As part of my training for doing the West Highland Way in February I decided to hike the four and half miles out from Rowardennan to the Rowchoish Bothy, its a place of wanted to see for a while now.
The carpark at Rowardennan, on Loch Lomond’s east shore is where the road ends. This often comes as surprise to some visitors to the area who expect the east shore to be dotted with tea shops and other conveniences all the way up to Ardlui where the loch finally narrows into the river Falloch twelve miles miles from here.
Not so. Rowardnnan is where the West Highland High way finally begins to shake off its clutter of slow moving traffic, parking meters, information boards, overflowing bins and family barbecues.
Beyond the Victorian mansion that now serves as a youth hostel the path climbs away from the shore and along a steep hillside from where the loch is still visible a long way below me through thickening woodland. On the landward side, there are great slabs granite , slick with water from the hillside above.
As the path heads deeper into the pines, and daylight comes only from directly overhead, its actually pleasant to finally be swallowed by the dark forest. At this time for year there is nobody here and taking a pause for a sip of water I can savour the silence that is so complete that even a distant twig snap will puncture it. This is what I’m here for.
The bothy is not signposted off the path, instead a muddy tributary of the main track hairpins back down the slope into the trees and a after a few minutes it comes into sight.
However, once in the clearing where the bothy and another derelict building stand, the sense of peaceful isolation I had on the path gives way to one of standing at an empty bus stop – there might not be anyone here but there was just recently.
This feeling is enhanced by rubbish piled at the door in ripped black bags by people who presumably thought it would be easy for somebody – somebody else – to collect large cumbersome items this far from the road. But then I notice a large cumbersome item that someone has actually lugged here – its a four legged commode, the sort that old people place over their toilet. Was it carried here strapped to a rucksack? It seems odd, a bit it like finding a stair lift at the gym.
Strangely the veneer of neglect takes little away from the timeless charm of the place itself; inside the walls are darkened by the smoke of countless fires and yet very few of the nearby trees have been touched. The shelves contain a wonderful array of crooked, similarly blackened pots and kettles that would have looked at home around the campfire on the Oregon trail and the fireplace, although its brass is bent and tarnished is still going to be the perfect place to swap yarns with fellow travellers.
There is a raised wooden sleeping platform at the back of the room that would comfortably accomodate six bodies – eight at a squeeze and ricketty table and chairs just to the side of the fireplace.
It reminds me in some ways of a cabin I visited in the Rila mountains of Bulgaria in 1992. Unlike the Rowchoish bothy however, the previous occupants had left it toothbrush neat, presumably in accordance with the strident looking directives on the back of the door. There had been rows of metal beds, an ancient wood burning stove and what looked like soviet era posters pinned at strategic intervals on the walls. It felt like I was the first visitor in some years and in the end, plagued by ideas of Orwellian dystopia, I had slept in the woodshed adjoining the main building. Even then it had been a fitful night’s sleep with only rusty saws and dangling implements for company.
There’s nothing creepy about Rowchoish bothy, despite its isolation. The door did not bang shut behind me as I entered, neither did a spinning wheel in the corner clatter into life and there was no disembodied voice, whispering hoarse threats, the sound seeming to come from everywhere and yet nowhere…
As if to to confirm the benign nature of the place, my faithful little lurcher Pippin, ever wary of empty buildings and dark recesses, curls up contentedly on a discarded blanket while I take some photographs.