Passing through the bothy

I think bothies are a great idea. They offer refuge to lost or weary travellers, protection from inclement weather and a nice alternative to kipping in a tent. There aren’t many bothies left in northern England, but the ones that are still standing are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association whose volunteers work in partnership with landowners to keep these shelters in good order.

In May this year I visited Roughside bothy in Kielder Forest whilst on a walk with my good pal Steve. Despite reports of it being in a dilapidated state it proved to be quite a nice old farmhouse, with all windows and doors intact. The interior was sparse, tidy and quite large and all rooms had their own fireplace. We didn’t stay over on that day but I think it would have been quite comfortable in lieu of a tent.

Until yesterday I hadn’t visited any other bothies, but a foggy night hike up Cross Fell gave me, Michael and Sean the impetus to visit Greg’s Hut. This little house is on the Pennine Way and apparently receives around 600 visitors per year, which is understandable given the bleak landscape it sits in.

Our walk started at about 7.30pm from Kirkland Hall and took us uphill towards an old tin ‘bothy’ that was marked on the map. We aimed to camp up by this hut but the cloud soon rolled in and visibility was down to 5 metres or less and the path was tricky to stay with. Despite our best efforts we missed the tin bothy entirely and hit boggy ground (which went over my boot at one point, even with gaiters on) followed by a nice patch of ankle-breaking scree. Eventually, thanks to iPhone GPS, we made it back to the path and decided to shoot for Greg’s Hut.

Since none of us had ever spent the night in a bothy and the ground outside was wet, we took the decision to forego the tents and rest up inside. The presence of a wood burning stove, fuel and plenty of candles made it easy to settle in; we spent the first half hour or so unpacking and getting a fire going using knowledge gained from a half-watched (and barely remembered) Ray Mears programme. Once the fire was roaring all three of us fired our stoves up and got tea on.

The Bothy Code was clearly displayed inside Greg’s Hut, along with a nice painting of John Gregory (whom the bothy is named in memory of) and lots of other info on mountain safety and other topics. After food we got the sleeping bags out and wrapped up for a reasonable night’s sleep – only interrupted by occasional bouts of snoring and periodic sleeping mat deflations.

We slept in after a late night of rambling and took our time rekindling the fire. Once there was a bit of a blaze going Sean got the bacon on to cook and we packed up and tidied the place ready to leave.

I took a couple more pictures of Greg’s Hut before we left:

Hats off to the good people of the MBA for maintaining places like Greg’s Hut. The guest book was full of glowingly positive comments from recent visitors and clearly people who really buy into the Bothy Code use these facilities regularly. The book contained accounts of people lugging wood, coal, firelighters and god knows what else up to this ex-miner’s hut – all with others in mind. Quite humbling really.

We left the bothy with only good things to say about our experience and strode on towards the Pennine Way which traverses the summit of Cross Fell. Much like the previous evening the ground was boggy and the path wasn’t always clear but its amazing what a bit of daylight and little less mist will do for your navigation skills. The summit plateau features a few impressive cairns which aren’t marked on the OS Explorer map and a shelter that is.

There were no views to be had at the summit, which seems to be a regular thing for us. However, on the way down the cloud broke at about 550m and presented views out over the Eden Valley towards the Lake District.

I really enjoyed this walk – it gave us all a chance to work on some new and lost skills, ticked off another Trail 100 hill and let us sample the delights of the healthy bothy culture that exists in some of the remote parts of our Great British isles. If you haven’t stayed in one I’d definitely recommend you try it. If you like it or would like to support the volunteers who give up their time to keep these bothies going you can become a member of the Mountain Bothies Association or make a donation here.

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