Great Britain

Three of Scotland’s all-time favourite bothy walks

Shenavall' - one of the bothies picked out by author Geoff Allan
Shenavall' - one of the bothies picked out by author Geoff Allan

The Lookout and Rubha Hunish on Skye

An unmissable journey to the northernmost tip of Skye, Rubha Hunish, via the spectacular Lookout Bothy, taking in panoramic views over the Minch to the Western Isles.

Map: LR 23 North Skye

Distance: 4km/2.5 miles Time: 3-4 hours round trip

Easy

The stunning 180-degree view from the bay window at The Lookout certainly gives the bothy its wow factor. This former coastguard watch station, positioned precariously close to the cliff top above Rubha Hunish, offers a breath-taking panorama from Barra to the Butt of Lewis, and on a clear day the profile of the mainland all the way to Cape Wrath. Below the epic cliffs, the headland of Rubha Hunish appears as a bony finger of rock and pasture jutting out above the waves. Go early in the morning, or stay late, and you may spot otters swimming between the geos, and further out in the depths, dolphins and whales navigating through the Minch. Shags and cormorants fly low above the eddies, and in the summer gannets circle and dive in a remarkable display of aerobatics.

From the small car park just after the Shulista turn-off on the A855, take the footpath signposted to Rubha Hunish (57.6842, -6.3257), along a low escarpment and up the slope to an obvious depression on the horizon. As you approach the gap, the clean salty tang of the sea permeates the air, and suddenly you are peering down to the dizzying view over the Minch. The bothy is an easy five minute walk up the slope to the right, a small, boxy building, refurbished by the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) after suffering storm damage in 2005. The interior was faithfully restored to the original design, and glass panes replaced in the epic bay window. Prepare to experience all kinds of weather: shimmering sunlight, castles of cumulus clouds building from the west, rain showers scooting across the water. The canvas changes with every passing moment and it is difficult to tear yourself away. Energised by the views, go back down to the gap and scramble down a weakness in the cliffs to Rubha Hunish. The first few steps are a little exposed, but after that the descent is relatively easy. A number of sheep trails criss-cross the headland, one leading to the most northerly point. After exploring the coastline, return up the rocky staircase and retrace your route down to the roadside.

Callater Stables and Loch Kander

An easy-paced walk in the Cairngorms National Park, through Glen Callater to tiny, jewel-like Loch Kander at the head of the valley, with a bothy stop at the half-way point.

Map: LR 43 Braemar and Blair Atholl

Distance: 19km/12 miles

Time: 6-8 hours

Straight forward

The Callater beat of the Invercauld Estate cuts a deep, decisive line through the high plateau of Lochnagar and the Glen Shee hills, south of the handsome Highland village of Braemar. Once a busy thoroughfare used by drovers herding sheep and cattle over the pass to the seasonal markets of Glen Clova, ‘Jock’s Road’ was also the scene of a bitter legal dispute in the late 19th century, which resulted in legislation re-enforcing Scotland’s proud tradition of the right to roam.

Walking up the glen above the cascading river, from the car park at Auchallater Farm (56.9771, -3.3901), the signs of estate management are much in evidence, continuing traditions that have been upheld over the generations. In the spring, the annual muirburn (controlled burning) leaves a distinctive patchwork of ground cover of differing heights across the mountainside. Reaching Lochcallater Lodge, at the northern end of the loch, a paddock has been set aside for Highland garrons, the sturdy ponies used to transport deer carcasses off the hill during the stalking season. Once they were housed in the stables but this is now a well-maintained bothy.

Now take the estate track that crosses the burn at the outflow of Loch Callater which winds its way above the western shore. Approaching the flats beyond the loch a pony path (not marked on the map) hugs the edge of the narrowing floodplain and continues over the steepening ground. As you climb, you begin to appreciate the scale of the scene, set off by an impressive waterfall, Eas Allt Briste-amhaich, which plunges down the edge of the north-facing cliffs, mischievously referred to as Breakneck Falls. Once over the coire lip, Loch Kander is finally revealed – a calming presence below the imposing buttresses of mineral-rich mica schist that tower above the water’s edge. In the summer months the slopes are filled with sedges, the crags with hardy alpine plants. In winter, snow patches linger in the shadows and the lochan itself is often frozen into a solid sheet of ice. Clamber up the lower rocks beyond the loch to gain a superior vantage point before the slow descent back down to the bothy and the warm of Braemar.

Beinn Dearg Mòr and Shenavall Bothy

An unforgettable expedition into the heart of the Great Wilderness, one of Scotland’s most remote and majestic mountain regions, to claim a prized ascent of Beinn Dearg Mòr.

Map: LR Map 19 Gairloch

Distance: 25km/15.5 miles round trip

Time: (summer conditions) allow 8-10 hours (4-5 hours from the bothy)

Challenging

The iconic view of Beinn Dearg Mòr (Big Red Hill) rising up behind Shenavall is among the most familiar in the bothy world, although it is surprising how few people actually scale its airy heights. Arriving at the bothy from Corrie Hall on the A832 ‘Desolation Road’ (57.8145, -5.1758), your gaze is immediately drawn across the Strath Na Sealga to the deep, sculpted bowl of Coire nan Clach, and the towering Torridonian sandstone buttresses beneath the summit prow. It’s no wonder that this old stalkers’ cottage is one of the best-known and busiest bothies in Scotland.

Before you can begin your ascent two rivers which meander through the glen to Loch Na Sealga must be forded. In dry conditions, this is relatively straightforward but do not attempt to cross in times of spate. Once these obstacles have been safety negotiated head for the locked estate cottage at Larachantivore. The most direct route to the summit climbs the obvious runnel leading up to the eastern top, though it is possible to avoid any scrambling by traversing round into the hanging coire above Gleann Na Muice Beag. The going is punishingly steep but the view back down to the graceful meanders of Strath na Sealga and across to the distinctive serrated pinnacles of An Teallach is worth all the effort.

From the dizzying heights of the summit crest, the jaw-dropping buttresses free-fall dramatically into Coire nan Clach. Out beyond the void, Loch na Sealga tapers towards Gruinard Bay, while to the south, the route of the Fisherfield Six can be traced round from Ruadh Stac Mòr to Beinn a’ Chlaidheimh. To reach the safety of the strath, descend a steep boulder field to the bealach towards Beinn Dearg Beag then follow a grassy rake down to the beautiful, heart-shaped Loch Toll an Lochan and on to the shore of Loch na Sealga. Here pick up a stalkers’ path which heads back towards Larachantivore. Wade through the channel below the confluence of the two rivers, then make a bee line for Shenavall across the tussocky grass. Take a short break to refuel and one last lingering look back, then savour the experience on the long journey home.

Scottish Bothy Walks: Scotland’s 28 best bothy adventures by Geoff Allan is released by Wild Things Publishing on Sunday at £16.99