The story of my trip to Staoineag bothy starts in the depths of Scottish winter, on a community farm hugging the shore of Loch Tay. I was working with Ranger Andy on Ben Lawers during a week of truly shocking weather. Driving snow and rain and gale force winds kept us on the lower slopes putting up deer fencing and transplanting birch from a nearby hazel coppice. But fortunately Tombreck community farm is a wonderful place to be full of wonderful people.
It was there I met an American WOOFer called Rowan. Since my last visit Andy had repurposed a shed and built a sauna down on the loch - there is no better way to spend a winter evening than flitting between the icy waters of Loch Tay and the heedy warmth of the sauna. It was in the Sauna that Rowan and I met Audrey, an accomplished hill walker and fiddle player. Having summited all the Munros several times and stayed in countless bothies, I asked for her recommendation of a bothy nearby. Stoneiagh she said without having to think. That Friday we see her again at the infamous folk session at the Fort, her excitement for our trip is obvious. “Whatever you do take some coal for the fire” she advises us. We assure her we will, to supplement the dozen or so logs we’ve packed.
We forgot the coal.
After an early start and drive to Rannoch Moor, we caught the train from the small station to an even smaller station, Corrour. At 408m, it is the highest station in the British isles and isn’t accessible by road. We stepped out onto a snowy platform into a winter wonderland. A lone Scots pine stands sentinel over the stationhouse, which in the summer months is open as a pub serving slow cooked venison from the estate. That would have been welcome right then as the train trundled off and left the wind biting our exposed faces.
From the station the path follows the train tracks for a while before petering out in the bog and heather dropping down to Loch Treig. Between opaque swathes of spindrift hail and snow, we were treated to bursts of sun lighting the ridges and glens. After a broad 4x4 track hugging the loch, the path to the bothy wends its way up the idyllic Abhainn Rath, its banks sparsely populated with lichen-clad birch.
Staoineag bothy perches on a rocky platform above the meandering Abhainn Rath as the valley opens up. We ate a frugal lunch before exploring upstream towards the rapids. Rowan braved the icy waters, dipping in one of the pools whilst I remained happily cocooned in down. More exploring took us over raging white water, frozen mires, and up onto the hill stalking red deer. Back at the bothy we cooked a hearty dinner and burnt our meager wood supply in the open fire which didn’t do much to heat up the draughty room.
The next day we retraced our steps, watching the snow clouds roll in over Loch Treig and ice floes drift down the burns. We eventually rode the train back to Ranoch and returned to Tombreck for Listography and chapattis. Instead of a relaxing evening in the sauna I had the unenviable drive South. I woke on Monday morning to a covering of snow and unable to drive over Dunmail Raise to work, I was stranded at home dreaming of lochside saunas and red deer in the mist.