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.
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.
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!
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.