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.
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.
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.