Bikes and Bothies: A Microadventure in Scotland

I casually suggested to my work colleague Kate, that maybe one weekend we could cycle to a bothy together. Bothies are remote buildings that provide shelter, often maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. They are usually free to use, and open to everyone. Kate and I are not terribly adventurous (the only time we had previously cycled together, was to the beach for an ice-cream), nor have we spent much time outside of work together. However, we both commute to work by bike, and we often spend 8 hours a day in each other’s company, so heading out into the wilds together, didn’t seem like the worst plan ever. I admit, I was a bit nervous about dragging Kate along (what if she hated it?), but right from my casual suggestion, Kate was so very excited! For weeks! And weeks! And she was still smiling at the end. Although she requests that next time, perhaps we could go cycling somewhere else? Somewhere flat? Amsterdam perhaps?

Our original plan had been to travel mid-March. We kept a close eye on the weather forecast; however, by Thursday a yellow snow warning was in place and we decided to put the plan on hold until mid-April (which conveniently happens to be my birthday).

As this plan had been so long in the making, we spent weeks and weeks going over kit lists and food plans – I enjoy this and Kate likes a plan, plus she had to borrow a number of items, so we needed to put this in place. Are you scoffing, dear reader at the amount of planning we did? Please remember, a small step for you is a big adventure for us!

My big concerns were that Kate would be cold and that she would underestimate how much food energy is required to cycle 25 miles. I know if you regularly cycle 25 miles, you probably wouldn’t even consider what food to take, but we don’t and this trip, as well as being a big adventure for us, was also intended to be fun. I’d even go as far as saying that fun was the main point of this trip. In case you are wondering if we were undertaking this trip on fancy, high-spec mountain bikes, let me tell you, we were not. We were going to do this trip on our regular bikes, with 7 gears each, no suspension and using panniers.

Our journey began in Edinburgh, we caught a train to Glasgow and another train to Balloch. During the planning stage I had mentioned to Kate that we would have 20 minutes in Glasgow to change trains and we could grab a coffee. Kate, informed me that she was going to use that time to worry about whether we were on the correct platform. As I don’t like to deprive anyone of their fun, I brought a thermos of coffee instead.

We arrived at Balloch and set off. Things went smoothly for the first 25 minutes, until I stopped to remove something from my tyre. The tyre then promptly deflated, as I had run over a pin! I changed my inner tube and we set off again, but that was my only spare (I patched it later in the evening, a lesson learnt). We stopped in Balmaha for a picnic on the shore of Loch Lomond, this was our first real glimpse of the loch since leaving Balloch. After Balmaha, I thought it would be ‘fun’ to ride through the woods on the West Highland Way, rather than along the 15% inclined road, however I had misremembered how hilly and tree rooty that bit of path was. Anyway, Kate was still smiling, the sun was shining and the view was pretty epic.

The next stretch of the road was hilly, and coming to a steep incline, we again resorted to the West Highland Way track, only to be confronted by a series of steep steps. We ended up taking the panniers off the bikes, and carrying everything up separately. Back on the road, we rolled into Rowadennan for a last civilised toilet stop. The last section of the route to the bothy is up, and up, and up a forest track. Then, a wee tuck back down along the West Highland Way (thankfully step and tree root free), and there it was, the bothy gable just peeking through the woods. Phew! (Kate was still smiling, isn’t she the best?!).

We stuck our head into the bothy, but nobody was about. Set in the woods, with the sun shining and daffodils waving, Rowchoish bothy was a lot less wild looking than my visit to the Corryhully bothy a year ago. Although Rowchoish has no windows, the translucent ceiling panels let plenty of light into the former byre. Inside there is a good selection of saws, so we set about creating our wood pile and exploring the area. With five logs cut, we decided it was dinner time. As we sat down to eat, a couple called Jan and Lucy arrived. This was their first bothy stay, so they were every bit as excited as we were. They took one look at our wood pile (of which we were so proud), and declared they would get more wood. So as not to be deprived of the novel experience, Kate lit the fire while they were out.

Lucy and Jan had hiked the 15 miles from Balmaha and were also planning to head home the next day. Seasoned tent campers, they produced from their bag an amazing variety of things, including pizza, fruit, Czech sausage, bread, mustard, and whisky. We shared our biscuits and hot water capabilities, and they shared their tea and smoked sausage, which they had warmed over the fire (and we promptly decided that next time we are bringing smoked sausage).

Soon it was bedtime and we settled down for the night. On other trips I have been far too warm in my sleeping bag, so this time I decided to wear less clothing. However, a combination of a more active day, lower temperatures and a lack of warm socks meant I wasn’t quite warm enough. I should have eaten more biscuits before bed.

In the morning, Kate brewed everyone birthday coffee, and we ate porridge and fire-roasted chocolate bananas. We swept the bothy, said goodbye to our new friends, and headed out for the day. Yesterday’s long slog uphill, made for a long descent to start the day. I am sure my knees will forgive me eventually.

On the return journey, we avoided the ‘shortcuts’, and stopped at Balmaha for a pub lunch. In-case you are wondering, Kate was still smiling at 4pm when we made it back to Balloch Railway Station. We had a great adventure, but we were very ready to get back on the train and head home. It can’t have been too bad though, Kate has agreed that she would be willing to come along again, just not next week!

Written by Fiona Love: "I am Fiona, I like to do ordinary adventures, often with my ordinary bike and whichever of my friends is too slow to think of an excuse to say no. My bike gets tired after 40 miles, and requires regular snack breaks. I am based in Edinburgh and I don’t drive, so public transport is my friend. I’m scared of heights, ostriches and the dark. I blog about my adventures here and I post on my Instagram: @fiona1484. Say hi if you want to come along on a trip."