A Room with a View – 2 nights at Uags Bothy
As the moon rose, full and bright, over the wild moorlands, the lonely ruined gables of abandoned crofts were outlined against the remarkably pale night sky. Not so long ago, smoke would have been rising from the chimneys, as folk huddled around their fires at night, after spending their daylight hours scratching a living in this remote and forgotten corner of the Highlands.
For ourselves, we too would be huddling around the fire, for the only standing building in this tiny former crofting village is Uags bothy. Only a few decades ago, this too was a ruin but, thanks to the efforts of the Mountain Bothy Association, the Applecross Estate, and the volunteers who gave up their time, it is now a well-sealed haven from the deep cold of a February night.
We had come here seeking sanctuary from the much-heralded “Beast from the East”, as part of our annual week winter walking in Scotland. After a couple of wonderful days on the hills near Torridon, we’d fancied an escape to somewhere quieter. We often combine our bothy visits with some winter hillwalking, but this year we decided just to have a break and spend some time in a wild and lonely spot.
Uags is certainly such a spot. Even getting to the end of the road at Toscaig is something of an adventure, especially if you choose the tortuous route over the Bealach na Ba, one of the UK’s most dramatic roads. The snow had been deep up there, but they’d been cleared, a deep slot through the drifts. Down by the coast there was no snow, and as we parked up at the road head, the sky was blue, though the ground was frozen.
The walk in, following a path that sometimes becomes rather faint, was relatively straightforward, thanks mostly due to the fact that the many boggy bits were completely frozen over. We were, though, slowed more than a little bit by the massive packs we’d stuffed full of coal, wood, food and numerous hip flasks of single malt, as well as the guitar strapped to my pack which is sometimes referred to as the “emergency kindling”. At times the thin trail disappeared, and eventually we lost it for a while, where it swung uphill I think, so if you come this way, if in doubt keep high.
After a couple of slow hours, the path turned through the rare Atlantic oak woodlands behind the bothy, and dropped to the coast past their twisted, lichen-covered boughs. We’d arrived.
That night, as the temperatures plummeted under crystal clear skies, we were very glad of the fuel we’d lugged with us. And of the drams, of course. I’ll not presume to comment on whether my companions were glad of my guitar and song, but they haven’t hit me over the head with a bothy shovel and buried me in a bog yet, despite this happening on several trips now.
We’d vaguely thought about pressing on along the coast the next day, then swinging inland and up to the summit of the low hills behind. However, with my knee sore from an injury a week or two back, and the wind cold and biting, we decided just to potter about the coast and the bay where we were. And what a place for a potter about it is. Eastward, you can wander to a high point, and gaze towards the distant mountains south of Strathcarron, and to Glen Shiel’s distinctive Sisters pointing their heads above the lower hills. Always, though, your eyes are drawn outwards, to Skye, whose jagged hills were a constant companion as we wandered the shore, clambered over the rocks, and sat sheltered below the cliffs in the little caves that are possibly what gave Uags, Na h-Uamhagan in Gaelic, its name.
The day passed slowly and contentedly, each of us enjoying just existing in this beautiful place. At times though, I contemplated what it must have been like to actually live here, miles from anywhere. I hope the beauty at times made up for the hardship of a life spent on the edge of the land. As the sun set precisely behind the summit of Glamaig, the paling sky was reflected in the frozen rock pools by which we sat and quietly watched.
That night, once more we huddled around the fire. Knowing that with the bit of driftwood we’d found, and more than half the coal still left, we would not run out of fuel, I started the fire a little earlier, for the wind was cutting and bitter. Once more, the sky was clear, and the ground increasingly crunchy but, as there was little moisture in the air, no frost appeared despite it being way below freezing, just ice.
Bothy nights are a special part of the experience, the glow and warmth of the fire, the chat between friends, the flicker of candlelight, reflected off the bare window panes, beyond which lies nothing but wild country. You sense the remoteness, and potential harshness, of the country, but you sit snug and cosy within four strong stone walls. It must have been similar for those who lived here before, but for them it was every night, not just a few chosen days of the year.
The next day we only had to walk back out to the car, so luxuriated with a small breakfast fire whilst hot coffee brewed. Our water supply, the tiny stream that tumbled past the old crofts nearby, was frozen over. Judicious use of a hefty rock solved this problem, but boy was that a cold drink! It took far less time to return to the car, tip-toeing across the icy burns, and we managed not to lose the track at all.
Soon enough we were back at the car, and headed into Applecross for a second breakfast, that turned into lunch at the welcoming and excellent Inn.
A truly special couple of days.
The Bothy Code
Bothies are special, and they only exist thanks to the generosity of others, and the respect of their visitors. You can find out more on the MBA’s web page, https://www.mountainbothies.org.uk/. At the very least, follow the Bothy Code and, if you can, always try to leave a bothy in just a little bit better condition than when you arrive.
Respect the bothy
Respect other users
Respect the surroundings
Respect agreement with the estate
Respect the restriction on numbers