Going with the Flow Country

After a comfy night at the Crask ‘bothy’, we were ready for the next installment of our far north backpacking and bothying trip. James had his eye on a visit to Lochstrathy bothy – a five mile schlep across the vast, boggy expanse of the Flow Country from Rhefail in Strath Naver.

After a very enjoyable drive north-east from Crask, we parked up, shouldered our packs, crossed the bridge over the River Naver and walked up past the estate farm and houses and so on to the hill. The rain started pretty much as soon as we’d set off and once we’d crossed the shoulder of Beinn Rifa-gil (293m) we were walking into the teeth of a stiff breeze. It was very refreshing.

Once we were up, we plotted a route through the landscape of cnocs and lochs. Despite the wind and rain, visibility was good, which was a great help. Happily, we were able to follow convenient argocat tracks for a good part of the way as the ground was exceptionally boggy in places.

After a spot of lunchtime sandwich-bothering, we continued along our convenient ‘cat track until it no longer served our purposes. We then made a beeline across the bog, aiming for the gap between two lochans. It really was very boggy indeed, but somehow we managed to traverse the morass and remain dryshod.

We gained a slight rise then crossed a small river valley before arriving at the deer fence surrounding the Strathy Forest plantation. All we had to do now was follow the fence and we should arrive at the bothy after a mile or so. This was all very straightforward except that as we were blethering away, we wandered into the middle of a large bog from which we had to extricate ourselves by gently tiptoeing around to its outer reaches.

Soon we descended a little towards the River Strathy and made for a ladder stile over the deer fence next to a locked gate. The dogs startled up a red deer hind a way off on the other side of the river and gave a little chase, thankfully just for show of course.

We passed the mutts over the ladder stile, much easier with a compliant 22 kilo staffie cross than a 30 kilo labraloony with a backpack. Here was the lochstrathy bothy then, a solid looking stone cottage standing in a clearing surrounded by coniferous plantation.

Sadly, this wonderful spot will soon be a huge windfarm. To some people this is just ’empty’, unproductive land, which can be made to pay by erecting a large number of huge turbines which will be visible from far and wide. The expansive view across the Flow Country we’d enjoyed from Ben Armine a couple of days before will soon be broken up by a vast, bristling array of wind turbines. Never mind that the proposed array is on the edge of an important RSPB reserve, the Highland Council has rubber stamped it and the SNP continues with its aim to cover the whole of Scotland – other than the picture postcard views – with the bloody things.

It had only been a five mile walk in, but we were glad to arrive and shed our backpacks. What a bothy too; five rooms including two upstairs, bed frames, a huge hearth and a TV. Really. Happily the TV is just one of those sight gags beloved of bothy dwellers (I was fond of the light switch at An Cladach until some humourless git wrenched it from its fixing). Unsurprisingly, given that the bothy is in a forestry plantation, there was literally tons of firewood and we soon had a blaze going.

The fireplace has a shelf either side above the grate – perfect for drying boots! I put my ever so slightly damp footwear on one side and spent a while gazing into the soporific heart of the fire.

I removed them an hour later only to find that the rubber last over the toe cap had collapsed, cracking and buckling the leather of the toecaps. The toe was now full of hard, sharp protruberances. Doh! My boots were – as Monsieur l’Artiste might put it – furqued. I had my cheapo, ersatz-Croc bothy creepers with me, but seeing as Dougal had chewed the heel thingumys off of them they would be no use for recrossing the bog tomorrow. I envisaged a painful walk out in my destroyed boots. Furthermore the remaining backpack would have to be done in my trail trainers, which were in the car. Boo.

Dougal and Reuben seemed very relaxed about the situation, however.

The next morning we set off  from the bothy to retrace our steps to Rhefail and thence to collect TLF from Kinbrace station.

The walk back out seemed that much easier, except on the downhills when my boots were transformed into Medieval torture instruments.

Soon enough we were looking down along the beautiful Strath Naver.

We descended towards the farm and ran into the landowner as he was exiting the farmyard in an argocat. Hilariously, he pulled up and delivered the landed classes’ standard phrase (it’s not really a question) when encountering examples of the Great Unwashed on ‘their’ land. ‘Are you lost?’ He wasn’t impolite, but how he must pine for the days when he could roar ‘Get orf my land’ at the plebs, but sadly no more. Rather diplomatically James replied that no, we weren’t lost, just heading back to the car. And so we did.


18 responses

  1. A couple of splendidly epic posts, Pete, which gladdened my own heart with their ’empty’ views. And although I earn a bit of a living from recording the impact data of wind turbines on birds, I still confess to finding them aesthetically pleasing in the landscape. The impacts far less so…

    I can’t tell you how much the doggy paniers have improved my evening though!

    • If only Hector the Half a Dog were still to the fore, Hoff, then you too could deck him out in his

      very own panniers. Useful for gathering wild mushrooms and brambles no doubt.

  2. The ‘landowner’ thing is interesting. I used to hold similar feelings towards ‘them’ until I got talking to a few over the last few years. When you actually chat to these guys you find that you have an lot in common – they love the same places that you love. Meeting the game-keepers is always interesting – asking them about their lives – they can be incredibly helpful; some have pointed me to estate bothies and even given me the keys to locked bothies in rotten weather – to be left on the mantelpiece. Take them as you find them – smile and they generally smile back.

    I have met one or two stinkers – but that is the same throughout life!

    The Landowners do have a lot more money though!

    • I agree, Alan. Certainly most gamekeepers I’ve met in the Highlands and Islands have been friendly and helpful. The landowners we met at Loch Choire were genuinely friendly folk; I’d acknowledge that it’s partly because of my own chippiness that I find it awkward to interact with the landed classes. I used to be a hunt saboteur years back, so the interaction used to occur on different level!
      No harm to the chap at Rhefail, it was just such a chestnut: ‘Are you lost?’

  3. The posts are coming think and fast today from Writes of way towers. That was a cracking bothy eh? I don’t think that it will be the same with a giant windmill only feet away. We will have to send you on a ‘how to interact with the landed gentry’ course before you are allowed back into the highlands.

    • Aye! I reckon I do know how to interact with the landed classes! I’ll get the third backpack done tomorrow before we head of to Islay and Scarba, can’t be getting a backlog.

  4. The view of that flat emptiness is amazing. Nothing finer than a high quality bothy to yourselves with a roaring fire and melted boots – LOL 🙂

    The picture of the two dogs is a real “aaaaah” moment, made me feel all emotional. I’m a modern 21st century guy in touch with his softer side don’t ya know

  5. Pingback: Bothy vagabonds in the far north pt2 – Flow Country | Backpackingbongos

  6. loved reading this, I live and work in Caithness [ artist] and my paintings are all inspired by this landscape raw, and unspoiled and with the right light , epic .

  7. Hi, I’ve looked at these blogs and Alan Sloman’s and love the attitude to the hills and life. I used to do what you guys do as a way of making Munro (4) and Corbett (1) rounds easier. My forte was sleeping under rocks at 3,000 feet with only a bum bag for 3 days out!. Hospital and advancing years just about put paid to all of that but, with your inspiration, I am going to have another go. Was in Achnanclach last week and a visit to Strabeg in 2016 got my picture in Nicholas White’s book ‘Black Dots’, p. 16, reading the newspaper! Before I attempt Gleann Strathaidh, I’ll try Kearvaig which I walked to from Inverie, Knoydart in 1989. Darwin bless you all! John Vaughan aka The Headingley Bugle.

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