As a follow-on to our Secret Howff trip we opted to stop off on the way home for an overnight visit to Gelder Shiel Stables. The weather was glorious and the ride in so easy that in truth it almost felt like cheating to consider this a bothy trip. We parked in the large carpark at Craithie (free at the time of our visit in February), and were at the bothy less than an hour later.
The approach to the bothy across open moorland is so bleak that Joe accurately described it as the ideal location for the shooting of a post-apocolyptic movie. If anyone ever makes a Scottish version of The Road then they need look no further. A solitary stand of tall pines in the otherwise barren landscape shield the bothy and suggest that it would be hard to miss it, even in blizzard conditions. It’s only three miles from Craithie to the bothy along sandy, fairly flat estate tracks. It would be an ideal bothy to ride to with small children or anyone else who felt unable to ride far.
I wanted to carry on up the track and explore a bit, but Joe was happily rolling back the years playing in the stream and it seemed wrong to drag him away.
The stables sit behind the small royal shooting lodge which it once served. Built for Queen Victoria, the small cottage has latterly been used by the present incumbent as a ‘barbeque lodge’ in fine weather. While it sets my republican teeth firmly on edge that one should have a whole building just to be used for such frivolous purposes a couple of times a year, it’s adacent bothy is undeniably cosy, albeit without windows facing the lodge lest one catch a glimpse of one’s supposed betters flipping their sausages on the rare times they deign to visit.
The wonderful book ‘Mountain Days and Bothy Nights’ tells that the stables were used as an unofficial doss during the post-war period. Then a bleak, cold and leaky structure, it has since been massively improved with insulation, a proper floor, a stove and bunk beds. There are bunks for eight people and plenty of room on the floor for more. At the rear of the building there is a tap dispensing peaty water next to the ‘hole in the floor’ toilet. The bothy even has its own guitar and penny whistle available for general use.
We were initially the only visitors to the bothy but were joined later in the afternoon by an elderly gent of the old school variety. He then shocked both Joe and I to our core by stealing Joe’s sweeties as we sat outside by the stream. HE STOLE A WEAN’S SWEETIES! By the time we returned and noticed they were missing he had eaten them all. It’s fair to say that Joe struggled to keep this in perspective, as an only child he is just not used to that sort of thing. The injustice of it. Our companion then sat down and made himself a full three course meal, so he clearly he hadn’t the excuse of needing the calories to stave off imminent starvation.
We were early to bed after a slightly subdued evening cooking and playing cards in front of the incredibly efficient stove. By 9am next day we had the place to ourselves again and enjoyed the continuing stunning weather, playing stone-throwing games by the stream in the warm sunshine. We reluctantly dragged ourselves back to Craithie in the afternoon for the long drive home.