I’m late, an hour late arriving on the ridge that overlooks Bearnais bothy. An hour shouldn’t matter much, but this hour does because this hour makes the difference between arriving in day light and looking for the bothy in moonlight. My pack weighs heavily on my back, it’s full of wonderful things, like coal to keep me warm, tins of curry, baked beans and a chili con carne I cooked myself in a plastic box. I’ve even got a little tablet so I can watch a movie and some whisky that will warm me from the inside while the coal does its work from the other direction. I’ll soon be glad of all these things, things I’ve carried for miles over the hills and through the snow or at least I will as long as I can do one thing…find the bothy.
The darkness brings with it a colder wind, little snow devils swirl about me and I am suddenly aware, staring down into the empty glen, of how alone I am. I fix a compass bearing and look along it to where the bothy should be, half a mile away. My eyes scan the snow, and the ghostly outlines of stream beds, for something angular, something man made that will give away the presence of the little shelter but nothing appears. Perhaps, I think to myself, I should have bought a GPS after all, for then all I’d need to do is switch it on and a little screen would link with satellites above the earth and I know exactly where I was, there would be no prospect of a cold bothyless night.
With no alternative I head on down into the glen, following the trembling compass needle, guided by an unseen force into the darkness. The moonlight flattens perspective, changes the appearance of the hills and I realise that there could be a cathedral in the glen and I wouldn’t be able to see it. Somehow there is always a small cloud covering the face of the moon, the cloud appears to be moving but it never goes anywhere. I need that moonlight now and look belligerently at the little wisp of star brightened cloud that taunts me from far above. Suddenly Loch an Laoigh appears, grey and sparkling, like steel hammered flat, down in the glen. Now at least I know I’m in the right glen and I’ll have a fixed point to work from if my compass bearing proves inadequate.
I stare again into the growing darkness but no bothy appears.