Last House in Craig
Updated: Mar 14, 2020
The little road that leaves majestic Glen Torridon for the rocky coves of Diabaig, climbs and winds tortuously beneath the flanks of mighty Beinn Alligin. When you reach the end of the road, it feels like you've reached the edge of civilisation. Yet once, not that long ago, another community nestled a few miles further along the coast, in the valley and bay where the Craig River tumbles into the sea, reached only by a path, or by water. This was Craig, a small community of old crofts that sat up behind the rocky beach. Most were in the shelter of steep Creag Dhearg just behind the beach, but a little further inland a knoll gives some shelter from the whistling winds, and here a larger house had been built for a shepherd and his family. Barely eking out a living from the land here, the community was eventually abandoned in the 1930s, but in 1935 the Scottish Youth Hostel Association took over this house, the last still standing, and it remained a simple hostel until 2003. Three years later, the Mountain Bothies Association took over the hostel, and since then it has remained open to all as long as they respect the place and other guests, and follow the bothy code.
A couple of weeks ago, we were in our favourite Northwest Highlands, hoping for some hill days, but the weather gods were not relenting. Storms blew in and out and though there were short periods of clear weather between them, the hills came and went but the wind never dropped. After a few damp but enjoyable valley explorations, through fragrant pine forests and round wild lochs, we wanted to get away from it all and Craig bothy certainly seemed to fit the bill.
Loaded with heavy packs full of gear, food and fuel for the fire, we left the road at Upper Diabaig in reasonable weather and trudged slowly along a pretty good path across the moorlands to the north. Below us, the sea crashed against the shoreline, whilst the hills of the long peninsula of Trotternish, on Skye, dominated the horizon to the west. Whilst our loads made the walk a little arduous, there was little height gain or loss and after an hour or so we stood on the edge of a steep hill that dropped down into the sheltered valley of the Craig River, chilled by a squally sleet shower. Walking carefully down the path over slabby red rocks, we could see the bothy nestled behind a small stand of Scots Pines, 400 m or so up from the beach. It looked like a great little spot.
This is a relatively well-appointed bothy, with two large downstairs rooms and a "kitchen" alcove, and 3 upstairs ones complete with some slightly-dubious creaky beds. Of course, there is no water supply, no electric, no real insulation and the only fuel is that carried for our gas stoves, and the coal and logs we lugged in for the bothy's multi-fuel stove. There is, though, one luxurious feature for a bothy; a toilet in a lean-to round the back, flushed by a bucket from the water butt, fed by a drainpipe. We got set up, prepared the fire for later, and headed out to explore our new neighbourhood.
The track down to the beach directly opposite is somewhat boggy, but with the view out to Skye ahead of us, it was hardly a chore. A small herd of deer were spotted to the left, picking their way towards the twisted shapes of the stunted wild woodlands that cling precariously to the slopes here. The beach is rocky; above it the shells of cottages remain, last testament to a way of life, and one building is still fairly solid just above the high tide mark. The rushing river crosses the beach to the north, but looking at its power, we opted to simply follow it back up to the bothy; a less boggy route than the descent.
The sun was now dipping behind the Isle of Skye. Trotternish, that long northern peninsula of the Isle, dominated, and tonight it was a spectacle to behold. A cloak of wind-shaped cloud clung to the remarkable peaks of the Storr and the Quiraing, turning their already snow-white slopes into something almost glacial, back-lit by the fading sun. A fitting end to our first day, as we closed the door against the elements and turned our faces to the warmth of a bothy fire.
With the wind still howling the next morning, we had no plans other than to spend the day exploring our new home and its neighbourhood. There is a simple pleasure in pottering about in such places that I probably overlooked when younger, heading straight for the hills and rocky scrambles. Instead, we wandered to the beach, sat watching the waves and, slightly oddly, the manoeuvres of HMS Prince of Wales, our newest large aircraft carrier which was on sea trials on the Inner Sound. Later, a wander upstream found a hidden waterfall and wild little gorge, below brief views of the wind-scoured Beinn Alligin, before a squelchy walk back across the moorlands returned us to the relative warmth of Craig. I can't think of a better way to spend time than simply living for a short while in a remote spot, watching its moods.
The following day we headed back out, chased by squally winter showers along the path back to Diabaig, the conditions atmospheric and ever-changing. An excellent lunch in Torridon's welcoming cafe brought a couple of wonderful relaxed days to an end, before we moved eastward in search of hill time.