Bothy Life in Northern Scotland
Its the weekend before Christmas and, as a new start up, I'm sure the number one rule is to be out selling - not trudging through driving rain in search of solitude in one of Scotland's most secluded bothies. However, it struck me that in our websites 'about' section it states we value people before profits and it would, in fact, be against company policy to turn down a trip with the boys for the sake of a few pounds. So we went.
Our aim was to get to Kearvaig bothy located on a remote beach to the east of Cape Wrath. We had seen tantalising photos of it online and following the news that the ferry which crosses the loch didn't run outside of summer it seemed like a suitable adventure. The surf forecast was also looking very promising so the boards were shoved in an inadequate bag bolstered with a whole roll of gaffer tape and dubiously tethered to the roof of our hire car following a short flight from Gatwick to Inverness.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a bothy they are remote, free to use shelters used by hikers and adventurers often with little more than a roof, a fire and a floor to sleep on.
We arrived at our first port of call, Durness, long after the few hours of daylight northern Scotland affords at this time of year licking our lips at what looked to be epic conditions for the next morning.
Whether it was the 50mph offshore winds which had dented the forecast or our lack of local knowledge of which bays work when, epic it certainly was not. Epic, no, beautiful yes. We awoke to clear skies and a clarity of light I have rarely experienced. We had a quick look at a couple of beaches up the coast but decided to paddle out at Balnakeil Bay in crystal clear waters and fun 2 foot waves. I've had many a foray north of the border in search of waves and whilst I've never scored 'all time' Scotland it never fails to deliver one special session each time I go, this trip was no exception.
Watching the sun come over the distant munros as we sat in an empty bay (save the curious seal playing in the surf just near us) had us grinning from ear to ear. We had lucked out, good weather and clean surf on the first morning. We scratched into the little peelers until we couldn't feel our hands and plodded up the beach shaking our heads at the beauty we had just experienced. On its day there is nowhere in the world I would rather be.
However, the good weather was not set to last and after a quick change we left the boards at the car and started the 8 mile round hike to Kearvaig. Its a walk which in summer would be quite pleasant, even leisurely but with no ferry to cut a significant corner off we had to walk round the end of the loch and across boggy moorland with no path before making it to the track to Cape Wrath. We were walking in 50mph head winds and driving rain - it felt every bit as wild and remote as we were hoping!
I have a tendency to get over excited about waves and possible set ups and with each corner we turned it felt like there was another possibly unsurfed spot. Who knows if the wind, tide and swell had combined like this before, alas, my brother did not share my enthusiasm and before quickly filling up his memory card with crap photos of tiny waves we trudged on.
The hike took us 4 hours, a journey which takes 30 minutes for the minibus to Cape Wrath lighthouse (the only vehicle the other side of the loch) in summertime. Ed went to his special place and found the hike through howling winds and relentless rain almost meditative. In his defense, it felt amazing to be alone in beautiful scenery, no trace of phone signal and no desire to use any form of technology. And the effort required to get to the bothy made our first glimpse of it that much more special.
To say this spot was special would be a hideous understatement. The dramatic cliffs and heaving swell coming off the north Atlantic made for an extraordinary spectacle - one which was short lived with the fading light and the pressing matter of getting warm and getting some dinner on. The interior was humble, as expected, but the front room was cosy and stocked with previous generous visitors' treasures. From scores of candles to a hand made drift wood throne - even a glitter ball. The place was perfect. We quickly lit a fire, made a brew and settled down into our books with pretty content hearts.
Christmas songs are horribly overplayed at that time of year but sitting in a bothy with good mates, some whiskey, a roaring fire and Ella Fitzgerald singing White Christmas is recipe for happiness. The trip was to celebrate my brothers 30th birthday and when discussing where we could go, surf destinations of Fuerteventura and Portugal sprang up but the option of a winter adventure to the top of Scotland won the vote. What a decision that was, we had been blessed with good surf and a simple, beautiful shelter which provided the perfect getaway from all the BS of modern life and that will stick in my memory for a long time.
I'm someone who is a chronic daydreamer and the bothy at Kearvaig did nothing to help this. Its a place which makes that idea of going off grid in the middle of nowhere seem possible, if not highly romanticised. I love being out in the sticks and having watched the movie 'North of the Sun' my mind started racing at the possibility of spending some considerable time out here, possible over spring time and this time with a surfboard. One thing is for sure, I'm going back and for longer than one night! Thank you Scotland.