Corrour Bothy

Corrour Bothy below Cairn Toul in the Cairngorms

Corrour Bothy, dwarfed by the mass of Cairn Toul behind

Corrour Bothy

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Possibly Scotland’s best-known bothy, Corrour sits at the foot of Cairn Toul and the Devil’s Point, halfway though the Lairig Ghru. It might well be Scotland’s best used bothy too, making a convenient way to split the Lairig over two days, or a convenient base for those who want to take their time over the tops of the Cairn Toul-Braeriach massif.

Accommodation

Once a simple shelter with four walls and a roof – and little else – it’s now a comfortable destination. The front door gives access to an internal storm porch, which opens into the living area, with a small sleeping platform and an efficient fireplace. The room now has a wooden floor and is wood lined on three walls, with sheep’s wool insulation ensuring that it takes very little energy to heat and then holds that heat well. If the fire is stoked up, it may even be necessary to open the window!

Toilet

Corrour’s other ‘selling point’ is the fact that, despite its remote location, it has a toilet. This is a composting toilet entered through an exterior door and, though it requires frequent attention from a rota of volunteers, makes a huge difference to the area in reducing (almost entirely eliminating) the amount of human faeces which used to disfigure and pollute the area around the bothy.

History

The origins of Corrour Bothy go back to the latter part of the 19th century. Around 1877 (the date given by the Cairngorm Club in a 1950 Journal article) it was built as a howff for a deer watcher. It was the deer watcher’s job to spend his days in the run-up to and during the stalking season wandering amongst the hills and glens making sure he knew where the deer were and in what numbers. This was partly to guard against poaching, but principally so that shooting clients (who had to come in by foot or on horseback in those pre-combustion engine days) could be taken to a coire or glen where they could be assured a target. In his classic books ‘The Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland’ and ‘The Charm of the Hills’ the naturalist Seton Gordon made many mentions of the bothy and some of the watchers who inhabited it – Charles Robertson and John Macintosh – recalling many nights spent under its roof as he explored the hills around. Both books are well worth tracking down.

After World War One the glory days of the shooting estates were on the way out, however, and Corrour fell into disuse – by the estate at least. It was still used as accommodation by climbers though, and – proving that bad behaviour is not a modern invention, was subject to vandalism even in the 1920s. In the early ‘20s it was described as still being wood-lined with an entrance passage, containing shelves, a table, a large armchair and even a box bed. However by the time of the Bairn and Barrie tragedy in 1927/28 the wood lining was largely stripped out and put up the lum.

By the ‘30s it was being described as ‘ruinous’, although it was still used as a shelter and, indeed, my own father talked of sleeping there in the late 1940s; by that time there was no wood, just an earth floor and armfuls of heather gathered for a mattress.

However that was also the time when members of the Cairngorm Club noted that the roof was on the point of collapse. In May 1949 the club received the permission of the estate to carry out renovations and launched a very successful public appeal for funds to finance the work. The work was carried out during July of 1950 and included a new roof (still in place) and the stone buttress which holds the north gable from collapsing. A full and entertaining account of that renovation can be found in the Cairngorm Club Journal Vol XVI No 87, which is worth searching out, but it’s just worth pointing out to those who claim that men were men in them days, that they would have used a helicopter to ferry the materials in if they could have afforded it – and did try to take some items in on a Bren Gun Carrier!

The 1950 renovation held the fort for a good number of years and I remember my first visit there in 1967 or 1968; there was still an earth floor, but the building was weathertight and had a supply of tins left for any walkers who might be facing imminent starvation. Spartan it may have been, but for many years that’s what I thought all bothies were like!

In fact, since originally writing this I heard from a Colin Campbell, who said he first visited Corrour in 1961 and decided to do some work to improve it.

He wrote: “I first stayed here in 1961, when a party of us decided to renovate the bothy. We put in another wooden floor and paneled the walls, rather than using planks. We brought in all the materials using garrons kindly lent to us by Mar Lodge Estate. Unfortunately, the next time we visited in 1964 all the paneling and the floor had ended up the chimney once again. The last time that I stayed there was in 1971 and the earth floor had somehow developed a slope, as when one woke up in a ball at the opposite side in the morning.”

That seems to have been the last major work until the ‘70s, by which time the care of the bothy had been taken over by the MBA, and a concrete floor was put in. I was never very sure whether that was an improvement or not, as, in those pre-Karrimat days, I used to reckon the unevenness of the earth floor allowed you to find a comfortable position. The concrete was less forgiving and, though dryer, a lot colder. One never-to-be-forgotten February night in the ‘80s, when the temperature in Braemar was -28C, I spent the night shivering on the concrete floor of Corrour and, come morning, found my groundsheet was frozen to the floor.

Modern renovation

Corrour’s biggest change came with the new millennium, after the National Trust for Scotland took over Mar Lodge Estate.

The fabric of the bothy was once more showing signs of wear and tear and, more importantly, there was growing concern about pollution. It was clear that walkers who could face the journey in to Corrour were so exhausted by their travails that they were unable to walk more than a few paces from the bothy when they had to evacuate their bowels. The problem of human faeces in the area was a serious one, especially as the bothy was slap bang in the middle of a Site of Special Scientific Interest in a Natural Nature Reserve in the newly created Cairngorm National Park.

This time it was the MBA which took up the torch. Plans were drawn up, approval was sought from all the relevant authorities (and there were many) and preparations were made. Finally the work was carried out over 18 weekends in 2006 and 2007.

Materials were ferried in by helicopter and many a seeker after peace and solitude in the Lairig Ghru found instead a cacophony of noise echoing between the hills as a whole battery of power tools were brought into play, from electric drills to table saws to a cement mixer. A lot of hard work and partying went into the renovation to create the bothy as it is today.

Maintenance

Of course the flipside to having such a well appointed bothy is that, compared to the spartan shell of years gone by, it requires much more maintenance. Vandalism, thankfully, has not been a problem, but littering is a perennial moan, with far too much rubbish left by thoughtless and lazy users. The main activity, though, is servicing the toilet. It’s hard to credit how much sh*te must have littered the surrounding area at one time, for during the summer months the toilet bags have to be changed once every four weeks, which requires a considerable commitment from a rota of strong-stomached volunteers willing to give up a weekend to make the long journey in and manhandle a non-too savoury sack of shit from the toilet to the storage area. However the sheer volume of waste underlines what a success the toilet has been – after all, if the toilet wasn’t there that would all be left on the ground.

It’s a success that is partly due to the cooperation and assistance of the Mar Lodge Estate, which provided much assistance during the renovation and continues to be supportive. So to finish, a recommendation and a plea: go to Corrour and sample one of the best bothies in Scotland, but leave no litter and look after the bothy and its environment – both are worth it.

*During the 2006-7 renovation the existing fireplace, which usually sent all the heat up the lum and all the smoke into the room, was replaced by a multi-fuel stove. This proved too vulnerable to wear and tear and the general conditions, and in 2014 it was replaced by a new and efficient fireplace which throws heat out into the room and sooks smoke right up the lum.

Corrour Bothy photo gallery

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23 Responses to Corrour Bothy

  1. Ronnie says:

    Fantastic image..

  2. That image has me thinking that I should do something about seeing Scotland in a full winter coating when the opportunity arises.

  3. Colin Campbell says:

    As regarding the problem of the smelly contents of the toilet, why not make it a dry one? All that is needed is a few bags of sawdust (if one is pre-pared to hump it up there). Every time a business is done, a handful or two then gets put on top. It absorbs the majority of it over time & then it evaporates over time. Then it’s even easier to transport away, it can even be used as a fertilizer, if one so wishes, on one’s garden, if one so wishes? Cheers

    • Cheers Colin, What we have there isn’t too different from that, but the average temperature over the year means it doesn’t break down properly in the time available (we only have so much storage space), so the full sacks get taken down once a year to a site where they can compost properly.

  4. Raindog says:

    I’m laid up injured at the moment. (the stupidest wee slip on an icy Schiehallion summit. Distracted by a wee group of ptarmigan who I swear were following my pal and I down the boulder field. Now walking only a few meters at a time, aided by a stick!) Spending my time planning walks for when I’m recovered and aimimg for Corrour Bothy and the surrounding peaks ASAP. Your pic is doing nothing to help my impatience! I’ve joined the MBA and plan to join a workparty when able. (A brilliant site, Cairngormwanderer, I’ll be keeping a virtual eye on it!)

    • Sorry to hear about your mishap, Raindog. I was up Devil’s Point at the weekend, and it’s still there, if that’s any comfort. 🙂
      Keep in touch re the workparties, as there’s always something going on and it’s usually good craic with a grand bunch of folk.

  5. Lil' Ms Trekker says:

    I stayed here in August 2011 and was soo thankful of some shelter from the rains! To say this bothy is well used would be an understatement! I think there were 12/14 of us slept in there that night, with god knows how many others camped outside or had decided to walk on to another bothy about an hour away! Thank heaven for the toilet (even though it was a little on the whiffy side) I’d hate to think what the area would be like without it!
    It’s a night that will stay with me for ever; an experience not to be forgotten!

  6. andy says:

    Neil, I wonder if you can shed some light on a puzzling sight around Corrour. From Carn a’ Mhaim, you can clearly see a low stone wall shaped like a ‘4’ a few yards to the SW of the bothy, just off the track up the Corrie Odhar. Any idea what it is and why it is shaped that way?
    Cheers,
    Andy

    • Hi Andy, not sure what you mean without seeing a photo. There has been a lot of path and path drainage work there, so if you’re seeing it from the other side the the glen it may just have the appearance of a wall. The only wall I can think of around the bothy is the remanant to the east of the building as you approach. I don’t know for sure what that is either, but had assumed it was the remains of a wee stable to shelter ponies overnight maybe, or to act as a larder. I’ll have to have a look on the ground next time I’m up that way.

  7. andy says:

    Thanks, Neil. I had a wee google around and I can’t spot that feature in any of the pictures that I found around. I do have a picture on my computer taken back in June 2012 and it was definitely a low line of stones shaped like a number 4. I think it must have been path-builders having fun? Has there been any path work around there? If I get round to opening a Flick account I’ll upload the picture. Just one of those weird things, I suppose. It is definitely a new thing, on older pictures from Carn a’ Mhaim, there is no trace of that.

  8. andy says:

    Sorry, Neil, I’d missed the big where you say there has been a lot of path work there. I suspect given there has been path work all over the Cairngorms lately, the builders may have formed the line of stones to form numbers corresponding to the unload stations for the helicopters?

    • Hi Andy, The heli-identification theory is pretty unlikely – pilots always have a location to go to for these things. But you’ve got me curious – I may have to go and take a look. 🙂

  9. andy says:

    I’m heading that way myself as soon as the snow comes back! But I suspect it’ll be gone by now.
    Anyway, I thought I’d make the effort, so I opened a flickr account and uploaded the picture. Here’s the link:

    Not sure if it’ll work. The short link should be this:

    P1040402

  10. andy says:

    I’ve also put a blown-up version, grainy and blurry (crap camera!), but you can see it’s made of stones. You can also see it’s near the drainage work on the path, so it must have been the path guys stacking the stones up that way. Practical joke or something…

  11. andy says:

    Aye, not subtle at all… Actually, I got confused. I took that picture in September 2012. I’d been there in June the year before so I got mixed up. At first I thought it was something underground that only shows up from high up (my eyesight is not what it used to be), but when I checked it out on the computer it looked like some kind of sheep fank. Definitely some kind of prank by the path builders!

  12. Andrew Craig says:

    Thanks for this. The concrete floor was put in in the 1980s, not the 70s. I spent the first four days of 1984 snowed up at the bothy in a blizzard, and it was certainly earth then. (I pitched my tent on the earth floor for a bit of extra shelter, as it was very draughty. My one-litre water bottle froze solid next to me inside the tent!) I next went there in summer 1989, by which time the concrete floor had been installed.

  13. A small group of Team Canada TGO 2016 WILL BE THERE WE HOPE around 20 May this year. Thanks for the great description and history. Hoping for better weather! Dara, ottawa

  14. Hen says:

    Hi! We are planning of going to Corrour Bothy next weekend. It’s our first hiking trip in Scotland (usually hanging out inNorway), and were wondering if the hut is just open, or do we need to become a member (and get a key)? Also, it the bothy easy to find? On the map it seems no (official) tracks are leading that way. Any suggestions/advice?
    Thanks! looking forwrad to the trip!

    • Hi Henrice, The bothy is unlocked and open to all. You should be able to see the path there marked on the Ordnance Survey 1:50000 map. Just follow the Lairif Ghru track from north or south and cut across the glen where the path leads down to the metal bridge – you should see the bothy long before you see the path or bridge though – it’s the only building in the glen. Hope you have a good time there.

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