12, it was a beautiful April day when we set off in warm sunshine in pudding snow, On arrival at the hut the weather started to close in, we camped, i seem to remember there was nothing in the hut just bare floor but we were warm and had all the safety equipment, we woke to a full raging blizzard outside, we set off back home in very difficult conditions at one point we had to leave all the skis in a wigwam shape in the mountains (the wind was blowing us over) so all roped together we trekked back to base, it was the hardest walk I have ever done in my life, (apart from the Lyke Wake Walk) it took hours and hours fighting all the way in arctic conditions, I can remember breaking through the clouds and seeing the sheiling restaraunt a very welcome sight, Just as an interest point my Uncle opened the Fenicular as a tribute to all his history of Cairngorm B.A.P.S.I. Ski teaching and mountain training!

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