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“Making a difference” – why I trudge miles in all weather to take out other people’s rubbish

By Neil Reid, bothy caretaker

Neil Reid on Beinn Bhreac, Cairngorms

It takes some sort of saint, right?

To trudge miles in all weathers, in scorching sunshine or howling wind and rain, in thick fog or through an exhausting blanket of snow, all just to clean up someone else's rubbish or carry out a DIY repair. And not once, but time and time again, year after year.

I've been one of those people for a number of years now and though some of the more miserable and extreme weather has prompted occasional feelings of martyrdom, I’ve never felt particularly saintly.

The thing is, it's just so much fun — and quite a privilege too.

I became involved in bothy maintenance almost 10 years ago when I heard there was a major renovation about to take place at Corrour Bothy – halfway through the famous Lairig Ghru route which runs from Aviemore to Braemar – a tiny, single-roomed cottage dwarfed by the massive bulk of Cairn Toul behind it.

I remember my first trip to the Corrour Bothy. To some it is a welcome refuge halfway through a long and challenging walk; to me it had been my introduction to a new world. My father took me to when I was 10 or 11 years old and I was both enchanted by the idea of a 'gang hut' for grown-ups and thrilled when we left a small tin of beans on the shelves by the fireplace, "in case anyone has to stay here but has no food."

This was my initiation into an adult world, where real mountaineers – and surely I was one now – helped one another in desperate situations. Our contribution would, I was in no doubt, stave off starvation and death for some hard-pressed adventurer.

The childhood naivety faded, but the love of mountains and appreciation of bothies grew. When I heard help was needed at Corrour, I wanted to do something.

The maintenance organisers

At Corrour, we had Kenny as project manager. Now he makes artificial limbs, but he trained as a cabinet-maker. These two occupations give him both practical skills and a way of thinking through problems to come up with workable solutions. Among the other crew I met were:-

  • Neil – now a fireman but who worked once as a brickie, giving him invaluable know-how with
  • Allan ('Sinbad') – a retired plumber who showed his mastery on the leadwork up on the roof.
  • John – then the chairman of the MBA. I was so impressed that one in so exalted a position would get down and dirty with the troops.

Soon after there came a vacancy for one of the two maintenance organisers for Corrour. I was proud to join Neil in the post.

So why bother?

Sometimes I tell people it's because I’ve used the bothies all my life and it's about time I put something back. Almost half a century ago my father introduced me to that unique Scottish bothy culture where every man was your neighbour and no one was left needing. So that's true, maybe.

"Bothy life is simple and that’s about it" - Nei Reid

Pride? Certainly. Pride that I, a wee bauchle who knew this bothy when it was four bare walls, a roof and an earthen floor, have been able to help others more skilled than I to turn it into an exemplar of modern bothy culture and am entrusted to help look after it.

It's for the craic and the company, for they're a rare gang of folk who look after the bothies: like-minded hill gangrels with years of experience and tales to tell and share.

The gratitude of my fellow hillwalkers and climbers is nice, too. It would be a lie to say I’m not chuffed when someone says well done, when people who have enjoyed a night's comfortable shelter and perhaps a dram and a tale or two around the fire say thanks for all the good work.

At the heart of it though it is a chance, however small, to make a difference. By walking a few miles into the hills I love and doing a few hours of work, I can make a small part of the world a better place than it was. For the very existence of a bothy is a defiant subversion of the dog-eat-dog world of business and politics.

Maintaining a place of refuge and shelter in the wilderness, open and free for all people to come together as strangers and share each other’s company as friends, to help one-another and share tales and experiences, is a proud assertion and reminder of humanity in a world where humanity too often seems in danger of being overwhelmed by fear and greed.

Preview: Bothy Life

Documentary telling the story of the Mountain Bothy Association