In May I visited a night club in the centre of the Cairngorm Mountains. I can hear the outcry now at the sacrilege committed in the middle of one of our greatest national parks. Before the Gortex clad legions take up arms I better explain that this was a night club for birds, the feathered kind I mean.
I had not been to a bothy for a long time and decided to spend a night in Ryvoan bothy not too far from Aviemore. The bothy is probably the most accessible in Scotland so I decided it might be a good place to begin my return to the hills. Not too taxing for my un hill fit legs and yet allowing me a little taste of the wilderness experience.
When I arrived at the bothy a Dutch couple were already in residence and were busily preparing to cook their evening meal over the bothy fire. They had been on a bush craft course, they proudly announced. Such was Cleary evident as they had prepared assiduously for lighting the bothy fire. They had cut sticks and arranged them in neat rows according to size in a manner that would flatter even the most anally retentive amongst us.
Bush craft is a topic that has only recently been popularised and consists of teaching people who have never left the sanctity of their urban homes how to do things in the countryside that no rural dweller would ever think of doing. Cooking over a wood fire, for instance, is slow, dirty and time consuming. Cavemen used to do it. We have moved on from there, we have butane stoves, iPhones and GPS gadgets. Just because our ancestors did it does not mean we should do it. Our brother cavemen also battered each other senseless with clubs I don’t hear anyone suggesting that such behaviour would bring us closer to nature even if the residents of certain areas of Glasgow practice it with gusto.
I once went on a bush craft course and one lesson they taught us was how to crap in a hole. Frankly I think that if you can’t work out for yourself how to crap in a hole you shouldn’t be encouraged to visit the great outdoors, in fact, you probably should be allowed to leave the house without a carer.
In the early morning I got up for a pee and discovered that near the bothy, on a piece of open ground, black grouse were performing a mating dance in what was clearly a night club for birds otherwise known as a lek. About twenty of the little black birds were gyrating furiously in the hope of attracting a member of the opposite sex. So shy were they that when I showed myself they vanished. Later in the day they all hid and the many folk who passed by would have had no idea that these little birds were there at all.
The following day I attempted to head up Bynack More a hill nearby that should have been relatively accessible from the bothy. Unfortunately winter lingered longer than usual in the Cairngorms this year and I was unable to get to the summit as I hit a steep section of snow ice. As I had no crampons or ice axe, this was in May after all, I had to retreat. Such conditions are unheard of in May. I shall be sending a stiff letter!
I’m sure all Dutch people are not humourless but this couple took everything very seriously even declining a sip of whisky and I was unable to raise much in the way of conversation. That tends to be the case with our European cousins although a friend of mine found a group of Germans in a bothy and had a whale of a time with them. They with their beer and he with his whisky. Oddly enough in the morning he awoke to find they all treated him with a frozen, stony silence. Searching his recollection of the night before he could only recall an evening of merriment and he even had a dim memory of one hilarious moment when he had used soot from the fire to make himself a Hitler moustache and goose stepped around the bothy. He never did find out what had upset them.