Ice cream and nailguns on Lochnagar

Buulding work during refurbishment of Gelder Shiel Bothy by the Ballater Chiels

Installing one of the roof windows during a major refurbishment of the Gelder Shiel Bothy

That ol’ Cairngorm magic has done its stuff again and another cold bothy has been given the five star treatment.

Only it’s not the usual suspects who can claim the credit this time – they (and I count myself in there) did little other than stuff their faces.

The Gelder Sheil was the bothy in question, a building which, notwithstanding the addition of wooden bunk beds many years past, did little to disguise its former life as a stable for the royal picnic cottage next door, on the rising moorland north of Lochnagar.

For many years the fact of that next-door neighbour meant any improvements were a ticklish subject to raise with the estate. There was no overriding obligation for the estate to allow the use of the bothy at all, and in the face of reluctance to allow any substantive changes, no-one liked to push their luck.

But local contacts eventually resulted in discussions, interest from Prince Charles and the involvement of local charitable group the Ballater Chiels. The end result was that the MBA drew up plans for the bothy which the Chiels, all local businessmen and tradesmen, would both finance and carry out.

A number of Eastern Area MBA volunteers pitched up for the first of two planned work parties at the start of May, ready to act as labourers and gofers for the Chiels but very quickly realised that these guys needed no help and probably got on quicker without us in the road.

Vans and other vehicles outside the Gelder Shiel Bothy on Lochnagar, Cairngorms

Builders’ v ans and a catering trailer outside the bothy

I arrived early Saturday morning to see a large collection of works vans and 4x4s around the bothy, a small marquee set up as a sawyard, and even a trailer and gazebo set up for catering.

Saw yard at Gelder Shiel Bothy, Cairngorms

The marquee being used for a sawyard, with the wood and saws safe from the threatening showers

Before I’d even counted the vans I was directed to the trailer for a cup of tea and a cake donated by the Ballater bakery, and before another hour was past the call went up for bacon rolls and sausages being served.

Lunch was thick scotch broth and copious sandwiches, with mince pie, roast pork, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy for dinner (not forgetting ice cream and warm apple pie for desert. Ice cream? In a bothy?)

Work? Well, we did a bit. Kenny Freeman helped with some joinery work inside the bothy, and Ian Shand and I acted as gofers for the roofer as he fixed tiles and installed two velux windows and a flue pipe, but in the main we wandered about feeling guilty about eating so much and doing so little!

Stove being fitted in Gelder Shiel Bothy, Lochnagar

Wood-lining fitted and stove being installed

New internal porch at Gelder Shiel Bothy, Lochnagar

The front doors now lead into an internal porch

There was a huge amount of work done though. Over the weekend the bothy was totally transformed.

A wooden floor was overlaid on the stone cobbles, the walls were insulated and lined, the roof similarly insulated and lined, a wood-burning stove was installed and two windows installed in the roof to increase the amount of light inside. On top of that an internal porch was built, solving the problem of drafts. And drainage ditches were dug around the bothy outside, hopefully putting an end to the occasional burn which used to run through the bothy in wet weather.

So much work was done, in fact, that there remained little to be done this weekend just past, other than treating the woodwork with a fire retardant.

Long term, the roof needs a lot of work done to replace slates which are ready to drop but, as a result of sterling work by the Ballater Chiels, the Gelder Shiel is a hundred times the bothy it once was and now worthy of its wonderful situation.

Gelder Shiel Bothy after refurbishment, Lochnagar, Cairngorms

The bothy from the back, showing the new roof windows and stove flue

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16 Responses to Ice cream and nailguns on Lochnagar

  1. Truly amazing. I remember walking around the lodge many years ago when HRH The Queen Mother was in residence. Heard afterwards that an RAF Leuchars party had been “spotted ” and were invited in for tea. Fantastic initiative by the MRA.

    • Cheers Davie. Like I say in the blog, the hard work was all done by the Ballater Chiels, and all credit to them for their willingness to take this on and the good spirit with which they carried it out. Ongoing maintenance will continue to be by the MBA though, with MOs visiting regularly to make sure it’s kept in good order.
      Given the sensitivity of the situation there it’s really to be hoped that people will treat it with respect – as they should any bothy.

  2. piper says:

    Another good read Neil . Going backup on Wednesday for some fine tuning of the inner bothy .

  3. derek says:

    Surprised tae see a fifer there when theres free food on the go ;). Might head up in a couple o weeks once the porterings done 🙂

  4. That’s fantastic. I’ve yet to see the Gelder Shiel so it’s great to see the photos of the bothy and the location 🙂 I hope to see it this summer though as I have a ‘top’ of Lochnagar to do yet and hope to head up that way (suddenly worn-out hip permitting)

    Those guys have done a great job but they don’t like to rough it do they? 😉

    • Wish you luck with getting up there then.
      I think only one of the guys there was ever a serious climber, but they all seemed well used to making the best of an exposed building site. And all the more credit to them, doing it for goodness even though they’re unlikely ever to use it.

  5. Wood panelling, stoves ? I assume the 100meg broadband is on the way. The MBA run by southern softies now ?

  6. Son of Dark Lochnagar says:

    Big cheers from all the sons

  7. piper says:

    Hail tae the Cheils ….well done again . ( and thanks for supplying the steel sheetfor candle holders)

    • Son of Dark Lochnagar says:

      Nae bother Piper, if the ither stuff is ony eece jist keep hud o it an if iver yis need onythn else jist fustle 6 times.
      The Chiels are originally a fundraising hillwalking group, being Ballater lads we can not help having a great love and respect for the hills. Lochnagar was our past President “Ernie Rattray’s” favourite, it is to his memory that Geldershiel has been refurbished!!
      We hope that all who need to use it enjoy the experience!! Cheers Neil and the rest o the lads!!!

  8. malcolm says:


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