Sunday 17 January 2021

Book Review: Corrour Bothy by Ralph Storer

I didn’t expect a book on a bothy, even one as iconic as Corrour, to be so enjoyable that I’d read it in a rush but that was the case with this book. After it arrived, I started flipping through the pages, got hooked on various passages and then decided I’d better start at the beginning. Reading it straight through I was captivated, fascinated and excited. Corrour was one of the first bothies I ever visited, and I have stayed there many times, but I think this book will be enthralling for every lover of wild places whether they have been there or not. (And note that if it makes you want to visit, as is likely, Corrour is very popular – best take a tent).

The author tells the story of the bothy,  of how it was built as a deer watchers house in 1877 and then quickly used by walkers and climbers after the last watcher left in 1920. He describes its splendid setting in the Cairngorms and gives advice on approaches to it and walks from it. The first renovation in 1950 and subsequent ones are described and there are tales of the building of the first bridges over the  rivers and burns that have to be crossed to reach Corrour. Before these existed visitors suffered regular soakings and, sadly, one man drowned in 1950 on the final crossing of the Dee just below the bothy, an event that led to the first bridge being built. There are many interesting photographs of renovations and bridge building from 1948 right up to 2018 along with photographs of the bothy and its setting by the author from his many visits.

Whilst the story of Corrour is fascinating, even more so are the entries from the bothy books, which date all the way back to 1928. Ralph Storer deserves credit for his painstaking research into these. Reading through his selections from the books builds up a picture of an outdoor and mountaineering community that stretches back over ninety years, bringing to life the characters who wrote them. The pleasures and hardships are all there, from the beginning, and little has changed, apart from those bridges.

Some of the entries tug at the heart, others made me laugh out loud – especially some in the Bothy Cuisine chapter. One from 1939 gives a detailed recipe for a meal of corned beef, baked beans and oatmeal, then finishes “dig a hole at a safe distance from the bothy and bury the lot”.

Those who feel midges have got worse in recent years should note that there are comments on being bitten to death by them from 1939. The problem of litter isn’t new, either, with the first complaint coming from 1929. The weather, of course, is a major topic, as is pack weight. Some of the entries could make the non-hill goer astonished that anyone would put themselves through all this voluntarily. Just why is explained in an entry from PE Shand in 1930: “Magnificent scenery, enchanting mists – and soaking rain. What scenery, what weather! What pleasures can match those of the unorthodox insanities of the lovers of the high places, the magnificent madness of the mountaineer?” Hear, hear!, PE Shand, hear, hear!

I could quote endlessly from the bothy entries, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll recommend this wonderful book to anyone who likes bothies, hill culture, and the Scottish Highlands. It’s one of the best outdoor books I’ve read in a long while, a love letter to Corrour Bothy.

Corrour Bothy is published by Luath Press and costs £10.99

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