Thursday 12th March
It’s our first Winter bothy trip. Wooly hats and down jackets have replaced our usual supply of midge oil and head-nets. We departed London Euston in excited anticipation of the journey ahead – the escape from ‘The Big Smoke’ to the snow-capped peaks of the Cairngorm Mountains!
The train rolled out at 21:15 and our journey started with animated chatter and a gregarious introduction to Emily. She was planning her wedding and spoke of her excitement for the event. Friendly chatter turned into a surprise round of Pale Ales – “I brought you guys drinks now, we should get to know each other!”
We chatted to the lull of the train, eventually pulling on eye-masks before we rolled into the dawn light of the Highlands.
Friday 13th March
It’s 07:47AM. We had a little over an hour before one of our greatest joys: the tradition of starting our adventure with a full cooked Scottish Breakfast at Aviemore Mountain Cafe! We visited Home Bargains and stocked up on firelighters and a 10kg bag of wood for the Bothy. Dividing the weight between us, we dumped our bags at the Cafe and ordered the award-winning breakfast. Served with a hot cup of tea, we were presented with a delightful selection of peppery haggis, griddled tomatoes, Grantown sausages and buttery toast to mop up the runny egg yolk – it’s a “food happiness” feeling that I can barely put into words.
The trail to Ryvoan Bothy was 8 miles away at Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in Glenmore. We took the bus to the trailhead (whilst accidentally missing our stop and looping back via Aviemore Ski Centre!). The trailhead from Glenmore to Ryvoan Bothy was only 3-4 miles. The walk passed snow capped mountains and the stunning An Lochan Uaine, a turquoise coloured loch in pure wilderness and reachable only by foot.
From An Lochan Uaine, it’s a short walk to Ryvoan Bothy. We arrive at our designated Bothy stop at midday, having left London the night before.
We left our sleeping bags and mats rolled out whilst each taking a daypack to explore the local trails. We started with a low level trail at lunchtime, taking in the beauty of rolling mountains dusted with icing sugar.
In the afternoon, we ascended up to Meall a’Bhuachaille (810m). With incredible vistas of the Cairngorms in winter, we stayed at the peak as long as we could bear, before a circular descent took us back via the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.
We arrived back at Ryvoan bothy just before darkness settled. There were no other hikers staying the night and together we cooked a olive, mushroom and pesto pasta for dinner. We gazed at the wood-burning stove, our only source of heat as temperatures plummeted below 0°.
Despite bringing my Rab sleeping bag, the night of Friday 13th was one of the coldest nights of my life. I watched as the faint wisp of breath rose and fell at each sleeping bag. We used the entire 10kg supply of logs trying to keep warm at dinner without meaning to do this.
At one point in the night, Alex yelled in fear of mice climbing on the sleeping platform, whilst simultaneously waking up Gina with a headtorch shined straight at her. The constant scutter of mice kept us on edge throughout the night. As the heat seeped away from the wood-burning stove, we shivered as the minus temperatures presented itself like a cold claw through Ryvoan Bothy.
Saturday 14th March
The morning of 14th March was a difficult one. Every member of the party was groggy, numb and fatigued from trying to keep warm the entire night. We heated up porridge with milk powder in an attempt to stay warm, whilst the Bothy stayed icy cold at 0°.
We were due to stay another night at Ryvoan. We huddled together for a discussion, the immediate conclusion was that it would be foolhardy, uncomfortable and dangerous to stay without any wood to produce a heat source. We packed our rucksacks and made a plan to explore accommodation options in Aviemore. Keeping with our Bothy theme, we settled for Eriskay, a B&B which offered Glamping Pods and a ‘Bothy communal area’ for board games and cooking!
Reaching Eriskay at midday, we were warmly welcomed by Ken & Gill and a cute little pug called Leila. Ken greeted us with a sample of sweet homemade French Toast. He listened warmly to our bothy escapade and our experience of freezing in our sleeping bags.
Needless to say, it was extremely draining trying to keep warm the whole night. Gina E, Gina L, Alex and I retired to our heated glamping pods, each of us taking an unplanned nap!
For dinner, Gina E made a delicious chorizo, spinach and garlic linguine. Together we whiled away the evening with Jenga, board-games and cups of tea and coffee.
Sunday 15th March
We were presented with another stunning Scottish breakfast by the owners of Eriskay, before we embarked on a City Link bus for a 45 minute transfer to Inverness Airport. It was our last flight, before national lockdown would present itself a week later due to Coronavirus.
- I described this as a “beginner bothy experience” only due to the short walk (3 to 4 miles) from Cairngorm Reindeer Centre to Ryvoan Bothy. The ability to ascend Meall a’Bhuachaille (810m) right next to the bothy is a fantastic experience, but please come prepared as the cold night in March 2020 took us by surprise (even with all the gear)!
- For the £35 one way tickets from London Euston to Aviemore (railcard), we booked these approximately 7 weeks in advance of travel.
- The train to Aviemore is direct and there is a Tesco Metro for picking up last minute supplies.
- The 31 bus from Aviemore to Glenmore runs every hour and the timetable can be viewed here. The bus fare is approximately £3.00 per person, one way.
- Ryvoan Bothy has a spade for toileting purposes.
- There is a supply of logs at Ryvoan Bothy but they were soggy during our visit, I would recommend carrying a supply of wood with you if you can.
- I would highly recommend Eriskay. The B&B was wonderful hospitality, delicious food and quirky accommodation at it’s best.
- CityLink provides a regular bus connection between Aviemore and Inverness. The website is here to book tickets.
- We flew back from Inverness Airport to London Gatwick for approximately £40 one way with Easyjet.
- If you have any questions, you’re welcome to comment here or email me and I’ll be happy to help.