2 Aug 2016

Our Humble Abode

WORDS & PHOTOS x Sam Needham

Bearing smiles of optimistic enthusiasm, we push on through the brash wind and the icy rain that is trying its very best to chisel away at our faces. Ahead, in the distance are the peaks we are headed for, standing dominant and looking ominous under the bruising of black, grey and navy cloud. What was a trail, is now a stream as we gain ground towards our destination and our home for the night. But despite the onslaught of Scottish weather our glass is far from half empty; it’s quite the opposite in fact, as spending a night in a bothy is generally speaking, something worth smiling about. And getting there by bike is all the better.

Bothies have a certain character that makes them much more than just a mountain shelter. Housed between the valleys and mountains that extrude over Scotland, England and Wales, Bothies stay rooted by their own modesty and yet boast a simple beauty. Former ruins, now solid foundations and hardy walls are a welcome sight in the remote areas they sit, especially when Mother Nature shows no sign of mercy. The bothy we’re heading to is no exception to the rule; it’s small, rustic, and organic, yet it does have its charms and as with most things in life, it’s the simple things…

We crest the final rise to our destination, through hail and wind and rain, there it is in the shroud of a mountain saddle. Our humble abode. Our room for the night. Our bothy.

My hands and feet are a distant numb at the end of my arms and legs, and my face is a tingle; The sight of refuge has never been such a welcome one. The door groans open, as if our home for the night had just been disturbed from a deep slumber. The warm darkness inside swallows the outside air. It’s a token gesture and a reassuring one at that as I peer into the black. There’s an eerie sense of life to these absent and silent spaces. Inside all I can hear is the whistle of the wind down the fire place, yet, I feel like I’m sharing the experience with others. The silence is broken when Sam and Ali enter with the howling wind in tow. All of a sudden, the atmosphere has shifted from a ghostly one to a warm and inviting air. Almost as if we’d been accepted by our humble abode in open arms.

We change into warm, dry clothes; the second most important essential after beer and/or whisky to Bothy living and turn to making a house a home. We light candles and get to building a fire using timber left by previous guests. We hang our damp riding gear up above the fire place to become dry-smoked delicacies and we throw down our sleeping bags ready for the later hours. It’s hard not to feel a sort of smugness as we pass a nip of whisky around and refuel on copious ready-to-go-packets of boiled ‘Macaroni Cheese’. The pasta is the worst pasta I’ve eaten, but it’s also the best. It’s a cliche but we really are away from it all. Our neighbours are the mountains, the waves, the stars and the animals that peer on. There really is nothing here that is to distract. Not even a glimmer of phone signal. We drift off to sleep as we thaw with the heat of fermented barley and the amber glow of an open fire.

The floor is hard. Uncomfortable. Cold. Yet sleep is not an issue.

It’s often said that “it’s about the journey, not the destination” and there’s truth in that. But don’t overlook the destination, or brush it off your shoulder, or even think you need a heavy wallet to reach out to the wild. After all, the destination is the reason to journey in the first place and a journey is always worth making by bike.

We wake to the shy morning light, brushing its way through the sleepy, smokey haze from the previous night’s fire. The outside seems clearer now, as if the bothy walls have thinned and softened their stance to the elements. Through the window, lay our dew-dripped bikes. Beyond our bikes. The day’s adventure awaits.