Ardtornish Day 16

After sixteen mornings of getting up at 6.00 I really wanted a lie-in. So when the alarm went, I got out of my bunk, had a peek through the blind at a non-descript pre-dawn sky, and convincing myself I’d miss nothing spectacular, I closed the window and slipped back into bed. NB. I keep my cameras in the bedroom and, having the window open at night, keeps the temperature down almost to that of the outside and therefore avoids lens fogging problems when I take them out for use.

I got up an hour later and started to prepare the supplies and equipment we’d need for a four night stay up at Crosben bothy. With the weather forecast promising lots of snow, I wanted to make sure we’d have everything to hand. Allen took the car into Lochaline to pick up some groceries while I packed the dry-bags and sorted my batteries and gear trying to keep the amount I took to a minimum.

At 10 o’clock, Robin, a dyed-in-the-wool estate hand of 27 years, arrived with the Argocat on a trailer. I looked at the little vehicle and wondered if it was going to be up to the job of carting our pile of equipment up a mountain. Yet my concerns were unfounded and two trips saw us dropped-off and ready for the next stage of the adventure to begin.

I’d come up with the first load along a torturous track that wound through deep muddy pools and rocky terrain that were eaten-up by the plucky little vehicle in Robbie’s expert hands. As we progressed he told me stories of his years on Ardtornish and some of the things he’d seen.
“The SAS come up here to train” he announced. “One time they brought up and Land Rover that they got stuck in the mud over there." He pointed to a dodgy looking patch. "So they called in a second one to pull it out and got that stuck too!” His eyes sparkled with a boyish glint that bellied his seventy-odd years.

Crosben is some four miles up into the mountains, and as we approached, we sent a couple of dozen deer running for high ground. We pulled-up just short of a rickety bridge that spans the stream by the bothy and here we unloaded the first cargo. While Robin turned and went back for Allen and Charlie, I set about getting Crosben straightened out.

According to Mac, our liaison man up here, it’s been years since anyone stayed here. After climbing through a window to gain entry, I took a quick tour of the building to see what lay in store. In truth it’s much more than a simple bothy. Rather it’s a three bedroomed detached cottage that’s way out in the middle of a spectacular ‘nowhere’ that’s in need of a little TLC.

I went around with a broom to sweep-up the patches of plaster that had fallen from the walls and ceilings in places and then turned to the kitchen. Here, next to an ancient stove, I found a big gas cylinder with its seal intact. I shook it and felt the contents swirling around. So, taking every care to ensure the connections were OK, I linked it up to the stove, cleared the rusted gas rings, turned on the supply and voila! First match and it flared into life.

Next I ventured in to the sitting room and cleared three bucket-loads of ancient ash from the huge cast iron wood-burner come stove that takes pride of place in the room.

I’ve never seen such a contraption, but when ‘fireman Al’ arrived he became positively animated at the prospect of breathing fire into its substantial belly. We had a cuppa and then I donned my winter gear and headed out the front door into the vast expanse of a huge photo-opportunity.

The surroundings are quite majestic. The Highlands at their very, unspoilt best. Miles of glen and mountainside surrounded me and I was a little taken aback as where to start. So I thought I’d begin by taking my time and catching the sun dropping below the mountains by sitting on a heathery knoll and hunkering down as best I could to keep warm in the face of an icy wind that swept down from the snow-capped mountain behind me.

From a distance I saw two Sea Eagles wheeling high in the late-afternoon sky and I got the long lens out in the hope they might venture closer. They didn’t, but I spent three fabulous hours sitting and watching a dark bank of cloud progress that I hope will be bringing the snow for tomorrow.