The Secret Howff
Now that my once-enthusiastic child has turned into a grumpy teen I needed to find something that would fire his imagination and get him wanting to go out into the hills again. I asked him to look through Geoff Allan’s Bothy Bible and bookmark those that he would like to visit. Naturally he chose a selection of bothying’s greatest hits, among them the Secret Howff. This is a wonderful little stone structure in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. It’s not really a bothy as such – it’s not maintained by the MBA and it is very small and primitive, so it comes under the heading of ‘simple shelter’ or howff. It has a romantic past, having been built in secret in 1952 by four climbers fed up with carrying the heavy tents of the day on the long walk into the Cairngorms. In less enlightened, pre-Land Reform Act times, the building materials were carried in under cover of darkness, tiptoeing past the ‘big house’ at the entrance to the park. The howff was built in a remote spot far away from the trail, where the landowner would never find it. It utilises the naturally outcropping rock of the area in a clever way so that only a single wall, entrance door and roof needed to be added.
The location of the howff is a closely-guarded secret and although I know someone who would probably have told me where it was, I wanted Joe in particular to experience the thrill of finding it for himself. It was clear that we weren’t going to find it just by wandering into the Cairngorms and having a mooch about. So began a two hour stint online, pouring over maps, air photos and gleaning clues from the blogs and trip reports of others. In this way we were able to triangulate an area that we believed the howff to lie in and found two or three splodges on the air photos that looked promising.
We headed off in a spell of unseasonably-warm weather.
We did our usual thing of stopping to admire things along the way.
Joe scanning the landscape for any hint that we were on the right track.
Things got a little gnarly…..
But we found it. Joe was delighted.
There was a wonderful sense of anticipation as Joe approached the tiny door.
The interior was every bit as quirky as I hoped it would be. We soon had our kit set up in the tiny space. There is room for four at a push, but the flat area outside could also be used to set up a tent if needed.
Joe loved the home-made chess set he found there – fashioned from a selection of old shotgun shell casings.
With no stove or fireplace the interior of the howff gets chilly at night, so we snuggled into our sleeping bags and made some food on our wee meths stove.
One of the things I love about our trips away is the chance to unplug from digital life and get back to basics. We played chess and cards into the night and invented a new game called ‘making yourself look like Hitler by shining your head torch back onto your face’. Eee, the fun we had.
Next morning I watched the sunrise over the hills while the teenager slept in.
We headed back in glorious sunshine and a temperature of 15C – just crazy for the end of February.
We returned with our batteries suitably recharged – so much so that Joe wanted to visit another bothy on the way home, which we did. If you plan on visiting the Secret Howff I would recommend that you take alternative forms of shelter with you as it is really well hidden and there is a strong possibility that you won’t find it on the first go. It is much more likely that you will have the place to yourselves on a weeknight than a weekend, so go then if you can.