Bothy Tales
By Hamish Brown

Corrour Bothy and The Devil's Point, Cairngorms, Scotland
Graphic by Bruce_McAdam via Wikimedia Commons.

This is one of a large number of Scottish related articles by Guest Writers which have been added to Rampant Scotland. The pages were previously part of the "Scottish Radiance" Web site and there are many more articles in this series being added over a period of months. Here Hamish Brown, a renowned author on Scottish hill walking, relates short stories that would be told in temporary shelters on Scottish mountains called "bothies".

Corrie - Part 1

I'm not superstitious, I don't believe in ghosts and I'm more sceptic than agnostic when it comes to matters of faith and life alter death and all that. I've always been that way and put it down to growing up with an animal-mad mother and a vet father and the wide open landscape of the Hillfoots to roam in: a romanticism thoroughly tinged with reality. I toyed with the idea of becoming a vet too for I was "good with animals" as my parents realised, but I ended up as principal teacher in the small primary at Lagganmore. When my own kids John and Isobel were eight and seven respectively I introduced a family dog, a fox terrier who came with the name Corrie

He was a marvellous pet and I feel sorry for country kids who grow up without a dog (but then I'd grown up in a menagerie!) especially in a place like Lagganmore with its Highland hills all round, rivers to fish in, lochs for swimming, and the safe sanity of a close-knit community. I saw my own childhood freedom inherited by John and Isobel and rejoiced therein. There were odd times when I was in the doghouse though.

A boyhood below the Ochils had led me to bigger hills in my last school years when I'd push off on my bike (why weren't mountain bikes invented a decade earlier?) and work my way in a great Highland circuit, exploring, camping, hostelling and, eventually, Munro-bagging quite consciously after my parents had given me a copy of "Hamish Mountain Walk". That book has a lot to answer for. There were several of us who were enthusiastic the hills but I tended to be the ringleader, and far too prone to be beguiled into adventures and misadventures by someone starting, "Alasdair, I dare you ...."

At a camp by Loch Tummel (pictured here here by Johnny Durnan via Wikimedia Commons) for instance a shepherd spun us a yarn about a ghostly cottage up in the woods and the others dared me to sleep in it, alone, that night, which I did without any qualms. I didn't believe in such things. At Fernyhope Castle (then a youth hostel) I was given the haunted tower room but no "green lady" enlivened my sleep. The supernatural was perfectly logically explained away but I tended to keep quiet on such matters: one could offend all too easily. Besides, it was quite pleasing to be thought bold whereas I just considered myself pragmatic. I mention this background simply to indicate my unsuitability for recording anything out of the ordinary yet, yet, I'm as uncertain as anybody following what happened last winter. Corrie.

Corrie came to us as an adult dog. One day in class, Jinty Macpherson mentioned her father (the keeper for Inverlaggan) had picked up a half-starved dog on the road which they reckoned had been dumped out of a passing car. Jinty said her father would probably have to shoot it then added, "He said he'd like to shoot the bugger who dumped it" and then was all confusion at what she'd said and the titterings of the rest of the class.

This stray was called Corrie, by the Macphersons and became our family pet, soon bouncing back to the natural vivacity of his kind. The kids could do what they liked with Corrie and he'd put up with it gratefully but, outwith the family, Corrie was a devil, fanatically protective of his own and aggressive to all other animal and human creatures. Cats were for chasing, posties for biting, cars for seeing off and there was nothing we could do about it. He'd receive a thrashing and eyed one with a look of disbelief and failed comprehension: "What was that for?".

Of course Corrie came with me on the hill: occasionally with Jamie Macpherson alter foxes, ("You've a guid yin there" his assessment. "Ah should hae kept him.") and always when I took off on my own or with the Lochaber club for climbing weekends. This put me in the doghouse of course. The kids didn't seem to mind me going off but they objected to Corrie's absence. And Corrie always was on my side. Before I even began looking out boots and rucksack the dog knew and was like a bouncy shadow, scrambling into the Land Rover as soon as the door was opened and refusing to budge, even when the kids would tempt him by rattling his food bowl. Corrie was as fanatic a Munro-bagger as his master.

He had to learn not to chase hares or deer or sheep which he respected, I'm sure, just to please me. He'd sit and quiver at the sight of wildlife and, at a word, would have been off. The looks he'd give me then! But his discipline held. He became marvellously at home on the hill. I saw far more because of his sharper senses and learnt to trust his judgements.

Corrie came to us with a bad back leg, perhaps it had been broken but, whatever, he twisted his left rear leg at each step so he was instantly recognisable among other dogs or when he left his prints on bog or snow.

I had half a mind to try and have Corrie climbing every Munro (at least one dog had done so) but wasn't sure how he - never mind me - would cope with the Cuillin: the Inaccessible Pinnacle (picture here by Ian Taylor via Wikimedia Commons) and such like! It never came to that though for, as the years slipped past, as years tend to do, the kids became gangly teenagers and Corrie began to slow down so I had to leave him behind when tackling long, hard days. His eyesight lost its acuteness and sometimes he'd stand panting or stagger like a drunk, signs which I knew pointed to an ailing heart. Yet it was cruel to leave him behind for he lived for his hill weekends. (With two teenagers with alien hi-fi tastes I found hill weekends something of a relief too.) There was a slight sadness in his weekend departures now. The kids, and mother too, would watch us drive off and wonder if Corrie would return again .... One day he would just drop dead on the hill - we hoped. Life in the Highlands has few illusions when it comes to the realities of life and death.

I set off south one weekend to visit my own ancient parents, a bit guilty at the long gap since my last call but still taking in the Beinn a' Ghlo Munros on the way. (Graphic by David Shaw, via Wikimedia Commons). Corrie was very slow which was heart-rending.

On the Sunday we all went for a walk up the Glen. I think there were seven dogs which was about average for the old folk, even in retirement, and they were of all species and none, a sniffling, rushing, excited mob, a bit alarming for the occasional old person meeting them on the path.

None of us saw what happened. Did Corrie simply not see properly or did he have a heart attack and stagger or did one of the other dogs push him in passing? We'll never know. What we saw was Corrie falling over the edge. He bounced a couple of times and landed out of sight in a small avalanche of debris by the burn eighty feet below.

From my own daft school days I knew the Glen intimately, even the gorge, so I raced back to where I knew it was possible to scramble down and splashed wildly up the burn to reach Corrie. He lay half in the water with the stillness of death plain even from a distance.

I sat with him on my lap and cried and cried for so many lost things. It isn't fair that animals can so steal one's affections. I'd yelled up to my parents and told them just to go back home. Understandingly they did so and it was an hour before I joined them, alone. Corrie sleeps on the hill.

No! He doesn't sleep. Generations, back and forwards, none of us believe that. He is gone, utterly, just as we all one day die alone, written or unwritten as it be. When no Corrie leapt out of the Land Rover to bark his greeting, "I'm home, fans!" the others knew at once. We had a good blubber together. For such moments a dog has its place too: most kids miss some of life - and death - realities when they don't see a loved pet through its brief span of years.

So that was that then. Except it wasn't. (Continued in Corrie - Part 2 )

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