The Gelder Shiel is one of the ‘royal’ bothies, lying on the Balmoral Estate on the northern flanks of Lochnagar at NO 257900. Much improved in a major renovation in 2015, when it also acquired the ‘subtitle’ of Ernie’s Bothy, it’s now a comfortable, warm doss well worth a visit. Ideal if you’re planning to climb on Lochnagar but with limited easy access to other hills if you’re just walking.
Leave Easter Balmoral village from the old Post Office building (NO 264942), heading south-west on a road that is initially tarred but quickly changes to a well maintained landy track up past several houses and a ‘sentry box’. There’s a junction at 256935 where you should keep on the left branch (south) and continue up out of the woods for a little over 2.5km to another junction at 258908 when you should turn right. From here you should see the clump of pines where Gelder Shiel lies, about 1km further on from the junction. The bothy is the old stable building behind the main building, an attractive granite cottage used by the royal family for picnics.
The MBA asks that people liaise with the estate if using the bothy between 1 September and 20 October. Contact Balmoral Estate, 01339 742534.
Like most Cairngorm bothies, the Gelder Shiel is a single room inside and for many years was little more than that, but a major renovation in 2015 by the Ballater Chiels and MBA provided a complete change.
The front door (watch your fingers on the latch!) gives entry to a small internal porch and then into the main room. Ahead lies what used to the the bothy’s only window (there are now two large velux windows allowing considerably more light in) above a ‘kitchen’ table. On the left is the living area, with some chairs and a multi-fuel stove (please read the instructions before using). There is one bunk on this side, with the remaining bunk beds (wooden – you still need your own sleeping mats) at the other end of the room, to the right of the door.
The whole bothy is now well insulated, and wood-lined, with a wooden floor.
Water may be obtained from the main burn or from a tap round the back of the bothy between the two lean-tos.
The unlocked lean-to at the back of the bothy is a toilet. The usual hole-in-the-ground affair, it should be flushed with a bucket of water and kept clean.
The estate did build an open wood store against one of the lean-tos, but you should not rely on there being wood there. The estate does not want people cutting live trees or burning dead wood, so if you want to have a fire you should take up your own fuel – heat for weight, coal is best.
You are unlikely to get a signal at the bothy itself, but may have some success if you walk about a hundred metres down the road.
The bothy at Gelder Shiel started life as a stable for the cottage, built as part of Victoria’s Balmoral Castle ‘wonderland’. I don’t know when climbers and walkers started using it, but George Adams, one of the Cairngorm pioneers of the 1950s, recalls sleeping on planks up in the rafters around 1950. It became a popular doss with Aberdeen climbers, especially during the ’60s and ’70s when a lot of new routes were being done – summer and winter – on the cliffs of Lochnagar. It was a place for ‘gang’ visits rather than solitary trips, possibly because the extra body heat was required just to stay alive, for it was a legendarily cold doss with a cobble stone floor, prone to having a stream crossing it in wet weather. A limited improvement was made around this time, but it remained a dimly-lit stone box right up until the transformation in 2015, when the Ballater Chiels carried out major refubishments as a memorial to their former president Ernie Rattray, who had also been a member of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team for many years.
A good chapter on the Gelder Shiel as was can be found in Ian Mitchell and Dave Brown’s classic Mountain Days and Bothy Nights. See elsewhere on this blog for the story of the renovation and subsequent royal opening by Prince Charles.