A poorly isolated tiny camper van with temperatures inside far below zero during the cold winter nights. Winter in Scotland, winter in the Cairngorms. There were even icicles on the ceiling above our bed. But we were not too unhappy about this harsh winter: the views were absolutely amazing!
As a kid I was told not to go with strangers… but we did
Our roadtrip was a dream becoming true… but a very cold dream. So when we were chatting to a local hunter one evening, who offered us a warm(er) place to stay, we could not resist. ‘Come on, follow me, I know a place where you can spend the night, and it’s warmer than here’. And so it happened we followed a complete stanger and his American Stafford to his home, where his wife served us hot tea and some garlic bread. We drank lots of tea, on the couch that we shared with the dog.
Then, around midnight, it was time to go to the bothy he knew. He brought an air mattress and some kitchen equipment for us. We followed him into the pitch dark landscape, having no idea where we were going, and the drive seemed very long. When we road ended, he announced we were there. It was so dark out there that we didn’t see where he brought us. He told us we needed some wood for the fire, so he took a chain saw from his care and told us to follow him into the forest. Soon, we almost stepped on one of the many deer that died from hunger, and that were now covered in a layer of snow. Needles to say it scared me crazy.
When we collected enough wood for the night, we drank some hot choco at his truck. Then we continued the path by foot, until we reached the bothy. A building without water, electricity, toilet, gas, but with a living room with two couches, a desk and a fireplace, and two seperate bedrooms. While we made the bed, the man started a fire for us. He then had to go home, told us to stay as long as we’d like, and that we could drop his stuff at his house later.
Around 2 am we finally went to bed, and although I was very tired, I hardly slept. Might have been too much tea, might have been the thoughts of dead deer or the window showing the darkness outside.
Waking up in a fairytale
After that sleepless night, we woke up in winter wonderland. The wind was howling outside, we were surrounded by a snow storm. We could barely open and close the front door, for the wind was too strong. We stayed in until the wind slowed down, and the landcape was covered in a layer of fresh snow. Large herds of deer were passing the bothy and the views were amazing. Soft mountains surrounding us, some tiny forests spread over the valley. We had to go for more wood, several times, for we had to keep the fire burning. I think we got a good taste of what it means to live in the Cairngorms in winter: collecting wood all day just to stay warm!
In the afternoon, when the wind wasn’t that strong anymore, we explored the valley surrounding the bothy. Mountains, white mountains, all around us. And deer, all sizes and breeds (and mixed breeds). And silence, no sounds apart from our feet crushing the fresh snow. There was a big layer of snow on the path back to Laggan too, so we decided to not challenge the van, and stay another night in the bothy. We did end up sleeping in the van in the end, I was too scared of another sleepless night 😉
Time to go back
The next afternoon we had to drive back to Laggan, taking the same road we took some days before with the hunter. Now we could see the great views from that road, with ruins and old bridges.
This surprise adventure sure is one of my favorites. Never thought I would follow a complete stranger in camouflage clothing on a road I had no idea where was it on the map. Then go into the forest with him and his chain saw and his Stafford. After all, that’s all moms warn you for when you’re a kid,m right?
But this time it just felt so right to trust him, to trust my gut feeling. It’s so good there are people like him; just selflessly helping other people out. He gave us a great time that we won’t forget.
Oh, wondering what is a ‘bothy’?
A bothy is an (old) hut that’s open to everyone. You can find them at the most remote places in Scotland. They offer shelter in harsh weather and a nice place to have a rest. They can be totally abandoned, or fully crowded. If the latter is the case, there is often a possibility to pitch up a tent near the bothy.
Bothies are very basic equiped; most of them have fireplace and one or more couch(es). Some have a desk, bedrooms, etc. There is no lock on the doors; it’s really open to everyone, and therefore a nice place to meet new people.