Inshriach Bothy after showering, Cairngorms, March 2019. Image courtesy the author

Inside, Inshriach Bothy feels similar to my room in Glasgow. Both have high beds, but here, rather than a wardrobe below, there is a sink and units, tables and seats. No water runs in pipes through these walls; there is no other room with a toilet to flush, electric kettle to boil or television to turn on. The design and potential for solar energy testify this shelter is also no return to some premodern utopian ‘primitivism’. The log burning stove and its oven are comforting— it is a big kitchen.

It’s Tuesday morning. Since arriving on Saturday I’ve got the hang of things. Scones—made with found flour and an egg from the farm—are in the oven. These ingredients are adhesive: eggs whites bind into mortar, gluten into glue. Dishes must be cleaned immediately otherwise more water is needed. My usual rinsing uses too much liquid. Here, a pint glass with a fine milky layer is clean enough for tea. It was the need for tea that first made me conscious of accommodation—having to heat up the stove, the house, then wait:

I’ve been here an hour and the kettle’s not boiled. I’ve used lots of wood. What happens in the morning? I would have to get up, set the fire then fall back to sleep to have tea when I properly wake up, but that won’t work, the fire needs tending… watching a kettle for an hour and 20 minutes… the kettle click clicking away and this room’s a sauna… the kettle has been boiling—or being on, then off, the boil. It doesn’t have a whistle and I didn’t understand.

I have now learned how to set this fire, start it quickly, understand when the water is ready. If you choose well, there’s plenty wood small enough—you might have to do some chopping but not too much. The logs are seasoned—dry. It requires little effort to set them alight—pine burns magically. The stove is great. By design, it’s likely to light and keep going, wood vanishes into dust. This gives a sense of self-efficacy even if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Showering is accompanied by a new method: fill the bag, move the chair under the hook, get the stool and put it on the chair, stand on the chair then the stool to lift up the shower bag, hook the bag up, put the stool back inside. Then, towel prepared, undress. Standing on the chair so that the water can reach me, aware of my pinkness, trying to get as much of myself under—face, hands, shoulders. Full, warm gentle raindrops, thudding… On my first full day, Sunday, in the morning:

I should have set up the shower before taking my clothes off. I stand on the frosty chair but need to go inside and get the stool to reach the hook. As usual, this place is mostly one size fits all. And despite its modesty, it’s a size larger than me. Naked, balanced on tip toes on the stool on the chair trying to hook up the shower.

Yesterday I cycled to Glenmore, along Loch Morlich. There is a cycle track, the old logging road, from Rothiemurchus towards the Loch. But the rapid change from tarmac to pastel blue gravel hit my tyres hard. Today, I effortlessly shift to the two-lane main road, anticipating dances with passing vehicles, how our cooperative movement changes with the curves. My turn off, before the loch across a flat bridge towards Rothiemurchus Lodge, says ‘no vehicles’. The surface is very even, very brown, very smooth. Would this road remain this texture in heavy rain? How far could it take me?

Large trees with mountains in the distance. Then lots of logging—a vastness of earth and stumps in a mess of brown yellow jaggyness. I chain my bike to a wooden frame containing poles with mesh that look like they are meant to beat a fire out—for a moment this scene is in flames. What’s my next move? According to Walks in the Cairngorms by Ernest L. Cross this spot marks stage one of a possible route into The Lairig Ghru by Sinclair Hut. I walk in the direction of Piccadilly then upwards, agreeing with Ernest that the woodland ‘becomes progressively more beautiful as the path ascends.’ [1]

Cross Spread2
​Extract from E.L. Cross’ Walks in the Cairngorms, 1984, suggesting one route to the Pools of Dee by Sinclair Hut. Barr, Ayrshire, Luath Press Ltd.

The forest is rugged, with small trees that look, and are, old. Their smallness, an accommodation to the wind and cold, accentuates the size of the far-off mountain pass. Nan Shepherd, a lover of the hills, celebrates the ‘eyes, the normal focus of which is for distance’ delighting ‘in the expanse of space opened up from the mountain tops … a perfect physiological adjustment.’ [2] I look at a tree, then to the pass—the lenses in my eyes change shape, an accommodation to, or compensation for, the shifting distance of my attention.

Nan claims ‘the short-sighted cannot love mountains as the long-sighted do.’[3] Nan’s experiential knowledge is paralleled by that of the non-sighted Sydney Scroggie. Syd, left blind and legless after being blown up by a land mine just prior to the end of World War II, also delights in the Cairngorms. His inner vision combines with a continually altering understanding drawn from being here. Would Nan, if aware of Sydney, have accommodated him—modifying her turn of phrase? We will never know. They are mysteriously separate from one another.

They separately disagree about my route. Sydney describes it as ‘the premiere pass in the British isles… in sheer length and ruggedness, in the character of its bothies, in its boulderfields, and in the fact that it cuts between two of the largest lumps of land in these islands, Braeriach and Ben Macdhui.’ [4] Whereas, Nan ‘can conceive of no good reason for trudging through the oppressive Lairig Ghru’ except to see the pools that mark the start of the river Dee. [5]

The path is at times formed by large boulders, sunk in by people to stave off erosion from many visitors, but it’s only me that walks, then runs, on this ghostly evidence of numerous bodies. Further in, and patches are frozen—water and dirt blend then gel into an expanse of brittle honeycomb. Other times spilt glue appears to cover the ground, solid water varnishing the earth. Where is Sinclair Hut? Have I missed it? I’m now passing what must be Lurcher’s Crag as Sron na Lairige seemingly rises upwards to the right.

When to turn back? I reckon I’m a mile from the Pools of Dee. I collect myself in the cold blueness, sitting with flask in hand, drinking tea. Beginning to understand the need for bothies—walking into inhospitable landscapes—knowing there’s shelter. I double back then take a new route. Reaching Rochiemurchas Lodge there’s a sign: ‘The Angus Sinclair Memorial Hut … is to be dismantled and removed from September 1991’ due to being ‘persistently misused by some members of the public’ with ‘serious erosion of the surrounding area’. I race down the coarse road, returning to jaggyness.

Gliding along the tarmac there’s an expansiveness to my cycling body, light and strangely statuesque. The trees are tall here, taller than the start of the Lairig Ghru where their ancient smallness made me gigantic. Is it a trick of the light or the air circulating in me altering my mood and makeup? Juniper, the predominant taste of gin, surrounds my cabin. Its berries infuse into redistilled ethanol of agricultural origin, infuse the air, working its way into my breath and body. Gin fey can be merry or maudlin, emotional. This is sublime.


Anna McLauchlan is a teacher and learner working across environmental studies, geography and art together with kinaesthetic and somatic practices.


Thanks to: Siân, Sarah, James, Barry, Allyson and Alice for their comments; William Grant Foundation for funding my residency at Inshriach Bothy and Hope Scott Trust for supporting my editorial role; the Scottish Society for Art History for covering my travel costs. This text was completed during my CCA Creative Lab residency (8 July-2 Aug 2019). My writing is made possible by the kindness of Margaret McLauchlan and Susan Malloch.

[1] Ernest L. Cross, 1984, Walks in the Cairngorms: Near Aviemore. Barr, Ayrshire, Luath Press Ltd. p.28.

[2] Nan Shepherd, 2011 [1977], The Living Mountain. Edinburgh, London, Canongate. p.8.

[3] Ibid. at p.7-8.

[4] Sydney Scroggie, 1989, The Cairngorms Scene and Unseen. The Scottish Mountaineering Trust. p.8.

[5] Nan Shepherd, 2011 [1977], The Living Mountain at p.24.