Day Iii 1

By the time we get back to the Bothy it has started to snow. I have become frantic and do not know what to do. I have to calm myself down and try to think straight. There is still enough wood to make a decent fire, and since stopping running I am in danger of getting a chill, so heating the space should be my immediate concern. Stacking the logs in the stove gives me sufficient focus that I feel my panic subsiding. The fire catches quickly, and the Bothy begins to warm up. I put the kettle on and give the whippet a bowl of food. He wolfs it down and then flops onto his bed, suddenly content with a full belly and the warmth now emanating from the stove. For him it is as if this bizarre and unsettling day has not happened. I allow his calm to rub off on me, but I still down a large glass of Inshriach Gin before making my tea. The heat, the alcohol, and the day’s mental and physical exertions soon take effect, and – like the whippet—I doze off.

I awake with a start.

Something is wrong.

The whippet is pacing the room, whimpering. How long have I been asleep? How long has he been awake? Why hadn’t I heard him?

The fire is still burning in the stove, but the Bothy is freezing. Why is it so cold? I get up and touch the stove.


I burn my finger.

‘What’s going on?’ I ask the whippet.

Although he is moving around the room, he is trying to avoid going near the door or any of the windows. Something is outside that he doesn’t fancy, and just as he had transferred his calm to me earlier, he is now transferring his fear. I am suddenly terrified, and believe I can also sense something outside the Bothy.

I pick up the fire iron and move towards the door. The whippet is not for joining me. I open the door and step out into the dusk. There is now a thick white blanket of snow on the ground, but the flakes have stopped falling and the air is clear. There is definitely something out here, I know that for sure, and I grip the iron tightly as I creep out into the clearing in front of the Bothy.

‘Where are you?’ I mutter as I move further and further into the open.

And then it happens.

It’s behind me.

I spin around and see the footprints I’d encountered yesterday, but this time I’m seeing them as they are actually being made!

There on the flawless, smooth white of the snow, a whole succession of tracks in line-astern are appearing miraculously before my eyes. No sign of life anywhere, no movement even, nothing other than those tracks springing suddenly into being, coming inexorably towards me.

I stand stock still filled with fear. The tracks are being made within fifty metres of me—20—10—then smack! I scream as a wall of freezing water strikes me full in the face. I swing around wiping the water from my eyes, and see the tracks continue off into the woodland beyond.

I am frozen to the spot, the iron frozen to my hands.

Move, dammit, move! But I can’t. And then…


The whippet has appeared at the Bothy door, and my body loosens. I drop the iron and run inside. I grab my coat and car keys. I have to get away and I don’t care what I am leaving behind. We run across the farm as fast as we can and clamber into the car.

Despite the cold, the car starts first time. Thank God. I drive up the track and onto the road, which is slippery and difficult to see because of the snowfall, but I manage to work my way up to the fast-moving A9 and turn south. The road has been gritted, and I soon pick up speed. I need to get away from this place as soon as possible. I look right towards the hill I’d been on earlier in the day and can see the silhouette of the leaning monument at its summit. At that very moment there is a rumbling noise, and the earth seems to shudder. Just as I am about to turn my head back to face the road, I see the tower collapse, and the earth rising up to replace it.

I push the accelerator harder and the car picks up speed. The rumbling continues, and I notice that there are patches of earth rising up in a line alongside the road, one after the other! The sequence of rising mounds are appearing much faster than we are travelling, and its leading end soon disappears off over the brow in front of us. When we head over the brow, the road dips down into a long basin and I can see three or four miles ahead as it climbs back up the opposite hill. The emerging sequence of rising mounds has reached the lowest point and begun its ascent up the hill in front of me. From this angle and distance I can see the mounds as if from above, and the sight almost causes me to lose control of the car.

Each rising appears as the workman had described those at the monument, two curved mounds that almost come together in a point at one end, a shape which I realise now precisely resembles the footprints I’d seen on the estate yesterday, and which had appeared in the snow just minutes earlier! It is as if a giant, cloven-hoofed biped was running beneath the ground, in mirror image to this world, and the negative imprints of its feet were appearing in the landscape in front of me! The sequence disappears over the horizon, and I become terrified at the thought of what I might find when I get home.

The night has finally come as I approach the city, and I can see the orange light-pollution rising up into the sky. But it is not streetlights that are the source of the glow, and as the city finally comes into view an apocalyptic scene plays out in front of me. The city is ablaze. The urban landscape is peppered with the demonic mounds, which have thrown people and vehicles into the air, and caused buildings to contort and collapse. There are fires everywhere, and bodies strewn across the streets. I put the car into reverse, but as I look in my rear-view mirror, a rising appears behind me that completely destroys the road. I turn to again face forwards, and can suddenly make out anthropoid silhouettes amongst the chaos. It is a wild shadow-play in which the characters are tearing each other apart, new figures constantly emerging from blazing ruins, hurling themselves into the melee.

There is no escaping this by car, as the road around me is now completely destroyed. I reach for door handle and glance at the whippet. Don’t do it, he seems to be saying. But there is no other option. I open the door and step out, and as I do so a strange sensation comes over me. I no longer want to get away, to turn and run in the opposite direction. Instead, there rises within me a desire to join the chaos, to leap into the maelstrom, to tear into the devilish beings and be torn apart myself. As I run towards the inferno I realise that, not only can I not feel the heat of the fire, but I am moving considerably faster than I thought myself capable. I look down and see that, like the beings in front of me, the lower half of my body has become that of a cloven-hoofed beast! ‘What sweet joy!’ I screech in a voice I do not recognise as my own, and leap into the flames.


Authors Note


The Residency is based on Affleck Gray’s book, The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui (1994), in which the mountaineer and historian gathered together dozens of accounts relating to evidence of, or even direct encounters with, the eponymous abominable snowman that is said to haunt the Cairngorms’ highest peak. Gray draws on textual accounts that appear in books and newspapers, but also from his own correspondence and interviews, in which walkers and climbers discuss ‘actual’ sightings of The Big Grey Man, discoveries of strange footprints in otherwise desolate spaces, or their sense of being followed when they believed themselves to be alone in the wilderness. Many of the stories are explainable, and the narrators are (in the main) equivocal about their experiences when placed in a position of having to articulate what happened to them, but even so, some tales remain utterly terrifying, especially when being read in the Bothy by candlelight! The descriptions of the footprints in the boggy moorland, and the magically appearing footprints in the snow at the end of the story, are taken directly from James Alan Rennie’s experiences in Cromdale, Speyside in 1952 [1] and in Northern-Canada in 1924 [2] respectively.

I was reading Gray’s book in the evenings during my week at Inshriach Bothy, after undertaking a number of local hikes or short walks during the day. I had a loose set of semi-connected stories and incidents drawn from my own research into the Bothy’s surrounding area that were laid out on the desk, and which formed the basis of the daytime excursions. Only three came to be used in the story, one of which is directly referenced, and the other two simply alluded to. The walk on the story’s first full day begins in Kingussie, takes in Creag Bheag and Loch Gynack, and heads across the moorland that borders the Monadhliath range before ending at Newtownmore. The majority of this walk takes place on the Pitmain Estate, which is owned by Abdul Majid Jafar, the CEO of Crescent Oil. Crescent was the only oil company to be left alone by Sadam Hussein during his reign in Iraq, and is of interest to various human rights and environmental activist groups [3] due to its close ties with the Hussein regime and its activities in Iraqi Kurdistan post US-led invasion [4]. Locally, Jafar teamed up with Danish retail tycoon Anders Polvsen, who owns the neighbouring Glenfeshie estate, to prevent the building of the Allt Duine windfarm [5]; and Jafar in particular is criticised by rambler groups for poor custodianship of the land [6]. The second full day in the story begins with a walk up Torr Alvie, which is almost directly opposite the Bothy on the other side of the Spey. The Duke of Gordon’s monument is at the top of the hill, and is briefly explained in the story. The second encounter that day is based on a site further up the river in Grantown-on-Spey. I found a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi, which is in general circulation, of her and her family having a picnic in Grantown [7]. Aung San’s house a short distance from a stone bridge across the Spey, which is where the photograph is claimed to have been taken. Having visited, I have my doubts about whether this is indeed the site of the photograph, but it is safe to assume that much family activity took place on the nearby riverbank. The encounter in the story is based on Aung San’s widely chronicled biography, her rise to power in Myanmar, and her subsequent use of that power.

Ultimately, the narratives represented in the story were filtered as a means to address ideas around democracy. In the build-up to and during the residency, and as the story was being written in the subsequent weeks, the breakdown in public political discourse represented by the ‘debate’ around Brexit, had become overwhelmingly depressing and often both frightening and dangerous. The ‘debate’ has, at the time of writing, been displaced in the news by the equally dismal Conservative Party leadership contest. The Residency is intended to represent something of the current political atmosphere, The Big Grey Man being a kind of stand-in for the discourse, which seems to affect everyone in the UK physically and/or psychologically all the time, wherever we go and whatever we do, and from which there currently seems to be no escape.


James N. Hutchinson is an artist who works curatorially. He lives in Glasgow.


Thanks to Anna, Sarah and Siân, Bothy Project and the Hope Scott Trust for supporting my residency at Inshriach.


[1] Rennie’s description, and a photograph of the footprints, appear in Affleck Gray, 2012 [1994], The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui. Edinburgh, Birlinn Limited, p.78.

[2] My own fictional description is borrowed almost verbatim from Rennie’s description of his 1924 ‘encounter’ with the Wendygo (Abominable Snowman) of Northern-Canada as it appears in Gray, 2012, The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui, p.80.

[3] Global JusticeNow have done much work on this, as has Andy Wightman, 2015, The Poor Had No Lawyers: Who Owns Scotland (And How They Got It). Edinburgh, Birlinn Limited.

[4] For example: Tamsin Carlisle, 2010, Magnate with more in sight than oil in his homeland, Iraq, The National, 4 September; anonymous, 1993, Captain Moonlight’s Notebook: Writs Fly as Iraq Oil Firm Fends off MediaI, The Independent, 21 March.

[5] Mark Macaskill, 2012, Tycoons Fight to Stop Wind Farm, The Sunday Times, 2 September

[6] Nick Kempe, 2017, Landownership and the New Hill Track in Glen Banchor, parkswatchscotland, 21 November.

[7] Tom Peterkin, 2015, Grantown-on-Spey to Honour Former Resident Aung San Suu Kyi with Plaque, The Scotsman, 21 December. As I understand it, the plaque discussed in the article was never made. Aung San was, however, given the freedom of the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, amongst others around the UK and the world. However, following the events in Rahkine, and Aung San’s refusal to condemn the mass killing of the Rohingya, the honours bestowed by the Scottish cities were stripped in 2018, as were those by Dublin, Newcastle and Oxford. She was also stripped of the Elie Weisel award, her honorary memberhip of UNISON, and her honorary presidency of the LSE.