I’ve been finding a quieter rhythm of life recently, needing to pull back from a lot to find as much stillness as a freelancer can, to reset myself. And trying to spend some time doing some of the things I want to do, not just those things I have to do or feel like I should be doing. The guilt of not being as productive and not pushing as hard as I did last year is definitely weighing heavy but it’s something I’m trying to shake for the sake of my own sanity, and happiness. I’m excited to enjoy being at home, and enjoy being in the outdoors, just for me.
I’ve found that since ‘the outdoors’ became my career I’ve felt like I must be some kind of expert who’s done more than I have. Which is ridiculous, I didn’t grow up outdoorsy so there are so many things that are new to me, that I haven’t done and I’m excited to explore those things as a beginner, rather than feeling like I should already have done them or know what I’m doing.
One of those things on my list – staying in bothies all around Scotland. I spent lockdown pouring over the Scottish Bothy Bible, and reading Bothy Tales by John Burns, imagining my own future bothy stories. This Christmas I was gifted a second copy of the Bothy Bible, so I have two sat on my bookshelf, a sure sign.
And so I’ve been thinking up my own adventures and journeys to get to these bothies and wondering how many I’ll manage to get to this year. And I’d never stayed in a bothy before. Why would I? I only first visited Scotland a few years ago (and subsequently fell in love, like most people do) and bothies were pretty much a mystery to me until really recently. And so last month we managed to squeeze in our first bothy experience, at the most easy-to-get-to bothy there is. And although it wasn’t the snowy, bothy experience I had pictured, because the snow all melted, and was very much that kind of small, short escape I craved. A stillness. Building a fire, lighting candles, using the gifts left by others and contributing our own gifts. Puzzling over who would leave a jar of pickles and grateful for the candle holders. Wondering how different this bothy is to others, how they all are to each other.
I find it hard to want to share and create an adventure and joyously build a life for myself at the moment. It’s almost feels like I am going through the motions, a feeling I’m very familiar with, but also it’s transformed because there is that really key awareness that everything, for everybody, is very much the same. Nobody feels normal, do they? There is an insignificance to my problems as I think about the overwhelming issues we’re all dealing with collectively, some more than others. From not being able to put on heating to realising that cost of food is becoming unsustainable for more and more of us. Honestly, it feels like a luxury to be able to spend an evening with a bothy, to cut up our own log for firewood (which was already there, for us to add to what we’d brought in ourselves) – to be able to escape for just a little bit.
We arrived at Ryvoan Bothy as it got dark around us. Our plan is to head into the hills from here tomorrow but the forecast has changed and the wind is looking fiercer and fiercer, so we’re already at peace with the fact that our plan is likely going to be a short, lower walk and heading back earlier so we can both get on with some work. I have a deadline in a couple of days and Michael is working remotely whilst we are up here shooting for my Ice Mile docu. There’s a lot of juggling different things and we probably shouldn’t really afford an evening away from work and wifi, but we know we need it. Just some breathing space with not much to do but talk and stay warm.
We light candles, get cosy. And put our freshly cut firewood to work. And I wearily eye the jar of pickles, the two open jars of pesto, and some gravy left by previous bothy stayers. I’m pretty surprised we have this place to ourselves. It’s an easy to get to bothy, but then again it’s a weekday in January, it’s gloomy, a little wet, and there’s zero snow. Not exactly ideal conditions for… anything in the winter hills really.
Aaaaaand, we may have pulled a total punter move. It’s dinner time and we’re starving. And we have just realised that in our rush we managed to get the wrong gas canisters, suddenly feeling very glad nobody else is here with us to see us make this mistake. But, it’s a bothy, so we’re saved by a rusty kettle and the stove. It may have taken 20 minutes instead of 3 to boil the water, but that doesn’t matter. Kind of feels more authentic this way anyway, at least – that’s what I’m telling myself.
And now we realise how out of date our meals actually are.
They taste like nothing. Well mine is kind of like spicy water. You know when you’re hungry and you’re just so excited to eat? And usually after a day out, anything tastes amazing? Well this did not taste amazing. It’s about 6 months out of date and as I sit there sadly I look up, to see the gravy I’d been questioning the existence of earlier. Turns out gravy can save a really, really out of date dehydrated meal, and all I can think of is how much I love the person who left it. And that I hope it isn’t poisoned.
We settle down and I start to read by headtorch-light – Just Another Mountain. I’m only a few chapters in when Sarah starts talking about hiking in this area, visiting this bothy. I just couldn’t get over it. I hadn’t really paid this place any attention until being here, and now I’m here, curled up in my sleeping bag in this bothy, and the book I’m reading is talking about the hill we were planning on heading up, and visiting this bothy, and the lake we passed on the way in? I don’t know, it’s obviously coincidence but it just feels so… strange and serendipidous. A weird sign that we definitely should be here tonight and doing this. That it’s the right place to be, and I’m on the right track. In balancing work, and life, and slowing down in the right ways. Still thinking of my impending edit every so often, but generally switching off just a little bit.
Michael falls asleep at about half past seven. I doze and wake and doze and wake. I’m pretty sure I heard a ghost at one point but it was probably the wind. I wonder whether I’d feel comfortable staying in a bothy alone. I’m unsure. I’ll stay in the van alone, I’ll camp alone, I’ll bivvy alone. But part of me wonders whether staying in a bothy alone would be too much for me. Ghosts or no ghosts.
Ghosts aside. I make it through the night and I’m now quickly being told by my shoulders and hips that I’ve completely forgotten how to sleep on my back. Or maybe I am just getting old and creaky.
The morning light is dull, but the clouds are quietly magical if you really look – swirling pastel patterns close to the horizon line. It’s as windy as promised and quite mild. I close my eyes and imagine being here in full snow.
As I leave I continue to notice the little details here in the light of day. The railway mirror and the bits and pieces left by others. I’m imagining who brought each chair, and when. I’m also still wondering who on earth thought open pesto was a suitable thing to leave.
We say bye and I feel like something has started. I’m not one for the term ‘bagging’ or just consuming places or summits for a ticklist but there is a certain kind of excitement in the start of a new experience. It feels a little like my first bivvy, but better somehow. Maybe because I see myself living here sometime soon, excited and anxious for that to happen – it feels like a way to explore and appreciate this country I’d like to call my home. That already feels like home. Or maybe I just like the idea of exploring lots of little dark buildings in the middle of nowhere and wondering who I’ll meet and the stories that will come from them.
I’m not sure which one of these places will be the next one. And when. I already feel like it could be summer by the time we create that time together again, but maybe sooner. I’m excited to see where to next.