Updated: Feb 10, 2020
By Geoff Allan
Geoff Allan, LMFF speaker and author of best-seller The Scottish Bothy Bible and new book Scottish Bothy Walks, connects London to some of Scotland's most wild and lonely places.
"My pulse noticeably quickens as the tail lights of the evening train to Fort William finally fade from view. Pitch black, temperature below zero, with a hint of snow on the stiffening breeze, I am standing fully laden on the platform of Corrour Station contemplating the five-mile walk to Staoineag bothy. Quite a surreal moment. One minute I'm hastily finishing a pint and racing to Glasgow's Queen Street Station, the next I'm stone-cold sober, totally wired, and regretting the decision to leave behind my light-weight tent. Hey ho, better step to it.
I decide to stick to the iron road rather than take the public footpath running parallel to the track. From memory, it had always been a muddy quagmire for the first mile to Loch Treig, though on my return I wryly noted that the path had been substantially improved.
Skittering along from sleeper to sleeper, I put to the back of my mind the possibility of a late-night goods train speeding down the line, and much-relieved cross the Allt Lùib Ruairidh, knowing I can follow the burn down to the loch-side - the halfway point of the walk-in.
All I have to do is find a gap in the deer fence.
It all seemed so much simpler in my student days with a well-established desire line cutting down the embankment, a quick hop over the stream and then the track that transports you to within a mile of the bothy. Today, Network Rail has tensioned a high line of barbed wire between the rusting fence posts, and predictably I snick my precious Thermarest clambering over. Deep sigh..."
Travelling up from London on the overnight sleeper, there are a number of exciting bothy adventures to sample in the Scottish Highlands, this trip to Staoineag my absolute favourite. Carrying on up the superb West Highland Line, there are other bothies within easy reach from the train over a weekend, most notably from Glenfinnan Station, where you pass under the famous Harry Potter Bridge and up to Corryhully and A'Chuill.
Taking the ferry from the terminus at Mallaig transports you into Knoydart and on to Sourlies, one of the most popular bothies in the country. Alternatively heading up to Inverness from Euston, Ryvoan bothy is the most celebrated excursion, (accessed from Aviemore) immortalised in a poem I Leave Tonight From Euston by A.M. Lawrence which is pinned to the back of the bothy door (and printed in full below).
And what of my own stumbling exploits? As luck would have it when I finally arrived at Staoineag, just past midnight, I discovered a kindly soul had left an emergency Karrimat in the attic dormitory, so in the end I bedded down in some comfort. And in the early morning light, I woke to discover I'd been teleported into a magical winter wonderland and thanked my lucky stars I'd persevered with my plan.
The trip marked the beginning of a five-year odyssey which led to the publication of The Scottish Bothy Bible in March 2017. Returning on the morning train on my next visit, almost four years to the day, I took the photos which made it into print, and became increasingly confident I'd finish writing my beloved guide.
The Scottish Bothy Bible won the Travel Media Awards Guidebook of the year for 2017 and has sold to date over 50,000 copies. This spring, Geoff publishes a companion guide, Scottish Bothy Walks, and the London Mountain Film Festival has invited him down to speak at Mountain Session 5 on Sunday 3rd May.
Details of all the walks mentioned in this post can be found in Geoff Allan's new book, available for sale at the festival or pre-order from his WEBSITE.
I Leave Tonight From Euston
By A.M. Lawrence
I shall leave tonight from Euston
By the seven-thirty train,
And from Perth in the early morning
I shall see the hills again.
From the top of Ben Macdhui
I shall watch the gathering storm,
And see the crisp snow lying
At the back of Cairngorm.
I shall feel the mist from Bhrotain
and the pass by Lairig Ghru
To look on dark Loch Einich
From the heights of Sgoran Dubh.
From the broken Barns of Bynack
I shall see the sunrise gleam
On the forehead of Ben Rinnes
And Strathspey awake from dream.
And again in the dusk of evening
I shall find once more alone
The dark water of the Green Loch,
And the pass beyond Ryvoan.
For tonight I leave from Euston
And leave the world behind;
Who has the hills as a lover,
Will find them wondrous kind.