Is bothies policy designed to seal fate of Garbh Choire Refuge?

Garbh Choire Refuge, Cairngorms

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

It’s now over two years since I first wrote in this blog about the Garbh Choire Refuge and it seems the only thing that’s changed is that the door’s off again and someone has tried to waterproof the inside.

It’s not for want of the will to do anything. For years now, bothy activists – active members of the MBA, experienced and with access to the resources  – have been asking Mar Lodge Estate for permission to properly renovate the refuge.

The consistent reply from the National Trust for Scotland-owned estate is that it is going to hold a consultation on the future of the structure, yet no consultation has taken place, although a number of organisations, including the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Scottish Mountaineering Club, and the Cairngorm Club, have expressed their wish that it should remain and be renovated.

But while there has been no consultation, the NTS has produced a revision of its ‘Mountain Bothies Policy’. And that, to cynical eyes, does not bode well for the Garbh Choire.

I’ll quote one of the relevant sentences from the new policy here:

“Where an existing bothy falls into a state of dilapidation, proposals to reinstate will be treated as for a new bothy.”

And from the listings of bothies on NTS land:

“Mar Lodge: Garbh Choire Shelter, NN 959986 Believed to have been erected by Aberdeen University Mountaineering Club about 50 years ago. Not watertight and receives little/if any maintenance.”

I can see the NTS argument now. Locally, the estate has made no secret it would prefer the refuge to be removed and, if unchallenged, this new policy would seem to make the estate’s case stronger. The implication is that its neglect and disrepair mean it is little used and not wanted. And if anyone wants to renovate it, the request – because of its alleged dilapidation – will be seen as a request for a new bothy, and almost certainly be refused.

I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

So let’s be clear about some things here.

1 The Garbh Choire Refuge is still in use as a shelter, both for short stops and overnights.

2 There is maintenance being carried out at the Garbh Choire Refuge.

3 Although in poor repair, it is not a ruin, and renovation does not equate to creation of a new bothy.

Interior of Garbh Choire Refuge showing repairs and damage

Inside the bothy in May 2014, showing tarpaulin installed to keep off the rain, and the broken door

It is true that the maintenance is sporadic and often ineffective; it could hardly be anything else given the remoteness of the refuge and the difficulty of getting tools and materials in there and given the lack of organisation and the limited resources of the individuals carrying out any work.

As stated before, and as made clear to the estate on a number of occasions, the MBA has the people with the experience, the resources and the willingness to both renovate the refuge and carry out an organised and regular maintenance programme into the future. What it does not have, despite repeated asking, is the approval of the NTS.  And according to another part of what is in reality a very short policy document: “No new bothies, whether created from existing structures renovated for the purpose [my italics]or built from new, may be established on Trust land without the permission of the Trust.

For  the NTS to use a state of disrepair caused by its own obstruction as a justification for removal or to block renovation is grossly hypocritical and must be challenged.

I won’t repeat the arguments in favour of retaining the bothy here – you can read them in previous posts here, here and here.

However, it is worth underlining the fact that the Garbh Choire Refuge is part of a unique network of bothies and refuges across Scotland. It is a part of our living cultural heritage. As such, and being the property of the National Trust for Scotland, the Trust has a duty of care, not just as the landowner but as the supposed guardian of our built heritage.

The NTS has been signally failing in this duty and in many eyes would be culpable for this alone. But it is worse: presented with repeated offers to renovate and maintain this part of our culture at no cost to the Trust, its reaction is to block every attempt. Instead it would seem to prefer to spend money to destroy that which it should be protecting. And that would be shameful.


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25 Responses to Is bothies policy designed to seal fate of Garbh Choire Refuge?

  1. alanfmackay says:

    I reckon we need to start a rumour Mary Queen of (Bob) Scot’s stayed there. NTS would throw resources at it. There would be a gift shop and an audio guide in jig time!

    • That would be funny if it wasn’t so true, Alan. NTS cares about preserving the memory of robber barons and murderers, but treats the living culture of Scotland’s real folk with contempt.

  2. Good post Neil! I don’t know much about the Garbh Choire, but I have heard that Rob Roy’s sister’s husband’s cousin sat in the refuge with William Wallace’s hairdresser and spoke about Robert the Bruce’s uncle whilst watching a spider attempt to make its web! So maybe NTS will stop being numpties soon enough.

    On a serious note, how many applications have the MBA made to renovate it?

    • The MBA has made NO applications to renovate it. Its position is that it will not actively ask any estate for a bothy but will consider adoption if a bothy is offered by the estate. However groups of people who are in the MBA, and who have extensive experience of successfully renovating other bothies (Corrour, Bob Scott’s, Hutchison, Fords of Avon, Tarf, Ryvoan etc), and who comprise the active members of the Eastern Area MBA and Friends of Bob Scott’s, have asked on at least three distinct occasions and in conversation with NTS estate staff. The answer has always either been a straight no or a promise that consultation will take place in future.
      It has been made clear to the estate – and I think, to be fair to them, that they do accept this – that any renovation and maintenance programme will have adequate resources and backing.

  3. Sinbad says:

    Excellent article Neil. It puts the NTS to shame.No wonder they have financial problems, when they drive away possible members with their stupidity. So much for the National “TRUST”? For Scotland!!!!

    • This is just my interpretation of their actions and their new bothies policy, Sinbad. It could be they’re about to send an email asking if we can go in and fix the place. (Hah!) But I’m not the only one to have drawn the same conclusions after reading the policy, so I fear your comments are probably valid.

    • If someone wants to get rid of it they should have the guts to stand up and say why. Leaving a building to fall into ruin and then crafting a weaselly policy which treats proposals for repairs as a new project is just dishonest.

  4. Martin Rye says:

    Garbh Choire is a refuge, and one that is needed. It sits in a remote place, offerings climbers a safe haven in winter if a storm catches them out. This shelter can save lives in winter – I hope it can be fixed up and carry on.

  5. An interesting blog as ever. Only stayed there once (20 years or so ago) and camped outside largely because weather was awful and (I seem to remember) that the bothy was not watertight. I can’t say it was very welcome but what was lacking in comfort was made up for in character.

    Seems the nature of Cairngorm bothies is changing with some being upgraded and made more comfortable. It would be good for NTS to have a policy that takes into account the views of those living locally who use the bothies/huts that remain and actively spend time looking after them.

    IMO they should also try and take into account the needs of those visiting the hills less frequently as well who may be interested in staying overnight somewhere closer to the car park.

    • You’re right about it not being watertight 20 years ago – had a similar encounter about then, only it was pouring and I’d no tent, so we trudged on to Corrour.
      Regarding the NTS policy, it’s interesting that the new policy was drawn up with no consultation with those who look after the bothies, which is curious to say the least. However, your last point is maybe catered for? I understand Mar Lodge now has a bunkhouse, though I don’t know much about it. It’s not free, but it would save the 40-50 minute walk in to Bob Scott’s.

  6. I was actually thinking of Derry Lodge. It is a shame this building is not used. With some imagination it could be. I am not criticising NTS they have done much good on the estate e.g. restoring the bulldozed path up Beinn a’Bhuird for example.

  7. Hugh Spencer says:

    I’m a bit confused. A year or so ago a paper was circulated with a case for retention and a case for eradication with a request for comment – and if I recall correctly a lot of people made known their views. Was this consultation not started by NTS. ? What happened to the result ?
    [ Incidentally it is not really fair that some of your commentators slag off the Trust. It has spent a lot of money over the years restoring the southern Cairngorms to almost the state they were in in the 1950’s and this would have cost a lot more than the car parking fees collected. Compare this to the state in Rothiemurchus [ more and more signs , new housing schemes , etc,etc ] and Invercauld [ new bulldozed tracks and quad bike tracks being stealthily made up to the Dubh Loch spur.]

    • The only paper I know of that was circulated was that written by myself and Kenny Freeman. The NEMT may have published something putting the case for destruction, but I’m not sure. The NTS has promised consultation but so far has not delivered, claiming other priorities have stood in the way.
      No-one is denigrating the great amount of good work the NTS has done, by the way, the criticism is only about areas where it is felt they are not living up to the standards they should be holding for themselves.

  8. If the bothy was repaired and in good condition it won’t fall into the category of “dilapidated structure which should be treated as a new project” and so presumably wouldn’t be at risk. Of course it would be very, very wrong if anonymous groups were to carry out unauthorised repairs and we couldn’t condone that in any way.

  9. Nigel Coe says:

    A friend and I, intent on winter climbing, walked in past Corrour bothy, where our first impressions were of an inhospitable place. We arrived at Garbh Coire bothy to find the door off and a snowdrift to clear. After a cold night and finding poor snow conditions the next day we spent our second night at Corrour bothy, which by this time seemed like a palace!
    I’d be keen to help for a few days if Garbh Coire bothy is repaired.

    • Hi Nigel, Corrour is always like a palace to me, but then I’m biased.
      There’s no doubt repair is needed at Garbh Choire, but we’re still waiting to find out what’s happening. In December last year we were told that the long-awaiting consultation (supposed to be taking place in 2013) would happen early in 2015, so watch this space. I’ll put a post on when consultation opens and it would be great if as many people as possible responded.

  10. CGreen says:

    so .. just reading about this now via a random Trail Magazine FB post. I’m sure if you got more publicitiy (via Trail, SMC etc) you could get momentum behind a petitiion to save the bothy? Sounds like a no brainer to me

    • This has been going on for a few years now, with support from MCofS, SMC and others. At the moment we are awaiting a promised consultation, with a beefed up case for retention, but are also hopeful that a change in personnel at Mar Lodge Estate may bring a change. If we need a massive publicity boost then we’re placed to go there, but are still hopeful of getting it solved quietly with minimum fuss – after all, goodwill of the estate is very valuable for functioning of the other Cairngorm bothies.

  11. Peter Aikman ( former M.O. ) says:

    You may have heard of the guy wandering around, fixing a new hook in every bothy

    It appears ( 1 25:33 ) that he visited that well-known Bothy at Garbh Choire

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