A bothy night in the green desert

by backpackingbongos

Whilst I was sorting out my gear in the empty car park in Abergwesyn the weather was changing fast.  The day of blue skies and warm sunshine quickly replaced by grey cloud and a cold wind. I originally had the idea of visiting the nearby MBA bothy at Moel Prysgau to check out the recent renovations.  However it is a fairly lengthy walk in from the road with several river crossings.  Outdoor lassitude was setting in and I decided instead to visit a lovely little bothy which would involve almost no physical effort at all.

The road from Abergwesyn to Tregaron has always held a fascination for me when looking at my ordnance survey maps.  A narrow yellow line squiggles for miles across an empty landscape, hair pin bends marked with little arrows that indicate steepness.  When a section of road is named the ‘Devil’s staircase’ it is probably worthy of further exploration.

Climbing into the Irfon valley is like entering a hidden secret world after the pastoral landscape around Abergwesyn.  It is a sublime spot and the narrow single track road that runs through its length is a joy to drive.  A place to return to for a spot of ‘Bongo wild camping’ I think.

The Devil’s staircase was as steep as the map suggests and I made the mistake of giving way to a car coming downhill on a particularly vertical section.  The combination of gravity exerting its force and the inappropriate use of the clutch led to a nasty wheel spin as I continued uphill.  I would highly recommend avoiding this road when there is even a hint of winter conditions.

Twenty miles of delightfully twisty single track lanes brought me within striking distance of the bothy.  I have to admit that my heart then sank.  It was a Sunday evening, close to getting dark on a remote moorland road in Mid-Wales and two vehicles were parked in ‘my spot’.  I have to admit that I selfishly cursed them as I really fancied spending the night in the bothy alone!  I Parked nearby and thought about what to do next as two cars could mean a busy bothy.  In the end I decided to leave Reuben in the car and have a brisk walk down to the bothy on a scouting mission, at most it is only 15 minutes walk from the car.

Half way down the hill I was greeted by a trio of English Setters and their owners making their way up to their parked cars.  They confirmed that the place was empty so I walked back up to the road with them.  When I returned to the car Reuben was looking forlorn and abandoned.

With a rucksack full of bothy luxuries and five kilos of coal in one hand and five kilos of wood in the other I tottered off back down the boggy track.  The familiar outline of the cosy little building soon came into view, nestled into its little fold in the grassy hills, the mist descending to cover the tops.  It had been a few years since I last visited and upon entry I was pleased to see that the place was still tidy and well cared for.  The fireplace was stacked with cut logs and kindling, something I always try to reciprocate when leaving a bothy for the next person.  Exploring outside I noticed that the wood shed was piled with logs provided by a local sawmill and that the proper loo was still present and in working order!

A perfect bothy evening passed eating copious amounts of food and reading post apocalyptic fiction in front of a roaring fire.  In fact it got so hot that I stripped down to my baselayer, a feeling that my trousers may suddenly combust in the heat.

I have to admit to the fact I can sometimes be a bit of a bothy coward and am easily spooked when I am on my own in a remote and creaky building on the moors.  On my first ever visit to this bothy I found the hairs suddenly stand up on the back of my neck whilst cooking dinner and I fled soon after dark to pitch my tent outside.  Not really rational behaviour for an adult!  I have since returned and spent a night here with friends and even tolerated another group with a man who insisted whipping out his harmonica out at every opportunity.  I was determined not to flee to the car this time.  I am pleased to report that nothing went bump in the night.  However Reuben was not very happy about being downstairs and refused to settle until we bedded down for the night upstairs.

It was great laying in my sleeping bag listening to the wind blowing across the roof, the sound of soft rain on the window and Reuben contentedly snoring next to me.

Looking out of the window first thing in the morning I was greeted by swirling mists, the surrounding hills submerged in the murk.  However my spirits were high as it was Monday morning and I was not getting up for work.  Although I did not manage to transfer my enthusiasm to Reuben who was decidedly on the sulky side.

I resisted relighting the fire and set about making breakfast and then tidying up, wrapped in my down jacket to ward off the damp chill.  I had not managed to get through all the fuel I had carried in so some nice dried logs, kindling and firelighters were left for the next person.

I probably should mention that the bothy is a five-star establishment.  It is kitted out with gas lighting, although the mantles are long gone, unable to withstand the clumsy attempts at lighting by previous visitors.  A gas-powered oven, a boiler for hot water and a gas heater complete the home comforts.  However I am suspicious of such contraptions and left them well alone!

A couple of hours of slow faffing and it was time to set off into the mist.  Reubens sulk soon disappeared once outside and we set off back up the track towards the car.

I find the nearby collection of lakes particularly attractive, especially on a sunny summer’s day with the moorland birds singing overhead.  However they were bleak with low cloud just skimming over the rocky knolls that separate them.

I decided against a walk around them and instead headed back to the car waiting for me on the isolated mountain road, the Mid-Wales moors rolling off to the far horizon.

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39 Responses to “A bothy night in the green desert”

  1. HA! now that one, I recognise. Those lamps had us confounded for a while, we thought we were missing a trick. Its peachy that place, red kite heaven too around there.

  2. Reuben is almost human and he doesn’t look too impressed about having to get up…Does he not do Monday mornings?
    Inspired by your blog we have just booked to visit Jura….Islay….Gigha and the Mull of Kintyre this summer. Your latest Bothy visit looks perfect….will be adding this to my list of places to visit….thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Reuben does not really do mornings at all Karen. In fact I do wonder if we have one of the worlds laziest hounds! Your trip to the Isles sounds fantastic, Jura and Islay are magnificent.

  3. Yet another wonderful looking night out and Reuben looks very nifty in his pyjamas. I have to admit I quite fancy the idea of trying out a bothy with a bit of a history of ‘spookiness’ – but probably not on my own!

    • You could always take Dixie to a spooky bothy, she will protect you from things that go bump in the night!

      • Actually Geoff and I had a spooky experience when on our own one night in a creepy, old, converted school in the Dales. We had our previous boxer, Cleo, with us and she kept waking up through the night, howling and with her hackles up. In all her life this was the only time we ever heard her howl. We slept in a different room the 2nd night, and she was a much happier bunny!

  4. James, great photo of Reuben. You are fast becoming the bothy king 🙂

  5. Reuben looked less than impressed sat there in his pyjamas, still glad he cheered up later.
    Looks like a fine bothy although I’m not a particular fan of bothies myself, much prefer the tent.

    • Reuben is actually rather keen to get his PJ’s on at night as he does feel the cold with his short hair. I think that he was upset not to wake up in his cozy bed at home next to the radiator. I usually take a tent when visiting bothies just in case I am not keen on the company!

  6. I’ve been eyeing this bothy up for a while now, so it was good to read about and see it. Reuben’s PJ’s are just brilliant, I’m going to have to get my Megan some.

    • It’s worth a visit Phil. Reubens PJ’s are pretty cozy although he does look a bit comical when he walks around in them. They look like a doggie dressing gown!

  7. Well considering that I’m reading about the history of very basic shelters & “terrible dosses” in the scottish highlands, that sounds like a veritable hotel by any standards! Did you feel annoyed at carrying in all that fuel?

    • It was a short walk in with the fuel Pete so not really annoyed. Also it is good to leave what was already there for others who may have been backpacking and in need of drying out in front of the fire.

  8. James – Just checking if these pics are with your new camera? Very much on my mind to upgrade when we get to Germany. We are finding the Spanish atitude to dogs very hard on the emotions. Great blog as usual – inspirational as ever. W

    • Hi Warren. The pics were taken with the new camera. I have heard that the Spanish attitude to animals can be pretty harsh, I’m not too good at dealing with stuff like that to be honest. Saw some shocking stuff in Sri Lanka. I do have to admit that I am way behind on your blog at the moment, lots of catching up to do.

  9. Does that count as a bothy with all those mod-cons? Seems like cheating somehow, if it’s not uncomfortable!

  10. I always used to take the idea of ghoulies and ghosties with a great pinch of salt, until I saw one myself in my old place – twice! My old cleaning lady saw her too…

    Not a bad idea to take Reuben – I am sure that dogs sense if something is wrong..

    • Growing up in a 15th Century Suffolk cottage we all saw ‘ the lady of the house’, she was the protector of the place. Our dogs used to sit and stare at the place she apparently used to sit! When we first moved in there was also another inhabitant who was murdered there. My parents had the place exorcised to get rid of him, until that happened none of the cats or dogs or my dad would go upstairs!

  11. That area is just up the road from where my parents caravan on the coast is so I must take a stroll around the lakes and poke my nose in at bothy, Just wondering if the area around the lakes might be a decent place for a little overnight semi-wild camp with the kids to get them into the idea

    I’ve lived in houses with less mod-cons than that bothy – looks like a cracking little spot

    • I think that you should be able to find some good spots to wild camp near the lakes Andy. They are very close to the road so not to far to walk or bail out. There is also a great spot to camp outside the bothy just across the stream. A huge area of sheep nibbled grass.

      • Thanks James – I’ve got a few spots lined up in mid-Wales to convince the kids that wild camping is the way to go. If not I’ll revert to grumpy type and go on my own 🙂

      • Maybe choose a nice warm sunny day for their first trip, wind and rain may put them off for good!

  12. Ghostly bothies. Love it. We joked about them recently on our last walk. I was born in a alleged haunted house. Being young I did not see, nor do I recall anything. My late mum had an encounter and my sister. My late father told me he would turn things of late at night and in the morning things sometimes had been moved, or turned on – yet everyone was still upstairs bar him. One close friend often tells a tale of an encounter he had with a ghost – bless him. Expect it was in Suffolk ;).

    For me it’s the wind down the chimney that scares most folks in bothies. But I am also open to the notion of them. Makes for tales and the like. Those Rum bothies sound spooky you told me about. Maybe the MBA can give a spooks score for bothies. Great photos and spot for a night in the hills James before I forget.

    • Luckily the bothy that we visited recently appears to be ghost free Martin. There are loads of ghosts in Suffolk and Norfolk, the most famous one being that black dog. You don’t want to see that whilst walking down a dark lane late at night!

      I love the sound of the wind blowing down the chimney of a bothy, not too keen of the sounds of mice on the roof though.

      • Remind me to tell you a tale about black Shuck some time when we are next out wild camping. Old Shuck used to roam the lanes at night bringing terror. More in Suffolk I recall based on the scared disposition of Suffolk folks I was lead to believe 😉

  13. What a perfect couple of days; I’m quite envious reading about it. I’d love to have a dog to take camping and bothying, partly so I wouldn’t feel so daft talking to myself to fend off the bothy ghosts! Thanks for a good read (and some smashing photos of a well-dressed dog).

    • Thanks Judith, I wll let Reuben know that you thought he was well dressed! It was a very relaxing couple of days in the hills. The cosy comfy bothy being the icing on the cake.

  14. I think I know where that may be, not sure as I’ve never been to it but one spot on the map fits the bill perfectly.
    Still not smitten with the idea of bothies though, unless storms and gales unexpectedly swept in.

    • I’m sure that you have the correct spot Geoff as you appear to know these hills pretty well. For me the enjoyment of bothies come down to the company (or the lack of company!).

  15. Great post. I might check this bothy out. It looks amazing. Thank you

  16. Looks great trip. Just back from Dulyn Bothy in Carneddau and it looks luxury in comparison. Whereabouts is it please?


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